- Imagining Feminism in the Marketplace: Linda Scott (University of Illinois) Interviews Gloria Steinem
Linda Scott interviewed Gloria Steinem during a break from the “How is Advertising Changing the Shape of Women?” symposium. Most of the focus of the interview is on advertising in Ms. during the 1970s. Two articles are mentioned during the course of the interview (the citations are at the end). One is an article by Lucy Komisar, “The Image of Women in Advertising,” which appeared in an anthology of feminist essays early in the Second Wave. The second is an article that appeared in Social Policy in 1978, in which Elizabeth Cagan argues that women in market-based professions are actually antifeminists because their work is part of the capitalist system.
The first thing I want to talk to you about is trying to construct or imagine a feminist in a market vocation of some sort. What would that person be like and what kinds of actions would you imagine for that person? The second issue is this apparent turning point in the mid-1970s where professional and academic women go separate ways. The last is to talk about some ads from Ms. in the early 1970s.
The first thing I want to ask you about is whether there are any role models in your memory for this imagined feminist that we might be trying to construct today?
The role models that would come to mind when you say that are the secretaries. There really weren’t very many women in decision-making positions in advertising agencies. Our greatest secret weapon when we went to present Ms. magazine—as a place that was otherwise seen as far too controversial to want to have an ad in it of any kind—was that when we went to do the presentation, the secretaries would come. They said that the decision-making men would be fascinated by that because it would have often been the first time that had ever happened. The men could see that there was an interest and therefore a consumer they weren’t aware of. So it was instant market research right there in their own offices.
Aside from that, there really were very few women. There was a woman who was on the Oil of Olay account and she did those ads. There was Linda Wachner who was even then in a powerful position at Max Factor. The important thing was that, first of all, you couldn’t get ads for personal-appearance kind of products unless you had articles about beauty, which we didn’t have. And she did those ads anyway. But the second thing was that Max Factor had made ads for Essence and other magazines, and a great problem for us was that the ads looked different from our readership. Our readership was not diverse enough, yet it was much more diverse than the ads were. Yet if you looked at the ads, you would have thought that there were no women of color reading the magazine, and it just wasn’t true. She gave us Max Factor ads that were designed for Essence. So there was that kind of example.
And then there were Volkswagen and Honda. Because they were not Detroit cars, they were not subject to Detroit’s mythology about how women might pick vehicles—they assumed that women might pick the upholstery color but they didn’t purchase the car. Or decide which cars to purchase. They were also among the few ads then that didn’t have beautiful blond women draped over the hood because they assumed the person purchasing the car was a man. They were just straightforward ads about the car. Volkswagen, I think, had the very first car ads that ever came into Ms.
But mostly, we were in the position of arguing, begging—they hated us. There were some incredible examples. I remember speaking in an advertising agency where they had asked me to speak about the women’s movement. Addressing the women’s market for detergent. So I was trying to do that. A man got up from this small audience and...