Misogyny  Wrapped up in a Mid-Century Christmas Bow

Tis’ the season for the online posting of cringe-worthy, mid-century, sexist Christmas ads guaranteed to provide a hoot at how dated they are.

How silly, a woman purring seductively at a Hoover vacuum cleaner. Or a gal nearly orgasmic over a brand-new chrome toaster. Ridiculous.

Vintage Christmas gift ads

And talk about steam heat. Ad copy seemed written by Henry Miller. Or Masters and Johnson.  “What husband doesn’t dream of pleasing his lady, watching her squeal with delight, tremble with pleasure? Make her deepest desires come true with the perfect gift … an automatic electric steam iron. “

Christmas was a perfect opportunity for a mad men era husband to be a hero and show his appreciation by giving his wife a sure-to-please electric floor polisher.

Yes, nothing says treating your wife like the cherished woman she is by gifting her something that screams homemaker in capital letters.

Of course viewed today, along with gales of giggles, a collective sigh of relief always seems to accompany looking back at these ads, oh so grateful for how much we’ve evolved as a culture.

vintage ad

When Man gets to the moon women will clean it. Vintage ad Lestoil 1967

I am Woman, Can You Hear Me Roar over the Vacuum Cleaner?

Women have come so far! Phew!

Well, today’s woman may or may not have gotten a Dyson Upright Vacuum Cleaner for Christmas, but you can be certain she’ll be the one vacuuming up all the post Xmas cheer this morning. And doing that second load of laundry.

The dirty secret is women are still doing the majority of the housework.

The gender gap in housework has not altered drastically  and women still remain most likely to handle household jobs like laundry, cooking, and cleaning

Although women comprise nearly half of the US workforce, they still fulfill a larger share of household responsibilities. Married or partnered heterosexual couples continue to divide household chores around traditional lines.

The pandemic made clear the grotesque gender inequality. Once couples were both working from home it was impossible to ignore the fact that women continue to bear so much more of the burden of childcare and housework.

Over the last half-century since these ads ran, more women have gone to work, the gender pay gap is steadily narrowing and fathers are spending more time with their children.

But the housework gap largely stopped narrowing in the 1980s. Men conceded that they should be doing more than before but more often than not after having half heartedly vacuumed the living room and passed a damp cloth over the dining room table, they will boast about their efforts, half expecting a medal or conclude its time to chill and watch TV.

(L) Christmas toy wishlist from Wards 1959 (R) Vintage ad Ironing Board for Christmas

The sexist secret is women have been raised to see an impeccable home as the sign of their worth.

This insidious sexism is internalized at an early age. Mid-century media mothers and daughters were clearly tied together not only by their apron strings but by the same set of cultural expectations.  Not only did they share darling matching outfits but the same sunny enthusiasm for household chores.

Little girls learned to play just like mommy squealing with as much delight at their Christmas gift of a toy vacuum, ironing board, or iron.

A well-managed home is still a gendered expectation which is why it’s difficult for men to get obsessed with cleaning house- they don’t attach value to it.

I watched with amusement as my mother furiously cleaned the house before the cleaning woman came, a practice I admit to. practicing myself. God forbid she be judged by the maid as being a less-than-perfect housekeeper.

A man who places a high priority on domestic cleanliness is just a clean man; a woman who doesn’t is a Bad woman

Women also usually assume the extra burden of the “worry” work the job of keeping track of what needs to be done in the first place- while men merely pick tasks from ready-made to do list. Is there a woman who has not thought to themselves “how nice it would be if he would clean the bathroom without me asking him to once in a while.

Guys, make your lady squeal with delight. Without being told, unload the Bosch dishwasher you just bought her.

What if the husband actually picked up the vacuum cleaner he gifted her for Christmas and used it himself.

That would be a true  Christmas miracle.





  1. Delightful, thoughtful essay. Made me think how he ads reflect the America some people are determined to restore these days – women among them. Which is just crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • There certainly is that element to the ads which is indeed frightening and which I have written about before.. This was the America that was so great, that the MAGAS want to return to. This piece took a different direction, addressed more to those seemingly enlightened who still expect women to handle all the household chores not much different than previous generations.


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