Good Housekeeping Magazine was first published in 1885 by Clark W. Bryan. Bryan’s goal was to use this magazine as a way to “produce and perpetuate perfection as may be obtained in the household” (Good Housekeeping, 2011). The magazine provided important suggestions on children, the home, and fashion. In 1900, the Good Housekeeping Institute was founded (Good Housekeeping, 2011). The purpose of the institute was to test out new products and approve them, providing their readers with recommendations. For decades, Good Housekeeping tested and approved hundreds of new products. In 1941, the Good Housekeeping Institute moved from simply testing and approving products, to also refunding readers if they were not satisfied with a product advertised in the magazine.
For decades, Good Housekeeping has been one of the top selling women’s magazines nationally and internationally. In 1957, Good Housekeeping was one of the most popular magazines among housewives. And rightly so, considering most women were housewives during the 1950s - or were they? A common misconception about the 1950s was that almost all women were housewives. While a majority of women were housewives, following the end of WWII, some women remained in the workforce. In fact, 1 in 3 women were apart of the labor force during the 1950s (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000). If women were working during the 1950s, then why did most advertisements portray women as housewives? Gender stereotypes and appeals to traditional gender roles played an important part in the social climate of the 1950s.
Simply put, gender stereotypes are generalizations about each gender. Gender stereotypes are neither positive or negative; they are merely inaccurate generalizations about women and men. Gender stereotypes can range anywhere from specific colors associated with a gender to characteristics of a gender. And just like gender itself, gender stereotypes are socially constructed. While every individual possesses different thoughts, feelings, desires, etc., gender stereotypes are very basic and do not represent aspects of every individual. If gender stereotypes are not representative of every individual, then why do we use them and why are they considered “the norm”?
Gender stereotypes can lead to gender inequality and a halt in social advancement. Gender stereotypes have an affect on job availability, salary, opportunities, etc. To fully understand the repercussions of gender stereotypes, I will be examining gender stereotypes present in Good Housekeeping advertisements from 1957. Although some advertisements may not be intentionally stereotypical, most advertisements use position and/or body language, the product being advertised, and the role of the individual in the advertisement to perpetuate gender stereotypes.
Gender Stereotypes Portrayed Through Body Language and Position
Gender stereotypes are portrayed in Good Housekeeping advertisements through the position and/or body language of the model in the advertisement. The position and/or body language of the model in the advertisement could be used to signify place in society, status, etc. Occasionally, in advertisements during the 1950s, women were shown on their knees, obeying their husbands in some way. This imagery is used to symbolize how women are thought to be submissive towards their husbands and how men have the power in the household or relationship. Scott Plous and Dominique Neptune (1997), the executive director of the Social Psychology Network and a psychiatrist at the Washington D.C. VA Medical Center, respectively, found that a large percentage of the advertisements in their study on racial and gender biases depicted women in ‘low-power positions’ (e.g. on their knees, exhibiting submissive behavior, etc.) (p. 636). While women were not shown in ‘low-power positions’ in all of the advertisements during that period of time, a large percentage of advertisements including men and women illustrated this type of interaction.
The physical position and/or body language of the model is not the only way in which gender stereotypes are portrayed. Gender stereotypes can also be portrayed through the location of the model as well. In a majority of advertisements from the 1950s, women are shown in the home. Whether that be in the kitchen or the family room, women are seldom shown outside of the home, in a job-like or social setting. According to popular gender stereotypes and how women were depicted in the advertisements during that time period, a women was solely capable of caring for the home and the family.
As seen in Figure 8, an advertisement for Soilax (a floor and wood cleaner), there are four women; each woman has on typical 1950s attire, with aprons tied around the front of their dresses. The women in the advertisement appear to be very happy, despite the chore that they are doing. The attire and the blue-and-white checkered floor appeal to the ‘housewife’ theme that was shown in many advertisements during this time period. The blue-and-white checkered floor resembles a 1950s style kitchen floor. The intention of this advertisement is to highlight that this product will make life easier by bleaching and washing clothing simultaneously. I can conclude that this advertisement plays into traditional roles, depicting four women who appear to be housewives. No men are present in the advertisement, appealing to the idea that women are solely responsible for taking care of the home.
