In an article released prior to the Golden Globes last week, the Hollywood Reporter showcased Sprinkles Cupcake’s new “Time’s Up” themed cupcakes, asking, “Why follow through with your New Year's resolutions to ‘eat healthier’ when you could enjoy cupcakes and simultaneously support a good cause?” 100 percent of the proceeds from the cupcakes went to the Time’s Up legal fund, a gesture meant to show support for the #MeToo movement.
The Time's Up legal fund, an initiative started by women in the entertainment industry, has already raised more than $16 million to support people affected by sexual assault in every industry. According to the fundraising page, the goal is to raise money to “provide subsidized legal support to women and men who have experienced sexual harassment, assault, or abuse in the workplace and while in pursuit of their careers.” The cause was championed at the Golden Globes when the women of Hollywood wore black to protest sexual assault and harassment and discussed sexual harassment and assault in interviews and onstage.
Following the Golden Globes, the creators of the famous Rainbow Bagel over at The Bagel Store in Brooklyn revealed a black and white Time’s Up-themed bagel. It’s currently unclear if any of the proceeds from the bagels are going to the Time's Up legal fund, or to support survivors of sexual assault. However, the company did respond to customer concerns via Instagram comments. After a commenter expressed that donations might help the movement more than a hashtag or pretty bagel, the store replied, saying, “We support many amazing causes on all levels. We work privately with organizations and individuals and will continue to do so. We wanted to use our platform to support, honor and bring awareness to this cause in the way we do best.” The post garnered over 2,000 "likes" on Instagram.
At first glance, the kinds of products that promote a movement or protest a societal issue might seem sweet and innocent enough, but they are ultimately empty and disingenuous. Did all of the proceeds from the cupcakes go to the legal fund? It would appear so. But even still, the act feels like a ploy for social relevance, and turns a very serious cause into something that can be made into a trend.
When companies turn a cause into something that benefits them financially and socially, it’s no longer about the cause. Even if proceeds do go to a fund or charity and a company like Sprinkles doesn’t immediately financially benefit, it’s understood that being perceived as relevant and part of a movement will bring the company customers and coverage in the long run. At its worst, it feels like companies that do this make a mockery of an important movement and those affected by issues such as sexual assault. At its best, it is empty, corporate feminism and allyship.
Companies profit from having a reputation for being “woke," and #TimesUp-themed products are ultimately driven by their own bottom line. Not only that, but these kinds of activism-themed and seemingly cause-adjacent products encourage the idea that you’re participating in change by buying a product, but ultimately end up contributing more to an aesthetic or feeling of participation. And although there’s nothing wrong with curating an aesthetic, or enjoying themed foods, these kinds of campaigns feels insulting. They also distract us from asking the more important questions — like do the companies that create these products and campaigns protect their own workers who are survivors of assault?
If companies want to support movements like Time's Up, or to support survivors of sexual assault, they need only look to their own inner workings and policies. If a company genuinely wants to provide support to these movements, those at the highest levels should assure they have policies set up regarding assault and abuse that are fair and truly protect survivors of such mistreatment. They should ask themselves if they promote an environment where employees feel safe in the workplace, and if employees feel safe to report harassment or abuse when it happens. They should ensure that employees who are most at-risk and marginalized are fairly compensated for their time.
Of course it feels nice to feel like you’re doing something for yourself while simultaneously benefiting others. But in the end, conflating cupcakes and activism can dangerous, if only for the fact that activism is, more often than not, not cute. Not nice. Not for yourself but for a community. Not for your own benefit. It might hurt. It might kill you. It may land you in jail, or lead you to be targeted by the police or governments. White women like myself should especially be doing more than just donating funds and buying cupcakes — we should be showing up for justice in many ways, including supporting the most at-risk and silenced communities including black women and other women of color, and transgender and nonbinary people.
So if you want a cupcake, buy a cupcake. But put your money where your mouth is. Go to the Time’s Up fund and support it, share it, donate. Protect survivors you know. Protect survivors when they tell you what they’ve been through. Protest companies that don’t truly protect survivors. But don’t confuse empty products for anything other than a scam.
In 2018, what we least need is empty products or safety pins that fail to contribute to real systemic or societal change. Standing with the legal fund is a nice and even necessary thought. But survivors don’t need your themed desserts. We need your financial support, your time, your consideration, and most importantly, for you to speak up for us and do the work.
Top photo: Instagram/Sprinkles Cupcakes
Elly Belle is a writer, digital media strategist, and pun enthusiast living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Unfortunately, she does not own any cats but still fiercely stands by her title of Supreme Cat Lady. Follow her on Twiter @literElly.