Vintage Sexism: Creepy as F*ck Edition


Let’s count the ways that this gem from AllPosters.com makes us feel icky.

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26 Comments

  1. Ravencomeslaughing
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Other than the wierd “daddy” vibe and the hateful “I’m so lucky that he doesn’t mind if I work” vibe… What is she supposed to be holding that’s missing? Her hands are like she’s holding a rake or flag. (insert obvious “pole” statement…)

  2. Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    Posters like this are why David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet are so effective.

  3. Nettle Syrup
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Eww… yeah, I wondered what her hands were meant to be holding, too…

  4. SociologicalMe
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    Counting the ways this creeps me out:
    1. The obvious: the idea that she needs his approval to work
    2. The age difference. He’s got some gray, a little paunch, and she has no gray or wrinkles visible. While not all relationships involving an age difference are inherently gross or sexist, in the context of the approval (see #1) it leads to, as Ravencomeslaughing mentioned, a “daddy” vibe.
    3. What is he looking at? Her cleavage? It sure as hell isn’t her face. The gaze adds to the idea that she’s his possession, along with the placement of his hands, the fact that he’s taller, and the fact that he’s on the left (in the U.S., we read things from left to right, so he comes first. I know, it’s a stretch, but it adds to the overall impression). It’s almost like he’s thinking “so, working for the war effort won’t make her uterus shrivel, will it? ’cause I need her to pop out some little me’s later”
    4. The pink-collar ghetto implication. She’s dressed for manual labor (but with a full face of makeup, ew), while he’s in a power suit.
    5. Her creepy mannequin pose. As others have mentioned, she looks like she’s pretending to hold an invisible tool (heh). On top of that, though, she’s standing in a very stiff pose and looking sort of past the camera (so to speak), off to the left. Looking directly at the camera would imply some personal agency- looking away from it makes her seem less human. He’s not looking at the camera either, but at least he’s standing in a more relaxed position.
    6. The fact that even in an ad basically begging women to work and men to “let” them work, it’s still produced by the “War Manpower Commission”

  5. Lauren
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    The left-right thing is absolutely not a stretch. It has a profound impact on how we view things. Connected is the fact that we view left-right movement (compositional or actual) as good or right or natural and right-left movement as evil or wrong or unnatural.
    Also, I think it’s supposed to be a hammer.

  6. kt
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    TO paraphrase Kenneth the NBC page, “It makes me feel creeped out in ALL the ways.”

  7. Tara K.
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Does anyone else immediately think of AMC’s “Mad Men” when they see this?
    Like others, I don’t get the hands. I first thought she was thunking herself in the stomach with one (like Heimlich?), though that doesn’t make much sense. And dude so looks like her big bad poppa.

  8. Seamster
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    I’m going to leap in on the other side and defend this poster.
    The sexist qualities it has are those inherent of its time: the ideal age for a woman is younger than the ideal age for a man. She’s in makeup. These are qualities that are there to make 1940s Americans think, “yeah, I like them. They’re cool.” They’re qualities that anybody in a cigarette ad would have.
    The feminist qualities are good. Women also have the right to work for their country. Worried that your husband doesn’t want you to work? Well, this woman’s husband does, and she’s proud of it. Did you get that, guy who happens to see this? The subliminal message is that women dig feminist men. The possession is there to combat fears that letting a woman work would result in divorce, or matrimonial discord. If I were designing this poster back then, I don’t think I could have done a better job.
    It makes me think of methods to combat FGM in Africa. One can’t storm in saying stop. The most effective methods are ones that convince the men that it’s not bad to have an uncut woman, and convince women that the men won’t mind. Sure, the discussion is on sexist terms (men having women), but it’s in the right direction.
    Baby steps.
    That said, it totally looks like she’s holding a saucepan and spoon. Did artists not know another way to draw women?

  9. wintermute
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Clearly, the position of her hands is because she’s about to elbow him in the balls for staring at her cleavage the entire time they were getting their portrait painted…

  10. Zardoz
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    air guitar…?

  11. Kate
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    What a good patriot! Lending out his WifeBot2000 was *his* war-time effort!

