Tag Archives: vintage stuff

Woman-as-Cat in Anti-Suffrage Propaganda

Cats and dogs are gendered in contemporary American culture, such that dogs are thought to be the proper pet for men and cats for women (especially lesbians).  This, it turns out, is an old stereotype.  In fact, cats were a common symbol in suffragette imagery.  Cats represented the domestic sphere, and anti-suffrage postcards often used them to reference female activists.  The intent was to portray suffragettes as silly, infantile, incompetent, and ill-suited to political engagement.

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Cats were also used in anti-suffrage cartoons and postcards that featured the bumbling, emasculated father cruelly left behind to cover his wife’s shirked duties as she so ungracefully abandons the home for the political sphere.  Oftentimes, unhappy cats were portrayed in these scenes as symbols of a threatened traditional home in need of woman’s care and attention.

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While opposition to the female vote was strong, public sentiment warmed to the suffragettes as police brutality began to push women into a more favorable, if victimized, light.

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As suffragettes increasingly found themselves jailed, many resisted unfair or inhumane imprisonment with hunger strikes.  In response, jailers would often force-feed female prisoners with steel devices to pry open their mouths and long hoses inserted into their noses and down their throats.  This caused severe damage to the women’s faces, mouths, lungs, and stomachs, sometimes causing illness and death.

Not wanting to create a group of martyrs for the suffragist cause, the British government responded by enacting the Prisoner’s Act of 1913 which temporarily freed prisoners to recuperate (or die) at home and then rearrested them when they were well.  The intention was to free the government from responsibility of injury and death from force feeding prisoners.

This act became popularly known as the “Cat and Mouse Act,” as the government was seen as toying with their female prey as a cat would a mouse.  Suddenly, the cat takes on a decidedly more masculine, “tom cat” persona.  The cat now represented the violent realities of women’s struggle for political rights in the male public sphere.

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The longevity of the stereotype of cats as feminine and domestic, along with the interesting way that the social constructions flipped, is a great example of how cultural associations are used to create meaning and facilitate or resist social change.

Cross-posted at Jezebel and Human-Animal Studies Images.

Ms. Wrenn is an instructor of Sociology with Colorado State University, where she is working on her PhD.  She is a council member of the American Sociological Association’s Animals & Society section and has published extensively on the non-human animal rights movement. 

The Fright of Marrying an Ugly Man

How To Be A Retronaut posted some vintage Halloween postcards from the New York Public Library Picture Collection. Two were on a theme that seems to have been lost over the years:

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Secret Life of Vintage Lysol Douche Ads

Every once in a while the internet is abuzz being horrified by vintage ads for Lysol brand douche.  The ads seem to suggest that women are repulsing their husbands with odorous vaginas caused by neglected feminine hygiene.  In fact, it only looks like this to us today because we don’t know the secret code.

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These ads aren’t frightening women into thinking their genitals smell badly.  According to historian Andrea Tone, “feminine hygiene” was a euphemism.   Birth control was illegal in the U.S. until 1965 (for married couples) and 1972 (for single people).  These Lysol ads are actually for contraception.    The campaign made Lysol the best-selling method of contraception during the Great Depression.

Of course, we’re not wrong to be horrified today.  Lysol was incredibly corrosive to the vagina; in fact, it’s recipe was significantly more dangerous than the one used today.  Hundreds of people died from exposure to Lysol, including women who were using it to kill sperm.  It was also, to add insult to injury, wholly ineffective as a contraceptive.

Here’s to safe, legal, effective contraception for all.

Via Buzzfeed and @CreativeTweets.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lady Spanking: From Kiss Me Kate to Comic Books

Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock!  The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.

The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.

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Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:

Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):

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Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women.  The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave.  Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways.  Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).

Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here.  H/t Retrospace.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

The Power of Pork: Who Needs Feminism?

Look at this cute ad from the 1950s.  Mom is so satisfied as she watches her three children husband and two kids discover the Swift’s Premium bacon she just cooked up.  We should wax nostalgic because that kind of feminine domesticity and helpless husbandry just isn’t expected in marriage any more.  Right?

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Wrong!  Enjoy this dizzying ad from Maple Leaf in which a woman finally gets her three children husband and two kids to be decent human beings by feeding them, you guessed it, bacon:

Thanks to Tom Megginson, The Ethical Adman, for both of these examples and the title of this post.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Sunday Fun: Vintage Cockroach Racing Game

This vintage ad for a cockroach racing game is a great reminder that what seems normal isn’t necessarily natural or inevitable.  Most Americans today would grimace at the idea of playing with cockroaches, as the insect is held up as an icon of filth and disease.  But sometime in the ’40s, someone at the International Mutoscope Reel Company thought this was a good idea!  Or, then again, maybe times haven’t changed so much; the company went bankrupt in 1949.

