Charitable causes sell, and companies are following the example of celebrities like Madonna and Bono in the hopes of reaching more consumers by appealing to our good will. This trend — which often causes more harm than good — has gotten somewhat out of control, with many companies and individuals abandoning the desire to really make social change in favor of simply scoring some press. If you want to make a killin’ put a cause on it, to misquote that BeyoncÃ© song. Or if you want to be web famous. Or if you’re looking for excuses.
This is a list of the worst donation drives and awareness campaigns to date.
Female Genital Mutilation
Simple Pickup is a trio of guys who made their name online by making YouTube videos about picking up women. In May, 2014, they decided that the best way to get strange women they met on the Venice Beach Boardwalk to talk about their genitals was to slap the word “charity” on their probing questions, so they devised the most misguided “awareness” campaign the world has ever seen.
The campaign consisted of asking attractive women to tell them how they felt about their clitorises and then asking them to straddle a Sybian, a vibrating saddle meant to stimulate the clitoris, and simulate masturbation in public. The longer the women stayed on the device, the more money the bros promised to donate to the Orchid Project, a foundation devoted to preventing female genital mutilation.
Female genital mutilation is the removal or destruction of part or all of the clitoris and sometimes the labia or entire external genitalia, the purpose of which is to separate pleasure from sex as a means of annihilating, or at least controlling, female sexual desire. According to the United Nations Population Fund, 100 to 140 million girls and women have undergone some form of genital mutilation or cutting, and at least 3 million girls are at risk of undergoing the brutal procedure every year. Without a doubt, asking a privileged population to enjoy clitoral stimulation isn’t simply utterly unhelpful in raising awareness about the plight faced by millions of girls and women, it’s offensive to those who live with the reality of female genital mutilation.
Unsurprisingly, the Orchid Project returned the $1,335 donation. As David Adam, development coordinator at Orchid Project, put it: “We feel that fundraising in that way, without our endorsement or consent, is not appropriate and more importantly is not respectful to the communities we work with.”
In April, 2014, Vogue Italia published a graphic series of photographs by the famous fashion photographer Steven Meisel that depicted models (decked in fashionable brands, of course) being abused, stalked, assaulted and looking generally terrified. In a bizarre commentary by the magazine regarding images that essentially glamorize intimate partner violence, Carlo Ducci wrote:
Saying NO to violence against women enables us to be, in our own way, useful. And to convey, as our civic duty, a message against barbarism. It doesn’t matter if we run the risk of causing a general uproar with the media or arousing criticism; or if we are accused of exploiting pressing issues just to push our way in newsstands. What is important for us is that at least one of the dozens of women suffering violence every day can feel our nearness. And that those who follow us may feel stimulated to take action, condemn, and support women in trouble. And that they all see that all of us at “Vogue Italia” are on their side: by utterly and radically condemning all types of violence. This awareness urges us to make some noise.
Being on the side of victims apparently means using triggery fashion photography to glamorize the status quo, which affects not “dozens” but millions of women — and men, as well. In the United States, 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. For member states of the European Union — Italy among them — one in every four women has experienced intimate partner abuse. Annually, the number of women impacted in the European Union is 30 million. That’s not dozens.
And this isn’t an awareness campaign — it’s the use of violent imagery to sell clothes and accessories hidden under a tacky and transparent attempt to invoke social good. And it’s disgusting.
In October, 2012, the porn tube site PornHub tried to leverage the Susan G. Komen Foundation brand in a ridiculously ill-conceived press release that read, in part: “It doesn’t matter if you’re into itty-bitty-titties, the perfect handful, jumbo fun-bags or low-swinging flapjacks, what matters most is that your kind and selfless gesture will go a long way towards helping our sisters to find a cure.”
The porn giant planned to give one cent for every thirty views of any video in its “Big Tits” or “Small Tits” category, and closed with the words, “let the good times bounce!” Considering that sometimes in order to save the woman, you need to remove the breast, this campaign isn’t just in poor taste, but cruel.
When reached for comment by the Huffington Post, a representative for the organization said: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure is not a partner of pornhub.com. We will not accept donations from this organization and have asked them to stop using our name.”
This one is a repeat of a similarly misguided attempt almost a year before, when a group of users on the social network Google Plus began posting and requesting photos of the chests of female users. When confronted about the sexist and harassing environment created by the initiative — which they called #booberday — a number of participants attempted to paint it pink, saying it was an effort in the name of breast cancer awareness. Yeah, right.
Anyone involved with thinking up these campaigns should be immediately expelled from their respective publicity departments, and maybe even the planet. As for everyday people who want to talk about genitals or see some boobs: just own it! Take the damn “good cause” fig leaf off it and go for it! In a non-creepy, non-harassing way, of course. Asking women walking the street to tell you about their relationships with their genitalia is really not the way to go.
Header image by hobvias sudoneighm.