Though sexism remains prevalent today, these vintage magazine articles and ads take the cake when it comes to shaming women into behaving certain ways or buying a product. It's hard to believe that these were completely accepted as the norm, and makes you question some of the subtle and not-so-subtle messages in today's content. Enjoy!
Let us begin with some dating tips, published in Parade magazine way back in 1938. Tips from things like "don't have emotions" to "don't sit in awkward positions" leave us wondering can women do anything right? There's a certain quality of, how you say, blatant sexism throughout, and readers of this magazine must have been left with the idea that everything about their dating lives revolves around trying to change themselves for men. Take a peek at some of the most outrageous ones below!
Yeah, because every woman is just dying to cry on a date. And every man is made of stone when it comes to emotions.
I mean, I guess this could be a safety issue, sure, but why, exactly, are we assuming that anyone would just twist the rearview mirror toward them while someone was driving? Besides, most cars have those little flip down mirrors for the passenger anyway.
What even is an awkward position? If you're going to tell women that they shouldn't be sitting in hundreds of different ways, at least don't be shy about explaining what those ways are! Come on, here! If you're going to be sexist, be specific.
Smile, ladies! Ain't nothing better or more re-assuring than knowing that a woman's main objective in a date is to make a man think she's having a grand ol' time, and concern herself with appearing happy. Makes me want to...
I mean, sure, maybe you shouldn't borrow people's personal handkerchiefs and stain them with your lipstick. Yeah, I get that. But what's with all this "make-up in private" junk? Ooooh wait, I get it! Women are just supposed to appear perfect and made up already, not show any sign that they are fallible humans... gosh, how was I so nave? Must be the woman in me.
Oh yeah. If you're dancing with a guy, definitely not an appropriate time to talk. A man needs to have the time to think his own private man thoughts and not listen to the sound of your lady-blabbering. You know what? I think we should take this one step further women should just never talk unless they're asked to. Eh? Anyone in?
Herman H. Rubin's Sex Harmony and Eugenics, published in 1934, claimed that a woman's "false modesty" could ruin a marriage.
If you don't have a spicy sex life, you're to blame for your partner cheating!
To stay married, be good in bed: "A woman may forgive almost any fault in a man, provided only that he is a perfect lover ... In order to be a good husband, learn to become a good lover. The wife on her part should disabuse her mind from any puritanical or prudish ideas, and understand that by cooperating fully with her husband to secure their mutual maximum of joy, she increases immeasurably her own happiness, and insures her status as a loving and well-loved wife."
This was obviously horrible advice for everyone involved. Yet, it's a persistent trope woman doesn't have enough sex with her husband, so he just has to cheat on her because of course he can't help it. Not only does this place the blame on women, but it also makes men seem like dumb idiots who can't think or act rationally, and that's just not true.
Obviously this is just a hunch, but maybe the man that wrote this was trying to get himself off the hook for something?
You know why? Because women are all reverse vampires. That's right instead of sucking your blood, if you touch theirs, you'll almost always die. According to The Curse: A Cultural History of Menstruation, men in the 19th century were terrified about women's periods, and it was said that having sex with a woman during menstruation was not only "corrupt", but it caused a whole gamut of diseases. By the 1930s, it was also believed that for a woman to have sex during her period would make them fall ill and bleed more heavily. If anyone out there is still confused you can have sex during menstruation! Many women have said it's even more enjoyable because a) free lube, and b) the post-orgasm contractions can help relieve cramps.
There are quite a few problems with the ad, but let's start with the most obvious "Every husband wants his wife to be feminine." Huh. Last time I checked, that wasn't necessarily true. Last time I checked, you could also be feminine without spraying a bunch of product up your twat. Not to mention, the vagina is self-cleaning, and although it's perfectly okay to clean it gently, many products can throw off the balance and cause bacterial infections.
Yet, many women were absolutely convinced that in order to make themselves appealing to men, they needed to douche regularly. And it's all thanks to advertisements like this one, with lines like this one: "Demure deodorizes... so pleasantly, you know you're the woman your husband wants you to be."
According to The Science of a New Life, a book published by John Cowan in 1869, "Girls who have followed masturbating habits … show usually strong indications of it in the failure of their glandular development. Such persons are apt to be flat-breasted, or, as we term it, flat-chested."