In figure 10, an advertisement for a Whirlpool refrigerator, a young women (around 25-45) is presenting the refrigerator. She is wearing typical 1950s housewife attire and seems very happy about her new refrigerator. Glancing down towards the bottom of the advertisement, there is an image of the woman cleaning out her fridge. The intention of this advertisement is to convince the reader that if she buys this product, it will make her life as a housewife much easier. It can be concluded that this advertisement also plays into traditional gender roles, depicting a woman in the kitchen and taking care of the home.
Sexual objectification can also perpetuate gender stereotypes. Based on a few studies which I researched, it is apparent that women were used in more decorative roles than men. In this situation, a decorative role would be using a woman and her appearance in order to sell a product. For example, using an attractive woman in a perfume advertisement or using an attractive woman in a clothing advertisement.
In Figures 2, 4, and 5, it is evident that Revlon, Halo, and Dorothy Gray were using women and their beauty to sell those products. In Figures 4 and 5, they not only used young, beautiful women, but they both falsely claim to improve your skin in some way. In figure 2, there is a young, blonde woman (around 25-45 years old). The intention of this advertisement is to entice the reader to buy this product, claiming that the product will make their hair softer and brighter. This advertisement plays into the gender stereotype that women are supposed to be pretty and are supposed to be ogled.
Figure 4 shows a women, again, around the age of 25-45 years old. She is making a very alluring face. Along with the red background and the soft lighting, this picture makes for a very sensual advertisement.
Figure 5 shows a young women (around 20-35) holding what looks like a bouquet of roses. The young woman is peering at the camera, charming/seductive look on her face. The intention of this advertisement is to convince the reader that by using this product, they will look younger and prettier. I can conclude that this advertisement plays into the gender stereotype that women are objects and nothing more. In advertisements like these, women are simply used as objects (a pretty face, a youthful look, etc.) in order to sell these products. By using young, beautiful women in these advertisements, consumers will believe those slogans and buy those products.
Not only was beauty used to sell products, but the female body as well. Elizabeth Monk-Turner et al (2007), a sociology and criminal justice professor at Old Dominion University, found that around 60% of advertisements in which women were sexually objectified, were gauged toward a male audience. Monk-Turner also explains that in almost all of the advertisements that she studied in which males or females were sexually objectified included “alluring behavior and the vast majority (82%) depicted provocative clothing” (205). As seen in Figures 6 and 8, both advertisements for underwear, depict women practically naked. Of course both of the advertisements are for underwear, so the women are not going to be fully clothed. But, the model in figure 6 is positioned in a very sexual way, further giving into the idea of sexual objectification. Of course, women were not the only ones being sexually objectified; however, the percentage of women in decorative roles far outweighed the percentage of men in decorative roles during this time period.
Sexual objectification, some may claim, was not as prevalent in the 1950s and was not a marketing ploy which was used often, unlike today. Christina Catalano (2002), a Doctor of Law with an MSc and a bachelor’s degree in History and Political Science, argued that in the advertisements that she studied did not use ‘sex’ or ‘sex appeal’ in order to sell a product (p. 48). While sexual objectification may be more of a modern marketing tactic, women were still used in a decorative manner during the 1950s. The use of women in decorative roles during the ‘50s was less common because sexually appealing advertisements were seen more in magazines gauged towards a male audience than in magazines gauged toward a female audience; however, advertisements for cosmetics, fashion, etc. used women and their beauty to sell merchandise.
Gender Stereotypes Portrayed Through the Product
Gender stereotypes are portrayed in Good Housekeeping advertisements through the product being advertised. The item and how it is being advertised also perpetuates gender stereotypes; some products are gauged towards men while other products are gauged towards women. During the 1950s, women were frequently shown in advertisements for products such as cleaning products, household items (i.e. vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, etc.). Alice Courtney and Sarah Lockeretz (1971), Assistant Professor and Faculty of Administrative Studies at York University and Assistant Professor of Sociology at Regis College, respectively, found that women were depicted in more advertisements for cleaning products or products used in the home (i.e. appliances, vacuums, irons, etc.). In these advertisements, women were shown a majority of the time in the home (p. 93). They found that men, on the other hand, were shown in more advertisements for products such as cigarettes, automobiles, etc (p. 93). Based on research, I would agree with them. Figures 1, 3, 8, and 9 all advertise cleaning products, using women who appear to be housewives.
