Aspiring stars should pay close attention to Drew Barrymore's career. As nearly every magazine profile of Barrymore points out, she is one of the most likable actresses around. She strikes an image that comes off as goofy and earnest—a product of her laid-back California bohemian vibe; a commitment to family, friends, and charity; and the gravitas she earned by healing from a troubled childhood right in front of our eyes.
Barrymore is the kind of star women think could be their friend. Some of us even feel like she is our friend. All the reason then to find her ongoing collaboration with Walmart, which has been no friend to women, so surprising.
This month Barrymore will launch three perfumes through Flower Beauty, her year-old cosmetics line that is sold exclusively at Walmart. The scents, Cherished, Radiant, and Sultry, are meant to represent the different parts of the day. "This collection of fragrances is actually about a story and has an emotional association," she told Women's Wear Daily.
Unfortunately, Walmart's female employees have had little reason to feel cherished, radiant, or sultry over the years — and I doubt any combination of Tahitian vanilla, sandalwood, and Italian lemon is going to help.
For one, Walmart was the target of the largest ever sex discrimination lawsuit in American history, when 1.6 million women claimed they were held back because of gender in Walmart v. Dukes. At the time, women's pay lagged far behind their male colleagues in every major job and in every region. And while women made up more than 80 percent of hourly supervisors, they held only one third of management jobs.
Christine Kwapnowski, one of six women named as plaintiffs, told the BBC that male colleagues were routinely given promotions instead of her. "I asked what I needed to do to get promoted and my manager said I should 'doll up and blow the cobwebs off my makeup," she said. Makeup. How fitting.
Walmart was also hit this year with a class-action complaint from three women's legal rights groups who said the company unfairly discriminated against pregnant women. Two of the organizations, A Better Balance and the National Women's Law Center, conducted an investigation and found a pattern of unlawful discrimination against pregnant women at the retailer. Weeks after the complaint was filed, Walmart said that it had revised its policy and will do more to accommodate pregnant workers, but those behind the complaint say it isn't enough.
"Under this new policy, Walmart can continue to evade its legal obligations and force pregnant workers off the job when they can least afford it—by quibbling over whether they are 'disabled,'" said Emily Martin, vice president and general counsel at the National Women's Law Center.
Celebrity endorsement deals are risky endeavors. Sometimes a company becomes associated with a celebrity whose behavior is seen as irresponsible or immoral, like a Tiger Woods or a Lance Armstrong. And sometimes a celebrity becomes associated with a company whose behavior is seen as irresponsible or immoral. Recent examples include when health advocacy organizations called upon Beyoncé to end her $50 million endorsement deal with Pepsi and when pro-Palestinian groups asked for Scarlett Johansson to end her contract with Sodastream. Though neither campaign was successful, the resistance to them made for a healthy public debate about what those companies stand for and whether they deserve our support. I think Barrymore's partnership with Walmart deserves a conversation of its own.
"It's my crusade to help women feel good about themselves," Barrymore says about the launch of Flower Beauty in a profile in Harper's Bazaar. Let's hold her to it.
Elissa Strauss writes about gender and culture for TheWeek.com.
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