The De-sexification of the Green M&M
Design by Cassandra Sanchez
Image description: The new Green M&M mascot in her white sneakers on a white background. She looks sad as she holds her iconic boots.
We gather today to mourn one of the best character designs in the history of capitalistic character marketing. On January 20, 2022, Mars Inc. announced that they would be redesigning one of the hottest of hotties, the Green M&M. Our beloved Green M&M in all her magnificent go-go boots and virtuous white gloves was deemed as unfit for representing the Mars Inc. corporation ideology of providing a space where “everyone has the right to enjoy moments of happiness, and fun is the most powerful way to help people feel that they belong.” In Mars Inc.’s humble opinion, this fictional personification of a chocolate candy is not a powerful representation of the average person and thus needs to be replaced. To the public there is only one group who could have provoked this. The feminists!
Feminists, can you believe it? Did you ask for this? Personally, I was crushed, hurt, screaming, crying and throwing up at the news of the redesign. As a feminist myself, I do not remember asking for this.
I assume that the feminists reading this piece also answered that they did not remember asking for this, so what is the deal with everyone blaming us?
In 2022, it has become cool and mainstream to be a feminist. In today’s society is not uncommon to hear people of all gender conforming and nonconforming identities hold feminist values (yes even men). Many corporations have adapted to feminist trends by changing the appearance of their company to look more inclusive and representative to back feminist ideologies. For example, Lego released ads that called for girls to use creativity to “keep building,” and Warner Bro. removed Pepe Le Pew because people were weirded out (and rightfully so) by his frequent sexual advances on women.
Even if done with good intentions, these changes made to reflect feminist ideologies were marketing tools used to sell products. In Lego’s case they wanted to expand their sales population from boys and men to include girls and women. For Warner Bro., whether you agree or disagree with the decision to remove Pepe Le Pew, it saves face for Warner Bro. in the eye of the public who would be uncomfortable sitting in a theater and watch a skunk sexually harass someone.
Corporations, especially large multinational ones, appropriate feminist language and ideas to sell products. These companies directly benefit from appearing to support feminism while simultaneously failing to implement real material changes for the marginalized individuals that feminism advocates for. It looks nice to the public that these companies are taking a stand on issues, making you want to buy from them or not speak out against them, but it still only benefits the companies making these changes.
This is even true for political reshaping within the United States. Politicians directly benefit from remaining on the good side of the public just like companies do. They achieve a good and progessive reputation with the public but also take no real action to achieve what actual progressive movements are asking for. They achieve this laissez-faire activism by introducing empty performative public changes. For example, in D.C. during the mass protest that took place after the killing of George Floyd, D.C.’s Mayor Muriel Bowser decided to rename a plaza two blocks from the White House as Black Lives Matter Plaza. Instead of working with political leaders to do what Black Lives Matter’s protesters wanted, which is ensure the safety of Black people within the United States, they renamed a couple of streets. This looked good in the eyes of the public because it showed that D.C. had sympathy with the protestors and supported Black Lives Matter’s cause but later this support was rebutted when D.C. released the U.S. Park police to spray teargas on the peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters blocks away in Lafayette Square.
Companies and politicians reorganize and reconfigure their operations to remain relevant in the public eye. Since feminist culture and beliefs have become mainstream, it benefits companies to align their ideas with that of the public so that people continue to buy from them. With the new fears of cancel culture, it has become increasingly important to stay on the good side of the public.
When companies change policies, designs, or missions to reflect the current political atmosphere—like that of Mattel, the creators of Barbie, that chose to redesign the Barbie doll to better reflect the body positive views of people living in the 21st century—feminists face backlash from those who hold traditionalist value and are held liable for the changes. In the minds of the public, feminists force companies to “ruin tradition” or “be overly politically correct” and get rid of what they grew up with, know, and love.
Representing feminism as an unnecessary ideology that seeks to fix a system that is not broken makes the institution of feminism an easy scapegoat for those who believe in “traditional American values” of patriarchy. In the minds of Americans who hold traditionalist views rooted in patriarchy, companies are not to blame for changing with the times because they need to remain relevant. Who is to blame, though, is the reason the times are changing: feminism.
Blaming feminism has become a favorite pastime of many conservative traditionalists within the United States. Infamously said by Pat Robertson, host of evangelical television show The 700 Club, “[Feminism] is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.” My favorite anti-feminist quote of all time, made by conservative radio host and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Rush Limbaugh, “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream society.”
