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14 April 2023

How the Daily Mail blames women for the downfall of Tupperware – and everything else

The newspaper’s latest headline isn’t the first to hold female empowerment responsible for all the wrongs in the world.

By Sophie McBain

Is there nothing that the Daily Mail can’t blame women – or more specifically, women’s empowerment – for? This week, the paper published a truly, almost admirably, bonkers piece on “how the rise of women triggered the DOWNFALL of Tupperware”.

“Even the Queen liked their little plastic pots, but the firm is teetering on the brink of collapse because dutiful housewives no longer exist,” the headline continues. The piece describes how the plastics brand boomed in the post-war years, when “Tupperware parties” were the rage among housewives, before being swept out of favour by second wave feminism. “Women’s rise in status diluted their interest in Tupperware,” it claims.

By the Eighties, instead of Tupperware parties, there were Ann Summers parties. “With women now able to buy their kitchen gadgets in John Lewis or via the Lakeland catalogue, sex toys and lingerie were a far more enticing prospect than plastic pots,” it continues, at which point you might wonder whether anyone, during the editing process, considered pointing out that women have always considered sex toys to be more “enticing” than plastic pots. Or that, when it comes to dildos, bras and Tupperware, women don’t have to make any difficult trade-offs – I have yet to meet a woman who has been forced to swear off Tupperware to make space for her extensive sex toy collection. On this front, at least, women really can have it all.

[See also: Spoiler alert: the Daily Mail does not do spoiler alerts]

But to follow this argument through, Tupperware experienced a brief surge in sales during the pandemic before – alas! – “as women returned to work, Tupperware’s fortunes plummeted.” On Twitter, the Labour MP Stella Creasy suggested that from now on we should refer to the plastic cartons as “patriarchy pots”. 

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The Daily Mail argument is so absurd that it’s actually quite helpful: everyone can see the faulty logic. To make the case that women are to blame for falling Tupperware sales you have to write men out of the picture and ignore all other – obvious – explanations (such as the high cost of Tupperware in comparison to other brands, and the move away from plastic by eco-conscious consumers). In doing so, you invite the bonkers idea that the only way Tupperware can reverse its fortunes is by somehow forcing women back into their homes.

Articles in the Daily Mail have blamed women for all kinds of things, from rising childhood obesity to their partners straying. Sometimes it just sounds silly – but sometimes it is dangerous. When Emma Pattison, the head of Epsom College, and her daughter were killed by her husband in February, the paper ran a story headlined “Did living in the shadow of his high achieving wife lead to unthinkable tragedy?”, as though her success, rather than his actions, was the problem.

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Which is why I’d propose what I’d call the Tupperware test on any news article – or indeed any scientific study – that blames female empowerment for some bad thing. The Tupperware test consists of just two questions: does this explanation completely write men out of the picture? What other possible explanations does it inexplicably ignore? If the answer is “yes” to the first part, you know you’re reading rubbish. Answering the second question will help you understand why. Think of it as equivalent to when you dig out a sealed Tupperware from the back of the fridge, unsure if the contents are OK: lift off the lid, and you’ll know right away if it stinks.

[See also: The irony of the Daily Mail pursuing privacy]

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