Perhaps the strangest conspiracy of the 20th century was the bizarre relationship brands had with women (see ‘Through the Looking Glass’ ). Who are the weird, unrecognizable aliens we saw in advertising directed at women? In the 1940s and 1950s, films such as Easy Does It tried to address women beyond the stereotype, feeding counter-propaganda such as, “Just iron one of hubby’s shirts, for instance. The iron may have to be lifted 20 to 30 times, and since a flat iron weighs about as much as a brick, a day’s ironing actually uses just about as much muscle as bricklaying.”
It’s not very ladylike, but by the time you’ve finished listening to the narrator, you’ll want to puncture the smug patronizing tone with your newly developed ironing muscle. When you discover it’s a marketing message for a smoother gearshift by Chevrolet, road rage is already competing with your gender rage.
Design for Dreaming (1956) goes beyond anatomy and into the unconscious of the female consumer. It turns out she looks like Cyd Charisse in Singin’ in the Rain and dreams of beautiful objects and technologies at the General Motors Motorama exposition. She’s a shopaholic Sleeping Beauty who dreams of upgrades where kitchens have sexy Plexiglas hemispheres that bake cakes with candles, and cars are gorgeous chrome machines. What do we learn? That “Girls don’t go to Motoramas dressed in a pair of pink pajamas.”
But perhaps the most viscerally engaging of this peculiar genre of female-targeted movies is Meat and Romance, a remarkable tale of newlyweds being visited at home by the heroine’s father-in-law and sister-in-law who is a ‘famous home economist’. Alan Ladd, prior to his gunslinging loner turn as Shane, plays the husband. The helpful sister-in-law, who has been described as the ‘sexiest meat-promoting vixen’ ever, takes Ladd’s wife down to the butcher shop. This woman of the world educates the food virgin in how cow, pig and sheep can be chopped in limitless ways to deliver life-enhancing dinners. The director treats us to a series of shots of pork, beef and lamb, in what can only be described as meat porn.