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Emma Ly 1016 084

Final Year French

and History 2013-2014

The public voicing of

private desires:
Transforming Gender
Ideals through Popular
Print Material in 1950s
Comparative American Studies: AM401
McCarthyism to Elvis


The public voicing of private desires: Transforming Gender
Ideals through Popular Print Material in 1950s America

The post war decade was one of patent progression for American
popular culture, morality and society. The optimism of post-war
affluence, its thriving cultural landscape, the Civil Rights Movement that
brought faith in public political contribution towards social change, the
automobile revolution, all point towards the breaking of traditions of a
nation that moved forwards in all senses. Despite clear markers of
liberating impulses, scholars have been too ready to accept the
conservative, Ozzie and Harriet style depiction of 1950s America. This
assignment seeks to revert the assumption of sexual reticence and
static gender norms that commonly define the decade, concerning in
particular white, middle class Americans, as the principle targets of
consumer ideology, chief members of the affluent society, and those
most persistently caricatured as housewives and breadwinners of the
suburban American Dream. In my opinion, the Fifties merit greater
recognition as the decade that stimulated social and cultural change
that paved way for greater revolutionary fervour in the Sixties.

The previous writings of Riesman (1961), Brienes (1992),

Meyerowitz (1994), Ehrenreich (1987) and Kimmel (1996) and have
inspired my research in rethinking gender binaries. This dissertation
uses gender specific popular printed media of the Fifties as primary
resources to further challenge its established gender constructions. I
shall explore popular magazines and advertisements as documentary
sources, for their quality as agents of socialisation, promulgating

values and attitudes of a given society at a given time.

We must bear

in mind that popular print material were influential sources of

information, entertainment, advice, and social ideals at a time much
before electronic mediums impacted the daily decisions of the mass

The Fifties was the decade in which Vice President Richard

Nixon proclaimed the female homemaker and male breadwinner,
adorned with an array of consumer goods asthe essence of the
American freedom.2 The conservative gender constraints of Cold War
society, supposedly existing to ensure Americas position as the global
bastion of democracy, did indeed stifle womens full potential as fully
engaged citizens of society. Likewise, it kept men tied to a virile
masculine ideal that war experiences had made somewhat unattainable
for the average man. But such dominant ideologies were neither wholly
monolithic nor unrelentingly repressive.

However, I argue that the

clear lines of demarcation between male and female gender norms

were blurring, rather than sharpening in Cold War America, reiterated
by alternative messages in popular printed media.

The other side of popular consumer culture of the Fifties,

often given little historical attention, promoted new social experiences,
1 Ferguson, Marjorie, Forever Feminine: Womens Magazines and the Cult of Femininity
(London, 1983), p.2.

2 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York:
Basic Books, 1990), p.16.

3Joanne Meyerowitz, Beyond the Feminine Mystique, in Not June Cleaver: Women and
Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. by Joanne Jay Meyerowitz, (Philadelphia:
Temple University Press, 1994), pp.229-62 (p. 231).

awakened new senses of individual fulfilment and sexuality,
destabilising therefore, traditional gender dichotomies. I have chosen to
focus in particular on the Maidenform underwear companys I
Dreamed campaign from 1949-1960 and Thomas Marios food
articles in Playboy magazine from 1954-1959 as windows into
progressive gendered ideologies towards sex, work, politics and the
opposite sex.

With respects to Betty Friedans Feminine Mystique,

(1963) a book vital to the reawakening of feminism, her caricatured
depiction of the Happy Housewife Heroine who secretly suffered the
problem with no name is too simplified an account of American
womens lives. Questioning her belief that society told women marriage
and motherhood was the ultimate path to feminine fulfilment,

the first

chapter of this dissertation explores how popular print mediums such as

the Maidenform campaign helped awaken womens senses of social and
individual identities; new attitudes towards work, politics and
consumerism laid out new ideological discourses of emancipation.

As for men, World War II paradoxically espoused tough

masculinity as much as it undermined it. Male issues of the Cold War
masculinity crisis and the so-called feminising culture of America have
been well observed by scholars, but in chapter two, I offer the view that
consumer America, war experiences and modern industrial climate
made way for a positive remodelling of masculinity, that Playboy
4 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: W.W Norton and Co, 1963), pp.1321.

magazine helped shape. Millions of Americas men, psychologically
affected from battlefield experiences, returned home to soon find new
contradictory roles mapped out for them: the loving breadwinner of the
nuclear family of the nuclear age, (Tyler May, p.3.) virile antiCommunists, and successful competitors of the affluent society.
Playboy reassuringly merged such antagonistic male concepts with the
fantastical Playboy bachelor, who was at once comfortably attuned to
conformism and domesticity, but also prided a masculine demeanour of
(hetero) sexuality and professionalism. Thus, both progressive gender
constructs reflected the social currents of America itself, and its path
towards modern liberalism.

Curious to relate the hyperbolic optimism of popular

culture to reality, a study into the dream like qualities of the
Maidenform campaign and Playboy will try to make meaning of
gendered fantasies that were communicated to the public.


could the Maidenform models dreaming of running the election, being

a lady editor, or sailing Europe tell us about womens personal
aspirations? Likewise, how did the Playboy bachelors new found hobby
of making cocktails and canaps with his electrical blender help shape
new gender ideals? Print culture played a definitive role in shaping new
social attitudes, as well as reflecting them, and this cannot be stressed
enough. It united rather than polarised traditional male and female
representations, therefore making way for ideological changes to
gender relations.

Before the politicised revolutions of the Sixties, the initial
voicing of private desires through popular culture was manifested in the
Fifties. It was only a matter of time before Americans stopped dreaming
and started doing.

Chapter 1: Maidenforms I Dreamed campaign: personal

dreams before political action

This chapter begins with the Maidenform I Dreamed

campaign as a mirror to ideologically progressive experiences of white
female experiences in the 1950s. Launched in 1949, two hundred and
ten advertisements

were produced in the successful eighteen

yearlong campaign, featuring models parading in somewhat surreal

situations, proudly exposing their Maidenform bras. They appeared in
leading womens magazines, such as Ladies Home Journal, which
during the 1940s and 1950s claimed the worlds largest magazine
circulation, McCalls, Redbook and Good Housekeeping; they enjoyed
subscriber lists ranging from two to eight million. 6 Beyond the
controversy, humour and curiosity that the advertisements provoked,
the potent message that women could confidently flaunt their bodies
and their personal attributes with self-confidence aroused curiosities of
many post-war women in America, and beyond. The Chansonette bra,
5 Ettorre, Barbara, The Maidenform woman returns, The New York Times, (1 June
1980), p.3.

6 Nancy A. Walker, Womens Magazines 1940-1960: Gender Roles and the Popular
Press (Bedford: Bedford/St Martins, 1998), p.2

which sold 90 million units in more than 100 countries from 1949
through 19787, is revealing of the brands remarkable understanding of
what women wished to wear, be and feel.

Dreaming played an important role in Fifties mass

consumer society. Whether it was the dream suburban house, the
dream Cadillac or Betty Crockers dream cake, new capitalistic attitudes
of constantly desiring more, newer and better

eventually surpassed

material needs to psychological ones. This study links advertisings

promises with tangible trends of womens increased social influence,
but equally explores the extent to which women were satisfied with
their gains in a male dominated work and social sphere. The
unprecedented rise in working women and womens consumer power
ties marked the road towards democratising gender ideals. However,
womens active roles in society simultaneously made their
understanding of its gender inequalities more acute. In this sense, the
Fifties provided the indispensable ideological elements of the coming
second wave feminism.

