Thursday, October 1, 2015

Objects of Derision, Not Makers of Decisions

In my last post, “Up and Away,” I cited a United Air Lines (as it was called then) advertisement from 1953 that promoted its “Chicago Executive” flight--“A Club in the Sky.” But only half the population could avail itself of the flight's amenities, because it was “FOR MEN ONLY.” Women executives, I noted, would, therefore, have to travel less executively on United's regular 5 PM New York to Chicago flight.

I discovered the advertisement in the New Yorker while performing a systematic scrutiny of that magazine's post-WWII issues (I do not know where else the ad appeared). Now, thinking back on what I saw between the magazine's covers, I believe that I was wrong about women executives and their flight plans, because—at least on the evidence of that magazine's widely-acclaimed cartoons—there were no women executives in the United States from the middle 1940s through the middle 1950s.*

If women were not executives, what were they?

1--They were (literally) objects of men's pursuits, being chased around offices or hospital rooms (senior nurse to man tackling another nurse: “Mr. Comstock! That's not included in your Blue Cross!”). What today is recognized as sexual harassment was then a laughing matter.

2—Or, they were happy to be sexual playthings. Usually depicted as showgirls or nightclub employees, they were gold diggers latching onto sugar daddies. Even non-night-clubby types might be on the lookout (two women are outside a travel agency with a sign in the window:
Travel Now
Pay Later
One young woman to the other: “And of course the chances are you'll land someone to take care of the installments for you”).

3—They might work in department stores, often in the Information Booth or Gift Counseling department. If they weren't exclaiming, “How should I know?” in the former, in the latter they were usually steering gentlemen to the jewelry counter (and in a fine merging with point 2, we have: “All I can say is, if some gentleman were to give me a nice sapphire brooch, he'd find me most appreciative”).

4—And if they were not working in a store, they were its customers--overeager (husband in bed to wife in nightgown with handbag pretending to sleepwalk: “Macy's is closed!”); exasperating (woman—during WWII--to salesman surrounded by at least 50 scattered shoes: “Now, isn't that silly? I haven't a shoe stamp”); or all at sea (woman to liquor store clerk: “What would you suggest for a small group of ladies who meet every Tuesday to do needlepoint?”).

5—If they were driving a car to the shops, then they were sure to smash a fender or, worse, wrap the vehicle around a tree (woman driver to passenger: “Now I mustn't forget to notify the Rent-It-Here, Leave-It-There People”).

6—If they survived their automotive misadventures, they aged into amply-upholstered matrons, whose major activities, in addition to bedeviling salesclerks, were attending committee meetings (matronly woman with book in hand: “I shall now quote the passages which I consider obscene”) and promoting culture (matronly woman in front of theater curtain: “Enough of Prologue! Now let's have the play. 'The Pageant of Distinguished Bergen County Women' is under way'”).

7—And, going back in time, there were the unfortunate cavewomen, who were always being banged on the noggin by men with wooden weaponry and dragged by their trailing tresses to the caves of their captors.
Which goes to show that throughout history women have been victimized by men's clubs.
*As additional evidence, consider that that was the prime period of the ads for Lord Calvert booze featuring “Men of Distinction,” overwhelmingly business execs with an actor thrown in here and there—not “Persons of Distinction,” also including women execs with highball in hand.

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