Walmart will soon put a logo on products produced by women-owned companies. Is this helpful or patronizing? Shouldn’t women be striving for a level playing field rather than special treatment?
“Your dollar is your vote” has echoed across the consuming nation in recent years, and the attitude behind it, that we should all care about the character of the companies that make the stuff we buy, is a significant trend in purchasing habits. Soon, Walmart shoppers will be able to vote specifically for products created by women-owned businesses.
This fall, a “Women Owned” logo will begin appearing on a variety of goods sold by Walmart. A study conducted by the consumer giant found that an overwhelming majority of women shoppers are interested in buying items that women-owned businesses produce. Walmart collaborated with the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council and WEConnect International, which both set standards for women-owned businesses that bid for contracts, to create the Women Owned logo and the campaign.
While stamping this logo on consumer products is a new idea, women-owned businesses earning particular attention is old hat for certain sectors. The federal government conducts billions of dollars of contracting business each year, 5% of which is earmarked for women-owned businesses. A slew of other categories, some of them amazingly specific, exist in the world of contracting: minority-owned businesses, service-disabled veteran-owned businesses, economically disadvantaged women-owned small businesses. (Really.) The government must meet certain quotas regarding these categories when awarding contracts. Perhaps we’ll see such quotas move into the private sector after the Women Owned logo debuts; Walmart has already promised to source $20 billion in U.S. women-owned business products by 2016.
Putting the logo on Smart & Sexy bras and Maggie’s Salsa feels like it’s a good way to let shoppers vote with their dollars. It feels like it’s a good way for women (and men) to support female business leaders, of whom there are still woefully few compared to the number of men who have achieved success in the sector.
But I’m not so sure it’s the right way. It’s a move designed to promote the achievements of women to the average Walmart shopper, which is fine. But it advertises businesswomen to consumers, not to chain retail buyers. The latter can sink a business due to prejudice about who owns it a lot more easily than consumers can.
Besides, isn’t it possible that women-owned businesses, fewer though they may be, are competing perfectly well with male-owned businesses? This kind of attention may improve things, but it may also seed resentment, and make sexism in business worse, in the same way that affirmative action has earned mixed results and reactions over the years. Shouldn’t women be striving for a level playing field rather than special treatment?
We may not live in a post-racial society (despite what the Supreme Court indicated in April), nor a post-sexist society (as the Supreme Court affirmed last week). But buying a plastic container of salsa as a point of pride because it came from a business owned by a woman feels less like a feminist statement than it does a patronizing one. Yeah, women own businesses. So what? They also drive cars and walk upright, just like men do.
I, for one, am interested in buying quality products whose makers didn’t exploit anyone and didn’t destroy any habitats. Adding a Women Owned logo to products seems like a hollow, marketing-derived attempt to make female consumers forget about how much harm Walmart’s business practices do and shop with sister solidarity in mind.
No thanks. Even if a woman owned Walmart itself, I still wouldn’t vote for it.
Katharine Coldiron’s work has appeared in The Escapist, Route, JMWW, and elsewhere. She lives in California and blogs at The Fictator.