Given that advertising helps reinforce the pace of social


the campaigns first advert in 1949, compared to the one in

1960 clearly illustrates the development of womens increasingly liberal

7 Hill, Daniel, As Seen in Vogue: A century of American Fashion in Advertising (Lubbock:
Texas Tech University Press, 2004), p.153.

8 Cohen, Lizabeth. A consumers republic: The politics of mass consumption in postwar

America, Journal of Consumer Research , 31 (2004) , 237, [accessed 3 February 2013]

9 Lantos. Geoffrey. P. Advertising: Looking Glass or Molder of the Masses? Journal of

Public Policy & Marketing, 6 :1 (1987), p. 104.

attitudes and their enhanced sexual appeal The first advert, I wish I
went shopping in my Maidenform bra (Image 1 in appendix) captures
the sentiment of post-war American women entering a new world of
abundance after wartime economy struggles. The overjoyed model,
prancing around in a surreal setting of a shop with flying foods captures
this joyous post-war relief and emergence of womens new purchasing
power. On one hand, the surreal image reconfirms the womans
domestic, maternal essence, but on the other, her exposure in just a
Maidenform bra and skirt connotes something untraditional, nonmaternal, and refreshingly daring.

By the turn of the Sixties, the Maidenform woman poses

inside a china plate, wearing just a bra and figure hugging skirt. The
sexual innuendo of the lady dreaming she was a real dish in [her]
Maidenform bra (Image 2) that guaranteed to make the sexually
confident consumer the talk around town reflects the liberalized
sexual attitudes in the later years of the decade. The campaign,
dreamt up by Madison Avenues Norman, Craig and Kummel agency
increasingly tested the boundaries of what was acceptable at the time,

but at the same time endorsed what could and should be deemed

acceptable. For the adverts to be comprehensible to real women, the

new feminine power did not stray too far from traditional femininity.
The double meaning of the dish metaphorically describes the double
personalities of the Fifties woman as domesticated, but also
independent and sexy, offering what Meyerowitz calls a post-war
10 Norman, Craig & Kummel, Ad Age, September 15 2003. [accessed
15 December 2013]

version of todays superwoman11 rather than Friedans unfeminine,
unhappy [woman] with professional ambitions to be [a] poet, or
physicist or president. (Friedan, p.13) Assuming that these two adverts
mirror the female consciousness from the start to end of the decade,
Maidenform successfully understood how female consumers aspired
more towards sexual confidence and independence as the years

In the advertisements, the idealised Maidenform woman

fantasised of masculine professions and in doing so, challenged the
social structure of male exclusive professions. Echoing the female
experience of mens jobs during the war, the I dreamed I was a
fireman in my Maidenform bra (Image 3) advertisement, captioned
dangerous, yet beautifully under control resonates as a potent
message of womens capacities and hands on work ethic. By 1961, the
White House Statement by the Presidents Commission on the Status of
Women recognised this. It claimed women should not be employed
periodically, only to be denied opportunity to satisfy their needs and
aspirations when unemployment rises or a war ends. 12 The masculine
ambitions in Maidenform advertisements, along with official recognition
for the revival of womens rigid social roles by the Sixties therefore
takes the dream aspect of the campaign into to a more realistic
question of, Why cant I...? Why could a woman not be a fireman?

11 Meyerowitz, Beyond the Feminine Mystique, pp.229-62 (p.233).

12 The White House Statement by the Presidents Commission on the Status of
Women, December 14 1961, [accessed 5 February 2014].

After the war, womens jobs in manual labour may have
been returned to men, but one domain in which women could fill the
professional gap was politics. The Maidenform woman fantasised about
winning the election (Image 4) in her bra and surprisingly, this dream
was not beyond womens capacities. In 1957, at the peak of the baby
boom, seventeen women served in Congress in the general elections,
as opposed to nine in 1944.


Womens political influence also rose at

a state level; from 236 women elected to state legislatures in 1945, to

an impressive 317 by 1957.14 These are landmark examples of smallscale political zeal amongst female citizens which foregrounded
essential spirit for the feminist revival and the belief that women could
transform conservative social structures. The African-American Civil
Rights Movement was also restoring faith in widespread social change,
proving a popularising spirit that minorities could challenge the
accepted norms of a white, male dominated American society.

Encouragement for womens political participation came

from no other than leading womens magazine, Ladies Home Journal
(LHJ.)15 Although the post popular womens magazines such as LHJ did
indeed idealise the domesticated life, such ideals were evidently not
monolithic. Lawyer and political activist Margaret Hickey created the
Journals Public Affairs Department in 1947; with articles titled It Is
13 Alan Petigny, The Permissive Society, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009),

14 Elizabeth M Cox, Women, State and Territorial Legislators, 1895-1999 (North

Carolina: McFarland and Company, 1996), p.328.

15 Joanne Meyerowitz looked at 50 articles on womens political and community

activism, of which 31 featured in Ladies Home Journal, Beyond the Feminine Mystique,

Time Women Took Direct Action (January 1952) and They Do ItYou
Can Too (April 1956) These motivational messages were
unambiguous. By praising politically active women, Hickey encouraged
women to do more than just vote. She stressed the rewards of
multitasking politics and domesticity for the LHJ readership who were
largely housewives and mothers. Make politics your business, she
said. Office holding, raising your voice for new and better laws is just
as important to your family as the evening meal.


Age and children

were no reason to avoid social involvement. For example, as early as

1948 Dorothy McCullough Lee, a forty-seven year old mother of two
became Portlands first mayor, making her Americas first female head
of a city with over five hundred thousand citizens.


Popular magazines also reveal that women of noteworthy

praise pushed beyond the traditional role of housewives, or even the
average feminine profession, such as work in clerical and service
sectors. Admired women were respected for their conviction,
selflessness and strive for excellence. The Womans Home Companion
conducted opinion polls in 1947-1949 in which readers named the
women they most admired. In both years, the top four women were
Eleanor Roosevelt, political activist Helen Keller, polio victim helper
Sister Elizabeth Kenny and Clare Boothe Luce, author and


16 Whats the US to you? April 1950 p. 23 cited in Meyerowitz, Beyond the Feminine
Mystique, in Not June Cleaver, pp.229-62 (p. 240).

