The Saving Grace of a Burp
He had been a loving son and brave soldier. He returned home, found and married the girl of his dreams, a capable and beautiful schoolteacher. After sixty-five years of doing his best, he was now retired. Now he was finally having a chance to do all those things he’d dreamed of but put aside in order to do what was needed, to succeed at fulfilling his duty. Now he was living it up sorting …. Tupperware?
If you have ever had or known anyone with a husband who retired who did not have a cruise booked for departure two days later, then you can relate to the epiphany the couple in our story had. The man realized his well-run household could use a few tweaking – in his humble opinion. His wife realized that maybe living to celebrate their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary was going to take more patience than she thought! Many things have changed in the past two hundred years but the house is still considered the domain of the wife and the husband still thinks he has the superior skills to run it, even though he has little experience actually doing it.
The Tupperware our hero ended up rearranging in the pantry has had a similar history. Tupperware was the epiphany of Earl Tupper. His invention of the plastic used in the products had little success until its presentation in a party-style format in 1949. With its “Wonderlier Bowl” which featured a “burp” that let housewives know all the air was out of the bowl, Tupperware revolutionized kitchen utensils and storage options.
Tupperware is also responsible for another bright idea – the epiphany of international direct marketing. The strategy, utilized by Tupperware, gave women back some of the independence they had experienced during World War II when they entered the labor market. They could host a party, earn product and cash and still be the domestic goddesses their husbands expected.
Brownie Wise had been a sale rep for Stanley Home Products but she saw great potential in Tupperware and began throwing Tupperware parties. By 1951 she had been made a vice president in charge of marketing. Tupperware Parties Inc. gave women the independence they craved and the kitchen the utensils needed. Annual celebrations were held to recognize top sellers and encourage others to strive for recognition. Tupperware sales soared and soon offers came in to purchase the company. Earl Tupper, however, was not as liberal about women in business as Wise’s appointment indicated. Fearing that companies would withdraw their offers if they learned he had a female executive, Brownie Wise was fired. During the same year, 1958, Rexall bought out Tupperware. In the next decade the company expanded internationally but in the later part of the twentieth century, sales dropped and households in some countries were no longer able to purchase the product.
Tupperware has gone through many rebirths since its inception and today, while claiming to focus once again on its direct sales strategy, can also be found in retail stores like Target. The lifetime guarantee is not available in all countries and today, stock prices continue to drop. Proponents of the company state that it invented a way for women to continue their jobs as housewives while having some independence in a social atmosphere. Opponents emphasize that women were still considered only good for being housewives. They further add that it was the Larkin Company, a soap business in Buffalo, New York, that introduced the party model for household goods. Larkin sold soap door to door and had a payment plan of sorts where a group of women in a neighborhood could get together and form a cooperative buying club. One neighbor would act as the secretary and then distribute items from the Combination box, thus enabling the Larkinites to purchase necessary products at a reduced price.
For the woman who needed to stay at home and still earn money, the Tupperware model was a great epiphany. For others who held parties outside their home, it was a chance to expand their horizons. For the world, it offered an opportunity to view women as something more than just mothers and maids. What Earl Tupper failed to have the courage to acknowledge was that Brownie Wise was as good [and perhaps better] than most of the executives on his board in her field. Her gender assisted her in the selling and marketing of products that were generally used by members of her own gender. Last year, Tupperware announced its donation of half a million dollars to the United Nations Women’s Private Sector Leadership Advisory Council. The council will promote, support, and encourage initiatives worldwide to strengthen women’s economic empowerment. Today Tupperware has a sales force of nearly three million worldwide and most are women. However, only three of the twenty members on the Management Executive Officers staff are women.
The fact is that women have been organizing, balancing budgets, assigning duties, and performing management tasks for hundreds of years. Kitchens are arranged in an efficient manner based on the chief cook and bottle washer and apparently work well because families get fed. The burp of the Tupperware product insured safety in storing leftovers which helped the budget as well as providing nutritious snacks. It was also the sound of independence for many women.
From 2008 to 2013, a team of researchers from the University of Padova conducted a study regarding RHS, Retired Husband Syndrome. (Yes, there actually is such a thing!) They selected eight hundred and forty women from a country with strong gender roles, Japan. Their five year study yielded some amazing results. Over sixty percent of women reported increased stress, depression, and higher divorce rates after their husbands retired. Retired Husband Syndrome was the epiphany of American Dr Charles Clifford Johnson. The biggest epiphany of the study in Japan was the scientific findings that indicated retirement was tough on men as well. Their results proved that both sexes have a difficult time adjusting to retirement and common resulting side effects include emotional problems, depression, health concerns, and sleeping problems.
Air trapped inside a container greatly affects the shelf life of the food within the container. The ability that Tupperware products offered is providing a tight seal extended the viability of leftovers. Treating one another with respect can be the saving grace of a relationship. Reevaluation and discussing the needs of the relationship and then reappointing responsibilities based upon skills and desires, not merely by gender or previous roles, can be the saving grace of retirement. Starting anew with both a budget that’s realistic as well as a daily task chart can be the “burp” of fresh air that retirement requires. Retirement is change, a change that will necessitate other changes. When dealt with respect and a good sense of humor, retirement can become a party itself, to be enjoyed and celebrated.
Life is to be lived and that means approaching it with honesty, respect, truthfulness, and movement. These things increase one’s health and joy. Retirement should be a way to expend the living and like the plastic invented by Earl Tupper, it can be the fresh new chapter in a personal epiphany of empowerment and happiness.