Women's issues

An online community sponsored by Procter & Gamble lets women share inspirational stories about weight loss and romance.

By Catherine Price
Published January 9, 2007 5:36PM (EST)

Procter & Gamble -- the same company that brought you Pampers, Charmin and Noxzema -- has launched a women-oriented Web site called Capessa, hosted on Yahoo Health (and co-created with Yahoo and the ZiZo group). The site derives its name from a Latin verb that means "to strive to reach a place," and is designed, according to its press release, to be an "online community where women can share inspirational stories, as well as practical tips and information relevant to the various aspects of their lives."

Fair enough. But check out some of the featured profiles: Andrea, "who went from fat-free to nutrient-rich and got her health back." Leiah, who suffered from a "Mommy Meltdown." Shelia, who started the S Factor, "a popular fitness movement inspired by real life strippers."

Before readers begin to point out the irony of someone criticizing a women-focused Web site by writing about it on a women-focused blog, let me be clear about what bothers me about this. It's not the idea of creating an online community for women or men. Nor is it surprising that P&G is trying to get its female consumers to tell it, by creating content for the site, what sorts of products they like to buy -- the company, known in the past for sponsoring radio and TV soap operas, has often been a pioneer in using new forms of media to connect with and mine information from consumers.

What's getting me is P&G's global marketing officer's claim, quoted on the site's press release, that "this website provides women with relevant information that connects to their specific interests and adds value to their lives."

OK, fine, breast cancer -- one of the site's topic headings -- might be more a personal health concern to women than to men. But some of P&G's definitions of women's "specific interests" perpetuate gender stereotypes that are annoying to both women and men. Weight loss, parenting and "finding love"? Stereotypically female, sure. But are those really things that men can't relate to?

But even more annoying is that -- despite the fact that P&G must have known that people would criticize the site's fluffiness -- it didn't make any effort to go beyond human-interest stories (which, again, are apparently specifically interesting to women). This is not to say that a Web site designed to cull information about consumer tastes in toilet paper should turn into a political blog, but still, what was the logic of behind putting "work" last in the main page's listing of "Other Topics of Interest," after categories like "Fitness," "Nutrition" and "Relationships"? (No, they're not listed alphabetically.) Or in picking stories, under this "work" subhead, with descriptions like this one?

"Trying to take all the right steps in life landed Azucena in an unfulfilling, uninspiring career as an engineer. Only after she gave in to her bathroom dancing habit did she find her real path to happiness."

That description makes me want to adopt another use of the Latin verb "capesso" -- an expression meaning "to take up arms."

So here's my suggestion: Since Capessa is supposed to be a site with user-generated content that helps women "change their lives ... and share the wisdom they have learned along the way," women who are interested in the forum should consider using the site to speak about other topics that interest them, so that the site's content is driven toward topics that better represent women's lives in 2007. If P&G is really clever, its editors will listen.


Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

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