I recently read about the decision of the WNBA to continue a partnership with Procter & Gamble (P&G) which will include brand exposure for P&G along with a P&G-developed program ("Imagine a Future") aimed at black girls and young women. At first glance this seems like a win-win combination: the WNBA benefits financially, while P&G gains access to potential customers who are at the age where they may be convinced to purchase P&G products specifically selected as brand tie-ins for this campaign.
While the benefits of this partnership are clear, what is less clear is whether a partnership with P&G truly fits with what the WNBA is about--first and foremost, to be "the premier women's sports league in the world." Following from that, it stands to reason that the WNBA has an interest in empowering girls and women. The league has taken it upon itself to focus attention on women's health through its Breast Health Awareness program, for example, and there is an annual "Inspiring Women" luncheon designed to celebrate women "who show the world what is possible."
All this is to say that the WNBA seems to have sincere intentions when it comes to empowering girls and women...which is what makes this partnership with P&G all the more disappointing. The brands that will be advertised during this campaign are Cover Girl (makeup), Tampax (tampons), and Secret (antiperspirant). These are all products that can become relevant for girls as they enter puberty, a demographic P&G surely hopes to reach through its connections with the WNBA. The company is keenly aware that if they can catch the attention of girls as they begin to use "health and beauty" products like makeup, tampons, and antiperspirant, they may gain customers who will be loyal to P&G brands for life.
However, while most women have come to think of these items as necessities, this isn't always the case. Antiperspirant, for example, is a relatively recent invention, and there are plenty of women who use alternative menstrual products for reasons ranging from environmental and health concerns to cost savings. Mainstream products such as those sold under the Cover Girl, Tampax, and Secret brands have also been called into question as far as potentially negative effects on women's health. The jury is still out on whether the materials used to make tampons are completely safe, and some of the ingredients found in mainstream antiperspirants and makeup offer cause for concern as well.
The WNBA is a business, and as such it needs to find ways to generate money that can be used to help sustain the league. However, the WNBA is also one of the elite professional women's sports leagues in the United States, and as such should strive to empower girls and women at more than a surface level. Truly caring about, and promoting, the health of girls and women should matter just as much as securing sources of funding. As Queenie has hinted at in the past [I'd love to read that screed someday, Queenie!] pinkwashing, something that occurs at some WNBA games, is rife with problems. So too is this partnership between the WNBA and P&G. For me, and for many, many, other fans of the WNBA, the league is tangible proof that women are more than capable of greatness--and that what we do matters and has value in this world. To have all of the achievements of the WNBA called into question through a partnership with a company whose only genuine motive is profit--even at the expense of women's health--works against everything the WNBA stands for.
The WNBA, and its fans, deserve better.