It’s no weird joke — during the 1940s and ‘50s the U didn’t always boast equality between men and women.
Articles and product advertisements found in archives of The Daily Utah Chronicle printed between 1947 and 1959 shed a new light on the state of feminism in the U’s past, from compromising Van Heusen shirt ads to fraternity pin-up calendars of sorority girls.
Elizabeth Clement, a gender studies professor, and Maria Chevesich, a double major in gender studies and biology, compared the ads and articles to today.
“The ads are saying that women and their bodies are the best way to advertise a product to men,” Clement said. “Some of them say that men should dominate women and that dating is about women adoring men.”
Clement drew her comments from the image of a man spanking a woman on a Van Heusen shirt ad placed in the student newspaper. She said at first it could be considered “light-hearted” because both the man and woman are smiling. But she worries the ad implies that it was OK for men to treat women with casual or non-casual violence.
“I think that by looking at the historical context,” Chevesich said, “it just shows that these ads were part of the government movement to get women back in the house after encouraging them to work for the war.”
Looking to the general ideology of the 1940s and early 1950s, Clement and Chevesich said the ads are simply part of the culture at the U during that time. Ads such as this were produced after women worked in factories during World War II. Once the war ended, there was anxiety about men losing their jobs to women and women not being at home. To Clement, the ad is a product of the anxieties as well as the general idea of a domestic hierarchy.
“Women have a lot more opportunities today,” she said. “But they also have even more stuff they have to be good at. They have to be pretty and domestic, but they also now have to be smart and athletic.”
One archived Chronicle article titled “Choice of Silverware Important Decision for Girls to Make” says it is a woman’s responsibility to keep a neat and tidy house. Another story headlined “Spicy Datefinder Issued by Ute Journalists,” highlights a pin-up calendar of U sorority girls made by two fraternities, Sigma Delta Chi and Theta Sigma Phi.
In Chevesich’s opinion, sexism still lives in advertisement, but focuses more on appearances than a woman’s domestic role.
“While ads today aren’t as in-your-face sexist, when they are sexist, it is more subtle, more ambivalent,” she said.
As an example, she used the Dove campaigns which feature women of all shapes and sizes in their advertisements. She said while it’s good what this campaign has suggested, it still reflects using female bodies rather than promoting the idea that all women should be thought beautiful.
During the ‘40s and ‘50s, putting violence in ads and “women in their places” in articles was normal. Now Clement thinks that would be a major societal faux pas.
“I doubt The Chronicle would publish these today — they’re just too obvious,” she said. “But if they did, some people would protest, and other people would wonder what the big deal is.”
Chevesich suggested, however, that there is still sexism in The Chronicle today. Her example is a Jan. 2015 opinion piece titled “Modern Sex Differentiation Benefits Women in Some Ways.” The columnist says “sex differentiation is inevitable” and that women can “use some aspects of sexism to their advantage.”
Clement and Chevesich suggested things have changed for the better since the 1940s and ‘50s, but both believe society is not yet perfect.
“Lots of people tend to not want to read or interpret images in a critical way,” Clement said. “But I think images are important — I think they communicate a lot about what we think people should be and do.”