In the case of our beloved Green M&M, traditionalists have direct reasons to blame feminism for change because feminism has accumulated a reputation of applying anti-patriarchal ideology through the means of “acting like a man” and rejecting anything “girly” or “sexy.” This can be traced back to the 9-to-5 movement, when women in the 70s who wanted to secure better working conditions argued that “fashion is political.” To protest against the unjust labor practices pushed upon them, they decided to challenge traditionalist notions of acceptable women’s work clothing. The 9-to-5 movement pointed out the oversexualization of women and women’s work attire in comparison to men and men’s work uniforms. To address this conflict skirts, pantyhose, and heals were turned in for pantsuits, blazers, and flat shoes.
This turn against traditional feminine dress created the idea believed by traditionalists, progressives, and feminist alike that feminists in the United States all wear clothes or should wear clothes that are not sexy. If you are a feminist in the US you should never wear anything that society says a man should not wear. Pantsuits instead of dresses. Short hair over long hair. Sadly, sneakers instead of iconic white go-go boots.
By foregoing critical thinking, and pushing the responsibility of company reconstruction onto feminists, we tend to miss the blatant publicity stunts done to distract us from companies’ wrongdoings.
You may be asking at this moment, what was Mars Inc.’s intention in changing Green M&M’s look when literally nobody asked for it? How does this change benefit the company?
In February 2021, lawsuits were filed against large chocolate corporations including Mars Inc., Nestlé, and Hershey’s by children who claimed that Mars Inc. and other companies were purchasing cocoa from plantations that utalized both child labor and unpaid labor. In June 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked this case, claiming that the companies cannot be held liable for the conditions of plantations where they purchase the cocoa for their chocolate from.
Mars Inc. has remained relatively quiet since the ruling, so it came as a shock to everyone when their first big move after the ruling was to alter the look of an iconic character. Really came out the gate swinging, Mars!
Mars Inc. has used red herring marketing tactics to distract people from the fact that they have illegal labor practices. Instead of facing scrutiny for funneling money into plantations that employ children and don’t pay their workers, they would rather face scrutiny for changing the design of a character. The first will probably cause the destruction of the company, and the latter will perhaps cause an outcry that will be forgotten about in 2 months.
Maybe distraction was not the first thing on Mars Inc.’s mind when they announced that they would be changing the iconic character, but they definitely understood that redesigning the character would result in backlash from feminists and non-feminists alike. The company created a feedback loop that ultimately results in feminists being blamed for driving society to extreme “political correctness.” This feedback loop skips over the fact that Mars Inc. is switching their image in the name of “feminism” while also going against feminist ideology regarding just labor practices.
Frankly, I am tired of this overused move towards progressiveness in branding that does not actual work to achieve progressive feminist goals. Getting rid of the go-go boots and placing their in sneakers in an attempt to be progressive in today’s society misrepresents the belief of feminism that anyone can be a feminist, no matter what they look like.
What would have been a progressive move by Mars Inc. is an acknowledgement that they are facing lawsuits made by workers in African cocoa plantations and the ways they are actively and presently working to combat child labor and unpaid labor.
As of now Mars Inc.’s only statement on the matter can be viewed on their website under the “Protecting Children Action Plan.” They state that they seek to monitor where they purchase their cocoa from, but these are very long-term goals which also call for what they call “community-based investments” to help figure out root causes of unpaid child labor. There is no action saying that they will stop buying cocoa from these plantations or establish contracts that require the payment of these workers in order to continue business with these plantations. But yes, a beloved fictional character that they use for marketing is tarnishing Mars Inc.’s reputation more than doing business with plantations who employ children and also do not pay workers.
Mars Inc. is not doing anyone a favor by replacing Green M&M’s boots in their design. They reap benefits from public relations of the conversations surrounding the Green M&M because in the minds of many people, Mars Inc. was just following the trend of feminism. If you were on twitter when the announcement of the “un-yassification” of the Green M&M hit, you understand just the field day everyone had with the announcement and the amount of publicity M&Ms had that day.
Mars Inc. is not the only company to use these red herring marketing tactics and it will certainly not be the last. The next time you see a company trending on twitter for doing unnecessary changes in the name of “progression,” please look past the memes and jokes (maybe laugh a little at the funny ones) that the company really hoped you focused on and start looking at how silent they are about scandals they are in. By covering up or avoiding their exploitative labor practices, Mars Inc. is failing to embody feminist ideology more than a fictional character wearing white go-go boots ever will.