Vintage Sexism: Single Ladies Edition

Image: The Sister Project

What do Dorothy, age 25, Beth, age 22, and Hildegarde, age 27, all have in common? Besides possessing “natural charm” and the ability to “dress well, talk well, and dance well,” it is, quite simply, the fact that they are single.

This 1930’s advertisement, which reads, “Isn’t it natural for every girl to want popularity, romance, and a devoted husband?” seems to suggest that, for a woman in her twenties to want anything else is to have something terribly wrong with her. Being  single for so long – at the age of 27, Hildegarde over there looks practically ancient – should be a young woman’s deepest fear. Luckily, however, these three ladies don’t need to be afraid of remaining alone forever. All they need is a little Lux detergent, and perhaps some help from some highly informative dating guides…

Image: Sad and Useless

In this first set of images, circa 1936, we can learn what not to do on a date from this young lady’s mistakes, with winning advice like: “Don’t talk about clothes or try to describe your new gown to a man. Please and flatter your date by talking about the things he wants to talk about.” (See more tips for single ladies here.)

This next dating guide is much more recent, and chock full of useful information! If you don’t want to watch this clip, here is a list of important takeaways:

  • “Some useful conversational pieces include: a book with an interesting title, a small stuffed animal, interesting pieces of jewelry, a pet, a sports jersey, a sports magazine, or a T-shirt with a slogan.”
  • “Research shows that 40% of men suffer from shyness, and 80% of men have been shy at one point in their lives.”
  • “I know a woman who can engage almost any man in conversation, because she knows a lot about sports.”
  • “It’s not what you say, but how you say it when it comes to flirting…get into sync with him by nodding in agreement to what he’s saying.”

Has anything changed since the 1930s? Or the 1980s? Do you think remaining single – by choice or otherwise – is more acceptable in today’s society? Do you think the dating advice offered by these guides is effective or insulting?

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  1. Katie 06/16/2010 at 11:17 am #

    Insulting, naturally.

    I maintain that my boyfriend and I work so well together because we both enjoyed being single.

    I can only think of one couple I know that got together because one of them went out of their way to do something to “catch a hot one” – and it was a man who was doing the looking.

  2. Jean 06/16/2010 at 12:32 pm #

    Ugh…let’s not forget “The Rules,” published in 1995, with gems like “let him take the lead” and “don’t stare or talk too much.”

  3. Angel 06/16/2010 at 12:52 pm #

    But Jen, didn’t you notice that men *deserve* our attention? Silly feminist.

    I think the message has morphed in interesting ways in recent years. Take Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” In this case, women are being told it’s a form of empowerment to reject anyone who won’t marry you (specifically through a display of consumerism–a pretty common theme in Beyonce’s ouvre, really, going back to “Bills, Bills, Bills”)…but that’s still the ultimate fulfillment…

    Love the blog, ladies!

  4. Marley 06/16/2010 at 1:01 pm #

    Effective? Perhaps. It might land you a man but he’ll be a pig. Why would you want one of those?

  5. Katharine 06/16/2010 at 1:28 pm #

    Angel: I love it! Consumerism indeed… if the man isn’t willing to pay for everything, well then… ; )

    There are similar guides for men: one called “How to Make Love” (i.e. “pitch woo,” not the contemporary sense) recommends that men “press on” when a woman is resisting him with an answer of “no,” and if she screams, he should abandon his hope, because nobody wants to be with “that kind of girl.”

  6. Madeleine 06/16/2010 at 4:05 pm #

    Sure things have changed. We now have the agency to proudly say “no, I don’t have a husband/boyfriend/sig.other” but I would argue that the expectation to pick up a stray, one day, is still there.

    I think women should take full advantage of this statistic on men being shy. Too often we assume that with gender comes power and maybe this isn’t the case. Maybe we’re stunting our social growth when we say we’re too meek or shy or “not ballsy enough” (ha!) to approach a man.

  7. Katharine Ellis Tapley 06/16/2010 at 10:14 pm #

    There are so many intelligent responses to these ads and all I can think of is


  8. Rachel J 06/19/2010 at 7:56 pm #

    I just had to comment–that dating video from the 80’s looked like an SNL mock-up. I also like how the first ad subtly says that these three girls have super-stinky pits and it took them 5 paragraphs to get us to that icky conclusion without directly saying it.

    • Moddy 12/17/2011 at 11:51 am #

      you should see some of those old 70’s commercials for tampons or douches – they legally *couldn’t* say what their product did, and the end result is so vauge it’s hilarious.

  9. Ashley 06/26/2010 at 8:28 pm #

    I don’t find it insulting. I don’t think the writing is disrespectful to women when taken in context. It was a different time.

    Instead of getting bent out of shape at the way our culture was 70 years ago, why don’t we focus on the here and now. I’m a modern housewife – I cook, bake, clean, garden and attend university in the spring and fall, and I am ridiculously happy with a husband who adores and respects me. I’ve chosen a more traditional life style and I think it would be anti-feminist for me to be ridiculed.

  10. Siri 06/29/2010 at 8:03 pm #

    yes, yes, and yes to much of what was said, but I wouldn’t talk about a stuffed animal with my date… I already look five years old half the time, I don’t need to act like it too.

  11. Carolina 08/01/2010 at 11:19 am #

    Thanks for publishing these hilarious, but sad advertisements.

    These images present two interesting revelations: (1)how cruel – and laughably obvious, today – advertising was in the past. Women who “smell” or who in any way deviate from “normal” are shunned and unhappy – and worst of all – may not catch a man!
    AND, more sad and worrisome, how many of these ideas are still played out today, but in a much slicker and subtle format.

  12. Josefina 11/16/2010 at 2:06 am #

    Maybe this is why I’ve never had a boyfriend… oh wait, that’s ’cause I’m a lesbian.

  13. Moddy 12/17/2011 at 8:44 am #

    Good grief, grow up. People really *did* get married that young all the time when this was written. I highly doubt it was written to offend women decades later when the marriage age had jumped ten years.

  14. Amanda Cline 02/01/2012 at 12:23 am #

    Outrageous sexism!

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