A Woman’s Duties by Carley Chan

Gendered advertising is a powerful and visible force in maintaining traditional and heteronormative views of the “American way of life.” Commercialization was a “quintessentially American” approach to developing the image of the home (Cowan, 103). It was often applied to more than just household appliances, however. Numerous companies exploited the extremely large market for goods that emerged from the establishment of the single-family suburban home as the dominant and favored living arrangement (Cowan, 147).  Products were often framed within the contexts of “homemaker and breadwinner [that] were central to the identity of many women and men at the time,” regardless of whether or not they served any actual domestic purpose (May, 172).

Elaine Tyler May explains this phenomenon in The Commodity Gap: Consumerism and the Modern Home:

The values associated with domestic spending upheld traditional American concerns with pragmatism and morality, rather than opulence and luxury. Purchasing for the home helped alleviate traditional American uneasiness with consumption: the fear that spending would lead to decadence. Family-centered spending reassured Americans that affluence would strengthen the American way of life (May, 158).

By turning all spending into a type of domestic spending, advertisers encouraged consumerism and alleviated the buyer’s remorse that came after. Such an approach is most apparent in marketing towards women. By playing to the fears and pressures felt by “discontented housewives,” nondurable goods could be spun as essentials for a bright domestic future (May, 164). The right shampoo would keep a marriage stable and happy;  a proper tampon would keep a housewife productive and presentable. For every problem, there was a product.

In many advertisements, women were promised an improvement in their relationship to others, whether this be their husbands, children, friends, or neighbors (Cowan, 114). Women were treated not as autonomous individuals, but rather as dependents – thus enforcing the notion of being a part of a “family unit.” This arrangement also profoundly impacted men, whose role as a dependable and capable “provider” as a “source of satisfaction” has also been continually exploited in marketing. Lastly, just as Nixon “articulated the essence of American superiority” through the display of home appliances, advertisers urged women to “keep up with the Joneses” through the purchase of various goods (May, 155, 170) In American Green, Anthony Giordano seems to buy into this idea when he states that “a lawn to a homeowner is like lipstick to a woman,” implying that personal appearance and domestic prowess are directly relatable subjects (Steinberg, 75).


“A Mother’s Duty,” 1925. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

By marketing to a woman’s motherly instincts, Palmolive shifts the focus away from a woman’s “selfish” desire to own the product for herself by instead framing her daughter as the primary consumer. The ad’s text is almost completely identical to other Palmolive ads of the time period, with the only major difference being the substitution of “your [the woman’s] skin” with “her [the daughter’s] skin.” The ad claims that using Palmolive soap is an essential skincare step that will impact the daughter “all through life,” and it is up to the mother to take the proper “precautions ” to ensure that she will maintain her “skin radiance.” Though it is highly likely that the mother herself will also be using the product, catering to her “duty” as a mother alleviates guilt about spending on an otherwise nonessential product.

A Wife Can Blame Herself If She Loses Love By Getting “Middle-Age” Skin!” 1938. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

Palmolive finds its way into the hearts of housewives through this 1938 ad, in which a cartoon woman laments that her husband “never takes [her] out any more,” and fears that he is “ashamed” of her. Her mother speculates that her dry and old-looking skin is the reason he does not want to be seen in public with her, and suggests that her distraught daughter use some Palmolive soap. In the last panel, the wife, her skin so rejuvenated by Palmolive that she turns into a real woman, happily exclaims that “Bob’s so proud of [her] again” and that she has “learned her lesson.” Palmolive again markets their soap as a collective good for the family; more than keeping a woman’s skin radiant and healthy, it is insuring that she is not a disgrace to her man.

“What Men Should Know About film on teeth, and modern ways to end it,” 1922. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

This Pepsodent ad provides an interesting contrast between marketing to men and marketing to women. While “men should know” the dangers of teeth film and mouth acid and how to remove them with Pepsodent, the only thing women need to know about toothpaste is “added beauty.” While men are informed that film “breeds millions of germs” and causes teeth decay, women are told that it causes a “stained” and “dingy” appearance which hides the “natural luster of the teeth.” Pepsodent seems to support the assumption that the man reading the ad is a “breadwinner” – a provider whom a woman is both economically and intellectually dependent upon. But, as Elaine Tyler May in The Commodity Gap points out, women’s “lives were functional, not merely ornamental.” In the next paragraph of “The Woman’s Side,” Pepsodent reminds mothers that “children need Pepsodent most.”

