10 Most Sexist Print Ads from the 1950s

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The 1950s – a time well before the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, when sexism was not only tolerated, it was expected and actively encouraged, partly through chauvinistic print ads like the ones we explore below. With lashings of hindsight, we’re now able to see the funny side of the ridiculously overt sexism on display throughout the ads of the 1950s, mainly because they now seem so incredibly dated.

These ads stand as relics to a bygone era, one in which sexism as well as racism, and other forms of intolerance were commonplace.

Studying these print ads helps us reflect on today’s society and shows just how far we’ve come. Printing ads like the ones below, complete with their preposterous female stereotypes, would be unspeakable these days, and I, for one, am very thankful for that.

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  • Un-freakin-believable.

  • greg

    Oddly, it seems that marriages lasted longer, families were happier, and society on a whole was happier during these times of “chauvinism”. I think we’ve gone in a downward spiral now that women are in control.

  • greg2

    you’re right Greg…hold all minorities, single mothers, immigrants, socialists, progressive political thinkers, artists, homosexuals, people with disabilities… anyone besides white middle class, upper middle class males… everything was just peachy!!!!

  • OMG — I remember those days, but I can’t believe they were so blatant –altho NCIS had an episode featuring a pamphlet entitled “the Perfect Wife” — That was a real HOOT —

  • Kate

    I’m not sure the Dormeyer ad is actually sexist – unlike the other ads shown here the humour appeals to women rather than men, at a time when the average married woman’s main source of income really was “housekeeping” money from her husband. So no, she probably couldn’t buy any of those items for herself, and yes, she probably was going to find it easier to talk her husband into buying them as Christmas presents than during the rest of the year. And yes, she might have to go in for a spot of emotional blackmail to be sure of getting her way. It’s not really much different from the ads you see around Christmas and Fathers’ Day for drills and books about football. Just a bit wittier.

    How unlike the Hoover ad, which says to the male reader “don’t bother asking your wife how she’d feel about getting a vacuum cleaner for Christmas, you know best, just go for it!”

  • Bruce

    When we look back at household appliance ads, it’s easy to think how awful those gifts seem. But, we must realize that a good appliance was a big luxury in the 1950s. They did make life easier for wives. Plus, before two-income households and Chinese imports, a good appliance represented an expensive gift from a man who could have simply told his wife to suck it up and bake bread from scratch.

  • Bruce

    A Hoover vacuum cost $79.50 in 1956. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $633.37 today.


  • Brian

    Ahhhh the good ol’ days when it was okay to give a sweet lil thing a nice pat on the toosh. I miss ’em.

  • Chris

    Were the comments under each pic necessary?

  • David

    Interestingly, the Mr. Leggs ad appeared in print April 19, 1970.

    My take is that most of what people think of “the ’60s” was actually after 1970, and limited to a fairly small part of the populace.

    Of course, I graduated high school in 1965, so my memory of those years must be addled…

  • Katherine

    Does anyone know what magazines any of these ads were printed in?

  • Tim Urban

    The horrifying part of this….it hasn’t changed much in many countries. The ads may not be as explicitly sexist, but men are still definitely in control in many cultures. It’s the 21st century for Pete’s sake!!!!

  • Lily

    It’s funny how most of the comments for this article are written by men; uncomfortable men who still believe they are the bee’s knees. Excuse me, but worldwide issues would still be a problem today even if women were still their husbands’ prisoners, for example, poverty wouldn’t suddenly vanish if women were ‘under control’. You’re a fool, greg. Women rock (literally, look at the number of women in rock music today – supposedly a ‘male’ genre, but look at Joan Jett). If we were meant to be slaves to our husbands, then we wouldn’t have brains, aspirations or dreams. And by the way, anyone who is homophobic is just self-obsessed and filled with apathy and ignorance…and perhaps a little bit of insecurity (caught yourself staring for too long at that dashing young man at the bus stop the other day? Oh but you were only admiring his tie…of course, of course.) Minorities always make the conventionalists feel threatened. Seriously, ‘men’, wake up to the 21st century, morons.

