Media

From '50s Housewives to Girls: How Political Campaign Ads Court Women Then & Now

"I Love the Gov" versus "My First Time"

|

With women's issues all over election ads this year, I thought it might be interesting to look at how campaigns courted female voters during a kinder, gentler television era. For the most part, women in mid-20th century political ads were there to reassure other women voters about the moral character of a candidate or how he would protect things like their children's safety and their husband's paycheck. Women were rarely seen as having separate concerns of their own.

Sometimes, this meant portraying candidates in almost romantic terms—the kind of guy a woman could depend on. The kind of guy who would protect and take care of them. Implicitly or explicitly, many ads starring women made choosing a political candidate seem like choosinglike choosing a romantic partner. Here's a jazzy little example from 1952: 

As you can see, the trope still exists, but—alas—with less catchy musical numbers. The top ad, a sort of Lena Dunham love letter to Barack Obama, comes from 2012 and the second, a parody of the reailty TV show "Say Yes to the Dress" in support of Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott, comes from 2014. 

The most visible role for women in early campaign commercials was as "master of the domestic realm,"notes Autostaddle—the housewife whose "ability to understand politics at a global scale must involve thinking about" how it affects her household and neighbors.

The housewife in these ads "is the kind of woman who worries about taxes because her husband tells her money is tight, not because she's invested in smart investments" or believes in smaller government. The housewife appears in these ads as someone female voters can relate to "woman to woman" about the big, complicated issues facing the country. Here are a few examples from 60 years ago, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was trying to win the 1956 election against Democratic challenger Adlai Stevenson: 

These days, campaign ads targeting women are much less likely to say why ladies should vote for a certain candidate than to warn why they shouldn't vote for the other guy; this, of course, is in keeping with a general shift toward more negative campaign ads over the past 60s years. Old ads did sometimes warn women away from the other candidate, but the tone was dramatically different than in attack ads today, as evidenced by the two examples below: 

[Due to some technical difficulties with the video clips, this piece was published briefly, taken offline and revamped, and then published again.]

NEXT: Genderqueering the Dictionary

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. The only thing someone should court Lena Dunham into is a woodchipper. That vile sexual abuser is vile.

    1. I do, however, love the headline she prompted: “Dunham Boosts Trump Campaign: ‘100 Percent’ Chance I’m Moving to Canada if He Wins?”

    2. “Confessed Child Molester Makes Campaign Ad Likening Voting to Feeling Up Your Little Sister”

  2. In the name of all that is holy, why did you have to resurrect that Lena Dunham video?

    1. I hope they do resurrect the Lena Dunham video. Nothing says special first time like a stud like Bernie or, even better, Hillary.

    2. I see her name in the news all the time, but never bothered to look up why she is famous. I only know that I would not.

  3. Elegantly done.

    “Lena Dunham: Your First Time” — — That’s just not right. And the picture with it.

  4. “The kind of guy who would protect and take care of them.”

    Good thing no one votes on that basis anymore.

  5. I really hope she gets involved in campaigning this election. Seriously.

  6. The housewife in these ads “is the kind of woman who worries about taxes because her husband tells her money is tight, not because she’s invested in smart investments” or believes in smaller government.

    Of course, it doesn’t seem to me that the newer ads are fundamentally all that different in that regard. Look at the two cited – one telling women to vote for a guy “cause he’s just dreamy” and another telling women to vote for a someone to protect their access to abortion. Neither is fundamentally a principled or thoughtful stance.

    But that’s probably the winning angle to take with a sizable majority of voters.

    1. Most people are idiots who pay no attention to politics and vote based on tribal loyalty or candidate “likability.”

      There’s no point in pretending the older housewife adds were somehow more offensive than the new ones given that they all are based on assuming female voters are morons.

      I also have a problem with ENB quoting the ridiculous website Autostraddle on this subject since this is just dumb:

      “The most visible role for women in early campaign commercials was as “master of the domestic realm,”notes Autostaddle?the housewife whose “ability to understand politics at a global scale must involve thinking about” how it affects her household and neighbors.”

