In the late fifties and early sixties, back when the microwave oven was first invented and marketed, very clear and unwavering gender roles were deeply rooted into American culture. Men worked to provide for and protect his family, while the women stayed at home, tending to the children and the home, and cooking meals for the family. As such, advertisements of that era pertaining to home appliances were centered on the idea that women would be operating it, but men would be buying it. The microwave oven, as a result, had to be marketed as a masculine and alluring product, to entice the men to buy it, but also helpful enough in the kitchen to convince the men that buying one would be a great favor to his wife. Although the microwave did eventually become a gender-neutral appliance, it started as a device to aid women in their duties, with no intention of changing the long-standing gender roles.
In the early sixties, when microwaves we beginning to popularize, Thermador launched an ad campaign designed to convince men to buy their microwave buy painting it as a symbol of manhood. This was one of the first advertisements that tailored to the male gender role, in an attempt to persuade the man to buy the microwave for his wife or other female pursuits. This ad depicts a suave, seemingly wealthy man looking confidently down at a beautiful woman, who is mesmerized by the size of his microwave. On the picture itself, the only words float above the microwave and read, “STACKED for convenience.” This very obviously phallic image suggests that your microwave is directly related to your masculinity. The description below the picture is heavily sexualized, with words like, “intimate, appeal, and exotic,” to further ingrain the idea that a true ladies man buys a Thermador microwave. Since gender roles were a much more universally accepted construct in the fifties and sixties, references to those roles, and just blatant sexism, was much more prominent and less hidden. Modern advertisements, for example, may still discriminate or build off of sexist notions, but it is much more well masked, working either subtly or subliminally, to get across the same message that is so nonchalantly displayed in this old Thermador advertisement.
Another advertisement made by Swanson markets microwave dinners by directly targeting wives. This ad shows a husband coming home from golf who brought back his buddy as a spur-of-the-moment invitation to dinner. Since the wife has Swanson’s microwave dinners, she can quickly and easily set another plate and have enough food to serve her husband’s friend, making her a hero in her husband’s eyes. This marketing strategy relies around the idea that it is a wife’s paramount responsibility and joy to cater to the whims of her husband and make him happy. To a certain degree, this advertisement dehumanizes women by insinuating that women have no personal agendas, and instead exist to serve the man she married.
As time went by, sexism in the public sphere became less blatant, but still remained quite prevalent. Amana’s advertisement for their Radarange Microwave Oven has actress Barbara Hale testifying that the microwave is the “greatest cooking discovery since fire.” This ad, although less outwardly discriminatory, still furthers the sexist framework of American gender roles buy using a famous women to convince other women to stay in the kitchen and purchase a microwave. The bottom half of the advertisement features a variety of women cooking various foods in their microwaves, with instructions below each image. Displaying multiple women cooking many different meals works to convince those who read this advertisement that using microwaves in the kitchen is a very commonplace and expected activity in the daily life a housewife. The subtlety of this ad proves that although sexism may not be so aggressively brazen in all cases, it is still very present throughout American media.
Looking back through our history, it is baffling to see just how discriminatory and sexist American culture was only fifty years ago. Not to say that sexism does not exist today, but it is certainly not as fundamental to daily life as it once was. The power that American media has as an agent of influence and social change is nearly boundless in a world in which television and tabloids are so deeply ingrained into people’s lives. This power certainly lives up to its name in the case of microwave advertisements. The microwave was marketed as a tool to ease to strain of the woman’s duties and please her husband, and so it was used as such.
Amana. Click Americana. N.p., n.d. Web. 1959.
Swanson. Mortal Journey. N.p., n.d. Web. 1953.
Thermador. Man’s Life Jan. 1958: n. pag. Print.