  12. stana
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    I have to agree with Seamster. At the time this poster was made, if it had a message like “To hell with your husband, do whatever job you feel like” virtually no one would listen, because that kind of sentiment just wasn’t heard of. People need to be eased into new ideas, otherwise they tend to just reject them. And when I say eased into, I mean they need some excuse to save their pride, because no one likes feeling like a moron.
    Now before I inspire any rage, I’m not talking about ideals here, I’m not saying this is how things SHOULD be. But in reality it’s just how large populations of people tend to act.

  13. Rachel_Setzer
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    First thought: the guy is thinking “I’ve got a job for ya, sugartits.”

  14. Posted September 5, 2008 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    So the woman is portrayed as proud that her husband wants to deny her her female privilege — he wants her to get up off her pampered ass and do some hard labor for once in her life.
    What is the feminist’s primary objection to this?
    a. That the man’s opinion of the woman’s proper place is what actually determines what place she’s in
    b. That a man’s opinion that a woman should even have a “proper place” at all is, itself, offensive
    If you select (a) above, then what I think you’re saying is that the man is “forcing” the woman to abstain from a life of hard labor. How terrible of him; what an oppressor, that he would consign his wife to a life of pampering and nurturing — against her will!!
    If you select (b) above, then what I think you’re saying is that the woman is incredibly sensitive to the man’s opinion, and can’t think or make decisions for herself without first removing his “sexist” beliefs.
    Sometimes the angst that feminists express about sexist imagery reveals the mindset of many women: social acceptance (or social rejection) is just as much a determinant of their life decisions as is survival itself. A woman needs to feel accepted and valued before she can act. If you disagree with this last statement, then why is this sexist imagery worth spending your time or emotions? Why fret about it when the pampered woman only need to get out into the grimy workforce on her own volition, regardless of whether her husband approves? The answer is that woman need that approval — they crave and pine for it — and it seems to me that feminists want the entire society to change itself rather than the individual woman “suck it up” and work that daily grind, with approval or not.

  15. melponeme_k
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Strange.
    The poster indicates that even for the war effort, her “job” is so temporary and inconsequential that she didn’t even deserve to hold a “tool”.

  16. Posted September 5, 2008 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    It’s entirely possible the poster has been doctored later on to remove whatever it was she was holding or it’s leaving it up in the air as to what particular job she is doing.
    I’m with the other poster who looked at this in the context of the times. Women’s husbands were at war and the government needed them to fill their places at work, but in particular they were needed to work in munition factories, hence the blue collar attire, class has nothing to do with this poster.
    The poster is trying to reassure women that it’s okay for them to step out of their roles and work and it’s what the husbands away at war would want. Of course it’s sexist, it was made in the 40s!That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t criticise it…but I don’t think this was really being analysed in the right context either. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of the newsreel footage of women working in the factories but a hell of a lot of the time they were wearing full makeup!
    Look on the brightside, the fact that so many women started working as a result of the war really steamrolled the subsequent feminist movement.

  17. ShelbyWoo
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink

    I’m not sure how saying it was made in the 40’s is a defense for the poster. I’m positive many, many women found this poster just as creepy and offensive then too.
    The reality is that the women of that era didn’t have the voice to object to such things. Also, I think we would have seen a lot more posters of this sort if it were true that it was “just the era.” Most propaganda posters geared toward getting women in the workforce showed only women with some sort of patriotic message. Most women went into the workforce because of the much needed income and a sense of patriotism not because their older, be-suited husband wanted them to. Besides, most of these women’s husbands were away at war.
    Ditto for the wearing make-up to do hot, sweaty manual labor thing. I would bet many working women didn’t wear make up, but they weren’t the ones photographed. And, the ones that did, there again, the women of that era didn’t really have a voice, so we don’t really know if it was truly a choice they made or if they felt they had to.
    The fact that it was made in the 40’s does not make it any less offensive. It may show how far we’ve come, but it’s still creepy and offensive.

