Under My Thumb: A Disturbing Vintage Advertising Trend

Friday, February 05, 2010

Sexism in vintage advertising is no secret, and lately I've noticed while perusing ads of the 60s and 70s that there's a recurring theme that Pete Campbell of Sterling Cooper probably would've dreamed up (or at least, approved of): putting women below men, literally. In the 60s and 70s, it was perfectly OK to depict men stepping all over women, standing above them, or otherwise keeping them below waist level in some subservient fashion. Creepily enough, in some of these ads, the women seem all too happy to be down and out like our shoe lady up above. Let's have a look...

I first saw this Caveman ad on ILuvRetroThings (a really cool blog if you haven't already checked it out.) The fact that it's advertising a cigar and the man is holding an oversized club (that the lady's eyes are drawn to) just adds to the phallic imagery as well.

Want to promote men's pants? Just sit a female model next to them...and oh, have her bite the guy's knee while you're at it. Titillating, indeed.

The model looks intimidated. I guess you would be in her position, too.

This one just floored me (no pun intended!) The copy reads, "Though she was a tiger lady, our hero didn't have to fire a shot to floor her. After one look at his Mr. Leggs slacks, she was ready to have him walk all over her. If you'd like your own doll-to-doll carpeting, hunt up a pair of these he-man, Mr. Leggs slacks." Doll-to-doll carpeting? Wow, just wow. Words fail me.

Women aren't pets, so why would you pretend to pat them? Note to advertisers: having the man place his hand on the girl's head does nothing to soften the sexist effect of these ads - in fact, it does quite the opposite!

The brunette in this hilarious shot appears to mesmerized by the man's ass. And the blonde's eyes are aiming right for her partner's crotch.

Even the innocent men's tie and shirt manufacturer, Van Heusen, got in on the act. Why does she have to kneel on the floor to serve breakfast in bed?

Lastly, this isn't an ad - it's a 1980s album by the German group The Scorpions, who were known for some pretty controversial/sexist album art. Just a ridiculous title and cover all around.

Ah well, at least Nancy Sinatra got her revenge...


  1. In the broomsticks ad - that's Cristina Ferrari - model and once married to John DeLorean.

  2. Wow, some of those are pretty incredible, aren't they? The first one and the tiger blanket ones are especially shocking!

    And iirc that's not the most disturbing cover the Scorpions did. Those guys were really disturbing!

  3. re: Nancy Sinatra got her revenge.

    Yeah, She posed for Playboy! All naked.... for men.
    I got a big kick out of this post! Indeed the times have changed for the better, but to knock the Scorps for a cover that was indeed supposed to be sexual? It's not like they were hiding it... Rock and Roll is sex! The GO-GO's were infamous for their "use" of men backstage as much as any male dominated group was, right? Not defending sexism - defending the Scorpions and the use of sexual connotations on album covers....because EVERYONE did! Especially in the hedonistic, decadent 80's! Have you read, "I'm With The Band" by Pamela DesBarres? Great book!

  4. The tiger rug one is really disturbing. Wow. Just not. OK.

  5. Oh my goodness! I am happy to say we have progressed beyond that (mostly...) but it is still shocking to see.

    Pam, contact me when you can, I have some good news for you!

  6. We have come a long way and I appreciate all that made that possible. Great thread!

  7. Yeah. And we're so quick to condemn other "backwards" nations...


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