Category: The women’s lib movement

GENDER AND MEDIA in the 1960s


A woman stands eagerly, her arms stretched out as she hands a top hat to her husband. She steps outside, picks up the front door mat, turns it so that it reads WELCOME beneath her husband’s feet as he leaves for work. Then she turns the mat around to its natural position of invitation and goes back inside.


Upon researching the media of the 1960s, before the days when Barbara Walters was a co-anchor on ABC Evening News, one would discover that, though the female figure was everywhere in the media, the role of women in the communications field was extremely limited. Bobbed hair, cute noses, long legs and soft lips were plastered on every advertisement for products as varied as cars and alcohol to cigarettes and hair grease. Dames’ bodies facilitated the sex appeal these ads aimed to achieve. She was everywhere, but her words were scarce, still searching for a voice.


Entitled the “SEND-OFF,” a LOOK magazine cartoon illustrates how in 1964, the woman’s role was still confined within the home. Her duty? To send her husband away to work after waiting on him visually, figuratively, LITERALLY hand and foot. She remains inside while he is “welcomed” by the world.


Illustration Credit: Gardner Rea, LOOK Magazine 8-25-64, pg M1


Photograph of LOOK Magazine, Non-Commercial Use – Shelly Smith 10-2-2014





To say that all publications were devoid of female writing during the 1960s would be false. For instance, a May 1967 publication of LIFE reserved a whopping one and a half-pages of the 108-page magazine for two stories written by women. Shana Alexander reported what, from a glance, appeared to be an introspective take on Inuit culture for the segment, “The Feminine Eye.” She discusses Eskimo culture poetically, but slightly demeans the story by mentioning the unflattering pants she had to wear and how she was “fully miserable.” Eleanor Graves delivered a rather bleak review about a Spanish restaurant and it’s specialty, paella. Graves took gals back to the kitchen while Alexander just garbled about the garb.

So these women were still a ways off from conveying newsworthy events. But considering the era’s entire workforce and its predominately male demographic, it is a surprise that these women were working in journalism at all.


                        “I had a dream of doing architecture,” said 83 year-old Shirley Smith from Abilene Texas.

“But I got a teacher’s certificate.”



In the United States, a college degree has always been considered a tool for liberation. The levels of regard for higher education have varied from one U.S. economy to the next but typically, college-aged youth have been prone to revolting against current issues in order to promote and achieve social change. But when examining Texas State University’s The College Star’s 1960s archives, one would only find recurring notions of men and women as “separate spheres” with little to no evidence of opposition to this conformity anywhere within its pages.


Top left, Maribeth Massie, December’s Calendar Girl poses. She is all legs. A page one editorial proudly reveals “6 Ways to Hpynotize Men.” Sexy advertisements are found throughout. A woman measures the length of a phallic cigarette – Winston. Another overenthusiastically rubs Vaseline in a gentleman’s hair – gross. Then, most importantly, there is the bottom right corner advertisement: “KEEPSAKE© The Engagement Ring with the Perfect Center Diamond.”



“I was not afraid of being the only woman, it’s just

no one encouraged me

to do that

so I got married and I knew

I could drop everything by the wayside if I had to,” continued Smith.



One could easily blame the men of the 1960s for reaffirming traditional roles of women as homemakers, not only because they excluding opportunities for women in the world of journalism, but also through male gatekeepers’ choices to create and print manipulative images of women that paired consumerism with marriage and sex.

But wait. What about how men were portrayed in 1960s media?


In the very same 1967 edition of LIFE magazine that allotted less than two-pages for female reporting, a 12-page spread entitled “The Frustrating Warfare of Business” compares the modern-day businessman to soldiers on the frontline. If the racy advertisements and condescending illustrations of women in the 1960s are not offensive enough, alluding IBM employees to soldiers at a time when America is knowingly preparing to go to war with Vietnam, is downright ludicrous.

Throughout the spread, photographs of stern-looking men and their machines are pitted against subtitles that compare a man’s work ethic with his decency. Perhaps gender stereotypes did not limit as much opportunity for men as they did women in the ‘60s, but male-stereotypes did exist and did cause men to conform to traditional roles much like they did to women.



Media culture in the 1960s exemplifies the timeless theme that social change is slow to come. Perhaps, the “Feminine Eye,” was blind to gender inequality but Alexander’s presence on the page was a subtle advancement for women in the world of journalism and women and men alike in the search for equality in the media and the workplace.


