The Hershey Company’s celebration of Women’s History Month included an image of Fae Johnstone, a transgender woman, on the chocolate bar’s wrapper, prompting heated dialogue online with critics calling for a boycott of the company’s products.
Conservative social media members accused the Hershey brand of “erasing women” and “featuring a male in costume.” Thursday’s top trending topic on Twitter was the hashtag #BoycottHersheys after critics disagreed with Johnstone’s picture being on the wrapper for Hershey’s International Women’s Day campaign in Canada.
The 27-year-old Johnstone, a 2SLGBTQIA+ advocate, is one of five women featured in Hershey’s “Her for She” campaign.
The Hershey Company stated in a press release that the SHE bars are empowering and that it was bringing the chocolate bars back for a third year to honor influential women and girls who impact lives.
“The Hershey’s SHE bars serve as a heartwarming reminder to take a moment and shine a light on the women and girls who inspire us every day,” the company said.
The word “Hershey” appeared in 32,000 tweets Thursday. The company responded to the online furor by tweeting a statement that it values togetherness and recognizes the strength created by diversity.
“Over the past three years, our Women’s History Month programming has been an inclusive celebration of women and their impact,” the company said on Twitter. “We appreciate the countless people and meaningful partnership behind these efforts.”
The Hershey Company’s inclusion of Johnstone drew praise from numerous social media members and outrage from many others. Johnstone tweeted Thursday that the reaction to her inclusion as a trans woman in Hershey’s IWD campaign “shows just how far we still have to go in the fight for feminist liberation.”
Johnstone added in her tweet that she will “always stand up for women and girls, cis and trans.”
The other four women in Hershey’s Canadian campaign included climate-tech researcher Naila Moloo and Indigenous-rights activist Autumn Peltier. The company said its initiative spotlights Canadian women who are “working to build a better future through their passion, activism, and work in their communities.”
The controversy is the latest involving a major candy company. Last year, M&M’s stated it was altering the appearance of its female green and brown candies so the mascots would be less gender stereotypes and more “inclusive, welcome, and unifying.”
M&M’s announcement was also met with online criticism, opponents of the change accusing M&M’s of being too politically correct.
The social-media backlash illustrates the polarized views of gender identity and trans rights and comes at a time when there are reportedly over 150 bills in U.S. statehouses targeting transgender people.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization, the number of bills introduced this year represents an all-time high in the U.S. for a single year.
At time of writing, an email seeking comment from The Hershey Company had not yet received a reply.