“Look Over Here!” – Pleasure Galore and Hidden Labor

Posted in Uncategorized by iTerp on May 5, 2010

I have never actually “enjoyed” writing a required paper in college. At least, I’ve never enjoyed the topic and the process. For my final paper I focused on marriage patters and gender roles in the 1950s, and how they are viewed today. I kept arguing with myself that our  society HAS evolved, and we ARE NOT the Joneses. But I am increasingly seeing that 40s and 50s structures are still extremely prevalent today and not that dissimilar.

In class, we were discussing some themes from Lorde and way back when from Delaney. I really felt a connection to this theory that pleasure is the absence of labor to enjoy something. Things like great sex, perfect bodies, and the perfect home with the white-picket fence all seem like great ideals, but once you figure out the work required to do them, some find it’s not worth it.  Especially in the case of the home, one can zoom in on different aspects of the labor it takes to maintain and create this sanctuary: is it the family and relationships that you labor for? The perfect marriage? A balance of dominance? Smart and driven children? A dog that doesn’t crap on the carpet? Well for the 50s, it was ALL of this.  Take a look at a few of the following advertisements:

This woman is literally leaping for joy for the sheer fact that the clothes are clean!

This woman REALLY looks concerned! This is an acceptable question to pose to an audience, no? I’m dying to know…

Take a good, hard look. These are “femineered.” That means they have to be good for women, right?

“HOW DID YOU KNOW THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED?!” That’s probably the only time we’ll ever see that face, too…

Are we missing anything here? NO? Look again.


Why is it that these women are laboring and ooohing and ahhhing over shiny metal like myna birds? These women are not only laboring, but they also have to put a form of a “Pokerface” on to act like they really enjoy their jobs. Yet, we can’t seem to find the men anywhere.

Wait, wait, wait…here they are:

Kicking back on the couch (I’ve never seen a woman SITTING on a couch in an ad, nevermind the idiocy of “mildness.”)

Well thank goodness for that!

“You may have my wife, but you’ll never have my car!”

“Hold the phone now, Johnny! You mean we can fly AND meet women?!”

Was this some type of divide and conquer method? Separate the sexes, make them labor and genderize space in different areas, and watch them fumble like idiots and act like what’s happening is acceptable? I think we can form a consensus that separation between the sexes, between most everything, is bad. Cue the separation of blacks and whites and an all-male Church. (I can reference the latter because I’m Catholic.) But have we really come forward and rejected this ideas?

We still have some pretty genderized commericals here, people:

Axe Hair Commercial

(Please pay attention to the very end, the water splash and the two rocks.)


(Denote: old woman ≠ sports.)

At least she’s gotten out of the house? Oh, and she’s black.

Gender roles are not dead. WE ARE STILL LABORING FOR THESE UNREALISTIC IDEALS! Women are sexy and clever, yet not as useful as their male counterparts. And men are rugged, and a little wild, but they can get the job done!

Can the real 21st century couple please stand up?


7 Responses

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  1. wtravisumd said, on May 5, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I want to piggy back off your post to post something of my own. I was given the below document during American History in high school when we reached the 1950s. Its an article from Housekeeper Monthly’s May 1955 issue. Beyond that I don’t know too much about it aside from its over stereo-typecasting and absurdity.


  2. cpeverley said, on May 6, 2010 at 12:26 am

    This post was so fun! I love old advertising images. I especially liked the first two, and the portrayal of what is apparently the dramatic emotional rollercoaster of performing femininity. The expectation for [white, middle-class] women was to devote themselves to the keeping of the home and the family, so any failures and successes in that regard would probably have consequences in their achievement of this [white, middle-class] feminine ideal. No wonder these women have such problematic relationships to stains! Every stain is a failure in homemaking– a blot on their [white, middle-class] womanhood. In that situation, if I tried everything I could think of to clean that giant stain from my living room carpet and it still wouldn’t go away, I might put out a similar SOS with a similarly-desperate facial expression. Then, if I heard that Tide could eradicate that mistake in my performance of [white, middle-class] womanhood, I might jump for joy, too!

    Also, I love the concept of “femineering”– so hilarious.

