Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Feminist Politics Behind...Tupperware!

History is full of emergent feminist movements from the most unlikely places, like the fraternity of stewardesses that really became the first "lipstick feminists".

And here's a new one I hadn't considered before: Tupperware Ladies.

I just can't imagine inviting a bunch of friends over to buy plastic containers. But, they did -- by the millions.

According to this great article in the Globe & Mail:

The prevailing idea was that any man who could look himself in the mirror could provide for his wife," says Laurie Kahn-Leavitt, a U.S. filmmaker who made a 2003 documentary about the company, titled Tupperware! "Here was a company saying you could earn extra money, and it wasn't really work. He could still feel like he was a breadwinner."

Cultural historians describe Tupperware as moulding gender politics in much the same way it shaped its polyethylene plastic; some even invoke the product's tight-sealing lid as a metaphor for the hermetic containment of postwar homemakers.

Ms. Kahn-Leavitt acknowledges that most of the 300 "Tupperware ladies" she interviewed for the film, who worked for the company during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, were a socially conservative lot. Yet she insists that social theorists often fail to recognize the entrepreneurial, even subversive spirit of this group.

"None of the women I interviewed would call themselves feminists, but they were always working around their husbands," she says. "[Feminists] looked at the Tupperware ladies as a total anachronism, not realizing they were kind of proto-feminists in a way. It's a working-class boomer company, is what it really is."

Some of Tupperware's attempts to keep pace with the evolution of boomers were more successful than others. The company boasts, a bit tenuously, that it participated in the nascent 1960s women's movement by creating plastic organizers and travelling cases, as more women entered the work force.

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