Tuesday, April 25, 2006

women work at home

My wife brought me home a catalog for The Pampered Chef...they sell good kitchen gear. From what I gather, it largely follows the Tupperware model of home parties and catalogs, all being run by some ordinary person who's been co-opted into being the company's sales force.

They look like they have good stuff...no problem there. My wife even got me a citrus peeler and a plunger measuring cup, both of which will come in handy.

They tend to only have women pictured using the products. This is a little bit more of a problem for me. Lots of men cook, even (according to my brother) a large percentage of construction workers. Does The Pampered Chef not want their business?

It reminds me of when I had a subscription to Cooking Light magazine. I loved the recipes...about 85% of them worked...but I got tired of paying for 100+ pages of women's health advice. It was also a lousy feeling to know that the magazine, rather than looking at me as a customer, kinda treated me as an interloper on women's domain.

The worst thing about The Pampered Chef was that it seemed to only have a women's workforce. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm glad there are options for women who need employment. But why does this style of employment have to focus on gender-specific products? It's another home care product (like Tupperware), or it's beauty (Mary Kay, Avon).

Women get the ability to sell women's products (even when they're not really for only women) to women only. And it strikes me as slightly regressive that they're pushing The Pampered Chef employment as perfect for women because they can still stay at home! There's even a testimonial from a former schoolteacher who became a sales agent...because teaching was apparently too much like a "job" that took her "home." Yes, even though she was doing what's traditionally a woman's job (cough), she still wasn't where she belonged.

Granted, it is better than no women employment opportunities, but this kind of work still reinforces the "housewife" stereotype...and if they gotta work, they should be allowed to have a job which lets them keep their feminine duties up.

I've been of the mind that the main problem with society is that people seem to be bound by rules, regulations, and expectations, and that these are generally based on power hierarchies...in this case, the man works and the woman stays at home. And I've also been of the mindset that society isn't going to change unless we nuke these expectations and fundamentally change the way society operates.

Companies like Mary Kay and The Pampered Chef don't want to change anything. If the world requires that females work, they seem to argue, at least let's let them stay as close to "womanly" duties as possible. And this strikes me as very stupid.

Imagine trying to convince a male construction worker to give up his trade and sell razors and nostril hair trimmers at guy parties...how far would you get with this suggestion? How often would you get beaten up?


Jennifer said...

not to disagree at all -

my sister went to a Pampered Chef party a few months ago and bought a few products. But, she is a chef & said the items were overpriced. did you find the same?

themikedubose said...

I don't think the items were bad per se, but according to the lovely wife, they tack on a pretty sizeable "shipping and handling" charge...which I hear is fairly normal for these party sales gigs.

What makes it that much more stupid is that you pay around 30% shipping, and they mail everything to the person having the party...to cut down on their own expenses.

If we had a good restaurant suppy store, I would just go there...they're usually dirt cheap. The perils of living in a small midwest town...

Amy said...

What's regressive about employment opportunities that allow women to work from home? The women who want to be at home with kids or work from home don't necessarily have a 1950's view of women's roles. In many cases, they're educated, progressive, strongly feminist women who want choices about balancing work and family.

Yes, it's odd (to you) that these products are "by women, for women, etc" but women network differently from men and navigate the marketplace very differently. That's why selling these things primarily to women works well.

Also, many women do things like Pampered Chef or Mary Kay ON TOP OF a full-time job to make extra income for themselves or their family. Women are resourceful that way.

Amy said...

And Another Thing....(I guess this post struck a nerve with me)

Women who give up their career (or take a few years away from their career) to stay home and raise children often feel like they've given up a lot of control over the family money, like they can no longer make an argument for a nicer new clothes for the kids or a new couch or some piece of furniture their husband can't figure out how to put together. Not just frivolous stuff, but stuff that some husbands have a hard time understanding the importance of.

This kind of work gives women some help in justifying the expenses they might not otherwise go to battle over with their husbands. And women/moms have a very "help a sister out" kind of attitude when it comes to this, which leads them to say "Sure I'll buy a $30 potato peeler from you, even though I don't really need one, since I know it will help you make your case for a new minivan/better preschool/staying home for another year/whatever."

And LASTLY, the women with full-time jobs who do this kind of work to supplement are probably doing it to make up for the 15% (or whatever it is these days) gender gap in salary.

You've brought out the angry feminist in me today.

themikedubose said...

Keep in mind that my original objection was to their use of traditional gender roles, ie, the wife being the person who takes care of the kids. And it was only to the company...I fully understand why women would do this kind of stuff, and I can understand why it would be a great benefit to them.

However, by pushing the "woman=childrearer" bit, the company is (in my interpretation) helping to perpetuate the "woman=only childrearer" image...and thus further removing child-rearing responsibility from the man, which I don't think is particularly good for kids (to always think that it's Mommy who takes care of us and Daddy goes away to work), for relationships ("of course you'll be the one to stay home"), for women as a whole (as it seems to justify less pay in the major workplace...after all, they're gonna leave to take care of the kids, the logic would go), or for society as a whole.

There are lots of good reasons for parents to want to stay home for their children. In many cases, this is a good thing, and I can perfectly understand this. Children will obviously benefit from close interaction with a caring adult. Also, I can understand why people would pay more to support someone selling this stuff...because they believe the cause is worthy.

But when this becomes only a decision that women can/should make, it fits the "women=childrearer" model. That removes men from the equation.

Now I realize that this can easily sound like a "men's rights" stance, but I really don't think it has to be. If a spouse values time with their kid, then doing something like this can be a very good thing.

But there are, as you bring up, very obvious pressures associated with giving up/postponing one's career. I just seem to think that if those pressures are put only on women, it's going to inhibit the women who prefer to remain in the career field...not to mention letting men pay less attention to many aspects of raising their children because they feel that's their spouse's area. So I was only really suggesting that by pushing the expected gender role standards, this might be limiting the mobility of women in a larger sense...regardless of the (very real and important) benefits to individual women, if that makes sense.

Of course, this comes from a male's point of view, and from one who has no children, so keep all that in mind as well.

Amy said...

Thank you for clarifying. I do think it's important for men play a significant role in parenting and childcare, but there are also many drawbacks to that (there's a great essay by Hope Edelman called "The Myth of Co-Parenting" that exposes those drawbacks).

And men who are stay-at-home dads just wouldn't fit this type of business. Men don't network and do business the way women do. These things work well for women because they slip them in during/between playgroup and running to the bank and getting the kids hair cuts - they network and sell WHILE they're doing those things. Men compartmentalize, so when they're at playgroup they're JUST at playgroup, and when they're running to the bank they're JUST running to the bank.

Men compartmentalizing isn't always a bad thing - it can be wonderful, for example, when they are playing with their kids and are focused solely on that.

Maybe some stay-at-home dad will come up with a work-at-home business for dads that would be similar to this model. I just can't imagine what it would be or how it would work.