16 March 2011
A Man’s World
A man is lying in bed propped up by a pile of cushy white pillows, his arms folded
comfortably behind his head. He is clean cut and fully dressed, wearing a white dress shirt and a
boldly printed red and blue tie. He is glancing to the right with an eyebrow raised, as a woman,
who is assumed to be his wife, serves him breakfast in bed. She is dressed for bed in a pink silk
robe, yet she is wearing red lipstick and her blond hair styled into perfect waves. She kneels
submissively at her husband’s bedside, a look of desperation upon her face. She holds the bed
tray of coffee, fried eggs, and toast up to her husband, as if she is providing an offering to a saint.
She appears to be looking to him for approval, while he simply glances onward as if she is
invisible. In the upper left corner, printed in black, is the phrase “show her it’s a man’s world.”
In the middle of the ad is a picture of a tie with the brand name Van Heusen printed next to it in
red, and underneath, in smaller writing, “man’s world ties.” At the very bottom of the page is a
small advertisement which reads: “For men only!...brand new man-talking, power-packed
patterns that tell her it’s a man’s world…and make her so happy it is…” This advertisement
created by the Van Heusen tie label is not simply selling ties to men; it is selling an image of
dominance and control, where women should be subservient, and even happy that it is “a man’s
world” (Van Heusen Ties).
This advertisement is undoubtedly targeted at men, with its use of vocabulary that
suggests masculinity and power. According to Van Heusen, their brand of ties is exclusively for
those men who want to send a message to others, more specifically, to women. Their bold
patterns will make a statement that they are smart, stylish, and in charge. This simple, yet
effective, choice of verbiage appeals to men with promises of masculinity, while simultaneously
creating a stereotype of women who are happy to be subjugated.
The models depicted in the advertisement embody the ideal married couple of the 1950s,
and the thoughtful placement of the subjects communicates very strong gender roles. As activist
Jean Kilbourne says in her documentary Killing Us Softly 4, “The image of girls and women is
usually passive, vulnerable, and very different from the body language of boys and
men…whereas men are given dignity, strength…” (Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of
Women) and this ideal is clearly projected in the ad. The man is positioned on the bed high above
his wife, atop a throne of pillows, while she is crouching on the floor beneath him like a servant.
The husband is relaxed and looks as if he is unappreciative of her efforts. The wife, on the other
hand, appears desperate, pleading, submissive, and weak in general. The positioning of the
subjects, with the woman’s eye level between her husband’s legs, also carries an underlying
sexual theme of dominance in their relationship. The careful arrangement of the couple is
literally creating a physical distinction between the sexes, and with it, a major gap in the level of
respect and dignity allowed to women.
This advertisement was printed in the 1950s in a post-war United States, when women
were increasingly beginning to join the workforce. Before then, women were expected to be
homemakers and serve their tired working husbands. But “just as many of the conditions for the
emancipation of women developed or reached fruition, when emancipation was apparently
within reach, notions of women’s place narrowed and became brittle and conventional” (Breines
69). Advertisements, such as this one printed by Van Heusen ties, were created to combat the
convergence of sex roles. As a result, “we end up with the contradictory picture of a society that
appears to throw its doors wide open to women, but translates her every step towards success as
having been damaging to her own chances of marriage, and to the men whom she passes on the
road” (Breines 78).
Although the ideals of the time are now outdated, the gender roles assigned to the
models are still comprehensible. In the male-dominated society portrayed in the ad, men are
superior and should be pampered and treated as such. Women are meant to serve their husbands,
and are happy, even eager, to please them. The “full stamp of cultural approval is given only if
she later achieves husband and children,” (Breines, 78), and if she does not accept this, she can
never be content with her life. Even though the husband may exhaust himself at work, the
woman could be working equally hard at home to maintain a pristine household or raise a family.
But as long as this strong divide in the value of men and women’s work exists, men’s struggles
will always be viewed as most important.
It could be said that this ad is simply a woman serving her spouse breakfast in bed, but it
is more than that. It is depicting an expectant husband, who shows no appreciation for his wife’s
efforts. She slaves away to please him, only to be taken for granted because this is what is
expected of her. This advertisement is blatantly trying to put women in a submissive role, and
tell the reader that they will always be happy to serve and be put in her place. Although it
conveys this message clearly and effectively, changes in our society’s beliefs have allowed
women more rights and equality, and the idea of total male supremacy has become a faded image
of the past.
Breines, Wini. "The1950s: Gender and Some Social Science." Sociological Inquiry
56.1 (1986): 69-92. Print.
Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising's Image of Women. Jean Kilbourne. 2010. Media
Education Foundation. DVD.
Van Heusen Ties. 2011. Web. 7 Mar. 2011. <http://viralwtf.com/women/