  • Lily

    And you can’t say that homosexuals will stunt the human race because
    a) Our world is overpopulated.
    and b) There is such a thing as surrogacy, artificial insemination and adoption!

    Seriously, I don’t know where this anti-women crap came from. I mean, did cavemen treat their partners this way? Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

  • Kimberly

    No one has commented on the Lysol douche. Seriously? Lysol? Douching is bad enough.

  • Maria

    Dear Julian.
    I find this list most interesting and of use. As I would like to use it as a reference in an essay about women in advertising, would you be so kind to give me your last name?
    All the best, María

  • John

    Unless you actually have the REAL page, don’t think these were in fact ads. The Schlitz ad from 1952 was different actually. Someone else put those words in — perhaps to prove some sort of point.

  • Ken Bachman

    do you know of a web site where you could purchase copies of these adds?

  • Michael

    I think that the key word here is hindsight, and I don’t feel we’ve come very far if we look at modern advertising.
    I remember an Indian feminist commenting that western women visiting Mumbai might look around and say “you poor women are so repressed”. Yet when she visits New York, LA or London, she looks at 50ft billboards of underwear-clad models and thinks “you poor women are so repressed”.
    In my own country, beer advertisements in the 80s tended to be inclusive, depicting men and women partying and drinking. One brand bucked the trend with masculine stereotype ads, and was actively boycotted by feminists (one female athlete wouldn’t enter a race sponsored by the brand).
    Now, the majority of beer ads here are directed at ‘the boys’, as is a popular Bourbon/Cola RTD. Female drinkers are targeted with more ‘feminine’ brightly coloured alcopops.
    Unilever constantly courts complaint with ads for Lynx personal care products (deodorants, etc,)clearly aimed at young men.
    Generally, I feel that the campaign to stop gender stereotyping in advertising peaked about 20 years ago. This makes me ponder both the push and pull factors. In other words, do the advertisers lead, or are they led-by public opinion and social conditions? I suspect it is a two-way street.
    Either way, I don’t think that it pays to snigger too hard at the older generation. There were powerful social drivers behind the domesticity and conservativeness of the 1950s and, as a poster has pointed out above, one of the most distasteful ads pictured above, (Dacron Leggs are wrong on so many levels)came from 1970, not the 50s.

  • josh

    the level of hypocrisy by feminists is apauling. the comments underneath the beer add complain about the stereotype of the woman getting emotional over burning dinner but then calls the man an alchoholic. hypocrites have no right to complain.

  • Angela

    You know what, sexist males? Firstly, learn how to spell please. Secondly, if the shoe was on the other foot, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t be as enthusiastic about sexism as you are now. Imagine if women controlled the world and men posessed no rights, weren’t taken seriously and were treated like sex toys? SERIOUSLY put yourself in our position and see how you feel? And how on earth are we hypocrits? I’m a feminist and I don’t hate men. I don’t hate anyone. However, I am disgusted with the behaviour of sexist people, whether they are women or men. Women who put themselves down based on their gender dissapoint me. Women who think, “I can’t have a career because my husband wants me at home,” are just kidding themselves. THIS IS THE MODERN WORLD FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Also, I don’t esteem men who try to put women in domestic cages or treat them with no respect. Basically, I don’t appreciate the behaviour of anybody who discriminates aganist people because of the very essence of our being.

    And if women are so ’emotional’ then why did men start all those wars? Wasn’t there a little bit of an emotion called hatred fuelling it all? Hypocritical, don’t you think?

  • Sarah

    Not every woman is ‘over emotional’ either. If anything, my ex boyfriend was far more emotional than me. He used to get so angry whenever I went out with friends instead of him that he used to yell and scream and threaten me. Luckily, I dumped him and moved out of our apartment; a great example of 21st century independence!

  • TC

    Angela on April 23rd, 2011 at 10:56 pm

    Please learn how to spell before arrogantly demeaning other’s ability to spell.