Gene Shalit, Barbara Walters, Frank McGee; Today Show January 1973. This photo is part of the Public Domain






  • Rea, G. (1964, August 25). Illustration: SEND OFF. LOOK, M-1.
  • Alexander, S. (1967, May 5). The Feminine Eye: Homogenizing the Eskimo. LIFE, 24A-24A
  • Graves, E. (1967, May 5). Paella in a Priceless Setting. LIFE, 14-14.
  • December Calendar Girl. (1960, December 9). Southwest Texas State College: The College Star.
  • Armke, K. (1960, December 2). 6 Ways to Hypnotize Men. Southwest Texas State College: The College Star, p. 2.
  • Argyris, C. (1967, May 5). Frustrating Warfare of Business. LIFE, 40-53.

The women’s movement: liberating our voices

The faces of second-wave feminism

Heidi Kucera

Information on this piece was gathered fromThe Feminine Mystique”, by Betty Friedan.  Feb 19 1963.  pg. 10, “How do you spell Ms.”, by Abigail Pogrebin.  Oct 30 2011.  NY magazine online, “John Mack Carter, 86, Is Dead; Led ‘Big 3’ Women’s Magazines”, by Leslie Kaufman.  Sep 26 2014.  NY Times online, The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Library of Congress.


Important Women:

The 1960s was an important era for feminism and women’s rights. Women such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem are associated with this era, and are even credited for sparking the beginning of second-wave feminism; the first wave having been the long journey of women’s suffrage in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique”, studied American women in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and focused on her findings in this controversial book.  Friedan theorized that housewives and women in general were unhappy during this time, and she questioned the idea of whether marriage and children are what constitute happiness, or if perhaps there was something more to life than the domestic duties of homemaking and childcare.

Chapter One of “The Feminine Mystique” includes her observations:  “The problem lay buried, unspoken for many years in the eyes of American women.  It was a strange stirring, a sense of dissatisfaction, a yearning that women suffered in the middle of the twentieth century in the United States.  Each suburban wife struggled with it alone.  As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night—she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question—“Is this all?” Friedan showed a curiosity in which she felt that there was more to life than being a wife or mother, and she continued to question what people expected of women in this era.


Library of Congress

Betty Friedan advocates the National Organization for Women’s intention to “put sex into section I of the New York constitution”


Another feminist, Gloria Steinem, is known for her involvement in the women’s liberation movement, also known as second-wave feminism. Steinem began working at New York magazine when it debuted in 1968.  “Radicalized by an abortion speak-out, which she covered for New York in 1969, Steinem started spending more time thinking, writing, and giving talks about feminism.”  After this, Steinem went on to fight for equal rights and then helped launch Ms. magazine.


Library of Congress. Photo by Warren K. Leffler

Gloria Steinem at news conference, Women’s Action Alliance.


Important Men:

John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which geared toward abolishing wage inequality based on sex. The law states that “No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex.”  President Lyndon B. Johnson then went on to sign the Title VII prohibition of discrimination based on sex in 1964, which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

John Mack Carter was also a huge contributor to the transformation of the feminist era. He was the editor for three of the largest women’s magazines, including:  McCall’s, Ladies’ Home Journal and Good Housekeeping.  When Carter became editor in chief of McCall’s in 1961, he decided it was time to make some changes and start publishing articles that discussed issues that affected women.

“Women’s magazines were badly behind the times,” he told The New York Times in an interview in 1963. “They were using baby talk to communicate with their readers. They were failing to keep up with the rising educational levels in this country.”


john mack carter

AP Images

A group of feminists invaded John Mack Carter’s office to insist that he resign his title of editor in chief in order for a woman to replace him.  Carter understood their point, but made it clear that he wasn’t going to resign.

Women of the 1960s and their impact on today’s women

The 1960s was a pivotal moment for women. Not only did they begin to learn the importance of individualism and independency; they also finally gained many freedoms and rights that they weren’t “entitled to” in the past. The women of this era who rebelled against the norm and fought for equality are the reason that the women of today have the rights that they do.  Women such as Friedan and Steinem helped pave the way for the American women of today.

Heidi Kucera is a mother of one, and a journalism minor at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas. She will graduate in May and pursue a career in teaching high-school English.  She resides in Kyle, Texas with her two-year-old son Slade.



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