Today, the Guardian ran a 42-year-old piece on sexist advertising that shows very little has changed when it comes to shaming women into buying magazines, cosmetics, and "feminine hygiene products" by telling them they're inadequate at being perfect ladies.

On August 27th, 1970, the Women's Liberation Movement led a "Strike for Equality" in New York, calling for a nationwide boycott of four products whose advertising they deemed "offensive, insulting, and degrading": Pristeen hygiene spray, Ivory washing-up liquid, Cosmopolitan magazine, and Silva Thin cigarettes.

Oddly, the article doesn't note most of the specific complaints, just the company's responses.

"Pristeen is for femininity, freshness and women's confidence. How can anyone be against that?" said Warner Lambert Pharmaceutical Company after its advertisements were accused of leaving "no part of a woman's body sacred."

(We found this Pristeen ad from the 1970s, which is not degrading, per se, but creepy as all hell, and might very well be a deleted scene from The Shining.)


A "visibly distressed" Procter and Gamble spokesman said: "We are certainly willing to hear complaints about Ivory but we would not knowingly run advertisements that are offensive and demeaning to women – how could we since most of our products are sold to women?"

(Yeah, most of their products were sold to women — who were scared of getting wrinkly "dishpan hands" that would freak out their husbands.)


Cosmo EIC Helen Gurley Brown did not take kindly to the accusation that her magazine was "fostering anxiety among readers about their ability to attract men," saying, "I cannot believe they've been reading us... We're very pro women's lib... As for women being sexual objects I think it's wonderful that a woman is sexually desirable, but I guess that that's her only attraction."

(Here's a Cosmo cover from 1970; there's a Joyce Carol Oates story and some health features that look legitimately servicey, but also an "Are You a Good Lover?" quiz and a shirt that looks like it was made during a particularly slutty arts and crafts session at summer camp.)


Only one company didn't issue a statement: Silva Thins, which used the slogan "Cigarettes are like women, the better ones are thin and rich." Aw, it's like a G-rated version of GoDaddy!

Sure, these advertisements seem quaint and outdated, but it's not like today's ads are any less sexist. In fact, most have gotten worse as companies compete to be more and more provocative so they can score more hits on YouTube. Ads for cleaning supplies have probably changed the most — they're less outwardly "your husband will leave you if you don't buy this sponge!!"-shamey — but they still depict women going orgasmic over mops. Instead of whispery hygiene commercials, we have jaw-droppingly ridiculous/offensive euphemisms for our vaginas. Cosmo dropped any and all intellectual pretense long ago and is now basically all ridiculous sex tips.


Will our daughters and granddaughters still have to deal with this shit decades from now, when they're watching advertisements via Google ad chips implanted in their brains? At the rate things are going, we don't have high hopes for the future.

From the archive, 27 August 1970: US women find some advertising offensive, insulting and degrading [Guardian]