  3. kaykay said, on May 6, 2010 at 12:46 am

    I can completely see how even in today’s advertising compared to in the 50s they still have created gender roles for women and men. Where women in the 50s had to be perfect little housewives, today’s women have to be the milfs of housewives. These are some very interesting ads that you found! I especially like the woman with the toaster picture because what woman today would be trilled about a toaster like that, unless it performed tricks and toasted 10 slices of bread at once? Instead of women serving beer in the 50s to their husbands, today women are posted up half naked next to beer, well, because sex sells. In cleaning, women in advertisements are less concerned about the mess they have made and more enthralled by the new products to clean them. In all these commercials, unless the men are portrayed as the “boss” with women surrounding him, it is mostly women who are still portrayed as the domesticated housewife doing chores around the house. Yes, I do agree that even today these roles are still unrealistic!

  4. kirstan27 said, on May 6, 2010 at 3:04 am

    This is the most creative blog I’ve ever seen. I feel like I’m looking at journalist do some of their best work. I really enjoyed reading your blog and can relate to your interest in Audre Lorde and the obsession of pleasure. Audre Lorde is one of my favorite writers of all times. How clever to tie in the idea of pleasure with era that was all about pleasure and things being perfect, the 50’s. The advertisements were amazing and truly represent the era of the 50’s. You asked if this is some type of divide and conquer method? Separate the sexes, make them labor and genderize space in different areas, and watch them fumble like idiots and act like what’s happening is acceptable. I definitely agree there is a divide and conquer method but I think its to separate the sexes and glamorize them. To make women feel they have to beautiful and sexy and able be able to clean, cook, and keep the house together. Then glamorize the man to be handsome and head of the household and receiving all the “pleasures” of being that man. And yes they did fumble like idiots and let it happen. We now live in a different society because there was revelation but however gender roles do still exist. I agree where are the real 21st century couples ? Great blog.

  5. rmleeb said, on May 6, 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I discussed this in my final paper, because I was tracking three separate social movements toward equality that were aided by the music industry (blacks, women, and queers) by choosing one representative artist from each group to discuss in detail. For women, I chose Madonna, and spent a good deal of time discussing how she helped women gain a voice, but hurt them in their demand not for equality among men, but instead for privilege: Madonna seems to use men in ways that go against what Lorde is suggesting. Yes, she is sexual, but no, she is not erotic in the most valuable degree–one which aims to spread love, not simply pleasure. (In this regard, I think Lady Gaga picked up where Madonna fucked up. Guess who my representative for the queer equality movement was?)

    Anyway, there’s a really good article that discusses Madonna’s eroticism that I luckily stumbled on in a handout in my rhetoric class published by Camille Paglia called Madonna I: Animality & Artifice. I couldn’t find it online, but it’s short (less than two pages) and is worth a read after taking this class.

  6. thecasualsquirrel said, on May 7, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    This was a very well done blog. In several other classes I have had to do the same thing and go through old ads (and ones today) and find the sometimes blatant sexism. However lets keep in mind this is the exact job of advertizing so…?
    There have recently been Boost Mobile commercial that only feature African Americans saying “Where you at?” I don’t think they are advertizing towards suburban white people but I may be wrong. The goal of advertizing is to get your key demographic to take notice of your product and have them buy it. You advertize towards the people who are going to give you the money. In the 50’s and 60’s were the men buying the dish soaps and toasters. It was the women mostly. So why would anyone show a man using a toaster when they would alienate the majority of their demographic?
    This sounds very racists and sexist because it is. That is literally what advertizing is. You and I may not like it but unfortunately that’s how it all works. If you see an advertisement today and you cant tell the race or age or sex of people the ad is trying to sell to than the ad did a horrible job. Advertizing is inherently like that so…?

  7. ahart1314 said, on May 10, 2010 at 1:53 am

    I couldn’t help but think of Beyonce’s new music video, “Why Don’t You Love Me”, after reading this blog post as it almost perfectly depicts the ways in which women were socialized to behave in the 50s and 60s. The image of the stereotypical middle to upper-class housewife in the 50s and 60s was predominantly white. What gives the music video even more of an interesting twist, however, is that Beyonce is playing the traditional housewife/mother in the 50s and 60s and she is black. Beyonce cleans the house, fixes the car, cooks meals, and even is somewhat the breadwinner in the household as she has all of her Grammy awards lined up on the living room mantle. While she is doing everything that the “good” housewife is supposed to accomplish, she still isn’t happy and she still clearly isn’t meeting her partner’s needs as she’s continually asking “why don’t you love me?” In true “independent woman”- Beyonce fashion, the last two lines of the song are as follows, “Maybe you’re just not the one…Or maybe you’re just plain dumb.” Beyonce breaking barriers once again! I’d like to know everyone’s take on this video as I’ve watched it several times and seem to pick up on something different each time.

    Here is a link to the video:

    Here are the lyrics:

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