When asked to think about the quintessential snapshot of Americana from the 1950s and 60s, we are often greeted with the pastel, overly boyish images of a happy family sitting around a new television set; a boy casually sipping on a Coca-Cola from a glass bottle; or basically any Norman Rockwell painting. This kind of intrinsic nostalgia is, generally speaking, harmless enough; though if a we stop and take a closer look at the imagery associated with these decades, a narrative surfaces that does not necessarily align with the happy-go-lucky emotions that many of these images seek to evoke. Pictures such as the one to the left are simple and innocent enough at a glance. Again, it carries those key traits that so many paintings and photographs did throughout the decade. The issue arrises, however, when we start looking at multiple of these pictures. Washing-machines, kitchen appliances, vacuum cleaners, sewing machines, and so on; all are essential home appliances that serve to make life that much easier. Now, there is nothing wrong with advertising your product, however, when the target audience is solely women, and the manner in which women are portrayed throughout these advertisements presents some alarming rhetoric.
The above video is a prime example of the type of sexism that was not so subtly expressed in these advertisements. Viewing these ads and pictures through a critical lens allows us the opportunity to see the birth of what has come to be some of the more sexist ideology in the United States.
The 1950s was a time in which The United States’ commercial industry was on the rise. The emergence of a booming middle class in the post WWII era came shepherded in an era of American suburbia which, arguably, we are still in today. The traditional role of women had been that of the family matron. As society progressed, however, new opportunities opened up for women. While the new technology and amenities seen above went a long way to reinforce gender stereotypes, these decades also saw women challenging society’s conventional view on their roles. The Second Revolt of Modern Women written by Robert Fulford in 1964 goes a long way in explaining this change in mentality. Fulford states, “The oppression that the new feminists oppose is the psychological oppression of homemaking and motherhood seen as a full time career.” While technological advancements in home appliances sought to cement gender roles, they inadvertently pushed women to pursue a more liberated mindset. These new appliances simplified homework and saved time. Gone were the days where laundry and cooking was an all day affair.
Dr. Harvey N. Davis gave his opinions on technological development and women back in 1923. While this precedes the focus era by several decades, his precedent, while still slightly sexist, stands. He states, “Women, therefore, are up against the most acute cases of technological unemployment, having been dumped out of the work that was peculiarly their own.” Again, while there are still sexist undertones in the piece, Davis goes on to express how he believes this will result in more women attending university. He was, more or less, correct. Therefore, while these technological advancements pandered towards specific gender roles, they justifiably enraged women as seen in the Fulford article, as well as gave women the time to pursue careers beyond the home. Many of these stereotypes are still alive today however, though there have been significant advancements in thought, society, and marketing that serve to make home-keeping a more gender neutral task. This said, it is still important to understand where these stereotypes came from, how they developed, and how the progression of technology both sought to cement these ideologies while inadvertently creating the means for women to break from these sexist ideas.
Fulford, Robert. 1964. “THE SECOND REVOLT OF “MODERN” WOMEN.” Maclean’s, Jul 25, 7. http://login.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/1437752132?accountid=14826.
1923. “See Women Jobless in Mechanized Homes.” New York Times. https://canvas.vt.edu/courses/56760/files/folder/Women%20and%20Technology?preview=4499409