17 Petigny, the Permissive Society, pp. 160-161.

18 The Women You Admire!, Womens Home Companion, January 1947, p.12, and
The Women You Admire, ibid., January 1949, p.8, cited in Meyerowitz, pp.229-62


The increased importance of women in politics, and

admiration for strong female figures, communicated through womens
magazines compliments the genuine progressive outlook towards more
democratic gender ideals. Alan Petigny illustrates this in his findings of
the rise in the American publics faith in female political influence. In
the wake of Japans surrender to America in November 1945, an opinion
poll asked fifteen hundred Americans if they would support a female
president if she seemed best qualified for the job. Fifty-five percent
said they could not, thirty-three said they could, and twelve remained
undecided. The same question was asked in 1959; fifty-seven percent
said they could support a female president, thirty-nine said they could
not, and four remained undecided.19 Evidently, rigid conservative views
over womens social potential were steadily loosening as the 1960s

Demonstrating masculine patterns of thought in

conjunction with maintaining a feminine appearance can be seen as a
continuation of female orientated fashion and beauty propaganda
advertising in the mid-Forties which targeted the new cosmetic marketwomen war workers.20 Many major cosmetics firms such as Coty and
Elizabeth Arden integrated beauty with war-time work duties, but The
House of Tangees campaign, War, Women and Lipstick appearing in
major womens magazines in 1943-44 was the most striking. It featured
19 Findings based on survey by Gallup Organization, December 10-15, 1959, cited in
Alan Petigny, The Permissive Society, p.160.

20 Maureen Honey, Creating Rosie the Riveter: Class, Gender and Propaganda during
World War II (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1984), p.179.

beautiful women in military uniform and applauded their multiple duties
as homemakers, fighters working alongside American men and symbols
of morale. (Image 5) On one advert, Constance Luft Huhn, head of the
House of Tangee described lipstick as:

A reflection of the free democratic way of life

that you have succeeded in keeping your femininity- even
though you are doing a mans work! It symbolises the
precious right of women to be feminine and lovely - under
any circumstances.

The war may have been over in 1945, but the coexistence
of work, domesticity and femininity endured. David Halberstams
generalised assumption of the post war redefinition of womanhood, that
to be feminine, women must not work, and if she did, it made her
hard and aggressive and almost doomed to loneliness



accurately reflect conservative American attitudes, but judging from the

popular discourses and images of attractive working women enduring
after the war, it seems ideals of femininity and rigid gender
constructions had been positively and permanently changed after the
war, with growing acceptance of womens permanent roles in the work

Kathy Peiss ideas on beauty culture, a system of meaning

that helps women navigate the changing conditions of modern and
21 David Halberstam, The Fifties (New York: Ballantine Books, 1994), p.590.

social experience,22 is valuable in understanding womens heightened
sense of self in the new consumer age. Although cosmetics and the
manufactured beauty industry were well established in America for
many decades, the post war conditions harnessed a unity of beauty and
consumerism as a powerful market, and which focused on sexual allure
and desire as key attributes of the normal female psyche 23 as wartime
sexual containment was over. The revolutionary creations of the Fifties,
such as hairspray, Clairols home hair colouring kit and Revlons array
of Fire and Ice lipstick shades allowed women great choice in adopting
different appearances and offered a psychological boost. . Through
advertising, cosmetics brands sold playful sex appeal and individualistic
values as well as products. Clairols home hair colouring kit, advertised
with the suggestive slogan Does she or doesnt she? boosted sales
from $25million when the advert was launched in 1956, to $200 million
by 1962.24 As with Maidenform, its phenomenal success reflects how
influential advertising of female consumer goods helped nurture and
liberalise female psyches.

Undoubtedly, the promise of perfection in glossy

magazines and advertisements is widely denounced for promoting
unattainable beauty and exclusively representative of slim figures. But
in the context of the new mass consumer society, its value is not to be
22 Kathy Peiss, Hope in a Jar, The Making of Americas Beauty Culture (New York :
Henry Holt and Company, Inc, 1998), p.6.

23 Peiss, Hope in a Jar, p.248.

24Robert Klara, How Clairol Hair Color Went From Taboo to New You: Hair dyeing shifts
from shameful secret to $billion bonanza, Ad Week, February 28 2013, [accessed 2 March 2014]

underestimated. Beauty culture and its advertisements were part of the
consumer capitalist ideology that inherently fostered self-esteem and
sexual confidence. Maidenforms marketing of the beautiful,
independent self was a breath of fresh air from the wartime mentality of
sacrifice for others; and even for married mothers the reminder that
they were also individuals was important. It would be wrong to assume
they had lost their femininity or had no identity other than as a wife
and mother as Betty Friedan put forward. (Friedan, pp.23-6) Equally,
the fostering of self-esteem through cosmetics and fashion can be
viewed as a precursor to politicised feminism, whereby women would
demand for self-recognition to be defined by personal capacities rather
than just appearance. The socially unifying element of beauty culture, a
system of meaning that helped women navigate the changing
conditions of modern social experience


is also a significant element

for the second wave of feminism. This universal interest in fashion,

cosmetics and hairstyles created a notion of togetherness, a shared
dream to be part of social life, and a common female experience on a
national scale that transcended across different ages, classes and races
of American women.

Not many female aimed advertisements acknowledged

and made use of the genuine rise of working women as Maidenform
did, thus making its marketing of the sexy, ambitious individual stand
out with success. The reinsertion of traditional homemaking roles did
undoubtedly prevail, but for many women, their duties stretched
beyond domesticity. In 1950, twenty nine percent of the work force was
25 Peiss, Hope in Jar, p.6.

made up of women, half of them working full time.


Likewise, in 1956,

one third of the sixty-six million Americans working away from home
were women. Of these twenty-two million women, six million were
single and the rest married. (Walker, p.87) Female jobs were mainly
service jobs, such as clerical, teaching, nursing and cleaning positions
which were, by and large, inferior positions to men, but nonetheless
significant in revealing womens individual choices and sources of nondomestic self-satisfaction, key elements to female emancipation.

The article The Married Woman Goes Back to Work in

Womans Home Companion, October 1956, similarly illustrates this
mentality of career minded women. Middle-aged women over thirty five
accounted for the impressive upsurge of female workers, with an
increase of women working from 1940 to 1950 at 28.7 percent.


In the

midst of consumerist frenzy, families desired the finer things in life to

keep up with the Joneses, not to mention paying college fees and
spending on the new youth targeted consumer markets. The article also
revealed that men were not the only career and money minded sex.
Moneyis the main measure of success in the outside world. A job
puts a definite tangible value on time, value that is measured in
dollars. (Walker, p. 89) Contrary to the dominant discourse of womans
fulfilment in her duties as a mother and housewife, this article, as many

26 Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United

States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), p.301.

27 Valerie Kincade Oppenheimer, the Female Labor Force in the United

States: Demographic and Economic Factors Governing Its Growth and Changing
Composition, (Berkeley: Institute of International Studies, University of California,
1970), p.8.

other popular press material, proved women too, were actively offering
their personal value to the greater society.

Having focused on married women as the age group that

took most advantage of work and political opportunities, younger
women in the workplace could not be ignored. Whilst a 4.5 percent drop
in female workers aged twenty-five to thirty-five from 1940 to 1950

represents the genuine, massive trend of younger marriages and the

baby-boom in the immediate post war climate, the figure of six million
single working ladies is telling of the alternative female attitude.
(Walker, p.89) With no children or husband to care for, the single girls
fulfilment was personally driven and more likely to be sexually
motivated. A voice that united womens professional ambitions and
sexuality was Helen Gurley Brown with her bestselling book, Sex and
the Single Girl in 1963. Disturbing but exciting was her celebration of
the sexy, sex-obsessed office worker and her vision of powerful women
making their way in the white-collar world.


