In the late 60s Philip Morris ran an advertising campaign for their brand Virginia Slims. The ads – full of modern, hip looking chicks – bore the pay-off line: “You’ve come a long way baby”. The idea being: as you lot are now equal to men – you should have your own cigarette. That’s not to say women weren’t smoking before the ads: it’s just that VS made a celebration of it, and rather cleverly, used the word Slim in their brand name. Yes the cigarettes were straw thin. But add it all together and you’ve got a slice of subliminal genius. Fat was still a feminist issue. And Nicotine suppresses the appetite.
Virginia Slim was able to sustain their campaign well into the late 80s. They weren’t the only ones: Marlboro, Silk Cut and Camel had us all (me included, especially after a few drinks) puffing our way into the heady world of mouth, throat and lung cancer. But we didn’t care – we had fought for our right to party. We inhaled openly – secure in the knowledge that the efforts of our suffragette sisters had brought us to this hallowed place. We belonged! What we didn’t know was these femme cigarettes were even more poisonous than the regular versions – the flavouroids, scents, menthol and fast burners in the skinny filters were lighting up our lungs like Christmas in Kansas.
But I am not here to lecture about cigarettes. We all know how that story ends.
Before Christmas I was in the Lego store – checking out potential gifts for the Nans – and I was amazed at how the packets of bricks were branded. There were two distinct themes: pink, silver and purple sparkliness for the girls, brave, bright-coloured adventures for the boys. Of course you could buy whatever you liked for the kid under your tree, but the packaging was pretty clear as to whom they were targeting. It annoyed me right out of the store.
I remembered this ad from when I was a kid and tracked it down. What the hell has happened since it came out in the early 70s? Have we allowed ourselves to go backwards as feminists? Have we let our equality rating slip? It seems so …the girls were twizzling around a signpost the other day at the beach – pretending to be pole dancers. Apparently they saw Rhianna doing it in one of her videos – and thought “it was cool, plus its really good exercise”. On the way home we passed a billboard picturing a woman sucking off a Magnum Ice Cream: “why’s she eating her lolly in the bath?” asked Riley. Who the hell knows, baby. Perhaps she doesn’t want it to mess all over her.
I may be channelling Archie Bunker, but Ladies, it seems we’ve been backsliding. Scuttling into the cave at the first sign of a man with a mink pelt and a big club. Or have I got it all wrong and this is modern feminism? Are we so secure in our place in the world that we’re putting it right out there, like we’re all for sale?
If that is the case – I am glad I am my fifties. I just could not be assed to compete. I know how it would end and the reclamation of our rights would just feel like covering lost ground. But I do know one thing for sure, excellent workout or no, I will see to it that my nieces never end up on the pole. Unless, of course, that pole is the Arctic.
(All images found in the public domain.)