Leave it to the Victorians to make false connections between masturbation and breast size.
There's absolutely no valid research to back this up, yet somehow, it was published widely and actually used as a way to shame women away from masturbation. As if there wasn't already a heavy dose of stigma surrounding that anyway. Let's be honest, there still kind of is.
Men aren't supposed to be shown love in public! Ew! They have their man thoughts to think. How dare you touch his ear. How dare you smile at him. Do you even know how to be a woman?
Okay, yeah, I get it. This is an important tip to keep in mind for anyone. It's best not to talk about all the fun you had with other people on other dates with the waiter at the restaurant where you apparently go on all your dates. Why isn't this just being marketed as a general rule for both parties?
Woman: Hey, can I tell you about my new gown?
Man: If you must.
Woman: Well, I actually got my mother's old gown and refurbished it for myself. In the shoulders I
Man: I was being sarcastic.
Man: I'm going to tell you about the minute details of my day now. Get ready to nod and smile.
Man: I feel flattered that you're so interested in me. Also why aren't you smiling more?
Woman: Too busy worrying about my possibly awkward sitting position.
Don't you dare even think about having autonomy over your own drinking habits and what you choose to consume. Do as a man expects you to, and you'll be happy forever.
I'm not really sure what to say about this one. There are so many random tips (read: threats) wrapped into one. Don't talk to other men. Don't pass out from too much liquor. You know, if I had to follow all the rules that this woman did, I'd for sure be pounding 'em back, in an attempt to forget where I was. I don't blame her.
Yas, kween! You rock that awkward sitting position but don't expect any men to love you.
Okay, so now I think we're getting to the point in the article where I can introduce creepy underwear advice from men! It turns out, the last century (and more) was full of so much creepy underwear advice for women, it's hard to choose a place to start. But, here's one that really stands out among the rest...
Dr. William Josephus Robinson shared some fantastically creepy underwear advice for women:
"The underwear should be spotlessly clean goes without saying, but every woman should wear the best quality underwear that she can afford. And the color should be preferably pink. And lace and ruffles, I am sorry to say, add to the attractiveness of underwear, and are liked by the average man."
Pink. Lace. Ruffles. It actually sounds like he's describing children's underwear, no? Anyway, needless to say whether your underwear matches this description or not, Dr. William Josephus Robinson needs to get with it.
Okay, so you know how before I suggested that women just never talk?
Turns out, Edward Podolsky was really behind this idea, too! In his 1943 book, Sex Today in Wedded Life, he dishes out some very salient advice on how to be a good wife: stop your lady chitter chatter and get to listening to your man about his real man problems.
Dont bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work. Be a good listener.
Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison.
Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business).
Morale is a womans business. Let him relax before dinner. Discuss family problems after the inner man has been satisfied.
Ahh, doesn't that just have such a great little sexist ring to it?
I feel extremely bad for whoever was married to Thomas D. Horton.
According to his book, entitled What Men Don't Like About Women, (wow, what a killer title, eh? Really just conveys a sense of respect and understanding), he tells women:
"Do not show your face until 30 minutes after your man wakes up. Immediately after waking, what a man wants most is not to see or hear his beloved for at least fifteen minutes — preferably a half hour. If more women knew this simple fact, their love life would be happier."
Considering the fact that married people generally live in the same house together, this seems fairly unavoidable. Also, you know, there's that whole thing about this advice being incredibly sexist. I'm really curious to know how he worked this out with his wife (or if he even had a wife). This man sounds incorrigible.
Ahh, yes, the old "tampon makes you lose your virginity" myth.
As little as a couple of decades ago, there used to be such a stigma against tampons (for this very reason) that many ads warned against using them.
However, there are a couple of bizarre things about this myth. First, it's just not true. Making women believe that they can only use pads is cruel punishment for people that already have to bleed out of their vaginas once a month. Second, it doubles down on the stigma for women who have lost their virginity. For many women, there's a sense of complete shame when it comes to losing your virginity, wrapped up in puritan ideas that equate sex with morality. News flash: having sex with people does not make you a bad person.