Her visions may be the

polar opposite to Betty Friedans, but both believed that women should
be in control of their own fulfilment. For Brown, this fulfilment arose
from sexual freedom as well as a career. Sex and the Single Girl with its
encouragement of promiscuity in the workplace seems outlandish to
both a contemporary and modern reader but regardless, she held that
women should defy gender obstacles, and gain a voice with which they
could challenge the subordinate position of women in the office. If a

28 Ibid, p.8.
29 Julie Berebitsky, the Joy of Work: Helen Gurley Brown, Gender, and Sexuality in the
White-Collar Office, Journal of the History of Sexuality 15.1 (2006), pp. 89-127.

woman had male responsibilities of professional duties and financial
independence, she should reap the same rewards that came with it.


The impossibility of measuring how many women actively

took Browns advice prevents the modern historian from understanding
the validity of her ideas to her contemporaries. Then again, even Alfred
Kinseys reports could not tell us accurate numbers of sexual activities,
for extra-marital sex was a clandestine, unspoken affair. Nevertheless,
the explosive success of her book indicates that her bold visions of sex
inspired, relieved, or at least aroused single womens curiosities. The
book sold two million copies within three weeks of publication,



reached twenty-eight countries.32 Brown pioneered the identity of

healthy, intelligent and sexualised females, and committed herself to
these visions as editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine from1965 to
1997. It is important to note that women too created and appreciated
popular concepts of sexualised women, thus weakening assumptions of
sexual objectification by men. By bringing unapologetic female desires
into the public arena in the pre-feminist decade, it would not be an
understatement to say that Brown was a pioneer of the sexual
revolution and feminist ideology. On her twentieth anniversary
Cosmopolitan issue interview, she said, the girl Im editing for wants to
be known for herself. If thats not a feminist message, I dont know what

30 Ibid, p.93.
31 Laurie Ouellette, Inventing the Cosmo Girl: Class Identity and Girl-Style American
Dreams, Media, Culture & Society, 21 (1999), 359383. (p. 361). [accessed 3 April 2014].

32 Jennifer Scanlon, Sensationalist Literature or Expert Advice? Feminist Media

Studies, 9:1, (2009), pp.1-15 (p.2).

is.33 It is evident that feminist discourse was being voiced steadily in
the Fifties through popular culture, but had not yet gained a politicised

Unfortunately, working women, sexual liberty and the

limitless dreams of glossy advertisements and popular literature
did not accurately reflect reality. Neither glorified domesticity, nor
glamourised professional success were accurate depictions of all
womens daily lives. Magazines and advertisements influenced
desires and ambitions of women at the time, but also downplayed
the real drawbacks to public female activity; women faced the
unavoidable conservative discourse that a womans place was the
home. Climbing the professional ladder to managerial roles and
gaining academically challenging work was rare, and equal wages
to men was even more unusual. Despite this, it was profoundly
important that work instilled in women a sense of social
responsibility and confidence that would eventually beget the
push for gender equality. Ideological feminist ideas were
materialising. As Kessler Harris questions, for how long would
[women] earn wages without taking some of the freedom that
their new economic status offered? (Kessler-Harris, p.301)

33 Judith Thurman, Helenism: The Birth of the Cosmo Girl, 11 May,

man?currentPage=all [accessed 16 December 2013]

In the latter half of the decade, several organisations,
including the National Manpower Council (NMC), Commission on
the Education of Women (CEW) and the Womens Bureau
exemplified growing official support for working womens rights.
In 1955, the White House Conference on Effective Uses of Women
recognised the importance of education and training in order to
facilitate professional talents of women, childcare facilities for
working mothers, and the need for equal pay.

Alice K. Leopold, director of The Womens Bureau set

the optimistic tone for change and valorisation of professional
females at this conference:
The contributions of both men and women to
the economy are necessary if our Nation is to maintain its
high level of productivity... People, whether men or
women, work for the same reason. They work for their
economic survival. Hopefully, they work at jobs that
interest them, that give them a feeling of

Although this official enthusiasm complimented

liberalising popular discourses, the predominantly conservative
policy-making forces often silenced working womens rights and
34Elizabeth Dole, Milestones: The Womens Bureau Celebrates 70 Years of Womens
Labour History, 1990, [accessed 14 January 2014].

their supporters. The federal government, adamantly opposed to
equal rights policies, even demanded the sex specification of civil
service appointees until 1962. (Kessler-Harris, p.309) Concerning
the endorsement of national equal pay, Congress rejected
political parties demands and ignored its presence on
Eisenhowers economic agenda from 1956-60.


In 1960, the

median annual earnings of full time women workers averaged to

only sixty percent of the rate of male workers. (Kessler-Harris,
p.305) Higher education opportunities for women were also
hindered, and therefore shut the doors from upward social
mobility. The unprecedented rise of women as active members of
a free-market national economy, exposed to its injustices meant
that prized American values of meritocracy and individualism
could not fool them. Although political activism and female
organizations were relatively dormant during the decade, the late
Fifties fuelled new ideological female discourses, impatience and
private awakenings to widespread gender inequalities that would
soon enter a public realm.

A new tide of promising optimism swept America under

new President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Kennedy created The

Presidents Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by the
admirable Eleanor Roosevelt. The Commissions ground-breaking

report, American Women in 1963 sought to support and protect

35 Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Womens Issues, 1945-1968
(Berkley: University of California Press, 1988), pp.48-51.

working women through education, training and legal measures,
and facilities such as day-care services, training and counselling.
Five years later, all fifty states had established commissions
dedicated to womens status.36 Steadily, concrete change began
to shape a more democratic nation; the Equal Pay Act was
enacted in 1963, (albeit flawed in that employers could still refuse
to employ women,) the Civil Rights Act in 1964 outlawed gender
discrimination amongst many other discriminations based on
race, religion and ethnicity, and the National Organization for
Women (NOW) founded in 1966 installed womens working rights
and the feminist cause as a widespread national concern. They
lead the 200, 000 women strong Womens Strike for Equality in
August 1970, attracting a national awakening of the womens
cause for further equal work opportunities, political rights and
social equality in relationships. Second wave feminism, from early
Sixties to Eighties would bring vast social and political gains for
women, as well as defeated struggles, most notably the Equal
Rights Amendment.

It has been over fifty years since American Women

was issued and now we can look back with hindsight of womens
dreams turned into reality. In the reports fiftieth anniversary,
notable figures were given:


36 Latifa Lyles, 50 Years Later: Work, Women and the Work Ahead, United States
Department of Labour, December 20, 2013 [accessed 14 March 2014]

37 Ibid.


Womens educational attainment has shown great growth. In 1962,

young women completed four or more years of College. This rose
to 30.6% in

In 1963, 38% women participated in the labour force. In 2012, the

figure stood
at 58%.

In 1962, 54.4% of mothers worked. In 2012, 70.5% of mothers


Over the course of over half a century, outstanding

achievements have been made to the female cause.

It is significant

that by 1969, during the peak of feminist activism, Maidenform dropped

the I Dreamed campaign, and replaced it with The Maidenform
Woman. You Never Know Where Shell Turn Up. The model was still
adopting mens jobs, but this time, she was not dreaming, she was
doing. She was now a real life model, not a drawn image, exposed her
Maidenform bra and knickers. Nonetheless, gender equality is still a
working progress in reality. The gender pay gap has narrowed
significantly, but women are still making on average nineteen percent
less than men, managerial roles are still male dominated and women
are over-represented in low paid jobs.


