Vintage Sexism: Women in the Workplace Edition

vintage ads

Images, clockwise from top:, Epiclectic’s Flickr

Recently, I’ve been catching up on my Mad Men, and as I observe Sterling and Cooper’s office dynamics, I cannot help but get fired up when I see the way Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway, and the other “girls” are treated, or, at least in Peggy’s case, forced to jump through hoops and face social ostracization just to secure a “man’s job.” Watching Sterling and Cooper’s office culture also makes me appreciate the fact that I work in an environment that is positive and empowering. For this week’s installment of Vintage Sexism, I’ve turned up some ads that look like they came straight out of MadMen!

The ad at top left depicts a sexualized lab technician and reads, “should a gentleman offer a Tiparillo to a lab technician?  The ad at top right satirizes women’s lib in an attempt to sell copy machines, proclaiming, “before the grumbling becomes a revolt, have a peaceful demonstration in your office.” The image at the bottom is a photocopy from the July 1943 issue of Transportation magazine, written for male supervisors of women in the work force during World War II. It includes eleven tips for “getting more efficiency out of women employees.”

These ads and article may seem ludicrous, but not too far off from inequality in the workplace today, as documented at Shocking statistics on sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as the significant gap in pay, remind me that not every company is as egalitarian and women-friendly as ModCloth. A 2008 article by Harriet Rubin from states, “while women have made huge professional gains in the past three decades,” that progress appears to be stalling, and even backsliding. “Key indicators such as pay, board seats, and corporate-officer posts all reflect a leveling off or drop in recent years. Although the gap between women’s and men’s pay narrowed significantly through the 1980s, gains since then have been partly erased by a drop every few years,” Rubin reports. “In 2006, women over the age of 25 earned 78.7 cents for every dollar earned by men, according to the most recent statistics from the U.S. labor department.”

It’s your turn, ModReaders!  How do these ads featured in this post strike you? Do you think women have achieved equality in the workplace, or do we still have a ways to go?


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  1. Avatar
    Jayme 04/12/2010 at 3:03 pm #

    I love this series. Women and work is another one of those areas in which a lot of progress has been made but we still have a lot of progress left to make as well – especially with regard to women of color, for whom the gendered wage gap widens.

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    Sophia Schwan 04/12/2010 at 4:15 pm #

    I took a module last semester called women and the media and it was all about that. Such an amazing course and more than half the class consisted of guys. They really learned a lot 😉 <3

  3. Avatar
    brenna 04/12/2010 at 4:15 pm #

    i took a women’s history class a few semesters ago and my teacher mentioned mad men a few times – it was during a lecture about women in the workplace. she was saying that the show is an extremely accurate depiction of how women were treated and suggested we watch it as supplemental research for class. I do love the series though!

  4. Avatar
    Meghan 04/12/2010 at 5:36 pm #

    What an awesome round-up of ads, etc. Super cool. Makes me happy that we’ve come so far, although, there’s still a long ways to go. : (

  5. Avatar
    Lauren 04/12/2010 at 5:50 pm #

    This is a topic that I have been reading about a lot lately. It isn’t fair that the cards are stacked against women at the workplace or that we are subconsciously not taken as “serious” workers because of our unique gender. Ads like these show how far we’ve come (somewhat), but how there is still a huge gap to somehow bridge.

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    Rachel @ a la Modest 04/12/2010 at 7:14 pm #

    I don’t see the gap between genders at all nowadays. It’s almost nonexistent. I’ve been to a lot of places where women are empowered as leaders even over places with a majority of men. We cannot control what people think of this privately, though.. I think privately, there is still a lot of disparity on what individuals think about women being leaders. Publicly, I don’t feel belittled being a skilled woman in a man-powered industry (IT). The gender gap is still more fortunate than the prejudice on race.

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    JL 04/13/2010 at 8:19 am #

    You know, I used to think that things were pretty equal at work (particularly in my office, which frequently touts its diversity initiatives). Then I got pregnant. Oy. I’ll skip details, but I will say that the comments have been bad enough that I will not be returning after I have my son.

    You know you’re in a backwards world when the status of your womb is discussed in your performance review.

  8. Avatar
    jennifer 04/13/2010 at 1:09 pm #

    I agree, I work for a huge corporation and I feel blessed to work for a company that first sees my abilities for the person I am, rather than my gender. PS: LOVE MAD MEN!!! Best show of ALL time!!

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    Lulu 04/13/2010 at 7:47 pm #

    ModCloth i knew there was a reason i love you so much. you amazing feminist company you!

  10. Avatar
    Casey 04/14/2010 at 11:08 am #

    I think these ads are rather offensive. They make women look less intelligent than men and like we only care about appearances. I think women still have a way to go to be completely equal to men in the workplace, depending on where they work.

  11. Avatar
    Sarah 04/15/2010 at 12:58 am #

    I believe the statistics you have provided are unclear. These stats do not show if this is for ALL women, or just working women. If it is the average salaries of all women to all men, it would obviously be lower. Some women are inclined to more domestic lifestyles, and will only work part time or not at all to be able to devote themselves to other priorities.

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    Elizebeth 04/17/2010 at 1:44 am #

    Although I do believe in equality I think it could be taken too far. It is great to see how far society has come but I only think what is being sacrificed for this literal equality. Great ads. I love vintage.

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    Danielle 09/08/2010 at 7:20 pm #

    This pretty much sums up the movie ‘5 to 9’.

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