At last night's "Toys & Tupperware," the opening program of the Feminism & Co. series, the purposeful juxtaposition of topics worked -- to a certain extent. Placing an emphasis on women and work, the evening focused on women working in the billion-dollar multi-level marketing and in-home "party" industries (in this case, Tupperware and Passion Parties) and their exclusion from the idea of the workforce. The program brought three experts together to share and lead the discussion: Joannie Flynn, a top-selling, self-proclaimed "Tupperware Lady" for almost fifty years, Kirstin McCay-Smith, a Passion Party sex toy saleswoman and author of What It Takes To Earn $1,000,000 in Direct Sales, and Susan Williams, Professor and author of Women at Work: Tupperware, Passion Parties and Beyond.
Flynn made a spritely and informative presentation on the history and uses of Tupperware, and even touched on the "green" aspects of reusable containers. But where Flynn truly aligned with the audience was in her personal story as a true hustler -- she put three kids through college without a single loan, bought a house and paid for a car in cash and has been able to travel the world via the "benefits" of her job.
McCay-Smith's take was a little more comedic, but worked as an integral part of her ingenious Passion Parties sales pitch. In order to be effective in selling her product -- sex toys -- to the invariably suburban masses, McCay had to create a safe, fun and comfortably exploratory atmosphere for women to come together and talk about their sexuality, and moreso, the status of their current sexual situation. She succeeded within the twenty-minute time frame, showcasing and intriguing the crowd with just six of the more than 400 personal products the multi-level marketing company sells.
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While Flynn and McCay-Smith's presentations were on point, the disconnect came more in the discussion and the fact there were so many angles to speak on in the slim twenty-minute question-and-answer section. The idea of the home as a hub of commerce, the implications of women working under male CEOs who rely on sales by women to women, and the inevitable and still-present glass ceiling discussion were all met with equally riveting points about the empowerment of women through being their own bosses and the idea of balancing motherhood and career through direct sales. What was really missing was an expounding upon the real reason this "party" industry works in the first place -- because it relies on the deep connections women have and can have with strangers, just by coming together.
From a personal standpoint, I felt that Professor Williams made some unfair generalizations about the current feminist movement in 2011 and undermined the work being done by women under the age of 30. While it seemed that her notions about the work younger feminists do was based on real-life conversations with her students, I couldn't help but look at my fellow Feminism & Co. companion -- who I've worked with on many feminist music and social projects -- and shake my head. The women and work conversation did bring light something that may not be happening as much as it should: The idea that feminists of multiple generations could get a lot done, if they used this idea of the female-centered gathering to communicate frustrations and desires, outside of a commercial setting.