momtourage [mom-toorahzh]

  1. “The people that provide you with support, help you get things done, and allow you to be the best mom you can be. You know, those wonderful people who make the journey more fun, more understandable and more sane. The kind of folks who, when you’re thinking of running away to join the circus, remind you that you’re scared of clowns.”*
  2. A cheesy website dedicated to the concept above, filled with gag-inducing “cuteness” and gender-stereotype-reinforcing articles.
  3. A lame marketing ploy targeted at women and sponsored by Walmart.

(*direct quotes taken from the Momtourage website)

Have you been to a Walmart? I mean, really, I know there’s the stereotype that in the South/Midwest/Bible Belt, people get “Dressed Up” to go to Walmart, like it’s some hugely exciting outing. And maybe – like with a number of stereotypes – there’s an ounce of truth to that million pound cliche. But in my neck of the woods (which is not so much woods as it is a paved stretch of four-lane-highway), the Walmart is less than a treat. It’s mostly crowded. It’s dirty. It’s disorganized. The products are often low-quality. The employees are often tired, rude, and frazzled. The management – well, suffice to say I have yet to see management at my Walmart. And it’s been there for several years.

These are just a few of the reasons I quit shopping at Walmart. But they’re not the most pressing reasons. Oh, no – what bothered me more than the poor customer service, shoddy wares, disorganized store and filthy carts is Walmart’s poor employment practices – and in particular, its trouble with women.

If you google “Walmart + gender discrimination” you get this. 143,000 hits may not seem like a lot, but I certainly wouldn’t want my name associated with “gender discrimination” that many times. If you google “Walmart + women,” the results are even higher – 8,040,000. (In case you have trouble with zeroes, allow me to spell it out for you: eight million, forty thousand.) Certainly not all of those results have to do with gender discrimination – but a quick survey of the first 30 results reveals that 19 have something to do with Walmart’s alleged gender bias. That’s 63%, kids.

And if you’ve done any amount of reading on the Walmart gender bias, you’ll know that Walmart pays women less money, promotes women less often, and denies women breaks and paid time off more often than their male counterparts. Currently embroiled in the largest civil rights class action suit in US history, America’s favorite retailer has a long history of alleged discrimination and workplace abuses.

An example? Sure. Of course.

Donna went to school in South Jersey, at a small liberal arts college in the middle of the Pine Barrens. As such, most of her friends were from the area – including Becky, who worked with Donna on campus. Becky’s mom worked at Walmart to support their family. One day, in the early summer of 2007, the Pine Barrens caught fire. More than 13,000 acres of pinelands burned as a result of some military target training gone wrong. Becky’s mom’s Walmart was located near the burning pinelands – in fact, she could see the fire from the parking lot of the store. Businesses and homes all around the area were being evacuated. Becky’s mom watched as employee after employee was released from duty, heading home to check on family, house, etc. Becky’s mom, however, was instructed not to leave the store – even after management vacated the premises – despite the danger of the fire taking over the lot. The reason? “Someone has to remain on site.” Becky’s mom, who was the sole full-time income for the household (including one disabled husband, one college-student daughter, and one soldier brother who was shipped overseas), was told that if she left the store, she would be fired. So she stayed. Because she felt she had no other choice.

So what does this have to do with Momtourage?

Momtourage, as I’ve pointed out above, is a new marketing tool aimed at The Mommies – those middle-class women with children who are either working or not working, but still struggling to maintain the status quo. The website is backed by iVillage, a media company that runs several on- and offline channels focusing on women and girls (and reinforcing those fun and traditional gender roles along the way: women can use the iVillage family of channels to “connect, share ideas and seek advice and support about everything from fertility to fashion.” As if that’s all we care about). And it’s biggest sponsor? You guessed it: Walmart.

It’s not so surprising. I imagine iVillage and Walmart are attempting to reach out to those women termed “Walmart Women.” And based on my unscientific recollections of shopping at the store, the bulk of people shopping at the same time as me were women. So really, it’s just smart marketing.

But it does unsettle me. Walmart is concerned about its customers, but not its employees. I know that’s a familiar theme in Capitalist Corporate America, but it’s one that bothers me quite a bit. I want to work for a company that supports me as an employee – and I want to patronize other companies that I know do the same thing for their employees. It’s getting harder and harder to find. And Walmart is setting no example.