Midcentury Sexism in Advertising

I wrote this essay a couple of years ago, and I thought I would like to share it with you. This is the kind of sexism we are still battling today. This essay is based on a vintage Pepsi commercial.

I have a love/hate relationship with vintage ads. On the one hand, I am infatuated with the idealism portrayed by so many images from the 1940s and 50s – and, certainly, the fashion of the era. On the other, I am a socially intelligent woman of the 21st century, and I can see through that idealist propaganda fairly easily. Alas, it remains difficult to resist the nostalgia of midcentury America, and so I chose a Pepsi ad, originally aired in 1957, for my analysis project. While this ad is positively soggy with the kind of blatant sexism which would ignite women today, Pepsi’s manipulation of conditioned desires in women is effective, and arguably no different than marketing strategies still used toward women today.

With a title like, “Awesomely Sexist Pepsi Ad,” there really should be no surprises as to its content. The commercial smacks of a fairytale, which is immediately appealing to women, of course. It is narrated by a strong-voiced man, who introduces us to an “ordinary little girl” – it’s important that she is ordinary, so that more women will identify with her – but he is also careful to point out that she is “quite beautiful.” In so saying, he has set a standard (or perhaps, done no more than reinforce the existing standard) for which the female audience has already been conditioned to strive. Now that the commercial has primed its female audience with the key words, “ordinary,” and “beautiful,” it can continue setting standards with other key phrases. The narrator tells us that our ordinary, beautiful girl grows up to marry an ordinary, handsome boy, and they live “happily ever after.” If we lay aside the fact that “beautiful” and “handsome” must follow “ordinary”) as though anything less than physical attractiveness would be entirely out of the ordinary,) we are still left with the box into which every ordinary girl must fit: be ordinary, be beautiful, and marry a handsome man.

Then, we see “our heroine” in her kitchen (you know – where she belongs), where the narrator reminds us that “a girl has to work at living ‘happily ever after.’ First, our heroine decided to stay beautiful, slim, and attractive.” Now, wait. Before, he only said she was beautiful. Suddenly, she is also slim and attractive. These three words are meant to be grouped together in the listener’s mind, so that ‘slim’ and ‘attractive’ become the defining aspects of ‘beautiful.’

“So, she went for long walks,” the narrator says, as our heroine departs her spotless kitchen and pushes a baby carriage out of the scene. Here, the commercial lengthens the list of societal expectations: be ordinary, be beautiful, slim AND attractive, be married and bear children, let your kitchen be pristine and your hair perfectly coiffed, and – what was this commercial about, again? We’re 40 seconds in, and there has been no mention of a product yet!

The narrator now mentions that our “heroine” also engages in “competitive sports,” as the shot focuses on the woman joining a group of other women shopping for purses. It seems that shopping is the girl version of “competitive sports,” and the rules are: get the prettiest thing away from the other girls, and keep that thing for ourselves. The sparkly purse she proudly holds becomes a “trophy,” as the narrator so proudly calls it, turning a trophy not into a reward for an accomplishment, but an acquisition gained by aggression, turning the screws of the kind of conditioned materialism from which we are still suffering today.

We close the scene with our heroine serving her husband a Pepsi as we’re reminded that she has stayed “beautiful, slim, and attractive.” “And with that, our story ends,” the narrator says.

What we’ve watched here is essentially a minute and a half of instruction on how a woman should live and behave, and about six seconds of actual advertisement. This is why it is so important for 21st century women to continue the fight against ingrained sexism.


Is a change coming?

It seems as though I’ve reached a point, after the last couple of very difficult years, that I’m ready for the scenery to change again. I have depended upon routine and stability to keep myself from losing it entirely, but I feel stronger now than I have in a long time. An opportunity has presented itself to my husband, and for the first time I felt comfortable, even excited, to tell him he should pursue it. In the past, I have rather stubbornly refused to consider the prospect, and he has patiently deferred to my madness. But I was able to think more clearly and to put my understanding of him and his needs above any fears I may have. I guess I’m proud of myself for being able to do that. And he seemed pretty happy, too. :mrgreen:

Down, down

I just finished my final final (ha) of the semester. It’s a huge relief to have this semester finished, but at the same time, I know I didn’t do as well as I should have. I’ve been distracted by so many things this semester, and I have not had my head in the game at all, and I am feeling pretty bad about it.

I can only blame myself. I’ve been allowing my mental illnesses to control me, rather than controlling them.

“What?” you say. “Illnesses, like, plural illnesses?”

Well, yeah, of course. Do you think someone as maniacally creative as I am wouldn’t have a screw or two loose? Normally I have a pretty good handle on it, and I’m pretty passionate about removing the stigma from mental illness. I’ve been hesitant to blog about it, but let’s face it — it’s real life, it’s my real life, and if I’m not willing to at least write about it, what business do I have talking about removing the stigma? So I decided to walk the walk a little bit.

I live with no fewer than five diagnosed conditions. Three of them (Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and Trichotillomania)  include compulsion and/or impulse control problems as symptoms. This has been a lifelong struggle, and while I normally have it under control, this semester I got swept up in my own mania and wasn’t even interested in controlling it. I can’t say it was a total loss, though — I formed the Art Expose’, hosted the Expose’s first charity event (Night of the Living Fed, where we raised food donations for the Salvation Army’s food pantry during the Halloween season), and got in touch with an awesome realtor (Jamie Clark, look her up if you’re in the market!) who may be able to find us a large but inexpensive space where the Expose’ can become a physical, brick-and-mortar, actual thing. And I love that, I love the idea that I’ve created something that can help and serve people, serve artists, help them get started in a career in art. This is my thing, man.

But while I was busy creating a thing, all my schoolwork sat around waiting for its turn. I developed a bad habit of putting everything off until the last five hours of a Sunday night, and then yelling at my husband for making sounds while I was frantically typing. That poor guy.

So basically I feel bad about myself because I know I didn’t do well, I know I could have done better, I know I would have done better if I had managed to control myself, and I really hope this semester doesn’t kill my overall GPA, because then I can kiss my student loans au revoir.

Just keep your fingers crossed for me, that I might actually break a 2.0 this semester. heh.


Mrs. Sebring




New Look!

So I played around with my blog’s design today, and I really like the way it turned out! What do you think?

If you’re a friend or fan on Facebook, you know that life has been busy for me again. Among many other things, I was invited to begin writing for a serialized literature magazine called Channillo, so I have a brand new series exclusive to Channillo readers called The Knot. The first two chapters are up now, and if you subscribe to the series (as little as $5 a month will allow you to subscribe to up to 10 series!) you’ll receive a notification every time I update it! You should definitely get in on this! Here’s the link to my profile: clickety.

I’ve also released my poetry book recently, which you can check out here.

The Writer’s Survival Kit

Some of the best NaNoWriMo tips & tools I’ve found so far!

[BTW] : Ben Trube, Writer

Not everything fits into your duffel or laptop bag, but the items listed below should be able to get you out or through most writing scrapes.

1) Your idea notebook with 2 pens – Mine’s a thick, small lined notepad I picked up from Half Price Books. Carry this with you to jot down any plot idea or scene snippet immediately. Two pens are for if the first one fails.

2) Laptop, tablet or other small computer that can go almost anywhere – For me the netbook is the obvious choice, though my next one might be a Surface. Small in size and light weight is best for carrying to more places, though notepads work just as well if you’re not a tech person. Since publishing will eventually involve typing I start there.

3) An electronic copy of most of what you’ve ever written – Leave out anything particularly painful…

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