Over at Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, I found a page about depictions of the Jezebel stereotype, which included a number of fascinating/horrifying images. The Jezebel was, of course, a sexually promiscuous African or African American woman, wanton and lustful. Here’s a topless grass-skirted Jezebel ashtray:


According to the website, this license plate with a pregnant Black woman came out after Lyndon B. Johnson won the 1964 Presidential election (he used the phrase “All the way with LBJ” in his campaign):


A Virgin Fishing Lucky Lure:


This is a set of swizzle sticks shaped like African women:


I found an image of a full set for sale at Go Antiques:


Note that the swizzle sticks supposedly show the woman at different ages; the age is in that cutout area in their butt. The text next to the figures:

Nifty at 15, Spiffy at 20, Sizzling at 25, Perky at 30, Declining at 35, Droopy at 40

If you look carefully you’ll see that their boobs and butts sag as they age. I wonder if this same aging scheme applies to White women? At 33, apparently I’m just about to leave the last decent stage of my life and enter my declining years. Of course, in modern America we have cosmetic surgery, so I guess I could stave off droopiness for at least a few years.

Anyway, they’re good examples of the way Black women’s bodies have often been sexualized, and how people were comfortable showing them naked even when the idea of women’s sexuality in general wasn’t considered appropriate for polite company. The Jezebel stereotype reemerged in a slightly different form  in the 1980s with the idea of the “welfare queen,” a poor black woman (on public assistance, of course) who has lots of kids with various men just to get more welfare payments, an image President Reagan used to further reduce public support for the welfare state.

Bri A. sent sent in photos of two ads found in complimentary magazines provided on a recent flight she took (she doesn’t remember the names of the magazines). Both have some interesting gender aspects.

The first is for Magnolia Hotels:


Notice the suggested reasons women might be visiting the hotel: party, wedding, reunion, shopping, weekend, date, meeting, girl’s night, skiing (maybe? They’re light purple…). For men: big contract, date, presentation. Bri says,

The only professional woman presented to us in the ad is a woman who is going to a “meeting”. The woman’s shoes however, are a little racy for business and unlike her male colleagues, one of which is doing some sort of jig and the other which has forgotten his pants, she is giving us a little flirty heel raise rather than being humorous or professional. Another interesting difference that stuck out to me was the attire of the man and woman going on a date. The man going on a date is wearing a nice white suit, while the woman is wearing a much less formal and good deal more provocative outfit.

Actually, almost all the female feet are doing flirty little heel raises or half-kicks or something, which somehow doesn’t have quite the same effect as the kick the “big contract” guy is doing.

From another complimentary magazine Bri found on the same trip, an ad for Selective Search, a dating service for the business class:


The company technically serves men and women. But notice that the image only depicts women, and in the second paragraph we learn that “we hand select the must-meet women for our clients.” Close-ups of the lists for “selectively single” men and women:



Notice the men are described as “clientele,” while the women are described as “candidates.” Here are two screenshots from the website, the first from the women’s section, the second from the men’s section:



So ladies, they’ll find you a guy who is commitment-minded, but there aren’t many other specifics–he’ll be a quality, eligible guy, but that could mean a lot of things. Guys get some more specifics–she’ll be attractive and desirable. Somehow a “guy who brings just as much to the table as you do” doesn’t sound quite the same to me as a woman “who meets your exacting standards and criteria.” Bringing as much to the table as you do implies equality. But having exacting standards that must be met doesn’t imply anything about equality–you can have standards for other people even though you couldn’t meet most of them yourself.

Aside from the specifics of the two images themselves, you might talk about the seeming assumption that though the dating service caters to both male and female customers, the people most likely to be reading an ad placed in a business magazine on an airline will be male, and thus the ad should target a male audience (by having images only of women and stressing meeting women in the text). The presumption is either that business people who fly aren’t women, or that women remember to bring their own reading material so they aren’t stuck reading the complimentary magazines the airlines provide.

Thanks, Bri!

UPDATE: In a comment, OP Minded says,

My brother has been in the dating service industry for about 10 years and he tells me that their internal research on this stuff is compelling and very very clear. In searching for a date on a dating service:

95% of women care most about 1) Educational level, and 2) Income.
95% of men  care most  about 1) Looks, and 2) Weight.

Other issues come in to play later in the process, but at the beginning, this is what most of the folks are looking for.

In another comment, Sandra points out,

…I do remember being taught in my undergrad speech department classes that, for instance, in studies on gender effects, when asked to fill out surveys on the street by either a male or a female, women are more likely to respond to the women poll-takers, but the men are also more likely to respond to the women poll-takers [than] men [poll-takers]. So perhaps the marketing move behind the photograph in this dating service ad was based on the idea that, women appeal to women, and women appeal to men. Hence, the women in the image.  It could be the women are intended to see themselves in the photos, as people using this service, and men are intended to see the women as possible dates. 

Good point, Sandra!

Jay Smooth over at Ill Doctrine interviewed Elizabeth Mendez Berry (who wrote an article in Vibe several years ago about domestic violence in the hip-hop community) about the issue, which has received renewed attention in the wake of the Chris Brown/Rihanna incident:

It brings up some interesting issues–the pressure on women to not ruin the reputation of men by “airing dirty laundry” and the still-common assumption that women who are abused might have deserved it, higher rates of domestic abuse experienced by African American and Latina women than White women, etc. You might also use it to talk about the fact that both men and women hit their partners, and what that dynamic means. Overall, women in the U.S. hit more often in terms of total incidents (this includes things like the stereotypical slap across the face, not just punches), but are much less likely than men to inflict significant physical harm. Though the rates of harm caused by female aggression toward males is surely underestimated, there is little doubt that women simply do not inflict the levels of physical injury on men that men do on women each year in this country, particularly harm that requires a hospital stay or that ends in death. But I often encounter the sort of equivalency argument Jay Smooth mentions in the video–if women hit, they should be expect to be hit back, etc. It’s always a really interesting discussion, and Berry’s response might be useful for sparking some thoughts about domestic violence, personal responsibility, appropriate reactions (is hitting someone who has hit you first really the most appropriate response?), and so on.

