[Inside the Pink Pyramid] Virginia In OtherWords

I was very pleased to be asked to contribute an op-ed about the Mary Kay story to OtherWords, a project that distributes progressive commentary and cartoons to 250 newspapers around the country — mostly small dailies and weeklies in America’s heartland. (AKA Multilevel Marketing Mecca.) So you can read the piece, The Lipstick Profiteers, on the OtherWords website, or look out for me in your local newspaper.

A big point that I make in this piece: We need to stop blaming the victims. A lot of critics have suggested that I think Mary Kay ladies are stupid. And they’ve suggested that I think this for a lot of different reasons: Mary Kay ladies are stupid if can’t make their businesses work. (It’s a defense only Stephen Colbert could love: There are no bad businesses, only bad business people.) But others suggest that Mary Kay ladies are stupid for falling for the sales pitch in the first place and for thinking they could be successful in this way. Or they think that I think direct salespeople are too stupid to know they’re being scammed. It gets a little confusing.

I interviewed a lot of (current and former) Mary Kay ladies for this project, and trust me, not one of them was stupid. Because this isn’t about stupid and smart. Direct sales doesn’t work by appealing to anyone’s intellect. As I wrote in the op-ed:

[B]laming the women who wind up with basements full of unsold makeup is a cheap ploy — and ignores the power of the Mary Kay sales pitch. When Ash launched her business in 1963, she knew she was selling way more than lipstick.

She promised economic independence and female empowerment with her “Enriching Women’s Lives” tagline. It was a pitch that connected with frustrated Mad Men-era housewives — and continues to speak to women today who are wondering how to support their families in a tight economy, but also chafing against corporate workplaces or low-wage jobs that deny them the flexibility or freedom to also be the kind of mom and spouse they want to be.

Keep reading (and tell me your thoughts!) over here. 

[Images: OtherWords screen grab/Mary Kay makeup photo by Kwalk628/Flickr via OtherWords.]

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