Evolutions of gender

socialisation have influenced more egalitarian gender attitudes and

female emancipation but, biological and social expectations of women
as homemakers naturally continues, even more so considering the
38 Ibid.

ethnic minority traditions of a multi-culturally diverse nation. We
cannot confidently argue that women are freed from sexual
discrimination either, nor predict when sexes will truly be equal.

This discussion has demonstrated that cultural and social

influences of post war consumer society awakened the ideological roots
of feminism, setting in motion elements of politicalised feminism years
later. With mass consumer society brought into full swing, advertising
and magazines catalysed womens self-actualisation and individual
aspirations. A new feminine model began to confidently take form in the
Fifties; women were shifting from traditional social roles to become
social players, or balancing both. Of course, Maidenforms promises of
personal and professional empowerment were half-fantasy, but its real
historical value lays its reflection of progressive female consciousness
and questions the strength of the domestic ideal. What was not fantasy,
were its messages that job satisfaction, financial ambitions and public
recognition were not gender exclusive. (I shall further discuss sexual
freedoms later on.) The ideological stepping-stones to making womens
dreams a reality were firmly laid out in the Fifties.

Chapter 2: Playboy: the Bible of the Beleaguered Male Myron


39 Quoted by Myron Brenton, in Joe L Dubbert, A Mans Place: Masculinity in Transition

(New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1970), p.269.

Like women, men too, sought advice, inspiration and
guidance through magazines in an uncertain national climate. Having
widely discussed the significance of self-actualisation through
commercial culture and the changing status of women, I shall now give
more focus to shifting gender ideals concerning men. Through the lens
of Playboy magazine, I wish to explore masculinity issues as an
illustration of the national condition of the Fifties period, which were
both ambiguous, but advancing towards liberal morals.

Unlike the concealed distresses of women, the male

gender crisis was a national concern that permeated popular culture
and interest in sociology. Michael Kimmel argues that the masculinity
crisis arose from the struggle to find individual purpose in an
industrialising climate and the lack of freedom to make personal
choices without society dictating them.40 Similarly, David Riesmans
The Lonely Crowd in 1950 considers the perpetuation of the so-called
widespread gender problem of the masculinity crisis to be onset by
the other directed males fear of adjusting to the new purportedly
feminised world of togetherness, suburbsand mass culture.



Decline of the American Male, by George B. Leonard, Jr. and William

Attwood (1958) probed the instabilities of the contemporary male
psychology in features titled, Why do Women Dominate Him? and
Why is He Afraid to be Different? Likewise, Sloan Wilsons Man in the
Grey Flannel Suit (1955) and William H. Whytes Organization Man
(1956), incarnated the loss of individual identity of the white-collar
40 Michael Kimmel, Manhood in America (New York: The Free Press, 1996), pp.1-10.
41 David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd (Massachusetts: Yale University Press, 1961),

worker in corporate America. The iconic Rebel Without a Causes Jim
Starks cri du coeur also captures the teenage generations search for
masculinity that fathers failed to guide them through: What can you do
when you have to be a man? Confused, crippled manliness even raised
fears of homosexual sex perversion, as suggested in Tennessee
Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1955). The interior distresses over male
identity, exterior manifestations of it in popular culture, alongside
influences of corporate, mass society under a cloud of wartime fears
triggered the decline of traditional, virile patriarchies.

The timely emergence of Hugh Hefners Playboy in

December 1953, months after the end of the Korean War, promised
men a flight of fantasy from Cold War qualms. The magazine sold a
fantasy and communicated escapist ideas to the average American
male. Judging from the Dear Playboy letters of each issue, much of
Playboys readership was married professional men and college boys; a
survey of Playboy readership even showed that approximately half
(46.8 per cent) are free men and the other are only free in spirit. 42
Hefner was therefore conscious that many readers were likely to be
organization men rather than suave, wealthy bachelors, looking for
escape from and guidance to perplexing socio-cultural currents. The
magazines phenomenal success from its first years of publication (from
its first issue to its third anniversary, it printed 70 000 to 1.1 million

42 Hugh Hefner, Meet the Playboy reader, Playboy, April 1958, p.63. (All Playboy
Magazine references from Playboy Cover to Cover, the 50's, Bondi Digital Publishing,
2008) [on CD]



reflected the appeal of the original Playboy philosophy and

the nations need for new masculine models.

Despite popular belief, was the Playboy bachelor really a

far cry from Riesmans other-directed man?


My findings show the

similarities between other-directedness and Thomas Marios creation

of the Playboy chef. Indeed, Playboys major appeal was its sexual
rebellion against the conservative, puritanical America, but I believe it
was subtly conformist in that it encouraged the safe, heterosexual
enjoyment of mass consumer society in its new vision of masculinity.
Equally, the bachelors adoption of cooking deconstructed polarised
traditional gender representations and relieved the fears of
domesticated men as effeminate or even homosexual. For this reason,
the magazine had an unspoken purpose of reassuring men that they
were no less masculine than say, the classic John Wayne macho ideal,
but simply fit into a different masculine ideal of modern consumerist

Seeking to understand the significance in progressive

alterations to the male psyche towards women, sex and individual
masculinity, my analysis identifies a curious period of transition in
Marios writing style from the debut article in May 1954 to 1956 and
1957 to December 1959. The changes in masculine roles can be seen
as a response and adjustment to womens new status, and
43 Hugh Hefner, Playbill, Playboy, 01 December 1953, p.2 and Playbill, 01 December
1956, p.2.

44 Carrie Pitzulo, Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy (London: The
University of Chicago Press, 2011), p.72.

contradictory attitudes towards the opposite sex reflect different ways
of adjusting to feminized America. The first two years reflect a brash
attempt to regain masculinity, confirming historian James Gilberts idea
that the post-war popular discourse of gendered utopia reflected a
desire for a traditional social system whereby the certainty and efficacy
of such distinctions guaranteed that everyone had a purpose to self and
society.45 I observed the following patterns: Marios attempt to make
cooking masculine, the hyperbolic relationship between sex, food and
female pursuit, and tones of pomposity and sexism.

Curiously, the conscious attempt to restore masculinity in

a hyperbolic, somewhat misogynistic fashion declined significantly from
1957 to the end of the decade. Here, I noted the following patterns: the
Playboy chef displays feminine tendencies and enjoys the domestic
environment, food is no longer part of a seduction game and even the
mention of women disappears. These patterns point towards equalising
female-male relations, though gender equality would be too ambitious
an assumption, and the new acceptance of softer masculinity. I will
discuss these patterns of change in two subsections. The first discusses
conformity, consumerism and changing ideals of masculinity and the
second focuses on attitudes towards food, sex and women. One should
note that changes to American male gender ideals were progressive
throughout the decade, rather than abrupt like the changing tones of
Thomas articles from articles of 1954-56 and 1957-9. However, for the

45 James Gilbert, Men in the Middle: Searching for Masculinity in the 1950s (Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2005), p.65.

purposes of a clearer analysis, my observations from these two phases
are representative of smoother remodelling of new male ideals.

Understanding food as gender coded,


with popular

cooking literature providing a recipe for womens and mens behaviour,


I associate Marios attempts to make cooking masculine in the early

years of his work (1954-1956) with the masculinity crisis.