  18. VMB
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    To ShelbyWoo:
    “Ditto for the wearing make-up to do hot, sweaty manual labor thing. I would bet many working women didn’t wear make up, but they weren’t the ones photographed. And, the ones that did, there again, the women of that era didn’t really have a voice, so we don’t really know if it was truly a choice they made or if they felt they had to.”
    I think it’s probably a little bit of both. My grandmommy (mothers side) lived well into her 80′s, and until her dying day, wouldn’t have CONSIDERED going outside without her makeup. It wasn’t just makeup – it was pantyhose also! She lived with us for the last 10 years of her life, and I remember she would wake up, put on hose under her PJ’s, a little lipstick, and come over for breakfast. I obviously didn’t know her during the WWII era, but I’m pretty sure that by the time she was 80+ and living primarily in the home, it was a choice… It was part of her morning ritual, and she simply didn’t feel dressed without it!
    Also, as a sidenote – my grandma (fathers side) worked for the US Geological Survey during the war, and credits posters like this for helping convince her father that it would be OK for her to go to work. I just got off the phone with her – we talked about it and she didn’t think the posters were creepy at all – she thought they were AWESOME!

  19. SociologicalMe
    Posted September 5, 2008 at 6:52 pm | Permalink

    John Dias, if you’re not just trolling, please check out the following from Feminist 101:
    http://finallyfeminism101.wordpress.com/2008/02/09/faq-female-privilege/
    Lauren: Thanks! I didn’t think I made up the left-right thing, but I’m glad to know it makes sense to someone else.
    About taking the ad in context: I’m torn. I agree you have to look at the time period and acknowledge that baby steps are necessary. But it’s hard for me to see this poster that way, rather than in the way Kate mentioned- a man lending out his wife for the war effort.
    It’s not as though WWII came around and men suddenly thought hey, women have been talking about working and they’ve made a good argument, so let’s work to make it socially acceptable for them. No. One group of men based in the government, the military, and the economic sector, saw a (male, white) labor shortage that was hindering them from achieving their goals. They went about convincing men from the private sector to lend out their private unpaid workforce for a while. Certainly this led to advances in women’s rights, but that was because women used the opportunity to make changes.
    And we also shouldn’t forget that it’s only white women who weren’t working at the time. Women of color have always worked. I’m not sure how that fits into my above statements, but I felt like it needed to be said.

  20. AliCat
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Propaganda ads such as this were not about acknowledging that some women were already working at the time. The mainstream belief was that married women bore children and kept house for their husbands, so the aim was to make it acceptable for these women to now work outside the home.
    The desire to have women in the workforce during WW2 was driven by need (government, military and economic), and so prevailing ideologies regarding gender roles had to be overridden. If men were off fighting or involved in other war-time occupations deemed as suitable for them at the time, then the labour void had to be filled, and who better than by women? I love the way the poster is commending the man for doing his patriotic duty in wanting (allowing?) his wife to work outside the home, and the woman is proud that he feels this way!
    Both of my grandmothers ended up working in factories during the “war effort” in Britain. One was actually making gas-masks before war was even declared, but was sworn to secrecy. My great aunt “manned” anti-aircraft guns during The Blitz on London.
    I’m not sure that this led directly to advances in women’s rights. Certainly women (and men) became aware that (married) women were able to work outside of the home and perform competently work which had traditionally been considered suitable for men only. What is interesting is that after the war, and the men came home, the desire to have women in the workforce also ended. Many women found themselves without jobs due to preference being given to returning men. Also the ideology of the time changed back to the man at work and woman at home with children.
    One only has to look at the politics, popular culture, and advertising of the 50s to see that the pendulum had swung well and truly back. A woman’s value was again measured by her ability to support her husband in his role as breadwinner, bear his children and run an efficient household. Working outside of the home was never a part of this ideology, even given the reality that many women did still work outside of the home. These women, however, were likely to fall outside of the mainstream view of society, and be seen as belonging to fringe groups.
    Even in my childhood, as married women began to participate in the workforce in significantly increasing numbers, I can remember it being said that allowing married women into the workforce was taking away jobs from men who had families to support. Now of course, (as it was also being realized by the powers that be during my childhood), women in the workforce are necessary for western economies to survive in providing a sufficient workforce, but as study after study shows, they still do not participate on an equal footing with men.
    As for my grandmothers, one went back to being a housewife and had 5 more kids. My other grandmother, abandoned by my grandfather during the war, spent the rest of her life in menial jobs that were available to a woman, to support her 2 kids, and herself. My great aunt married a Canadian soldier posted in Britain and went to live in Canada on a farm, where she worked her butt off, while looking after kids and house at the same time.
    While the participation of women in the workforce during WW2 indicated that they were capable of work outside the home, this was only ever seen as a temporary measure by the powers that be, hence the reversal in attitudes after the war. But the seeds were sewn, even if it took another generation or two for the women’s movement to really gather momentum and instigate change.