    You incorrectly spelled
    – possessed
    – hypocrites
    – disappoint

    Do you realise how stupid that makes you look?

    Oh goodness, you’ve blamed all men for wars. I’m… not really sure where to begin to enlighten you of your ridiculous emotional outburst. A wonderful example of emotion dominating your capacity to think things through.

  • Joseph Stalin

    *to Angela:
    I would like to be treated like a sex toy :D


    That Bell & Howell one would make a good Toblerone advertisement.

  • Angela

    Firstly, I am emotional and proud! Humans are creatures of emotions, thoughts and instincts; it’s who we are. Empathy is a wonderful trait to carry and I know plenty of males who cry, scream, yell, smile and laugh… are you an android of some sort? And okay so I misspelt a few words. You caught me! Congratulations. I know that I began talking about it, but spelling wasn’t actually the main point of my argument. Clearly, judging by your comment, you have completely missed the meaning behind what I was saying. I’m not saying men are bad. I’m saying that chauvinists need to take a page out of Paul Weller’s book and wake up to the modern world. Usually sexist people or chauvinists are also homophobic, racist, conformists etc. so really I’m probably wasting my time. Oh well, I’m allowed to have an opinion thanks to the social revolution. So I’ll damn-well express it!

    p.s. Joseph Stalin – I think your name says it all.

  • Angela

    p.p.s. Look up “Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure. It may just begin to cure your narrow-mindedness.

  • Anya

    Omg can I just be completely honest and just say LOL?

  • M

    You’ve managed to impute
    – oversexualization to a fully clothed woman.
    – alcoholism to a caring husband pointing to a couple of beers
    – duplicity to a woman who is enjoying a luxury appliance which will free her from hours of drudgery (the vacuum cleaner)

    The tone of this article is far more abrasive than the ads. Perhaps you were on the rag when you wrote it?

  • the man

    whats so sexiest about these ads? personlly i wish things woudl go back to this way thats why country is in such bad shape we let all these “minorities” become Free and its killed us.

  • Lana

    I know it has been months since someone has commented, but I hate leaving this article on M’s comment.
    If you think the tone of the article is more abrasive than the ad, you are blind.
    And you sound ignorant. How old are you? And I hope you aren’t a women. Then you would have trashed years of sacrfices and hard work towards gender equality.

    Would you like a Hoover for Christmas? Unless you are unemployed and socially challenged, I doubt it.

    And oversexualisation to a fully clothed women who happens to have breasts the size of balloons. There are no words to describe your lack of awareness. Do us a favour and get an education :)
    Thank you, nothing like “de-stressing” through saving the world from sheer stupidity.

  • Tyler

    All these men are so sexist! I’m a man as well but I’m gay and I have a partner. It’s just unbelievable how people can and use to be. It wasn’t until the ’90’s that aboriginals, afro-americans, and native americans had better rights and gays have only started being accepted into society. In the 50’s families were expected to be a white middle class husband, a white middle class housewife, and 3 kids. That describes a stereotype.

  • Cheri

    I am a woman, and I think most of these are hilarious (except for the Dacron Leggs). Probably because these ads are so ridiculous put in today’s context, that they crack me up.

    Lana, my husband got me a lovely vacuum cleaner and carpet cleaner for Christmas, and I was thrilled! We are often broke by the time the bills are paid so we don’t get the luxury of nice, new appliances whenever we need them (gosh, reality bites). Whenever I get a fancy-pants new tool that not only is efficient but also saves me extra time and effort, that spells out more free time for ME! Socially challenged? You’re funny ;-) And thanks for the snarky tone belittling unemployed women, which includes SAHMs. Classy!

    As for the projector boobs, I think that’s a stroke of visual humor. I can even hear a drum clash! I doubt the pointy bra was the only style available for women at that time, so there is no use whining about the way women used to dress when women themselves found it fashionable (just ask Madonna and Lady Gaga)! Really, to complain about the woman in this ad (Lana does not approve her breast size, which is rather demeaning to the bustier ladies) and think it is worse than all the hypersexualization of women in the entertainment and advertising industries today–droopy bedroom eyes, parted lips, scantily clad–is just laughable. And tragic….

