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Season Five.
"The Happy Homemaker: How Advertising Invented The Housewife (Part Two)"

Airing Saturday April 30th and Thursday May 5th, 2011.

This week, The Age of Persuasion looks at part two of how Madison Avenue invented the Happy Homemaker. While advertising encouraged women to aspire to be housewives in the 50s and 60s, that stay-at-home stereotype was called out onto the carpet by a best-selling book titled The Feminine Mystique in 1963. That book and others like it helped fuel the embers of Women's LIb - which eventually led the Happy Homemaker to run smack into feminism in the 1970s. Women were now in the workforce in record numbers, but they were still balancing careers with motherhood. That juggling act would eventually create the next powerful archetype - which Madison Avenue would happily co-opt - and it would become the dominant female image to this day.
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Listen to Part One All of the TV commercials and print elements we referred to in the episode, as well as some bonus materials, are below. Enjoy.

The song is from the musical, My Fair Lady.

It's titled, "A Hymn to Him."

It was sung by Rex Harrison. Who married six times. The lyrics were written by Alan Jay Lerner. Who married eight times. The two of them had been complaining about the difficulties of their various marriages and divorces, and how much easier life would be if women were more like men.

Understanding women has been a one hundred year preoccupation for the advertising business.

It's the reason that Madison Avenue created the stereotype of The Happy Homemaker - to encourage women to aspire to be stay-at-home moms, and consume household products.

The late 1950s marked the beginning of a big change in the way the world saw women.

Sex crept into advertising, thanks in large part to Alfred Kinsey's Sexual Behaviour in the Human Female report.

Kinsey Report book cover.jpg

In it, Kinsey revealed housewives were much more sexual than traditional views suggested.

alfred-kinsey 2.jpg

As a result of that report, sex crept into advertising for the first time. A radical change for ads in the late 50s era. There were three landmark campaigns from that time, that pushed sexual boundaries.

First there was Maidenform's I Dreamed campaign:

maidenform ad %22wanted%22.jpg

It was a long-running series that extended into the early 1970s. Next came Revlon's Fire & Ice campaign:

Revlon+Fire woman.jpg

The ad had a questionnaire that asked women if they were "made for Fire & Ice?" It was one of the first examples of Lady and Tramp imagery, that played into Kinsey's findings. Some of the questions it asked:

revlon Questionnaire.jpg

Have you ever danced with your shoes off?
Do you close your eyes when kissed?
Have you ever wanted to wear an ankle bracelet?

And maybe the oddest question of all:

"Do you secretly hope that the next man you meet will be a psychiatrist?"

The third, and maybe most famous, of the three landmark campaigns of the late 50s was Clairol. The ads asked the question, Does She, Or Doesn't She and while it was asking if a woman coloured her hair or not, framed within the context of the Kinsey era, it was a loaded question:

It was enough to make June Cleaver gasp:

June Cleaver gasps.jpg

All three campaigns were written by female copywriters, and they broke new ground in advertising.

By 1956, over 20 million women were in the workforce. They purchased 90% of all household goods, over 60% of all hardware, did 90% of all remodelling and held 65% of all savings accounts.

Women also influenced over 60% of all automobile purchases:

As the conservatism of the 1950s swirled into the permissiveness of the 60s, advertising would carefully recalibrate its imagery, depicting Happy Homemakers as more glamorous, but still in need of a man.

Advertising still depicted men as the rescuer of damsels in distress. If your sink had stains, the Ajax White Knight galloped over to help. If you had a plugged drain, it was time for Janitor in a Drum. If you wanted soft toilet paper, you talked to Mr. Whipple.

If it was time to mop and scrub:

This concept of "men as rescuers" explains why so many advertisers chose male voices to talk to women in their ads - which they do to this day.

In 1962, the highest-paid female copywriter on the West Coast, named Helen Gurley Brown, left advertising to write a book titled, Sex and the Single Girl. It was an advice book that encouraged women to become financially independent and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage:

Sex & The Single Girl book.jpg

One year later, a book was published that criticized Sex & The Single Girl, and called Madison Avenue out on the carpet for having invented the Happy Homemaker.

It was called The Feminine Mystique, written by Betty Friedan:

betty-friedan photo.jpg

Five years earlier, she was asked to survey her fellow Smith College graduates for a 15th annual reunion. Instead of finding happy stories, Friedan discovered that a majority of them were deeply unhappy with their lives as homemakers. She decided to write a book about her findings:

the-feminine-mystique book.png

She defined the Feminine Mystique as the widespread emptiness women felt as stay-at-home housewives.

Friedan pointed a finger at Madison Avenue as the perpetrator, encouraging women to think of housework as a profession that required professional products - discouraging them from having careers and personal goals outside the home, because that would cut into advertiser's profits:

Widely praised and criticized, futurist Alvin Toffler said The Feminine Mystique pulled the trigger on what would become the feminist movement of the 1970s.

It was fuelled, in large part, by government approval of the Pill in 1961. When women were finally able to control their biology, the sexual revolution went into high gear. Female roles began to change, and they demanded that the imagery in media reflect the new reality.

From the mid-60s to the end of the decade, more and more barriers were broken. For starters, over 51% of women now had jobs outside the home.

One of the first advertisers to acknowledge this new woman was Virginia Slims cigarettes, who launched a long-running campaign with the tagline, "You've come a long way, baby."

Virginia Slims: You've Come a Long Way Baby!
Tags: Virginia Slims: You've Come a Long Way Baby!

But it was the advertising and media of the next decade that saw the biggest change:

One of the highest rated TV shows that ushered in the 70s was The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Premiering on September 19th 1970, it showed the world a new leading character - her name was Mary Richards. She was a single woman, who juggled a career and a personal life.

In 1972, Helen Gurley Brown's Cosmo magazine revealed the first nude male centerfold featuring a smiling Burt Reynolds:

burt reynolds centerfold.jpg

Gloria Steinham launched Ms. Magazine that same year, and chose a very telling image for the inaugural issue.

That image... was of Wonder Woman.

But if you look closely at Wonder Woman's face on that cover, you can see slight signs of stress, which would foreshadow what was to come:

Wonder Woman Ms. Cover 2.jpg

As women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, they suddenly weren't just spending household money, they were earning it now.

It wasn't an easy transition for women, as it entailed juggling motherhood and a career.

So when the Happy Homemaker collided with feminism, a new archetype was born. And it was an image Madison Avenue quickly co-opted:

The Supermom.

This Wonder Woman held a job outside the house, but also shouldered the full burden of homemaking.

She was the ultimate multi-tasker:

The term Supermom gave voice to the ambitions of millions of women who wanted to find fulfillment outside the home, while not abandoning motherhood (and their marriages).

It suggested empowerment.

That women could have it all.

Madison Avenue fully embraced the Supermom, because it allowed advertisers to celebrate working mothers, while still safely securing their biggest market of all - the lady of the house.

Coke even went so far as to create a "Supermom" superhero:

But the Supermom image had a flip side. It began to make women feel inadequate. And exhausted. It suggested that fulfilment was only attainable through hyper-achievement.

The Supermom has become the dominant image of advertising. Where it was June Cleaver 50 years ago, it is now the minivan driving, house-running, working, multi-tasking woman.

In a recent commercial for Electrolux, celebrity Kelly Ripa goes into her Supermom mode:

"You can be even more amazing" has been the message that Madison Avenue has sent to housewives for over 50 years.

And it's telling that the music in that commercial was the theme music from Bewitched, because it almost takes magical powers for women to do it all in this day and age.

To juggle home, hubby, kids and career.

To be the Happy Homemaker and the Supermom.

And not be trapped... in the feminine mystique.