Monday, June 4, 2012

Career Options as Portrayed by Popular Advertising and Romance Comics

This weekend while catching up on my blog reading, I came across the above advertisement for Playtex tampons over at Retrospace. The overarching message of the 1971 ad, "women just like you," along with its imagery of nurses, stewardesses, models, and college girls, got me thinking about the portrayal of career women in romance comics who very often fall into these same categories. It is possible to read romance comics from the '60s and '70s and get the impression that these particular career paths were the only ones available to women. Charlton however, challenged that notion with a little featurette titled "Choosing a Career" from their workplace oriented title, Career Girl Romances. Here are two discussing educational training, salaries, workload, and benefits for the occupations of engineer and dietitian.

"Choosing a Career - Engineer"
Career Girl Romances

(June 1970)

"Choosing a Career - Dietitian"
Career Girl Romances #73
(February 1973)

Though women were pigeonholed by advertising and media to fulfill certain societal roles (often of the super sexy and ultra-feminine caretaker variety) it is refreshing to see that Charlton made an effort through these columns to broaden their readers' horizons.


  1. I would like to see someone put "The Lady Next Door" on their resume.

    1. Your comment makes me think that these labels were definitely more than just careers -- they were identities that were portrayed as being optimal and desirable.

    2. I think you're right. I picture the "Lady Next Door" as the "Old Maid" who never got married or had children and lived alone, but who was a good neighbor that you could trust to watch your kids.

      It must have been nice to have been a woman in the 70s. You didn't have to think about what you wanted to be when you grew up, just check one of six boxes and you're set!

      It's interesting that "Teacher" is absent from that first ad. Perhaps teachers don't menstruate.

    3. I also noticed that teachers were missing. Hmmmm...

  2. Ballerinas too, and they've been a dream career for a lot of girls, or so I've read many times. Did they ever do much with them in romance comics?

    1. Not so much specifically ballerinas, but dancers in general. Lots and lots of stories of hopeful dancers!

  3. It's great that Charlton saw that women could be doing more. However, I often wonder if we've gone too far in the other direction. My son is starting college in the Fall in the engineering school and when we went to orientation they put on the full-court press for women to apply. There are two separate organizations at the university specifically for women in engineering. I spoke with one of the female professors and noted that they had two organizations for women, but only one for the men. Her response was quite surprising. She said that she believes the university is trying *too* hard to recruit women. She said the drop out rate for women is four times that of the men. She said too many women are talked into pursuing a field that is dominated by men simply to even the odds. Then later they find they don't like it and either drop out or switch majors.

    I thought about that and wondered why we don't value the "caretaking" trait most women possess, and other of these kinds of qualities more. Why is these are somehow devalued and masculine traits are seen as more admirable? Is it really "pigeonholing" to support women in pursuing "caretaker variety" jobs and other positions that maximize their characteristics? Sure, there are many exceptions and I support their right to do whatever they want. However, why not support women to pursue careers in fields where feminine traits are most needed? In my opinion this is very un-feminist.

    We've denied the differences between the sexes for decades now, and (thankfully) many women have rebelled against this. Many young women are fashioning a new meaning for the word "feminist" where those more traditional "female" traits are being valued, rather than belittling them in favor of more masculine traits. For example, I think it would be incredibly productive to get more women interested in careers in politics in ambassador roles. We need a feminine voice, which tends to be more conciliatory, in negotiations between countries. I often wonder how the Cuban Missile Crisis may have played out differently if more women would have been placed in key positions in those negotiations.

    I'm not saying that women shouldn't be able to do whatever they want. I'm simply saying that there is nothing wrong with supporting women pursing careers where feminine traits can be utilized with maximum effect. A few more women judges would be a damn good thing, in my opinion. Even in the male-dominated times of the Old Testament there was a female judge, Deborah. The traits more often associated with women should be valued and utilized, not seen as lesser to the more traditional masculine traits. Just saying.