“This home shows the wonders of it!” 1917. Courtesy of Duke University Libraries Digital Collections.

According to this ad, Lux Laundry Flakes are perfect for the whole family. Not only does Lux keep a woman’s “blouses and silk underwear pretty,” it also allows her to “use [her] nicest linen every day,” keep her house “radiantly light and fresh” and “delight her heart with the gauziest, the silkiest, the fluffiest for her children.” With Lux, a woman is the ultimate housewife and mother – and everyone knows it. In the ad, other women are impressed and jealous of this young wife’s seemingly decadent lifestyle, calling her a “trifle reckless” for always using her “lovely bridal linen” and assuming that she “squanders a mint of money… buying fresh things all the time.” On the contrary, Lux allows her to be economical while still “keeping up with the Joneses.”


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.

How the Roles of Women and Men in the Home are Portrayed in Media By Mitchell Pokrywa

How the Roles of Women and Men in the Home are Portrayed in Media
By Mitchell Pokrywa

The Roles of women and men in the home have been portrayed differently over time, but a lot of things remain the same today. When you see ads for cleaning products or ads for tools, what do you almost always typically see? You see a happy woman using the cleaning products and you see a strong man using the tools. The point is that these products are trying to target those specific audiences because, for a long time, these types of products have been associated for use by only one gender in the home.
For the most part, the role of a woman in the home was to be a housewife – to cook and to clean and take care of the children. Richard Nixon stated, when describing homes in Moscow, that they were equipped with modern appliances to make the life of a housewife easier. When he stated this, he was saying that there are appliances that are only operated by housewives and that the types of responsibilities associated with those appliances are to be done by a woman and not a man (May, 155).

A man’s role in the family is to provide – to go out and work and make the money for the family. The man is never portrayed as a homemaker because those jobs are not a man’s responsibility. The jobs around the home that are a man’s responsibility are the jobs that require tools and fixing things, or jobs like cutting the lawn. Have you ever seen the commercials for John Deere or for lawn products? They almost always portray a man; showing how proud he is of his lawn. These are the types of activities that are targeted as a man’s job. Reed Funk stated that he only had a slightly above average lawn because he did not want to mow his own lawn after working with grass all day (Steinberg, 65). This showed me that the lawn is considered a man’s area because while he was away at work his wife was not cutting the lawn. Therefore, it is considered the responsibility of the man.

The ads I have below show how the media portrays who is responsible for what in the home, and show how people accept these advertisements as the correct concept of home since they still remain similar today.

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“Lady Berkleigh Pajamas,” April 1950. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

The ad above struck me as interesting in its portrayal of the woman in the home. It is an ad for women’s pajamas from the 1950s, but what is most interesting is the phrase on the left which states “tailored to a man’s taste.” This shows that the main reason for a woman to buy these pajamas is due to the fact that these pajamas would please her husband regardless if they were pleased with the pajamas themselves. The fact that that is the main focus of the ad points to the idea that the woman is considered to be her husband’s property and that her responsibilities in life are to do what she can to please her husband. By buying these pajamas she can do that, because they are tailored to his tastes and not hers.

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“Cut Rite Wax Paper,” March 1948. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

The ad above is another interesting ad that portrays how the media defines what they believe is the woman’s role in the home. This is an ad for wax paper and it shows a woman storing food in the wax paper. It also specifically says that more women use this brand more than any other. This is significant because it is only addressing women in the advertisement, giving the idea that the people who use this product are only women because the jobs done with this product are only jobs that are done in the home by women. A man wouldn’t need to be addressed in the advertisement because he would not use a product like this in the home; it is portraying that only women have use for a product like this.

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“La-Z-Boy Recliners,” November 1967. Courtesy of http://www.adflip.com/.

This ad was not exactly as straightforward as the first two, but the image struck me as interesting. This is an ad for La-Z-Boy recliners and in the image there is a man and woman, presumably husband and wife, and the man is sitting in the recliner while the woman is sitting on the floor. This ad seems to be targeting men with imagery showing that this product is geared more towards the working man who deserves a big comfortable chair to sit in after a long day of work, and by showing how this is a man’s chair and not a woman’s chair.


This post was completed as part of assignment on how the idea of home and the concept of domesticity has been used in marketing during different historical moments and in the present. For additional information on the assignment, please visit: https://americanstudiesmediacultureprogram.wordpress.com/the-concept-of-home-spring-2014-selling-home/.