Protecting Futures or Promoting Profits?

I’ve decided to use my excessive TV watching for good, and comment on recent Tampax/Always advertisements touting Protecting Futures, a partnership with the United Nations Association of the USA HERO campaign. The program urges women to “use their periods for good” — saying that purchase of Tampax or Always will allow the company to donate 1.4 million dollars to provide feminine protection and education to girls in Southern Africa. According to the website, “hat money will be used to provide health, hygiene and puberty education. It’s also going into building classrooms, toilets, wash stations and dorms. And it’s being used to provide the students with meals and clean water. In addition, we’ll be providing pads to these girls to help them not miss school when they get their period.”

My quick survey of reactions to this campaign on various blogs and forums indicates there has been much criticism of this campaign — some say “yuck,” others say this is just encouraging more pollution of the environment. The most cogent (and funniest) comes from a fellow fiber-addict, Knitted Bikini, who observes “these women have had to endure missing school and much worse, and they’ve had to endure it for generation after generation. I’m glad you’re finally interested.” She adds that perhaps they should also find a product to deal with more critical issues, such as female circumcision.

To add an historian’s take on this — this reminds me of arguments made in Joan Jacobs Brumberg’s book, The Body Project, about how the menstrual hygiene product industry taught girls in the early twentieth-century United States how to menstruate the “modern” hygienic way. Menstruation then became a “hygienic crisis” rather than a female right of passage that connected women across generations. I wonder if this sort of thing will happen with the campaign in Africa. Still, the Protecting Futures seems to be promoting what Brumberg calls the “whole girl” by promoting health education and sanitary facilities in addition to plugging a product (which P&G is distributing for free). Also, at least they’re not giving out cigarettes. . .

[Further thoughts: I chatted about this with the colleague next door — she suggested seeing this as part of a larger “click for the cause” phenomenon on the Web. Also, note to self — think about how this relates to issues of “ethical consumption” raised in Landon Storrs, Civilizing Capitalism].

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