      Everyone votes based on local considerations. How is worrying about abortion laws any less of a local, domestic issue than worrying about your households tax bill?

      1. No, you see, when a woman votes because she doesn’t want to buy people free shit, it’s proof that she’s narrow-minded and parochial in her outlook.

        When a woman votes because she wants people to buy her free shit, it’s proof she’s enlightened and part of the struggle against the patriarchy.

  7. There has to be a happy medium somewhere between women not being allowed to work outside the house and Lena Dunham.

    1. Strip clubs?

      1. +1 dollar bill

        1. – 21 cents, because women.

  8. What exactly are “women’s issues”? When last I looked men and women co-existed on the same planet and have the same concerns. I don’t know anything that belongs in an election that is gender specific.

    1. have the same concerns

      When speaking about common traits of large groups, this is not really accurate. More women are concerned, for example, about discrepancies in pay and being supplied with birth control. You can argue that those shouldn’t be political concerns and I’d agree with you, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are political concerns for many people.

    2. This ^^^
      Besides, many of us do think about what affects US.

    3. I’m just too preoccupied with my vagina to notice the rest of the world

      1. And no you can’t have pics

          1. She knows her audience.

      2. “I’m just too preoccupied with my vagina to notice the rest of the world”

        That just has to be a Spice Girls song.

    4. When last I looked men and women co-existed on the same planet and have the same concerns. I don’t know anything that belongs in an election that is gender specific.

      Yeah! Where’s Nikki?

      Not only do men and women exist on the same planet, women are not some single block of unwavering monolithic opinion. 65 yr. old mothers are just as much women as 18 yr. old girls and just as likely to hold differing or even opposite views about any given women’s issues as two 18 yr. olds or 65 yr. olds of opposite gender.

      1. I think the 65 year-old, post-menopausal mothers should pay for birth control for 18-year-old girls.
        What, they don’t want to pay for it? Why, oh why are they DENYING access to birth control for their younger counterparts? Has age turned them into misogynists?!?

        /derp

      2. Thank you. I’ve apparently reached the “get off my lawn” stage in life because I don’t identify with women under the age of forty. It never occurred to me during my childbearing years to expect anyone other than myself to pay for my birth control let alone my tampons. If I became of aware of a man doing the same job as me with the same experience and qualifications as me being paid more than me I would take it up with the boss or look for a new job. I come from “I am woman, hear me roar” stock, not this “Help me Uncle Sam, help me!” crap that exists now. I’m starting to think that “women’s issues” is just stuff I don’t give a crap about and certainly don’t want to pay for.

  9. The housewife in these ads “is the kind of woman who worries about taxes because her husband tells her money is tight, not because she’s invested in smart investments” or believes in smaller government.

    Couldn’t you say with equal accuracy that the housewife in these ads isn’t distracted by abstract claims and vague promises, but evaluates political claims based on their concrete, verifiable impact on her life?

    1. Well, uh, yeah, but then we don’t get to talk shit about the bygone days.

  10. Implicitly or explicitly, many ads starring women made choosing a political candidate seem like choosing a romantic partner.

    And, like some men who wish to get romantically involved with a woman, politicians make outrageous promises in order to fuck naive voters.

    1. I’ll never beat you baby. I’ll always treat you right.

      1. Just the tip. I’ll pull out. Of course I’ll call.

  11. Lena Dunham = Skanky ho.

    Please go to Canada and wax that shrubbery in a tar pit.

  12. I don’t consider going from these older ads about household income and taxes to “You just worry about your vagina, economics and foreign policy are mens’ issues” progress.

  13. It’s interesting that the percentage of women voting for Eisenhower in 1952 was 6% higher than men. You’d think all the men, many of whom served under Ike, would have valued his contribution to winning WWII. I guess Adlai was not quite as dreamy as the songstress made him out to be.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.