Tag Archives: 1950s

Throwback Post – Women and Car Advertisements

Monday, October 27, 1980, Time

“Ford courts the ladies”

Detroit has a long tradition of condescending to women. Advertising and even the cars themselves are often designed to be strong statements of masculinity. When automakers bothered with women at all, they usually came up with gimmicks like the “La Femme” Dodge with parasols to match the seat covers.

Now the Ford Motor Co. has suddenly discovered that women have enormous influence in the auto marketplace. According to company research, women last year bought 39% of all new cars sold in the U.S. Writes the awed company in a marketing brief just sent to dealers: “The same dainty little hand that pushes the shopping cart has a viselike grip on the economic pulse of the nation.”

Ford’s studies showed that 46% of licensed drivers are women and that they prefer to drive small cars. So the company has belatedly decided to pitch some of its selling at the ladies. Many Mustang ads now show a pretty blond sitting behind the wheel, while a white stallion capers subliminally in the background. Ford told its dealers that women are more open to trying new products and much more concerned than men about gas mileage, dealer service and pickup. It also instructed dealers to stop patronizing women, suggesting instead that they “talk to women as you would to any young-thinking, intelligent people.”

Another ploy to move the new Ford Escorts and Mercury Lynxes out of the back lots is a 60-page paperback called How to Love the Car in Your Life, written by Anne and Charlotte Ford, the jet-set daughters of Henry II. They dispense tips on driving, traveling and motoring etiquette, and provide a glossary to take the mystery out of automotive innards. A lot of men might profitably read it too.

Whatever the sales pitch, something now seems to be working better for Detroit. Helped by the introduction of the new Chrysler K-cars, Escorts and Lynxes, auto sales were up 11.6% for the first ten days of October.

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,951597,00.html#ixzz10sNqSdVx

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Women and Divorce – the 1950s and 1960s

The 1950s are heralded as a time of the perfect American family – when men were men and women were women, when mothers stayed home with the children and parents didn’t divorce.  But alas gentle Americans – Leave it to Beaver was not a documentary.  Many unhappy couples simply didn’t get divorced due to societal pressure, and very few women could afford a divorce and often times women were denied or forced to jump through a series of hoops over months.

Here’s a University of Maryland graph on divorce rates between 1950 and 1999.  Since 2000 divorce rates have continued to fall because people are marrying less.

This is a fascinating feature story from NPR on a group of Nevada women in the 1950s and 60s who, when denied for a divorce, stayed at the “divorce ranch” to declare residency.  It’s a little complicated.  Here are the fascinating points about this story:

1) This story reveals a hidden female world of women working together to overturn the patriarchy.

2) It challenges our nostalgia for the myth of the perfect 1950s America: divorce, adultery, and unhappy marriages

Another interesting factoid – in 2008 Zooey Deschanel and Chloe Sevigny were onboard to star in a comedic film about the Nevada divorce ranch.  However, sadly, since then the film as been scratched.

Here are portions of the article “Sisters Tell Tales From the ‘Divorce Ranch'” from NPR.  Listen to the story or read it in its entirety here.

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Courtesy Beth Ward Soon-to-be divorcees visit cocktail hour at Whitney Ranch. Beth Ward is at center, wearing an off-the-shoulder dress.

Beth Ward and her sister, Robbie McBride, grew up on what was known as a “divorce ranch” in Reno. Women who were denied the right to divorce could live in these hotels to establish residency, then file for divorce in a Nevada court.

In the 1950s and ’60s, Ward and McBride lived on their family’s Whitney Ranch, whose customers were mainly women from New York and New Jersey who had headed West for what was known as “the Reno cure.” Nevada had passed a law in 1931 that made it the quickest state in which to get a divorce — just six weeks, the time to establish residency.

“At the end of their six weeks, mother would go to court with them and testify that they’d been a resident at the ranch and she had seen them every day,” says Robbie McBride.

And as Ward remembers, it was a duty that their mother took seriously.

“Many of them said, ‘Well, you can just testify that I was here the last two weeks,'” she says. “But she’d say, ‘Oh no. Oh no.'”

“Mother liked to have things nice and smooth, and no fussing and fuming,” McBride says.

“…most of the people who came there, they wanted a divorce, so it wasn’t an unhappy time for them,” Ward says. “They just thought it was great that there was someplace they could come to get one.”

And as for life after divorce, McBride says, “An awful lot of them had plans for after their six weeks.”

Some of the women even brought along the people they were making those plans with: men who were often referred to as cousins.

“They had somebody in the other room, waiting to walk down the aisle with,” Ward says. “And six weeks later, of course, they were married.”

