Today my mother sent me a summary of her friend’s recent trip to Cuba, and it was the straw that broke the camel’s back regarding my wholehearted disagreement with Roberta Hawkins’ article on Ethical Consumption. It reminded me of some of the topics discussed in our social media and culture. Ms. Hawkins depicts the Pampers initiative as belittling women by suggesting that the only/best way for women to interact with each other globally is through superficial consumption of everyday capitalistic products, such as diapers. Let me preface this reflection by saying that I have the utmost respect for feminism and the field as a whole. However I think this analysis is an exception to the rule in that it is grasping at straws and focusing very hard on creating an issue where there isn’t a need for change. Roberta Hawkins is well intentioned but incorrect when she says that the One Pack= One Vaccine initiative is a bad thing for women around the globe. She contends that it pits the “first world women” versus “third world women” in the name of global motherhood, and that it limits women’s ability to connect with one another to capitalistic and colonialist power dynamics.
It’s time to face facts here people. Raise your hand if you’ve ever gone to a third world country for humanitarian reasons…that’s what I thought. Most people haven’t, myself included. Does that make you a bad person? Does that make you an apathetic person? No, of course not, you just don’t have time to go to another part of the world and devote weeks to the cause; it doesn’t mean you don’t care. Ms. Hawkins says that by engaging in Pampers One Pack=One Vaccine initiative you are degrading women’s ability to influence change to superficial consumption of products. This in my opinion is total bullshit. In many cases, that’s the only way for the people of the world to connect, through capitalism. Would you prefer the vaccines not be given to pregnant woman who wouldn’t have access to the vaccine without the donations made by Procter & Gamble? Because that’s what would have happened had this initiative not been in place. This “degrading initiative” helped give over 45 million vaccines to pregnant woman and their children in developing countries in order to protect them and their newborn children from preventable diseases. These vaccines went to 12 different African countries, and were only made possible by the .05 donations per diaper package sold.
If this was a perfect world, then yes, Ms. Hawkins has an excellent point that merits further examination; however the world we live in is far from perfect. Women in parts of India and Africa get abused, molested, and killed every day for little to no reason other than that they are women. In parts of Africa fourteen-year-old girls get their vagina’s sewn shut in order to guarantee they’ll remain virgins until their arranged marriage. Wives are burned at the stake in parts of northern India if they don’t produce a male heir in a satisfactory amount of time according to their husband’s discretion. This ethical consumption, while imperfect and done in the name of profit by big companies, at the end of the day gave 45 million woman treatment they would have otherwise been denied. Yes, it is a marketing ploy meant to sell more of the company’s products, there’s no denying that, but why is that so degrading for women? It’s not, it’s Procter & Gamble trying to sell more products while simultaneously getting tax breaks for contributing to a humanitarian cause, to me that’s a win-win-win scenario. The company wins, people can feel better about buying things they would have bought anyways by knowing that some of the money is going to a good cause, and underprivileged women get medical treatment for maternal and neonatal tetanus that they couldn’t afford on their own.
She seems to forget that the history of the world has been determined through capitalism and colonialism. The good, the bad, and the ugly have all come from people’s innate desire to better themselves, their families, and their country. Marco Polo didn’t travel to Asia to bring back medicine and new food to Europe, he went out of personal desire for glory and exploration. Christopher Columbus, Herman Cortez, Ferdinand Magellan, and Leif Erikson all accomplished great things for selfish reasons. Historically speaking, when two cultures collide, initially all interactions are economically driven. People have always begun communication through either war or trade. The Mongols, the Romans, the Franks, the Turks, all began interactions with new cultures and different people through commodities and trading. This is no different. Women are communicating and helping one another through commodity consumption and trade, like they have been through thousands of years. Again in a perfect world women should be able to communicate freely and equally but unfortunately that isn’t the case quite yet.
Ms. Hawkins also comments that the commercial used for this initiative shows women from third world countries dressed in traditional garb for their region, while the white woman window shops. Whether you like it or not, a lot of people in those countries look exactly like the women in the commercial, that’s not racist or misogynistic, that’s just a fact. At the beginning of this reflection I mentioned how my mom sent me information about a trip to Cuba. All of the women shown in those pictures are in traditional Cuban garb, because that’s the way their culture dresses. My close family friend spends 4 months of the year in Uganda working at an orphanage, and all of the women in her pictures that she brings home with her look like the depictions of African women in the Pampers commercials.
Furthermore she claims that the commercial insinuates that the only way woman can connect with each other around the globe is through consumption, which she then links to Marxist fetishism. While she is correct in saying that this is a capitalistic exploitation of environmental, economic, and social relations, she’s wrong in damming it as a misdeed. As mentioned previously, many people buying these Pampers packages wouldn’t have donated to these women in need otherwise. People are not angels, not many people, men or women, are charitably inclined.
All in all I understand and respect where she is coming from when she says that a feminist analysis of ethical consumption is necessary. However I take issue when she points to the methods and means in which this communication is started. History is shown that this is the natural progression of two cultures assimilating, and if the collateral of this interaction is a tetanus vaccine for people who can’t afford them, then I don’t think it should be criticized until a better alternative is presented besides the free market. I don’t think woman are being degraded at all, I think most women see these products in the grocery store, and buy them to help out people they’ve never met, half a world away.
Roberta Hawkins (2011) ‘One Pack = One Vaccine’ = one global motherhood? A feminist analysis of ethical consumption, Gender, Place & Culture, 18:02, 235-253, DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2010.551650