Masculinising cooking was at once a way to affirm individual purpose in
post war uncertainties, as Gilbert suggests, and an anxious response to
the supposed feminisation of traditional male spaces such as the
workplace and public. Mario reflected this with his extensive
descriptions of meat and alcohol; the barbeque epitomises the manly
art of outdoor cooking. The playboy devours his shish kebabs, steaks
and filet mignon, and washed this down with martinis. 48 He jabs a long
blade through the meat and nurses them over an open flame, 49
reinforcing this macho hunter image. Mario thematically distinguishes
masculine food tastes by its rich indulgence as opposed to the sweet,
health conscious preferences of female cooking. When he eats a
sandwich, he goes for a gargantuan kosher corned beef


one as

46 Sherrie A. Inness, Kitchen Culture in America: Popular Representations of Food,

Gender, and Race (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001), pp.181-2.

47 Lisa M Cuklanz., Dinner Roles: American Women And Culinary Culture, and:
Welcome To The Dreamhouse: Popular Media And Postwar Suburbs (review), NWSA
Journal, 15.2 (2003), pp.204-207( p. 204).
auth=0&type=summary&url=/journals/nwsa_journal/v015/15.2cuklanz.html [accessed
15 April 2014]

48 Thomas Mario, How to Play with Fire, Playboy, (July 1954), p.23.
49 Mario, Food on a Sword, Playboy, (August 1956), p.18.
50 Mario, Magnificent Munching, Playboy (January 1957), p.32.

opposed to the cucumber sandwich on thin bread


of his female

counterpart, as if to reinforce separate gendered realms. The

reaffirmation of male superiority through culinary tastes is
unmistakable, as is female subordination as a reflection of the
widespread resentment of womens new occupations of male spheres.

It seems peculiar that Mario abandons this virile tone and

adopts a more effeminate writing style in the later years of the Fifties.
Judging from Marios articles, the fantasy Playboy became more at ease
with feminine consumer influences. Elsewhere in the magazine, he
remained irrefutably male minded in his sexual desiring of women,
even compulsively heterosexual, says Ehrenreich,


, making Playboys

projection of sexuality far from suspicious. The playboys trading of

post-meal Camembert for crpes Suzette and pineapple flambes53 is
telling of the conscious eruption of rigid gender identities. Thomas even
reassures that desserts are now accepted by both sexes in recent


He soon embraces the electric blender to make such dainty

desserts; spreads for canaps, petits fours and crpes. Complimenting

Marios persuasiveness and reassurances were his imperatives on
etiquette on how to behave like the modern man. At The Bachelor
Dinner, June 1956, immaculate attention is given to hosting a bachelor
party, including what bars to go to, sharing the bill, to the cost of
flowers; the modern bachelor lifestyle was evidently unfamiliar to the

51 Mario, The Picnic Papers, Playboy (July 1958), p.17.

52 Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men, p.50.
53 Mario, Just Your Desserts, Playboy, 01 December 1957, pp. 30-31.
54 Ibid, p.29.

average reader. Marie Fergusons explanation of the female function of
magazines can be brought up here. She identifies the need for female
directiona female sex which is at best unconfident, and at worst
incompetentwants to be instructed or brought up to date on the skills
of femininity.


Playboy showed that men too needed social guiding; it

assured its readers that modern man was confidently domesticated and
consumerist, and that there was nothing wrong in conforming to its
pleasures. As Riesmans inner directed man sought guidance from his
family and close knit community, the new climate of mid-century
America lead the other directed man to seek self-assurance from the
persuasive voices of popular mass culture.

The conspicuous attempt to masculinise the feminine

activity of cooking links to the difficult post-war readjustment into
civilian life and the renewed comfort of domesticity. Kimmel explains
veterans had been able to prove on the battlefield what they had found
difficult to prove at the workplace and in their homes, 56 whether fighting
successfully or simply having a goal to strive towards. For the average
white-collar middle class man, subjugation to employers authority and
competition from colleagues disheartened and stifled his former
masculine ego. And for this other directed man, his peers were his
competitors but also the crowd he had to please, as Riesman would
say. Therefore, men tried to reinsert their misplaced authority in a new
domestic setting, but at the same time retreated to it as a comfortable
haven shielded from unpredictable exterior environments.
55 Ferguson, Forever Feminine, p. 2.
56 Kimmel, Manhood, p.223.


Although Playboy was a somewhat exclusive magazine

for the affluent, rebellious male, its subtle encouragement of domestic
comforts shared standards of remodelled masculinity in popular general
interest magazines. Life magazines feature of The New American
Male, for example, echoed similar trends found in Marios articles,
particularly the male art of barbequing and gadget buying as mans
meat.57 Lifes message, rather similar to Playboys, was that this
softer domesticated masculinity brought about personal satisfaction
and enjoyment, which was not always guaranteed in his profession or
elsewhere. One can have confidence in Life magazines accurate
representations of social trends and common American identities, for its
phenomenal success since the late 19th century beginnings in which
over one half of Americans had seen a particular issue by the early


It was not only the return to the private, domestic sphere

that re-modelled mens softer masculinity. Helen Hackers The New
Burdens of Masculinity


in 1957, a landmark article in capturing the

male condition of the decade and inspiring modern popular mens

studies i.e. Connells hegemonic masculinity theory, indicates that the
57 The New American Domesticated Male, Life, 4 January 1954, p.43-45
id=i0gEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false> [accessed 29
January 2014]

58 Rebecca Centanni, Advertising in Life Magazine and the Encouragement of

Suburban Ideals, Advertising & Society Review 12.3 (2011)
[accessed 22 April 2014]

59 Helen Mayer Hacker, The New Burdens of Masculinity, Marriage and Family Living,
19:3, (August 1957), pp. 227233 (p. 228).

occupational structure of a corporatising nation also influenced mens
new personal traits traditionally associated with women. Men are now
expected to demonstrate the manipulative skills and interpersonal
relations formerly reserved for women: intuition, charm, tact and


It seems then, that the feminization of masculinity was

not an attack on his power, but rather an evolved, fluid model that fit
into new professional and social processes.

Furthermore, Playboy advocated consumer spending as

part of an enjoyable hedonistic lifestyle of capitalist modernity. Money
and status expressed through material commodities became post-war
vindications of manhood. The magazine seemed to promise that
through hard work, men could afford to buy the luxury cars, clothes and
liquors it advertised, and ultimately attract a woman like the Playboy
playmate. The pioneering theories of Dr Ernest Dichter commanded
great influence for advertising and corporate industries in this modern
age of commodity fetishism. In The Strategy of Desire (1960), he
advocated a philosophy of a hedonistic approach to sex and
consumption as morally and economically progressive. 61 Dichter
additionally recognised this American male problem of not being able to
embrace change without anxiety, or spending money without remorse
and assured that emotional and irrational qualities related to
consumerism were human, not female.62 As he taught businesses and
60 Ibid, p.229.
61 How Ernest Dichter, an acolyte of Sigmund Freud, revolutionized marketing, The
Economist, 17 December 2011 <>
[accessed 13 February 2014]

62 Douglas T. Miller and Marion Nowak, The Fifties (New York: Doubleday & Company,
Inc., 1977), p. 119.

advertising companies the importance of communicating notions of
Freudian inspired, pleasure seeking-fulfilment to consumers to ensure
economic progress, Hefner translated these values to its readers
through his magazine.