Figure 1 presents a young woman, hiding a box of laundry detergent behind her back. She has a sly look on her face, like she has a secret. The woman in front of her is peering over a white sheet, trying to determine what the woman is holding. The intention of this advertisement is to convince the reader that by buying Oxydol detergent, it will make the reader’s life easier by bleaching and cleaning simultaneously. This advertisement plays into traditional gender roles because it alludes to the idea that women are solely responsible for taking care of the home. In this advertisement, there are only women depicted in the advertisement. Because this advertisement was in a women’s magazine, it is specifically targeted towards a female audience.
Figure 3 illustrates a young woman, displaying a green blouse or dress. Behind her is another woman, frustrated as she looks down at her blouse, which is covered in scorch marks from her iron. The intention of this advertisement is to persuade the reader that if they buy this product, they will be happier because it makes their chores and daily life easier. By using the product, the consumer will spend less time and money, giving them more time to focus on their families. Again, only women are depicted in this advertisement, alluding to the idea that laundry is solely a woman’s job. As mentioned previously, figure 8 depicts four women in a Soilax advertisement. Again, the intention of this advertisement is to convince the reader that by using this product it will make their life easier as a housewife. This advertisement is specifically targeted toward a female audience, thus appealing to the stereotype that cleaning is solely a women’s job.
Finally, figure 9 shows a woman and a man, in what appears to be a social setting. The woman looks shocked as the man looks at her disapprovingly. The caption below the image reads: “She must have used an ordinary, ‘cover-up deodorizer. This couldn’t have happened with air-wick”. The objective of this advertisement is to persuade the reader that it is socially unacceptable to not use air-wick and that by not using air-wick deodorizers, the reader is offending their guests. This appeals to the gender stereotype that a woman is the caretaker of the home. It implies that if a woman’s home does not smell well, then she is doing a poor job of taking care of her home.
Unlike Alice Courtney and Sarah Lockeretz who claim that women were shown in more advertisements for household products, Autumn O’Toole (2016), a sociology graduate student from Marshall University, argues that women were shown in more advertisements for cosmetics and other types of beauty products (p. 27). I agree with Autumn O’Toole. I feel women during this time period were depicted in more advertisements for cosmetic products more than household products. As shown by the advertisements I chose to look at in my research, the majority of the advertisements I chose are for cosmetic products rather than household products.
Not only were women shown in more ‘stereotypical’ advertisements, women were shown with ‘limited purchasing power’. Unlike today, where women are shown in advertisements for cars or advertisements for ‘big-ticket’ items (i.e. appliances, automobiles, homes, etc.), during the 1950s, women were rarely shown in advertisements for such items. When they were shown in advertisements for big-ticket items, they were accompanied by men, thus creating the idea of limited purchasing power. Ahmed Belkaoui and Janice M. Belkaoui (1976), Associate Professor of Management Sciences at the University of Ottawa and a Lecturer at the Institute of Social Communication at St. Paul University, respectively, claim that depicting women and men together while purchasing ‘big-ticket’ items implies that women are incompetent and unable to make ‘important’ decisions. Thus, giving them ‘limited purchasing power’. Agreeing with Belkaoui and Belkaoui (1976), Courtney and Lockeretz (1971) also noted that women were rarely shown on their own when purchasing big-ticket items. They agreed that this representation implied that women had limited purchasing power and that women were incapable of making very important decisions regarding such products. I agree with both of these sources. Despite not being able to find advertisements depicting “limited purchasing power” while doing research for Good Housekeeping advertisements in 1957, I found quite a few advertisements which had been published in the early 1950s that depicted this scenario.
