A Sexist Look Back
No. What you’re looking at are not parody ads created just last week by the brightest contemporary comedy minds at Saturday Night Live. They’re examples of actual advertisements culled from our not-so-distant past that too well inform where the advertising industry’s collective headspace was before the ad men were coerced into considering a woman’s point-of-view when concocting that next ad campaign.
“The consumer isn’t a moron; she is your wife.” – David Ogilvy 1983
Another reason we don’t see this kind of effete approach is simple – such glaringly obvious misogynistic evidence revolted the sexual revolution.
The fifth season of Mad Men premiered last night. There’s good reason why there were four previous seasons – it’s a freak’n unholy success. The hit teleplay’s producers are ecstatic that its unappeased, sexually liberated, retro-hungry audience nurtures an insatiable appetite for witnessing how far the men in this self-admitted banquet of unbridled chauvinism went (it’s supposed to be early-’60s, nudge, nudge, wink, wink) in dominating the naive, trained-from-birth, oh-so-gullible women in their lives into creating Stepford Wives they sincerely believe they deserve.
There’s a solid reason Mad Men‘s writers can dispense the dialogue and situations they do. Take a look at any of these advertisements and it’s embarrassingly obvious. But it’s important to remember that that was then. This is now. These examples provide a cultural snapshot of how a woman’s role was perpetuated in popular culture of the time. Mercifully, we’ve come a long way, baby. In their day such advertising messages were merely one of many ingredients composing that gender-biased cultural landscape, one where women did as they were told and stayed in their place like good girls should. If she was truly lucky she was delighted with her good catch –read husband – and worked hard to make perfect the home her man expected and had been trained to believe he deserved. Ask your grandmother. She’ll set you straight. Your mom may too. But ask nicely, she may be a card-carrying member of the generation that initiated the movement that reformed the male/female dynamic. That’s what makes these old ads so humorous today.
As Mad Men continues retelling how absolutely ludicrous things used to be, we suggest you take a moment to appreciate that, once upon a time, these examples reinforced the prevailing cultural and gender-biased insensibilities of the day – men were in charge while women could, if properly trained, become passive, appealing accessories that completed a man. And tell your wife the beer’s warm and we’re almost out of chips.