    “Thank you, nothing like “de-stressing” through saving the world from sheer stupidity.”
    So, ad hominem attacks help you de-stress. Sounds like a stereotypical housewife to me! *giggle*

  • K

    …And therein lies the greatest obstacle in women’s rights – other women. ^^^

  • F.

    I am appalled at the amount of still sexist comments stemming from these advertisements. This is the 21st century, and supposedly a more humane society due to a more understanding population. But clearly, this contradicts our supposedly civlised society.
    To the dusgusting men who find that the world would supposedly be better if today’s society continued as it did, are clearly intent on pushing their problems on the female population.
    If it does help your narrow minded opinions, might I say that political governments are still run by the majority of men, and in fact have not cured this world of poverty or major world concerns.
    I am in no way blaming the entire male population, but to the men who still have these narrow minded thoughts should most definetly open their eyes to the rest of the world, as men are the ones who make up the majority of the homeless. So before you think to belittle the female population, think about your incapabilities to handle yourself as individuals.

  • Jenny

    I think the ads speak for themselves. The commentary is completely stupid.

  • Really stupid commentary.

    The same kinds of ads are made about men now…and are expected and accepted. The stupid husband is an advertising staple of our age.

  • Sara

    I would like to add my opinion, these ads have sparked a lot of controversy! I am a feminist by nature, and initially I did take offence to most of them, but…..it was over 50 years ago that they were made! The context of these ads in today’s society, obviously, are mostly humourous, all open-minded people would see this. They actually did exist, I have an American friend who remembers a few of them, but it’s just the way society was at the time. We can blame all minorities, or we can blame conformists, we can blame men and we can blame women and we can argue until we are all blue in the face, it’s not going to change history. If anyone feels that strongly, their opinion deserves to be heard, but know that there is always an argument to follow from someone else who has an opinion too. I take from these ads that we have come such a long way from those times, and judging by most of the comments, we still have a long way to go! I am a non-conformist, but I also have to live in the real world, and I often find myself in situations where I don’t agree, my opinion is not needed all the time, I just walk away, at peace with myself that I believe otherwise. It’s easy to blame anyone and everyone, especially from 50 years ago, these ads are part of history, if you don’t agree with them for whatever reason, only you have the power to change the future. Take responsibility for yourself and fight the arguments worth fighting, we all have to live in this world, we all have different views and there will always be someone who doesn’t agree, but arguing over different opinions on ads from 50+ years ago, seems a bit pointless, I would like to see ALL the people who have commented, put your intelligence into something that’s going to make a difference in today’s world! Every single person has a story and mine is no better or worse than yours! But our life stories are what make us people, with hopes and dreamsI just wish as a society, we could accept the small things we can’t change, including people, and worry about the things that need our attention, together. War, starvation, poverty, disease, basic HUMAN rights, are what we need to address. The general % of “normal” people have more rights than we have ever had, and yet we can’t get it together to stop these terrible things, we are just happy to blame someone else for the world we live in. I’m not a perfect person in any way, shape or form, I make mistakes and I contradict myself at times, but I would like to be a better person and I know that if we continue like this, we will never move forward as a human race. My intent is not to insult anybody or put anyone’s opinion down but it all seems a bit trivial, when there is so much more to achieve in this day and age! 

  • DAL

    Funny how beliefs change so quickly over time. This was nearly 60 years ago and yet, it is undoubtedly blatant of how we once viewed women. Although these ads may initially strike us as humorous, the subtext underneath them reveals a chauvinistic society in which women remained home and had traditional roles. With the Chase & Sandborn commercial, the assumption evoked by the ad that men hitting women is legitimate is abhorrent. Domestic violence still exists in modern society which makes this ad even more desensitizing. However, the comparatively more egalitarian society we have today reflects how much we have changed and be accepting towards ‘groups’ of people.

  • spookym

    A vacuum cleaner for Christmas? That sucks!