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Vintage Sexism: “How a warm room and B.O. cost her another admirer.”

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Over at Jezebel, Andrew Heisel rounds up some of the best of the worst advertising geared toward women in movie magazines from the 1920s through 50s.

This was in the days before advertisers (some of them, at least) learned to subtly make us feel insecure to hawk their products — back then, the subtext was simply stated. And sexist ad execs, while focusing on women since they were usually their families’ primary shoppers, considered them to be “vats of frothy pink irrationality” with a “natural inferiority complex.”

The result was laughably insulting ads whose consistent message — whether they’re selling soap or Lysol or Ovaltine — was: “Either a woman will never find [a husband], or she’s always one mistake away from losing one.”

Heisel notes:

Everything could lose a man: shiny nose, not white enough whites, gray hair, chapped hands, perspiration stains, cornsslow-drying ink, dull blonde hair, nerves, not taking a laxative, giving the kids the wrong laxative, PMS, a poorly powdered face, dandruff, parched lipstick, low red-blood cell count, iron deficiency, not playing piano, not drinking Ovaltine, dry hair, oily hair, sloppily-pinned hair, a red nose from a cold, buying the wrong cigarette brand, stocking runs, constipation, itchinessbloodshot eyes, sleeping with make-up on, not wearing talcum powder, not chewing gum, not serving canned spaghetti, and, during World War II, not buying war bonds, so now your sweetheart’s dead.

Stressful times.

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St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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