Vintage Ads: Domestic Tropes Then and Now

The Weburbanist has a series of ads up clustered in themes, such as smoking ads, weigh tloss ads, food ads and cooking ads. One set of ads didn’t have a content theme in common, just that they were making fun of domestic violence as a way to sell products.
Photobucket
Had enough, there more. Check out these housework ads,


Photobucket
Advertising hasn’t changed much, if anything has gotten more complex in how women’s bodies are commodified to sell products. Now ads suggest that women love keeping house and new cleaning products make them happier, we don’t even have to make women clean house anymore, she gets off on doing it.
Photobucket
At Feministing we have a running archive of sexist advertising, and a lot of it is quite contemporary as opposed to vintage. While the vintage ones are more unabashed in their depictions of women, people of color, different body types and class backgrounds, the tropes are similar.
And while we laugh at these ads, I mean they make for great blogging, I think the deeper issue is what these ads tell us about the agenda and intention of advertisers. Feminist theorist Anne McClintock wrote in her book Imperial Leather about this idea of commodity sexism and racism and looked at how colonizers used advertising to convince (in this case South Africans) that they wanted to buy into this new world order privileging not only colonial values, but ideas of racism, sexism and other types isms in the service of a greater “social order.”
She writes in her chapter, “Empire of the Home,”

What was specific to rationality in its nineteenth-century form was its single-minded dedication to the principles of capital accumulation for commercial expansion. The full expansion of imperial commerce was not possible without elaborate systems of rational accounting–surveying, map-making, measurement and quantification-organized around the abstract medium of money in the global science of the surface. By the mid-nineteenth century, the domestic realm, far from being abstracted from the rational market, became an indispensable arena for the creation, nurturance and embodiment of these values. The cult of industrial rationality and the cult of domesticity formed a crucial but concealed alliance.

Yeah, I quoted theory, but I think it is a point to make that advertising is not just something that exists to get people to buy products, but also to create a really specific social order. That was the original point of advertising and continues to be. It is not just the selling of products, but also of a lifestyle, making advertising much more damaging and dangerous than we realize and all that more telling when they are based on very sexist, racist, classist, homophobic, ableist and ageist ideas of the world.

Join the Conversation

  • Comrade Kevin

    Absolutely. Money is so tightly wound into the things we speak out against as Feminists that it complicates each of the causes we advocate. The intersections we make when we compare oppressive constructs are also closely linked with the very same structures that keep them in place.

  • mad-historian

    What’s frustrating is how little this advertising scheme has actually evolved. Imperial Leather soap–the product after which the book was named–is still manufactured and sold. Not only are the same racist/ sexist/ et cetera-ist techniques used to sell these products, but the same colonial products themselves are manufactured. Perhaps the most notorious example is De Beers diamonds, originally owned by a British man in South Africa. It seems to me that when even the products are colonial originals, the racism and oppression they originated in is being perpetuated.

  • Toongrrl

    You know I have a magnet of that ad that says that “A clean house is a sign of a WASTED Life.” Kickass, you gotta love using 50’s artwork and giving it a snarky and feminist twist