We Survived Sexism: A Look Back at the “Mad Men” Era

There’s a lot of nostalgia in aging America – nostalgia for a time when… well, when we were younger. So, with the return of the lauded series “Mad Men” to TV and computer screens this month (season 6 starts on the 7th; Netflix recently made available season 5), we’re taking a look back at the world of women as portrayed in the commercials and print advertisements of the 1960s – the era of “Mad Men”‘s Don Draper and the burgeoning ad industry.

What we saw was even more pronounced than “Mad Men”‘s portrayal: In the ’60s, boobs were so powerful, they could force hapless men to buy everything from shoe polish to Xerox copiers – even ovens. And yet as idealized by the ad industry, we 60s girls were dizzy, easily seduced trifles whose biggest fears were getting fat and making bad coffee.

Nostalgia? We don’t think so.

Take a look at this collection of “Mad Men”-era ads – a sometimes fun, often creepy stroll down Memory Lane.

Boot Polish

The headline on this Griffin polish ad: “Just watch the Microsheen shines go by.” My!  (On a side note: Remember the days before pantyhose?)




This concert violinist (read: modern girl) likes to relax after work and listen to folk music – preferably on  this guy’s sofa. Should he offer her a Tiparillo cigar? “After all, if she likes the offer, she might start to play.”


This version, which features a librarian, advises the guy to fumble with the matches until his date grabs them to light her own smoke – because then “she’ll have to put down the book.”





“The beauty photographed above is strategically stacked,” this Thermador ad copy reads. (Though women were the ones cooking, men were the ones paying for ovens, so naturally they got to pick them.)



If you’re a secretary with a voice like Marilyn Monroe’s, why not wear a cocktail dress to work? The secretary in this Xerox ad is proud to be able to keep her job despite the fact that she’s unable to type, take notes and file, and refuses to sharpen pencils. How does she keep her boss happy? She knows how to push “the big button.”



The girls girl-watchers watch watch their weight – so the girl-watchers will keep watching them, presumably. At least, that what this Pepsi commercial says.



Back in the ’60s, we could stay thin without going on a starvation diet if we ate Size 8 – the cereal. Of course, all these models would be size zeroes by today’s standards.


Men’s socks


“It’s nice to have a girl around the house.” Leggs didn’t worry about alienating its main customers – us, to whom the company was pitching pantyhose – when it made this ad for Leggs men’s sox.


Men’s Shoes


‘Nuff said.





Women’s butts were there for the grabbing…



…Unless the woman in question makes a lousy cup of coffee – in which case…




In the early ’70s, National Airlines launched a series of commercials in which a gorgeous stewardess urged viewers to “Fly Me.” In one version, busty blonde Ingrid invited viewers to “admire my big twin engines.” Feminists finally picketed National headquarters carrying signs that read, “Go Fly Yourself, National.”

The ’60s were over.

So, ladies. We resisted all those sexist images of ourselves. Seems like we should be able to shed the ageist ones, don’t you think?

Share your thoughts in the comments box below!

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  • Terrence Duren

    Ok…now look at what’s going on today….men are becoming emasculated……. less than 30 percent of young people are fit enough to serve in the Armed Forces….. we have different issues today.

  • Xaviersx

    There are a lot of bitter men now who don’t have that by-gone era to play top of the food chain and master of the domain, they have to deal with women and ethnic groups on a level of legally equal and it just burns them inside that they can’t return the world to the way it favored them . . and along the way they will not work with making equality work. It’s not a man’s world, it’s hardly a human’s world with how inhumane people continue to treat each other throughout the centuries, and seen keenly in media / advertisements. There’s still a ways to go.

  • Jmillie

    Who recruited these commentors? I was 14 in 1965 and would like to tell the men to please go kindly fuck off, my grandaughter is a neurologist and I am sure she makes far more than you do. Sorry that, even in this day, men are threatened by that. Oh, and I was married to my first husband who wanted me to stay at home, cook for him and breed at 16 — and divorced by 20. Best decision I ever made.

  • Clint

    We survived an era where the residents of this
    Country had family values and married actually reproduced? Amazing! However we will not survive current values where most caucasion women see no value in children and children are aborted or not even conceived thanks to heavy use of birth control. In 50’s young women actually got married in teen years.. yes 16 was not unusual. Todays youth imagines adulthood is something that happens in late 30’s or early 40’s. By which time it is too late. A society that does not have family values ( meaning they actually reproduce at replacement levels) can not continue to exist. Immigration is not the answer as immigrants do not have values of the western world!

  • Alan S

    I don’t understand the problem. At the time, women did not mind this. Only now are we so focused on the sexism. Women got alot out of being feminine then.

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