Having discussed the incoherence and progressions of

manhood, the same can be applied to Playboys attitude towards
women. The transitions in Marios articles from female antagonism to a
seemingly more respectable view of women will be related to social
trends that influenced positive changes in male-female relationships.
Liberalising gender relations therefore undermine common assumptions
of static, conservative gender role rigidities of the Fifties.

Food, sex and women were inseparable parts of the

playboys seduction in Marios early writings. It is somewhat
unsurprising that Marios first article in May 1954 was called Pleasures
of the Oyster. Sexual innuendoes mark his early writing style, with
titles such as: Is She Your Kind of Dish, The Naked Hamburger, The
Moaning After and Wine is Like a Woman. For example, there is a
recurrent notion of loosening a womans sexual restraint with alcohol;
whisky makes a girl stop arguing. Beer soothes her. Gin disarms her.
But rum cajoles.63 Sexist comments were also expressed in a comical
battle of the sexes notion over cooking skills:

63 Thomas Mario, Yo Ho Ho, Playboy, July 1957, p.13.

There are some things a woman can toss around
fairly well, but a salad isnt one of themA good salad
maker must have many of the traits that we think of as
feminineMeticulousness, patience, cleanlinessBut
these are not exclusively feminine virtues. It takes a man to
master the really fine art of the salad bowl.

Playboys attitudes towards women seem strikingly

incongruous; women were both sexual prey, and victims of male
affirmations of superiority. Whilst sexual pursuits can be easily
understood as natural male behaviour, Helen Hacker argues that the
resentment of women was due to the recent developments in
occupational structures, in which women acquired new roles and
freedoms upset normative male hegemony. She made the analogy of
the neurotic man striving to stand firm on traditional male
prerogatives, as if they now had to compete with women for power.
Popular discourse perceived modern woman as castrating Delilahs
busily levelling mens individuality and invading the strongholds of
masculinity in work, play, sex, and the home. (Hacker, p.228)

Whilst Hacker identified the analogy of the neurotic man,

she also provided a second observation: the emotionally stabilising
man, trying to work out a new equitable pattern in the male-female
relationship. (Hacker, p.228) From 1957 onwards, I observed elements
in Marios food articles that correspond to this positive attitude towards
women; the aggressive tones and female subordination is abandoned

for a more mutual relationship between the bachelor and his female
partner. In a progressive nation with women occupying the public
sphere and shaping the economy on an unprecedented scale, it seemed
naturally fitting for popular culture to readdress gender imbalances.
There were many clear markers to Marios new softer approach. This is
notable for example, with the introduction of page sized photographic
images of couples in romantic backdrops appearing on the front page of
articles (See Images 6-10) Another minor, but significant detail
nevertheless is the first reference to a couple is made in The Picnic
Papers, July 1958. To further illustrate the loss of hyperbolic virility,
when the chef makes a salad again in The Time of Salads, August 1959
there is no mention of women, but rather a much finer attention
towards making immaculate dishes to stir delighted reactions from
delectable guests.


Recalling the image of the domesticated other-

directed male, cooking as a personal pleasure and way to impress

others, rather than a means to sexual pleasure is emphasised in most
of Marios articles from 1957 onwards.

Whilst all articles from the first in May 1954 until January
1957 describe women rather contradictorily as both rivals and objects
of desire, my table (Table 1) demonstrates the peculiar, unexplained
disappearance of women being a feature of Marios articles from 1957
to 1959. I shall explore genuine trends in male-female relations as
potential explanations for this.

64 Mario, The Time for Salads, Playboy, August 1959, p.85.

One explanation of these patterns could be the increased
democratisation of the husband wife relationship during the outwardly
conservative Eisenhower age, a strong assessment made by Alan
Petigny. He argues that the patriarchal family was being undermined in
the climate of modern change; the breadwinner role may have
persisted, but the distribution of power within the home was likely to be
more democratic. Amongst extensive examples, he identifies extensive
sociological data by Elizabeth Wolgast as a telling example of mutuality
in marriage. From studies based on interviews of married couples
across America, it showed that husbands and wives played different
roles, but neither was subservient to the other. For example, men were
more likely to choose what car to buy, and women handled savings and
acquired appliances,65 In fact, when it came to fulfilling plans, i.e. plans
to buy appliances, televisions, cars and repairing, wives ideas were
more likely to be actualised.


(Table 2) Also, a survey of over four

hundred families in the Washington, D.C. area, irrespective of class

found that in four out of five instances, both partners made major
family decisions.


Whilst both these studies are based on large

samples, one cannot assume they are representative of a national

trend. Nevertheless, balanced financial responsibilities and
companionship is considerable evidence of positively blurred functions
of men and women.

65 Wolgast, Elizabeth H. Do Husbands or Wives make Purchasing Decisions? Journal of

Marketing, Vol. 23, No. 2 (Oct., 1958), pp. 151-158, cited in Petigny, The Permissive
Society: pp.141-142.

66 Petigny, The Permissive Society, p.156.

67 M.L Kohn, Social Class and the Exercise of Parental Authority, American
Sociological Reviews (June 1959), pp. 352-66.

To further support the observation of democratising male
and female relationships and explain the softer characteristics of the
Playboy chef, sufficient sociological and psychological research give
evidence of personal traits that men and women look for in an intimate
relationship, both in and out of marriage. Such theories have been
widely explored by scholars post World War II, such as Clark and Reis
(1988), Buss (1985), Hill (1945), Hatfield (1995) . Notable womens
preferences for men in Western individualistic cultures include typically
feminine characteristics of expressiveness and openness, kindness and
understanding. These were valued higher than traditional male assets
of money, status and position.


Sociological interest for equal

relationships was popularly explored and expressed in Fifties popular

culture; marriage depended on intimate communication; sympathetic
understanding [and] mutual respect on the basis of equality, argued
sociologists Eleanor Luckey and Gerhard Neubeek.


In short, I have demonstrated both the uncertainties of

how to restore masculinity in the early Cold War climate of uncertainty,
and the gradual adaptation to feminised America and its
consumerism, commercial influences and the affluent society. The
fantasy figure of the bachelor established a midway between clashing
gender attributes; he was effeminate, but his sexual approaches could
not be defined as queer. He was rebellious against conservative social
68. Elaine Hatfield, Men's and Women's Preferences in Marital Partners in the United
States, Russia, and Japan, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26, (November 1995),
pp. 728-750. [accessed 14 April
2014]. Hatfields US sample consisted of 970 participants

69 Deyer, William G., and Urban, Dick, The Institutionalisation of Equalitarian Family
Norms, Marriage and Family Living (February 1958), pp.53-58 cited in Petigny, p.138.

norms but not enough to be classed as a delinquent. In fact, the early
years of Playboy, with its liquor and sports car advertisements, literary
articles and semi-nude bunnies etcetera, confirmed the hegemonic
concept of the heterosexual, middle class white male of its time,
making its appeal of sexual and economic hedonism safe and
attractive; Barbara Ehrenreich called him the grey flannel rebel who
lived by the rules. (Ehrenreich, p.29)