Not all advertisements during this time period were representative of the current social situation. Most advertisements during the 1950s depicted women as housewives and men as the sole provider for the family. While that may be somewhat true, women could work and some did work. Men were also shown in more cigarette and alcohol advertisements than women, despite women partaking in drinking and smoking during that time period. While Belkaoui and Belkaoui (1976) claim that men were shown in more advertisements for alcohol and cigarettes, Busby and Leichty (1993) argue that more advertisements for alcohol and cigarettes were present in women’s magazines towards the end of the 1950s. Linda Busby and Greg Leichty (1993), a professor at the University of South Alabama and a professor at the University Louisville, respectively, argue that towards the end of the decade, more women’s magazines began to advertise alcohol and cigarette use (p. 253). These advertisements began to include more women than men, contrary to the beginning of the decade.
Gender Stereotypes Portrayed Through Roles
Gender stereotypes are portrayed in Good Housekeeping advertisements through the role of the individual in the advertisement. Whether the model in the advertisement is portrayed as a housewife or is portrayed as a businesswoman, the role of the individual can represent popular gender stereotypes. Today, many women are working women. Lawyers, accountants, scientists; you name it and a woman has probably done it. However, this wasn’t always the case. In the 1950s, most women were apart of the working class.
1 in 3 women were apart of the labor force, yet a majority of advertisements did not illustrate this. Most advertisements depicted men as working to provide financially for their families and women working to provide a happy home environment for their families. While Courtney and Lockeretz (1971) claim that advertisements during this time period were sexist and primarily depicted women inside the home, Catalano (2002) argues that contrary to popular belief, advertisements during this time period were not degrading or sexist towards women. Based on her study, Catalano explains that women were shown as workers, college students, etc., while also being shown in the home. Based on my research, I would have to agree. All of the advertisements that I looked at, and all of the advertisements I chose to use, did not depict women in a working environment. The advertisements that I looked at either depicted women in the home or in a decorative role.
While most advertisements during the 1950s illustrated women in the home, some advertisements depicted women in working roles. These depictions, however, were often inaccurate. Women were often shown flustered or stressed, unable to cope with the workload. Agreeing with Belkaoui and Belkaoui (1976), Louis Wagner and Janis Banos (1973), Professor at marketing at the University of Washington and Placement Director at General Electric Company, respectively, argue that while there was an increase in advertisements portraying women in the working world toward the end of the 1950s, the advertisements did not accurately portray women during that time period. Contrary to what these advertisements illustrated, a large percentage of women did in fact work during the 1950s. As L.A. Geise (1979) notes, the idea that women were incapable of managing both being a mother and a working woman was portrayed a few times in advertisements during the 1950s. Regardless of how they were advertised, a majority of women were able to juggle both their work lives and their home lives.
If women were not shown in the home or in working roles, they were shown in a decorative role. As mentioned previously when discussing body language and model placement, a decorative role would be using a woman and her appearance in order to sell a product. Discussed earlier, figures 2, 4, and 5 all show women being used in a decorative way.
In figure 2, there is a young (around 25-45 years old), blonde woman. The purpose of this advertisement is to entice the reader to buy this product, implying that the consumer will look younger by using this shampoo. This advertisement plays into the gender stereotype that women are supposed to be pretty and are supposed to be ogled.
Figure 4 shows a women, again, around the age of 25-45 years old. The model is making a very alluring face. Along with the red background and the soft lighting, the image make for a very sensual advertisement.
Figure 5 shows a young women (around 20-35) holding what looks like a bouquet of roses. The intention of this advertisement is to convince the reader that by using this product, they will look younger and prettier. I can conclude that this advertisement plays into the gender stereotype that women are objects and nothing more. In advertisements like these, women are simply used as objects (pretty faces, youthful look, etc.) in order to sell these products. By using young, attractive women in these advertisements, consumers will believe the product slogans and buy the merchandise. As Busby and Leichty (1993) and Courtney and Lockeretz (1971) all agree, most women shown outside of working roles or being in the home, were used to sell products like cosmetics, automobiles, etc. While this type of advertising wasn’t extremely popular in women’s magazines, it was seen frequently in men’s magazines. Courtney and Lockeretz also noted that women were occasionally shown as entertainers; however, they were mostly pictured with another male entertainer.
