Unsettling Vintage Sexist Ads to Press Your Buttons

July 24, 2017

Today's post is a diversion from the blog's
usual fare as I'm serving up unsettling nostalgia
with vintage sexist ads that may shock you,
depending on your birth year.

The vintage 1967 ad for baby oil above, urging us to
slather on the stuff for a deeper tan is craptastic for a
variety of reasons, yet this post won't be a feminist rant,
a scholarly commentary on sexist sins of advertising's past,
or the twenty ways to be offended by each ad
(though I can't resist a few cheeky responses in the captions!).

Let's view the this walk down memory lane
more as a wakeup call, since we sometimes recall
the good ol' days with fond recollections
of wholesome sweetness while framing
today's culture somewhere between steady
moral decline and 'going to hell in a handbasket.'

Something I noticed collecting these vintage ads?
Offensive though they be, they all tend to
possess a directness in regards to the message.

"Consume this to be more irresistible,
have less pain, and have more happiness"
is still often the central message in today's ads,
yet now they are designed by social scientists
to more subtly act upon the psyche...
with any sexism
more cleverly buried.

Girrrrl, I wore this fragrance! Did you?

Let's explore lame historical ads
with an appreciation for:
present victories for women,
strides made in equality and multiculturalism,
and our culture's evolving consciousness...
while there's work to do be done,
it can be encouraging to occasionally
glance back at obstacles we have overcome.

What a contrast!

Meet me and Serena at the finish line, and do share
what thoughts bubble up as you recall
how these messages in media affected
you then and now.

If you comment, I'd love to know your age,
if you don't mind including it!

Not for cramps. Not for your ability to function. For a feathered guy in Madras.

Words every girl dreams of leaving her handsome dentist's lips.

Look closely and then be killed directly in the face.

I confess I loved these TV commercials...anyone remember: "You can try HARD or you can try soft?"
where we were encouraged to let the boys win and to stop being so assertive?

My generation did not wear girdles until a big brand disguised them as disco-attire.
While this next oldie isn't sexist,
it makes up for it with cluelessness.

Before my time for sure, yet in the suburbs of Chicago in the early 70s, it was not uncommon
to spy a toddler swigging Mountain Dew from a Playtex nurser (that's a baby bottle, kids).

Sweet Cozy Moses on a wafflecone with a 19" waist.

What do you despise more...giant collars or "I totally lack a brain" expression?

More importantly...what creature laid those disturbingly large eggs?

Am I being encouraged not to read?

Inquiring minds must know: how did they ever get John John to model
this super special atrocity, and how many were sold?

Image result for serena williams ad

How do you suppose future generations
will someday discuss current ads?
Think they will be incredulous to our
superficiality, obsessions, consumption,
cruelty, or greed?

Can't wait to hear your thoughts,
about this vintage roundup!

Peace to you right where you are.

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  1. What a flashback of former reality! As a 51 year old woman several of these are very familiar but the two that really struck a chord is the toothpaste/receptionist ad and the Midol ad...WOW...we have changed advertising direction but I also agree that it now focuses on continuous consumption to "be someone" and if you don't have the latest and greatest technology, you are viewed as less. At the end of the day, no matter the era, the ads did get our attention for better or worse and it gives me pause to think of what types of advertising would be effective and non-offensive to the masses at the same time....hmmm....????

    1. That Midol ad! Maybe it taps into something powerful I may have absorbed from the culture as an adolescent. 'I'm not really acceptable unless I'm perfect and unmoody' or 'anything not perfect is failure and unattractive.'

  2. Bah!! This is hilarious. The Midol ad is far and away my favorite. Dumb down all your feelings for this tool. My husband's grandma had an old cookbook that had little tips in it, ways to perk things up and make everything all sparkly for your husband and kids. (Image of woman pointing at a squirrel) "Notice interesting things to recount at dinner."

    1. NOTICE INTERESTING THINGS...omg. That is a powerful example! Thank you for the gift of that, Erin! :)

  3. In 1965 I got married...way too young I might add. In 1969 I was divorced, with a 1-1/2 yr old, no credit cards because "you don't have credit history" even though I paid all the bills - as Mrs. Stephen Dxxxxx!!! In 1970 I started a new job that led to a career that led to living in 5 cities in 6 years, and oh yes - I had several credit cards. This now 70 year old woman believed those ads back then, but after that divorce and the struggle to survive and raise a son, it didn't take long to understand how manipulated and brain washed we were. The funny thing is, commercials and ads STILL try to manipulate and brain wash don't they? ;) Just in a different way. Oh the memories, and I agree it will be fun for those who are now in their 20's or 30's to look back in 25 years at today's ads. Hope I'm still around to have an opinion!

    1. Thank you for sharing this history! Yep, effective ads still stir up our insecurities and pain points and make us yearn for what we didn't even know we were missing. I think the message I have been most vulnerable to is something like 'this will make you more love-able, and your loved ones deserve it.' Ya know? The intent feels okay, but if all I do is STRIVE (to create a self that can fetch the most affection and admiration) and hustle for my worthiness (as Brene says), I have missed the mark. Thanks for inspiring me to think more deeply about these messages, LadyJ. :)

  4. I turn 64 next month and I honestly don't remember these ads...is it because you don't notice anything unusual about ads that reflect what you see and hear every day in the real world of school, work, play? I do remember a moment in 1973 which relates somewhat, though... I was working as a bank teller with vault responsibilities. I was 20 yrs old but this was a head teller type job. The bank hired a young man about 22 years old who also had vault responsibilities... just a different vault. His vault was for all other employees. When he told me his salary I was shocked. He made 3 times as much as I did. I went to my supervisor with the information and asked why I wasn't making the same salary... after all I'd been working there for many months prior to his hiring. She told me it was because he was the bread winner in his family. I kid you not!

    44 years ago is a long time....I know....the struggle was real...the struggle is real. Ads reflect and define us to some degree... I'm so happy with a few current ads I have noticed recently that show women of all sizes, shapes, colors, ages...pursuing and exploring the world with no restrictions....it's comforting to know we're progressing even if it's more slowly than it should have been...

    1. I love that you gave us this snapshot of 1973 and reality, thank you! I love these ads you allude to as well, and they do reflect a higher consciousness and characterization of real women. :)

  5. Hi Michele, These are HORRIBLE! Not sure which is the worst, maybe pink disco suit!

    1. Did you read my caption on that one? Doesn't this model resemble the late JFK Jr.?

  6. The one that made my blood pressure rise was for the secretaries. Making women think they can have it all ("Girls, you can BE SOMEBODY!") only to tell them, in small letters, that they won't actually BE the doctor, lawyer, executive . . . only his secretary. UGH. DOUBLE-UGH. I'm 54 and am so glad that I had parents and grandparents who, when, as a little girl in the 60s and 70s, I said I wanted to be a nurse like my grandma, told me, "Why be a nurse? You can be a doctor!"

    1. And it probably wasn't even a jolt to the psyche of many young girls seeing that ad since they were being encouraged to marry but not become an executive! thanks for sharing, shelly! :)


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