Sure, it's important to maintain a good body odour for yourself and those around you, which can usually be managed with regular hygiene. However, it was expected of women (and still is, to some degree) that they should smell like a rose garden 'round the clock, which just simply isn't true. On top of that, the rule didn't apply to just wearing perfume no, that would be far too easy! Ad companies targeted women for just about every part of their bodies.
We already covered douching the vagina, but here's an ad that specifically told women that their hair needed to smell good for when their man decided to take a lil' whiff (after 30 minutes of hiding away from him in the morning time or after dinner, when you're allowed to talk). The ominous tone of this ad is enough to leave many people running out to by the newest in "hair perfume".
So, picture this: you've just come out of the Depression. You've been living your worst life for years, and you're finally thinking, Okay, this might get better. You've lost a bunch of weight, due to the fact that you were literally starving.
This ad was released during and after the Depression, and tried to target already-suffering women who had lost weight during that time. Ironized yeast products promised skinny women weight, by which they meant larger hips and breasts, and targeted with language akin to saying:
"Men won't like you if you look like that and obviously that's all you should be concerned about, even though you just went through the Depression and you maybe almost starved to death. Anyway, buy our product to make yourself gain weight so you can start refocusing your attention on the things that really matter - impressing guys!"
Don't have small boobs. Don't have big boobs. Can a woman ever win? Apparently not! This ad for a 19th century device called the "Bust Reducer" promised to shrink women's breasts. Ads of this type have two jobs one, to convince the customer that something is wrong with them; two, to convince them that you have the solution.
This ad not only convinces women that their proportions are definitely wrong, but that they need to fix them with potentially harmful, restrictive devices. Yuck.
"Maybe men respect them but, believe me, they don't admire dishpan hands!"
According to this 1930s ad (and many more), having hands that show signs of wear from the everyday duties of life, like washing dishes, was enough to threaten a marriage. Dishes? You better do 'em. But you should also feel guilty about the way your hands are going to look after, because they're definitely going to be the straw that breaks the camels back in your love life.
Keeping your hands moisturized is an important part of many peoples' routine, but why can't you just sell moisturizer and let people decide when they want to use it, instead of telling people that if they don't buy your product, their marriage is at stake?
Even up until the 1970s, women were being targeted for dreaded "dishpan hands". An ad for Palmolive showed a woman dipping her hands in the dish water, because their soap was supposed to be a beauty treatment at the same time.
In case you can't read the fine print in this ad, here it is:
Shes a girl in a million! Pretty and smart. Dances divinely. Can even cook. But shes ruining her chances by having gap-osis. That is, gaps where her skirt buttons.
Gaps. Where. Her. Skirt. Buttons.
Get ready to ad one of the biggest threats to any woman's dignity (not to mention romantic potential) to the list gap-osis. A made up term for a made up problem that will certainly ruin your life. So you better buy this product now if you want to save yourself. And you better save yourself so you can meet your ultimate goal in life finding a husband.
Just look at that man choking on his sandwich in disgust at this woman's button gaps. Look at all those arrows coming from his eyes, right toward her dreaded gaps. He can barely look past her dreaded button gaps to judge everything else about the way she looks, the way her hair smells, or the smoothness of her hands. That man better get right the heck out of that devil-picnic right now before he gets roped into listening to that woman talk about herself.
When it comes to guilting women into using their products, Lysol took it to a whole new level. Back in the day, Lysol wasn't just a cleaning product. It was marketed to women as a vaginal douche, as a solution for "vaginal odour."
In an interesting turn of events, the product was used by many women as a contraceptive spermicide. Of course, it was horribly unsafe for women to use, because spraying chemicals (especially toxic ones that should only be used as a cleaning agent) up your vagina is obviously bad for you. However, for many women, it was an underground secret that Lysol could be used as a contraceptive. In the days when abortions were illegal, and regular forms of contraceptive were either outlawed or extremely stigmatized, this was seen as a secret trick. I should probably take a moment to say that Lysol is not actually a good contraceptive it doesn't have a great chance of working. However, Lysol began to understand that women were using their product this way, so started marketing it that way, using coded language. In the above ad, you'll note that it refers to "organic matter", which is in reference to sperm.