Thursday, July 22, 2010

ModLife: Vintage Sexism: Cheer Up! Edition

Vintage Sexism: Cheer Up! Edition: "

Ever have one of those days when someone tells you to “cheer up,” or “smile,” when it’s the last thing you feel like doing? Or, worse, when people say, “Wow! You look exhausted!”?

After speaking with several college students, young professionals, and working mothers, I’ve begun to think that women, perhaps to a greater degree than men, often feel pressure to maintain a positive attitude, no matter what. “Put on a happy face,” people will tell us. Even complete strangers will demonstrate discomfort or wariness whenever we don’t act like Miss Mary Sunshine. And, judging from some of these ads of yesteryear, this is a rather age-old experience.

In the above ad, a woman named Barbara expresses feelings of of erasure and invisibility when she believes she isn’t “exciting” enough. She blames herself for her lack of energy, confiding that, before she began popping the Vivarin regularly, by the time her husband came home at night, she felt “dull, tired and drowsy.” Jim, she says, “would look at television and, for the most part, act like I wasn’t even there. And I wasn’t.” But with Vivarin, a non-habit forming stimulant, she says, Jim could come home to a “more exciting woman.” Even here, Barbara calibrates her success in terms of pleasing another, and this time, it isn’t a friend or a stranger; it is her husband. Thank goodness for Vivarin?

In this comic strip-style ad for cereal, a woman called “Sis” faces the same kind of pressure to act perky. For Sis, it is not good enough simply to be beautiful; she must also demonstrate an appropriate “zip and zest!” There’s nothing wrong with eating vitamin-fortified cereal, of course, but this ad brings to light the societal pressures both men and women place on women to act cheerful and upbeat, and other emotions — sadness, anger, exhaustion — undesirable.

What do you think, ModLovers? Do you think that women today experience pressure to “put on a happy face” and look cheerful and energetic, even if they feel otherwise? Do you think men are under the same kind of pressure? We’d love to hear your thoughts!


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