Stephen W. sent in a link to a music video promoting the National Guard.   He saw the video before a screening of Taken in Sioux Falls, SD. At the moment, the National Guard website (warning: noisy) features Kid Rock and Dale Earnhardt Jr.  The opening graphics, set to a snippet of Rock’s Warrior, feature a military helicopter followed by a race car and then a picture of an anonymous African-American National Guard member with the rock star and car star:


A few clicks into the website leads you to this music video:


In the photographs made available, pictures of Kid Rock’s life as a rock star are mixed with pictures of people in the National Guard, and the lines between the two blur:





Some observations on the marketing of military service:

First, the glorification of military service is an American phenomenon.  (See this post which features an American and a Swedish military recruitment commercial back-to-back.  The difference is quite amazing.)  In this video, the glorification is particularly acute when the light-skinned driver of the Hummer manages to avoid hitting the blue-eyed, olive-skinned, dark-haired boy and then comes out with his giant gun to kick the ball back to him, inspiring a look of awe from the child who’s country he is likely (given the politics in the last 8 years) invading.  We’re left, assured, that the U.S. military are all around good folk.

Second, in this case we have military service being marketed with celebrity tie-ins.  The website deliberately blurs the line between being a famous rock star, a celebrated race car driver, and a member of the National Guard.  Similarly, this Air Force recruitment ad blurs the line between various extreme sports and military service:

These links between military service, skateboarding, and being a rock star are disingenuous, to say the least.  And it reminds me of a series of recruitment ads I’ve been seeing lately that highlight the super cool jobs you could end up doing in the Air Force (like being a fighter pilot). I don’t know about you, but both of my family members who joined the military (in their cases, the Army) ended up being bus drivers.

Third, which celebrities are being used to market the National Guard tells us something about who they are trying to recruit.  Clearly, they are reaching out to young, working class, perhaps rural, white men.  This is not part of the National Guard marketing aimed specifically at this group, the entire National Guard website (warning: noisy), at this time, is entirely devoted to this theme. It speaks to who fights American wars?  Studies have shown that, while once military service was required of elites, this changed during Vietnam.  Today military service is overwhelmingly performed by working- and middle-class men.

Finally, the re-framing of the role from “soldier” to “warrior,” one who wages war, is very interesting.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

More fodder for discussion, if you need it:

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Mary T. sent in a photo she took of the cover of the Spanish (as in, from Spain) magazine Muy Interesante. It’s Not Safe for Work.


Over at Everyday Sociology, Janis Inniss posted about interracial relationships and she offered a graph showing 30 years of marriages of white men to black women and black men to white women.  Describing it, she writes:

Looking at the graph below, you will see that the black female/white male pairings of today are about what they were 30 years ago for black male/white female dyads. (The blue line represents black husband/white wife). In other words, today, white men and black women marry at about the same rate that black men and white men married about three decades ago.

So, why would there be a difference in the marriages between white men/black women and black men/white women? I suspect that this has to do with the intersection of gender and race. Consider: according to American cultural stereotypes, black people, both men and women, are more masculine than white people. Black men are seen as, somehow, more masculine than white men: they are, stereotypically, more aggressive, more violent, larger, more sexual, and more athletic. Black women, too, as seen as more masculine than white women: they are louder, bossier, more opinionated and, like men, more sexual and more athletic.

If men are supposed to be sexy by virtue of their masculinity and women sexy by virtue of their femininity, then black men and white women will be seen as the more sexually attractive than white men and black women.  So, while white men may not find black women particularly attractive, white women may very well find black men attractive.  In this is so, we might see the patterns that Inniss demonstrates with her table.

These concrete statistics, as well as the cultural stereotypes that position black women as undesirable, help explain why interracial dating is politicized by many in the black community.  It is not trivial that black men can date outside of their race and black women are less able to do so.  It means that many black women have less opportunity to form long-term relationships.

Taylor D. sent in a link to a set of vintage ads featuring African Americans. This one is for wigs. Notice the commodification of liberation and freedom: you buy it in the form of a wig, which gives you a whole new look in seconds!

This one is for a hair straightener:

Of course, the “tamer” and “the boss” that can “stir up some beautiful new excitement in your life” can also refer to the man who is stroking her hair, playing into the idea of the man who tames a wild woman–and that all women, deep down, want a strong man to tame them.

This next one uses women’s fear that men won’t find them attractive to sell deoderant:

Thanks, Taylor!

A Daily Mail story reports that women lawyers are being told by “image consultants’ that to appear “professional” they should enhance their femininity by wearing skirts and stilettos, but avoid drawing attention to their breasts.  Thoughts about the word “professional” after the screenshot (thanks to Jason S. for the link):

A spokesman for the company doling out this advice says that it’s about being “professional.”  This is a great term to take apart.  What do we really mean when we say “professional”?

How much of it has to do with proper gender display or even, in masculinized workplaces, simply masculine display?

How much of it has to do with whiteness?  Are afros and corn rows unprofessional?   Is speaking Spanish?  Why or why not?

How much of it has to do with appearing attractive, heterosexual, monogamous, and, you know, not one of those “unAmerican” religions?

For that matter, how much of it has to do with pretending like your work is your life, you are devoted to the employer, and your co-workers are like family (anyone play Secret Santa at work this year)?

What do we really mean when we say “professional”?  How does this word get used to coerce people into upholding normative expectations that center certain kinds of people and marginalize others?