As you can conclude, gender stereotypes were an issue during the 1950s. Women were frequently shown in the home and/or in a decorative role. Unfortunately, gender stereotypes are just as prevalent, if not more, in today’s society. While depictions of housewives may not be as relevant today, commercials and advertisements still depict women as the housewife: cleaning, cooking, entertaining, etc. And, sadly, sexual objectification is even more rampant today. It is important for us to recognize gender stereotypes from the past. By recognizing and understanding gender stereotypes that have occurred in the past, we can make an attempt to eradicate gender stereotypes and further advance social change.
Belkaoui, A. & Belkaoui, J., (1976). A comparative analysis of the roles portrayed by women in print advertisements: 1958,1970,1972. Journal of Marketing Research, 13, 168-172. Doi: 10.2307/3150853
Bureau of Labor Statistics, (2000), Changes in women’s labor force participation in the 20th century. The Economics Daily, Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2000/feb/wk3/art03.htm
Busby, L. & Leichty, G. (1993). Feminism and advertising in traditional advertising and nontraditional women’s magazine 1950s-1980s. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 70, (No. 2), pp. 247-264. Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/107769909307000202
Catalano, C. (2002). Shaping the American woman: feminism and advertising in the 1950s. Constructing the past, 3(1). Retrieved from http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol3/iss1/6/
Courtney, A. & Lockeretz, S. (1971). A woman’s place: An analysis of the roles portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 92-95. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3149733
Geise, L. A., (1979). The Female Role in Middle Class Women’s Magazines from 1955 to 1976 A Content Analysis of Nonfiction Selections. Sex Roles, 5(1). 51-62 doi: 10.1007/BF00289345
Good Housekeeping. “The History of The Good Housekeeping Seal”. Good Housekeeping. October 1, 2011. Retrieved from http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/institute/about-the-institute/a16509/good-housekeeping-seal-history/
Monk-Turner, E. (2007). Who is gazing at whom? A look at how sex is used in magazine advertisements. Journal of Gender Studies, 17(3). Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09589230802204167
O’Toole, A. (2016). Portrayals of gender in the media: A content analysis approach to identifying gender oppression and legitimation of patriarchy in magazine advertisements (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from http://mds.marshall.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2008&context=etd
ThriftyVintageKitten, (2015, 19 January). Figures 1-10. Thrifty vintage kitten. Retrieved from http://thriftyvintagekitten.com/a-peak-inside-a-1957-good-housekeeping-magazine/
Plous, S. and Neptune, D. (1997). Racial and gender biases in magazine advertising: A content-analytic study. Psychology of women quarterly, 21, 627-644. Retrieved from https://www.socialpsychology.org/pdf/pwq1997.pdf
Wagner, L. & Banos, J., (1973). A woman’s place: a follow-up analysis of the roles portrayed by women in magazine advertisements. Journal of Marketing Research, Vol. X, 213-4. Retrieved from https://archive.ama.org/archive/ResourceLibrary/JournalofMarketingResearch(JMR)/Pages/1973/10/2/5004644.aspx
Good Housekeeping Cover by John Cecil Clay, Public Domain.
Soilax Advertisement (Figure 8), Public Domain.
Whirlpool Refrigerator Advertisement (Figure 10), Public Domain.
Halo Shampoo Advertisement (Figure 2), Public Domain.
Revlon Cosmetic Advertisement (Figure 4), Public Domain.
Dorothy Cosmetic Advertisement (Figure 5), Public Domain.
Charmode Panties Advertisement (Figure 6), Public Domain.
Perma-Lift Panty Advertisement (Figure 8), Public Domain.
Sta-Flo Starch Advertisement (Figure 1), Public Domain.
Oxydol Advertisement (Figure 3), Public Domain.
Air-Wick Deodorizer Advertisement (Figure 9), Public Domain.
Percentage of Women in the Workforce (Graph), Public Domain.