Today's Essay Rock Star Student Showcase features a textual analysis essay by Abby C., a 16 year old student who wrote a review of a 1950's ketchup advertisement (pictured).
As you'll read below, Abby became passionate about researching how women have been portrayed in the U.S. media over the decades. Her essay began as a review of a simple ad but went much further by the time she was finished.
More Than Meets the Eye
Ketchup is a universal food that you most likely buy and eat on a regular basis, but how would you feel if your ketchup manufacturer started insulting you? Honestly, how would you feel if anyone started insulting you? This is the issue that was stumbled upon in the 1950s Del Monte Ketchup ad that got women asking, "Who are we to put up with insults?"
At first glance you may only think that this picture is a simple ketchup advertisement, but look more closely and you begin to notice the deeper message it is conveying. The woman seen in the ad is either clearly stunned by the new found fact that she is finally in possession of some form of power, or appalled that she is only able to do the minuscule on her own. When researching the era in which this product was produced, I am distinctly led to believe the latter. Not only does this message clearly state that women posses little to no power, but also gives the harsh message that women are technically unskilled. In the day to day routine it suggests that there is little that a woman can do without the assistance of a man, and that even if she could it would be regarded as inferior. To put things simply, the designer of this article does not believe that women have equal standing. This not only sells women the opposite of empowerment but leaves them with no hope that they have any status at all.
In the early 1950s and on into the 60s, the economy, lifestyle, and dynamic of the United States was rapidly changing. World War Two had just ended and people were beginning to feel more secure in their jobs and homes again. The first fast food restaurants were opening, a baby boom was occurring, the polio vaccine was being put into use, the "Peanuts" comics were appearing, Dr. Seuss was becoming popular, the civil rights movement was happening, and so many other key events were taking place, not to mention products that were booming successes. LEGOs, Velcro, color TV, Coca Cola, Jello-O, Hershey's chocolate, and Poodle skirts were all the rage. Not only were there more Americans than ever before, but there was also more money. The average family was much better off by the time the post war era rolled around, and the family dynamics were changing.
"Have dinner ready, prepare yourself, prepare the children, minimize all noise, be happy to see him, and listen to him." These were the standards of the time but also the words of a popular book from this era on the duties of a woman. As a typical wife and woman the expectations were clear and monotonous. A woman was to do the things a man didn't want to, while being told she lived the "perfect life." If food was needed the woman would make it. When a child was noisy the woman would quiet them. Cleaning was also her task, not to mention keeping the family happy, even if she herself was not. Now to be sure, the life of a woman in this day and age was not always boring and dull. There was the occasional family vacation, movie, picnic, or drive on Sunday, but her role was not without much work.
Most women were housewives, living in the quickly arising suburbs of America, but their work outside the home was also becoming more common. Nurses, factory workers, flight attendants, receptionists, managers, actresses, and teachers were all positions that woman held. They began to balance the tasks of family and home with the new tasks of employment, and this not only challenged the status quo but also started to change how they were viewed. Many women began to feel the positive effects of a life outside the home, but there were a majority of others who were still unreached by this. Whether their husbands wouldn't let them work, they didn't want to, or they had not the opportunity, the average housewife was rapidly becoming dissatisfied with her assumed position.
When first released, Del Monte's tomato ketchup was received with great approval and satisfaction. The product was flavorful without being overpowering and also had just the right amount of thickness without being too thick. It was probably the next best thing to heaven! According to buyers, there was only one glaring flaw, its cap. Now, it's one thing to have a difficult task that is ultimately able to be overcome, but it's an entirely different matter when the task is virtually impossible. As you might have guessed, the lid of the Del Monte ketchup bottle was virtually impossible to open. If a child wanted ketchup when the father wasn't home he would either have to smash the bottle on the floor to break the glass or struggle against brute force until he either passed out from exhaustion or was made to stop by his mother. Simply said, a man was the only one strong enough to open this product. So if a father was on a trip for work, guess who wouldn't be having ketchup with their dinner?
Finally, after constant complaints of desperate buyers, Del Monte reintroduced their tomato ketchup with a new easy open lid. They could have done this in multiple ways, but sadly the company turned out an ad design that was so offensive some woman refused to buy this heavenly tasting product altogether. There were those who believed that this product was only stating the obvious role of the average woman, but others believed that with the use of a phrase that makes women seem all but useful, they were receiving an insult from the company of Del Monte. With Del Monte and several other America companies' offensive yet possibly true ads circulating the country, women were determined to change the mind of those who fully believed they were helpless and unskilled. Starting with women like Lucille Ball, who weren't afraid to speak their minds, the women of America began to slowly gain more status. The numbers of women employed outside the home began to climb, and once they had seen a glance of the chances available, there was no turning back. Young and old alike worked together to occupy positions that were previously closed off to those of their gender. They may have been offended, but they were spurred on towards the future, not only for themselves but for coming generations.
Negativity and degrading of a gender or race is wrong. It was wrong to do in the 1950s and it is wrong now. All humans, which means women too, were created equal. Woman may not necessarily have the same exact skill set as men, but that doesn't mean that the skills they do have are inferior. If woman are and continue to be degraded as they were in the 1950s, our population of confident women is going to dwindle to a very hazardous number. Confidence and hope are what help to spur us on toward future changes, and without those qualities, our future women aren't going to be the world changers we need for them to be.
Now you may be wondering, "How does this apply to me,” and that's a very good question. This ad not only helps us to realize that the ill treatment or lack of respect for a person is wrong, but also states that advertisers have power. In addition to this, we are challenged to look beyond the surface of an advertisement, paper, television show, or even opinion, and to determine what we think the real meaning is. No one is forcing you to believe exactly what society throws at you; you have the choice and freedom to sift through the information yourself and determine fact from fiction. Believing everything you are told is extremely dangerous. When putting yourself in the hands of others to make up your mind for you, you ultimately give up your will to affect society.
There are many things in the history of our country that should make us shake our heads in shame, this ad being an example. Mistakes have been made, feelings have been hurt, and people have told lies, but we cannot turn back time and remove these blemishes. Instead of being ashamed of America's flaws, we should embrace them with care and learn what we can from them. Knowing what has been done wrong and how to prevent it from happening are key aspects in moving towards a better future. Without the pressure and hurt of this ad maybe women today would still all be cleaning houses and staying home. No one knows for certain the effects they have on humanity, but we can choose whether or not our messages are hopeful or offensive.
Today we know that advertisers have a majority of power within products. Flashy labels attract our attention more than dull ones, and encouraging ones more than hateful ones. We've learned and recognized that repeating this type of ad would not be beneficial but rather reap major consequences. Within our society today, this ad helps us recognize and identify what not to put in our advertising. It also shows us how not to treat our women.
Stressing the fair treatment and equality of women and races alike cannot be done enough. No one should be defined just by their gender, but by who they are inside. Skin color is irrelevant as is origin of country; no one should be defined by their past or their inabilities. People should be noted for their strengths, not their weaknesses. When people like women aren't treated fairly, we rob our society of a better future. Women are as influential to our culture as men are. If they weren't, then why would there be mothers? Women should have an equal share of life and freedom just as men do. Without this, our country is bound to become a boring and dull place, rid of the genuine sincerity that we were founded on. Let's respect our women for who they are, lest we loose who we are as a country.
No matter what your gender status, you should strive to uphold equality for all. The theme, "Do to others as you would want them to do unto you" should ring true in our daily lives. We should be conscious that our actions have effect, and not bring down others but build them up.
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