WWII radically changed women’s place in the workforce. New popular images in propaganda (like ‘Rosie the Riveter’ who was portrayed as a strong working class woman) were used to recruit women to fill wartime defence jobs, which suffered from the ‘man’ power shortage caused by the war. Black women, along with older and married women, for the first time found exciting new opportunities open to them in non-traditional, skilled and highly paid jobs.
Nearly 20 million women were active in the workforce during the war, 6.5 for the first time. Overnight, women were trained to be shipbuilders, welders, riveters and machine workers. In addition, they became the train conductors, bus drivers, lumberjacks and police, which sustained the nation. When WWII came to an end, new propaganda was produced which encouraged women to leave the workforce so the returning soldiers could resume their old jobs. Although women were laid off in great numbers, 80% of them wanted to keep their skilled jobs, but many of them were forced to return to their traditional unskilled positions.
It is inconceivable now that a British advertiser would dare screen ‘that’ Shredded Wheat advert, in which a housewife sang of her duties to the ‘two men in my life’ (husband, son). Commercials, generally, show women as cool and capable – in charge, and often funny. Women’s power in advertisements has changed because their commercial power has changed. There is now more of an existence of equal opportunities these days; women aren’t seen as the typical, obedient housewives and mothers anymore. There has been a shift of power in society favouring women more than ever before.
There are now a million single-parent families, roughly double the 1971 proportion. In more and more families, the woman is involved in purchasing decisions. Some women are now well off in their own right. And with these changes in the market place have gone more changes in attitudes. Fewer and fewer people believe that a woman’s place is on the home. So advertisers have to accommodate for this social change. They’ve accepted that not every woman will grow up to be a housewife and mother; some want careers and ambition. The Opium advertisement caused uproar amongst feminists and divided them.
It showed a naked Sophie Dhal, accompanied only by a worn pair of black stilettos, lying across a velvet spread whilst she was touching her nipple. Some argued the ad, which appeared on billboards as well as magazines and newspapers, was a provocative representation of female beauty and art. Others degraded it by saying it was demeaning against women and the female form should not be spread across posters so that young, impressionable people have no respect for them – they will then see women as objects and not people (some parents do not teach their children enough about things such as respect and equality- they leave it up to the media to teach them, and when controversy arises – they’re the first ones up to complain). People objected it as art and labelled it as porn, which in turn caused media coverage, which is a form of publicity, which is just as effective as the original advertisements.
These changes are not the product of advertising; advertisers never take the lead. But they have- more or less willingly – accommodated themselves to change. Indeed, crude calculations of self-interest have dictated that they must adapt, or lose customers – as they would be seen as losing touch with them. (D.Lipsey, New Society, 1987). Thus, by losing touch with their consumers means losing customers, which would make spending billions each year on advertising would go to waste, which would be such a shame, wouldn’t it?