Abstract: Try It at Home: Avon and Gender in Brazil, 1958-1975

Shawn Moura

Abstract

Most historians who have examined gendered business practices in early to mid-twentieth century Latin America have highlighted practices that reinforced prevailing patriarchal gender norms. However, Avon's experience in the Brazilian market from 1958 to 1975 indicates that the company could not defer to local norms on feminine labor and respectability. Traditional Brazilian gender norms and a middle-class sexual morality that frowned on women working in the streets conflicted with Avon's business organization and required an adaptive response. This paper draws from company records and former employee interviews to demonstrate that Avon's dependence on saleswomen initially presented the company with challenges in recruitment and marketing but also assisted Avon's adaptation to the Brazilian market. Avon adapted its business practices to Brazil by portraying sales as a morally virtuous and suitably feminine occupation. The company's gendered business organization resulted in male managers with limited sales experience who relied on local saleswomen for their expertise. This reliance encouraged managers to adapt the company's marketing strategy to its female agents' innovative sales practices, which expanded distribution far beyond Avon's original target markets.