"You've come a long way, baby" was the slogan for Virginia Slims, a cigarette created especially for women in 1968, at the beginning of the Feminist movement. The advertisements proudly pointed out all the progress women had made since the days when husbands punished wives for smoking. I'm told that the tagline was written by a man. It sounds like it.
The Sixties was a supposed Feminist era, when women were at long last claiming our rights. It was a time when men (who were still making all the decisions) were establishing banks for women and hotel rooms for women (all pink and chintzy) and it turned out that we didn't want any of them. But nobody had asked us. About the same time, a tire maker introduced a pink-walled tire for women. Of course, it was a man who came up with the idea. All these ideas failed, including Virginia Slims. Women didn't want to be singled out or treated differently. We simply wanted equality.
"Have You Really Come Such a Long Way, Baby?" is the title of the last chapter of my book, Mad Women: the Other Side of Life on Madison Avenue in the Sixties and Beyond [St. Martin's Press, $24.99]. And my answer to that question is a definite NO. We haven't come as long a way as we thought we would when the Women's Movement first launched back in that sexy and sexist Mad Men era.
When I started my advertising career in 1964, as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather, I worked only on the kind of accounts that were considered "appropriate" for women. They were household products (like Drano drainpipe cleaner), food and beverages (like Good Seasons salad dressing and Maxwell House coffee), and health and beauty aids (like Dove soap). Oh, yes, and Vanish toilet bowl cleaner. Certain categories, such as financial brands, automotive, and liquor, were strictly male territory. No women allowed.
There seemed to be good reasons for it. Agencies were run by men, and men didn't think we knew how to balance our checkbooks, so how could we be trusted to write advertising for a bank or a credit card? I was the first woman assigned to the American Express Card account. The account men at my agency warned me I might be met with a bit of hostility at the client. The men there were afraid that, if they turned down my creative ideas, I would cry. But when I arrived at the first meeting, the big boss was extremely nice to me, pulled out a chair and invited me to sit down. I thought things were going better than expected. Then he asked: "Did you forget your steno pad, dear?"
Men were also convinced we didn't know how to drive, so how could we convince anyone to buy a certain car? And men certainly believed we didn't know how to drink hard liquor, because that was the tool they used to seduce us. So we couldn't work on liquor accounts.
Well, today women copywriters are working on every imaginable kind of account, and so are women account executives. But I recently learned that approximately 97 percent of all advertising agency creative directors are men! In fact, an enterprising feminist named Kat Gordon is calling for a big meeting in San Francisco next November to see what we can do about it. It's called "The 3 Percent Conference.com" and it's worth checking out.
One thing is for sure. Women still have a long way to go.