By the end of the Fifties, an attractive new heroic figure of

softer masculinity, liberal, suave, young, determined with galvanising
spirit (not to mention womanising) took Americas centre stage by
storm; John F. Kennedy. In his speech on 1 January 1960, he made
masculinity the embodiment of the American condition itself. He
recognised the slow erosion of courage, with Americas men, mentally,
physically or morally unfit for military service, commanding the
regeneration of the American pilgrim and pioneer spirit of initiative and
independence. Kennedys instant and enduring popularity amongst his
people reflected what the American people needed in a male role
model. Therefore, one realises that gender ideals are shaped by
greater socio-cultural currents and in this key moment in American
history, masculinity corresponded to the forward moving, change
embracing and liberalizing New Frontier, qualities propelled by its new

The public voicing of private desires

Having discussed sexually liberalising gender attitudes
through Maidenform, Sex and the Single Girl, Playboy and other popular
print media, it appears both genders found common ground in desires
to break the unspoken taboo of sex. Albeit a mens magazine, Playboy
spoke to men and women in his advocacy of non-marital sexual fun.
Pitzulo argues that since mens sexual freedom depended on the
liberation of women, Playboy upheld the increasingly modern emphasis
on heterosexual pleasure as a worthy goal of personal fulfilment
regardless of gender.


In the fan mail of the monthly Dear Playboy,

Playboy received as much abomination as it did appreciation from

female readers. Below are examples of female admirers:

I am a young housewife, and I enjoy it as much as any

man! I am sure a lot of other women do too! Alice Soriano. 71
Playboy is grand. Im enclosing a picture of myself that I
think your readers might enjoy, Evelyn Treasure Chest.



women sent in pictures of themselves in hope of becoming a Playmate.)

Playboy is wonderful. My husband and Ihave become
avid fansIm an ex-PTA President and a Sunday school teacher, but I
think you publish one of the best magazines around. Mrs Williamson. 73

70 Pitzulo, Bachelors and Bunnies, p.11.

71 Letters to the Editor, Dear Playboy, Playboy, (September 1954), p.3.
72 Ibid, (May 1954), p.2
73 Ibid, (May 1956), p. 6.

Favourable letters from women, of various marital and
professional statuses demonstrated that women too desired an outlet in
which they could express their sexuality openly without being shunned
as shameful. In this sense, Playboy helped liberalise women, despite
hostile attitudes of feminist arguments. Rather than being part of a
popular culture that reduced woman to sex creatures as Friedan
declared, (Friedan, p.250), liberal minded, respectable women desired
sexualised femininity as part of progressive American life. The
magazine was part of Hefners ambition to live in a society in which
people can voice unpopular opinions so society can grow.


In terms of

speaking openly about sex, what Hefner was trying to say quite frankly
was that sex was a natural part of life and that nice girls liked sex too,

following therefore along the similar beliefs of Helen Gurley Brown.

The public confrontation of conservative sexual attitudes

did not find its roots in politics or radicalism, but rather from popular
consumer ideologies, with liberal minded entrepreneurs such as Brown
and Hefner as pioneers of mass cultural change and spokespersons of
suppressed sexual desires. Beth Bailey suggests that Brown and Hefner
were revolutionary in claiming sex as a legitimate pleasure without
Hefner and Brown the sexual revolution would have looked much
different.76 Neither held particular political philosophies, but
nevertheless shaped the backbone of coming political movements and
74 Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel 2009 , (dir. Brigitte Berman, 2009)
75 Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel 2009 , Brigitte Berman USA

76 Beth Bailey, "Sexual Revolution(s)," D. Farber, (ed) The Sixties: From Memory to
History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994), pp.248-49.

perhaps most crucially, male? Identity and personal freedom. With
wide-reaching printed popular media working to normalise and
humorise sex, and daring advertisement campaigns such as
Maidenforms, these aspirations reverberated powerfully amongst mass

This essay ultimately concludes that Americas popular
print culture in mass consumer society contributed to the speeding
process of Americas social and sexual cultural modernity; it nourished
individual dreams, bridged gender gaps and tested social boundaries.
From my extensive research into Maidenforms I Dreamed.. campaign
and Playboys food articles, alongside other magazines and
advertisements, contemporary and modern accounts of gender issues, I
have demonstrated that the Fifties awakened of the internal needs for
self-actualisation and personal choice, crucial liberal ideology that
would soon stimulate change through external political forces in the
Sixties onwards. The bachelor in domestic bliss and the glamorous
working girl: what popular culture of the Fifties dreamed up, political
movements of the Sixties to Seventies sought to realise. It has not been
possible to assess how accurate or how many real single girls,
ambitious Maidenform models or playboys there were as behaviour
and sexual activities are impossible to assess. But, I have stressed the
fantasy appeal of these figures as directional and reassuring in a
climate of fast paced change and uncertainties.

The Fifties, or even 1945-1960 deserves recognition as the
period of profound socio-cultural change that paved the way towards a
more liberal society. An analysis of working women, beauty culture,
popular literature, changes in male and female relationships and mens
sociological issues have all given evidence of liberalising moral and
gender values. I have placed great emphasis on the promotion of
individuality in popular culture, weakening therefore, the discourse of
My study has helped reflect on the current gender concerns of America, or
rather many developed Western cultures; male and female relationships
have now changed for the better. Womens aspirations of academic and
professional greatness are now realistic dreams. Housewives,
breadwinners, blissful matrimony are not necessarily ideals for modern
adult relationships. But this is far from proposing that over 60 years on,
America, or elsewhere, has achieved gender equality, neither ideologically
nor in practice. I have learnt that feminine and masculine ideals are
transitional concepts that constantly correspond to ever-changing sociocultural climates. They are constant, positively evolving concepts. On a
final note, I have made clear that cultural liberalism heralded political
liberalism. The personal may well be political, but the personal certainly
comes before the political.



1. I wish I went shopping 194977

2. I wish I was a real dish


77 I wish I went shopping in my Maidenform bra,1949 [accessed 19 March
78I wish I was a real dish 1960 [accessed 19 March 2014]


3. I dreamed I was a fireman... 1953

election... 1952 80


4. I dreamed I won the

79I dreamed I was a fireman... 1953 [accessed 19 March

80I dreamed I won the election... 1952 [accessed 19 March



5. House of
and Lipstick,

Tangee, War, Women



Breaking of the Fast82
7. The Elegant Omelet


81House of Tangee, War, Women and Lipstick, 1943 [accessed 17 March 2014]
82 The Breaking of the Fast, Playboy, February 1967, p.29.
83 The Elegant Omelet, Playboy, June 1958, p.33.


The Picnic Papers84

Sweet Delight85

9. The Distillation of

10. Viva Pizza86

84 The Picnic Papers, Playboy, July 1958, p.27.
85 The Distillation of Sweet Delight, Playboy, December 1958, p.47.

86 Viva Pizza, Playboy, May 1959, p. 29.


















Mentions women in article

Does not mention women in article

No article in this months issue

1. Table analyzing the decreasing mention of women in Thomas

Marios food articles years 1957-1959, considering every article
from 1954-1956 made women an integral subject.

Wolfgast, Elizabeth H. Do Husbands or Wives make Purchasing Decisions?

Journal of Marketing. 23: 2 (October 1958), pp. 156.


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