Diary: Sexist ways from good old days as HAT study shows women in ads

"Prepare for the un-PC needle to shoot off the dial," Campaign predicted at the news that the History of Advertising Trust's researchers were to publish a study of how the industry has portrayed women down the decades.

Well, they have - and it has.

Women and Advertisers: A Record of Change from the 19th Century to Today may not be the sexiest title around. But the CD-Rom created from material in the HAT archive has enough gems in it to give any misogynist a smile.

The early work recalls a time when men were men and women were supposed to be glad of it. As Michael Cudlipp, the HAT chief executive, says: "It was a period when women couldn't open a bank account and couldn't run a business without male involvement."

Nor did they have the vote. Campaign was amazed by one spectacular piece of crassness from the early 1900s featuring what appears to be a remarkably well-nourished suffragette about to celebrate the end of her hunger strike with a bowl of Plasmon Oats.

Thank heavens the First World War helped put an end to much of this kind of patronising tosh. Indeed, there's a 1928 ad showing a newly emancipated woman being frightfully daring by mowing the lawn ... dressed like a character from an F Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Alas, it wasn't all plain sailing from then on. A 1942 ad for Lever Brothers' Vim household cleaner has a housewife swooning in front of her husband at the saucepans she got as a present ten years earlier still being as good as new.

It inspired us to ask some of Campaign's female staff what they would do with such a gift. We'd like to print the reply, but it sounds an anatomical impossibility.


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