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The Search for the Holy Grail of Female Viagra

Recently the FDA rejected an application to market a new drug to increase women’s libido – flibanserin.  It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Viagra, does it?  However, with the rejection the FDA gave a big thumbs-up to the idea pending more research.  There are reportedly several other companies working on a similar medication.

The issue of women’s frigidity is a historical one.   I’ve recently been reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment, in which she discusses a similar situation in the 1950s.  White upper-middle-class women were housewives while their husbands brought home the bacon.  Marriage was both an economic and social relationship  – both men and women were “required” to marry to fulfill their gender roles.  However, Playboy, first released in 1953, suggested men could be real men without marriage and encouraged a life of bachelorhood.  “Free Love” became women’s libido-enhancer.

Marilyn Monroe on the first issue of Playboy in 1953.

Things have changed a bit post-AIDS epidemic.  Although Samantha from Sex in the City has shown America that women still have a healthy sexual appetite (check out this ABC news poll giving some stats on that), Camille Paglia, professor at the University of the Arts, argues that we’re undergoing a current “sexual malaise” again due to stagnate gender roles.  Paglia explores this and other issues of gender, race, and class in pop culture in her New York Times editorial, “No Sex Please, We’re Middle Class.” Here are some juicy segments:

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The implication is that a new pill, despite its unforeseen side effects, is necessary to cure the sexual malaise that appears to have sunk over the country. But to what extent do these complaints about sexual apathy reflect a medical reality, and how much do they actually emanate from the anxious, overachieving, white upper middle class?

In the 1950s, female “frigidity” was attributed to social conformism and religious puritanism. But since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, American society has become increasingly secular, with a media environment drenched in sex.

The real culprit, originating in the 19th century, is bourgeois propriety. As respectability became the central middle-class value, censorship and repression became the norm. Victorian prudery ended the humorous sexual candor of both men and women during the agrarian era, a ribaldry chronicled from Shakespeare’s plays to the 18th-century novel. The priggish 1950s, which erased the liberated flappers of the Jazz Age from cultural memory, were simply a return to the norm.

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure.

Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity, a curse of the mundane. There’s no mystery left.

The elemental power of sexuality has also waned in American popular culture. Under the much-maligned studio production code, Hollywood made movies sizzling with flirtation and romance. But from the early ’70s on, nudity was in, and steamy build-up was out. A generation of filmmakers lost the skill of sophisticated innuendo. The situation worsened in the ’90s, when Hollywood pirated video games to turn women into cartoonishly pneumatic superheroines and sci-fi androids, fantasy figures without psychological complexity or the erotic needs of real women.

Furthermore, thanks to a bourgeois white culture that values efficient bodies over voluptuous ones, American actresses have desexualized themselves, confusing sterile athleticism with female power. Their current Pilates-honed look is taut and tense — a boy’s thin limbs and narrow hips combined with amplified breasts. Contrast that with Latino and African-American taste, which runs toward the healthy silhouette of the bootylicious Beyoncé.

A class issue in sexual energy may be suggested by the apparent striking popularity of Victoria’s Secret and its racy lingerie among multiracial lower-middle-class and working-class patrons, even in suburban shopping malls, which otherwise trend toward the white middle class. Country music, with its history in the rural South and Southwest, is still filled with blazingly raunchy scenarios, where the sexes remain dynamically polarized in the old-fashioned way.

On the other hand, rock music, once sexually pioneering, is in the dumps. Black rhythm and blues, born in the Mississippi Delta, was the driving force behind the great hard rock bands of the ’60s, whose cover versions of blues songs were filled with electrifying sexual imagery. The Rolling Stones’ hypnotic recording of Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster,” with its titillating phallic exhibitionism, throbs and shimmers with sultry heat.

But with the huge commercial success of rock, the blues receded as a direct influence on young musicians, who simply imitated the white guitar gods without exploring their roots. Step by step, rock lost its visceral rawness and seductive sensuality. Big-ticket rock, with its well-heeled middle-class audience, is now all superego and no id.

In the 1980s, commercial music boasted a beguiling host of sexy pop chicks like Deborah Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Pat Benatar, and a charmingly ripe Madonna. Late Madonna, in contrast, went bourgeois and turned scrawny. Madonna’s dance-track acolyte, Lady Gaga, with her compulsive overkill, is a high-concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism.

Pharmaceutical companies will never find the holy grail of a female Viagra — not in this culture driven and drained by middle-class values. Inhibitions are stubbornly internal. And lust is too fiery to be left to the pharmacist.

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