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Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Upwardly Mobile Beer: The Class Status of Rolling Rock

Cross-posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

In the Pittsburgh of my youth many decades ago, Rolling Rock was an ordinary, low-priced local beer – like Duquesne (“Duke”) or Iron City. (“Gimme a bottle of Iron,” was what you’d say to the bartender.  And if you were a true Pittsburgher, you pronounced it “Ahrn.”).  The Rolling Rock brewery was in Latrobe, PA, a town about forty miles east whose other claim to fame was Arnold Palmer. The print ads showed the pure sparking mountain stream flowing over rocks.

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That was then.  In the late 1980s, Rolling Rock started expanding – geographically outward and socially upward.  Typically, when ideas and fashions diffuse through the social class structure they flow downward. Less frequently, the educated classes embrace an artifact of working-class culture. But why?  Their conspicuous consumption (or “signalling,” as we now say) is saying something, but what ideas about themselves and the social landscape are they expressing with their choice of beer?

I had an e-mail exchange about that question with Keith Humphreys, who blogs at The Reality-Based Community.  He too grew up in western Pennsylvania, and we both recalled being surprised years later to see Rolling Rock as a beer of choice among young stock traders and other decidedly non-working-class people.  But we had different ideas as to what these cosmopolitans thought they were doing.  Keith saw it as their way of identifying with the working class.

Those of us who grew up near Latrobe, Pennsylvania are agog when upscale hipsters who could afford something better drink Rolling Rock beer as a sign of their solidarity with us.*

I was more skeptical.  I saw it as the hipsters (or before them, the yuppies) trying to be even more hip – so discerning that they could discover an excellent product in places everyone else had overlooked.  Rolling Rock was a diamond in the rough, a Jackson Pollock for $5 at a yard sale.  The cognoscenti were not identifying with the working-class. They were magnifying the distance.  They were saying in effect, “Those people don’t know what a prize they have.  But I do.”

I had no real data to support that idea, so I asked Gerry Khermouch, who knows more about beverage marketing than do most people.  His Beverage Business Insights puts out industry newsletters, and he writes for Adweek and Brandweek.  He’s also beverage buddies with the guys who changed Rolling Rock marketing.  Here’s what he said,

[F]ar from expressing solidarity with the working class, urban drinkers far afield regarded it as an upscale icon in much the way that Stella Artois has claimed today — a triumph of pure marketing.

One ad campaign in the 90s, “Subtle Differences,” aimed directly at the drinker’s connoisseur fantasies.  Here are two examples:

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It’s the little nuances that make life more interesting. Rolling Rock uses slightly more malt than other domestic golden lagers for a refreshing taste that’s got a little more body, a little more bite. If you’ve noticed, we salute you.

Words like nuance were hardly an appeal to solidarity with the working-class.  Neither was the strategy of raising the price rather than lowering it.

To the marketers, the nuance, the malt, bite, and body didn’t count for much.  Their big investment was in packaging.  Instead of stubby bottles with paper labels, they returned to the long-necked, painted-label bottles with the mysterious “33” on the back. Apparently, the original packaging, the  “Old Latrobe” reference, and the rest added notes of working-class authenticity.

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As for the actual beer inside those bottles, it may have once been what the ad copy said.  The brewers had tried to overcome the “watery” image from the beer’s early water-over-the-rocks imagery.  But when Anheuser-Busch bought the company in 2006, they closed the Latrobe brewery, and Rolling Rock became a watery, biteless product indistinguishable from the other innocuous lagers that dominate the US market.

* This was an aside in a post about the future of the marijuana market.  See also our post about the resurgence of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

What Was in the 1941 College Woman’s Closet?

Originally posted in 2010. Re-posted in honor of Women’s History Month.

The New York Public Library posted a page from the first issue (September 1941) of Design for Living: The Magazine for Young Moderns that I thought was sorta neat for bringing some perspective to the increase in the amount and variety of clothing we take as normal today–but also, to my relief, the acceptance of a more casual style of dress. The magazine conducted a poll of women at a number of colleges throughout the U.S. about how many of various articles of clothing they owned. Here’s a visual showing the school where women reported the highest and lowest averages (the top item is a dickey, not a shirt):

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Overall the women reported spending an average of $240.33 per year on clothing.

Hats for women were apparently well on their way out of fashion:

Can you imagine a magazine aimed at college women today implying that you might be able to get away with only three or four pairs of shoes, even if that’s what women reported?

At the end of the article they bring readers’ attention to the fact that they used a sample:

I can’t help but find it rather charming that a popular magazine would even bother to clarify anything about their polling methods. So…earnest!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.