18 Ads That Changed How We Think About Women

Absolut Ad

Photo: Ads of the World

When people say sex sells, most of the time what they really mean is that sexy women sell.For decades, advertisers have been finding different ways to feature women in ads in order to entice buyers. And, it would seem, the strategy works.

But the way women have been portrayed in advertising has changed over the decades, and changed the way society views women because of it. From housebound drudge to sexpot to business leader, ads are constantly arguing with us about women’s role in society.

Here’s how advertisements featuring women have shifted throughout the last century.

1890s: Led by Susan B. Anthony, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was formed in May 1890. At the same time, this ad from 1893 clearly says that a woman's place was in the kitchen, far from polling sites.

1920s: The 19th Amendment to the Constitution was signed, giving women the right to vote. Yet this ad suggests that women were afraid to go beyond the walls of their kitchens.

1943: This ad, created by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse Electric, was designed to boost morale during wartime as women took over jobs vacated by men who joined the military. As one of the first depictions of an empowered woman in an ad, the poster was revived by the feminist movement in the 1980s.

1950: But more often than not, it still was a man's world.

1960s: At this point women were voting, sexually liberated, and intellectually relevant — but they better not be pear shaped! The '60s marked the beginning of an intense period of diet-oriented advertising targeting women.

1980s: Enter a new kind of woman, who can have it all — be a mother, a professional, and ... wear power suits.

1984: Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to run for vice president. But her campaign pin was a girly heart-shape.

1990s: The era of the hyper-sexualized woman in advertising begins.

2006: American Apparel repeatedly pushes the limits with its nothing-left-to-the-imagination ads.

2010: Then there's Axe. The ads are supposed to be a joke, but it's not clear who, exactly, is being laughed at.

2012: JC Penney featured a lesbian couple in its 2012 Mother's Day campaign. The ad drew protests, but consumers who liked Penney's campaign -- which also featured Ellen DeGeneres -- far outnumbered them.

Want to know how ads changed the way we think about sex?

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