Yesterday, marchers from New York and Los Angeles reported that Vice Media was dispensing VICELAND-branded bandanas and pins bearing slogans like “I VOTE HUMANITY,” “I VOTE DIVERSITY,” and “WOMEN DON’T FORGET.” Slapping a VICELAND logo on feminism is particularly tone-deaf (or more cynically, just bad business) at a time when Vice is investigating internal sexual harassment as well as sex discrimination allegations. While Vice seems to have prioritized manufacturing and distributing lady-friendly swag just in time for Women’s March, the company has just started to address its own endemic sexism by placing two top executives on leave and firing at least three employees; adding more women to executive and HR positions; instating a “Diversity & Inclusion Advisory board”; and implementing mandatory harassment training.
As has been widely reported, recent investigations by the Daily Beast and New York Times uncovered what former head of branded production Sandra Miller called “an overall a toxic environment where women are treated far inferior than men.” Speaking to the Daily Beast, women reported a grab-assey culture where employees were encouraged to sleep their way to the top. The Times found that over a hundred thousand dollars had been paid out in sexual harassment settlements since 2003.
After Jezebel reported on a Broadly freelance columnist who was charged with several counts of assault last year, a spokesperson told Jezebel that “Vice does not tolerate assault of any kind, or behavior that is disrespectful or offensive to any group or demonstrates bias or bigotry...” Recent history suggests otherwise. The company’s since-removed “nontraditional workplace agreement”–which contractually obligated employees not to find the “workplace environment” “offensive, indecent, violent or disturbing”–suggested that top level management was not only aware of inappropriate behavior, but took great pains to protect it. Vice has said that the agreement meant to address only “content,” not “conduct,” but the fact that many women remain quiet when approached by media outlets attests to the continued effectiveness of Vice’s silencing infrastructure. The Times also reviewed a confidentiality agreement which barred employees from publicly disparaging the company.
Former Vice reporter Billie JD Porter–who joined Vice as a minor with the job title “Lolita Life Ruiner” on her business cards–claims that she has yet feared legal repercussions. But after seeing a VICELAND-branded pin reading “WOMEN DON’T FORGET,” she tweeted early this morning that she could no longer stay silent:
Yeah, women don’t forget. I haven’t forgotten being given drugs and alcohol by my boss in the office as a sixteen year old, then being asked to perform sex acts on him. I haven’t forgotten being seriously told by my producers to get drunk before filming because they thought it made me a ‘funnier’ host. I haven’t forgotten the company firing me after what they called ‘inappropriate behaviour’ at a company party where I was given a cocktail of drugs by senior management who knew I was being treated for depression.
“Know this,” she adds: “while Vice are spending money on tone-deaf marketing gimmicks like this and trying to improve their public image, they are neglecting to support and inform their own employees who were abused on their watch.”
This egregious reduction of a women’s movement explicitly demonstrates how Vice operates: maneuvers the resistance by the marginalized and poor as a marketing tool, to great commercial success.