  21. Margaret
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    If you ever get a chance to see a Canadian movie called, Elsie – Queen of the Hurricanes, please take it. It’s about women making the Hurricane fighter plane for the war, and most of all, about Elsie McGill, the engineer who designed it. Great stuff is here, including how the women were forced out of their jobs after the war. I knew one of them – the mother of a school friend!

  22. SomeCommenter
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    I read her hands as a “look, ready to work!” position i.e. ready to start manual labour.
    I’m inclined to agree with Steamster and others, in a sense – well yeah, the poster is pretty sexist, but duh, it was the 40s.
    Sometimes I am reminded just how far women have come. I don’t mean to sound Pollyannaish and there is doubtless a hell of a lot still to do, but…baby steps. Baby steps.

  23. RebeccaSharp
    Posted September 6, 2008 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Interestingly, my mother (who will turn 83 next January) included that poster in a talk she did for her university group on women’s role in WWII. It was part of several contemporary posters that were used to urge women to help in the war effort, either by joining the armed forces or by signing up for war work. Both were considered revolutionary in a culture that, for the most part, considered women to be there mainly as support for their parents, husbands, and children.
    (My mother, incidentally, who was a teenager during the war, got a college education in spite of the fact that all the neighbors thought her parents were crazy — she should be out working to support her brother through college! This was the psychology of the times.)
    Yes, we both chortled over the expression on the face of the husband. Yes, it’s not a very well-drawn poster, and the message is a bit mixed. But propaganda wasn’t quite as subtle as it is today. And while my mom thought it was rather funny, she didn’t find anything creepy about it.
    (The man and woman are supposed to be about the same age, by the way; the reason he comes off as older to our eyes is because she, as a woman, is going to be groomed to look younger.)
    My mother also noted that what this poster was supposed to be doing was encouraging older, middle-class women (thus, the look of prosperity) to join their less prosperous sisters in the manufacturing plants. (And yes, most factory women would have worn at least minimum makeup — most women outside of the most rural communities would have considered going out without their lipstick about the equivalent of going out without their underwear.) There was another poster we found that had the same message for younger women; I don’t remember the exact slogan, but it basically had a man in a soldier’s uniform being proud because his wife was also doing her bit.

  24. j-doug
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 2:59 am | Permalink

    Seems to me to be saying “While there are lots of husbands who pitch a fit when their wives are going off to work, mine doesn’t.” Seems pretty progressive for the day, although not so much the apron vs. suit juxtaposition.
    I don’t see how this poster implies that it’s the husband’s decision. The language speaks to me loud and clear that it’s up to the woman, as if she’s already made up her mind, and he’s cool with it; the rest of you gents should be too.
    Tara: Yes, I think of Mad Men, mainly because the woman is a dead ringer for Peggy.

  25. tigra
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    ah I didn’t even get the sexism until I read the comments. I thought “share” meant share of household work. I mean she is dressed for cooking or cleaning or gardening or something. :)

  26. tigra
    Posted September 7, 2008 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    so I mean it’s like he can’t expect she is going to help out with the cleaning and cooking, he needs to ask her to do her part.

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