OPENING THE DOOR

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.

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

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

 

 

STEPPING OUTSIDE

 

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.

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

 

 

 

SOURCES:

 

  • 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.