The perk of being an archivist and historian to pay the bills is the cultural ephemera I scan daily. At one point in our great nation’s history, sexism and racism were ubiquitous and, as such, invisible. Being a woman of the late 20th- and early 21st-centuries, I was raised in classroom curriculum that bent over backwards to equalize gender in a way that basically skewed it the opposite as so much focus was placed on girls. Do they feel comfortable enough to raise their hands and speak in class? Are gym activities gender neutral so girls don’t feel inferior? You get the picture.
They also spent a significant amount of time educating us about AIDS; they were very, very concerned we were all going to get AIDS. Fourth graders? Getting AIDS? But that’s another discussion for another time.
This over-equal ideological footing may be why I’m able to see the humor in our nation’s past indiscretions, you know, in a “Yes, I smoked pot but I didn’t inhale” and not a “No, I did not have sexual relations with that woman” sense. Meaning, if we can’t laugh at uncomfortable situations that are largely absurd (sexism and racism have no scientific evidence, making them absurd) then what else are we supposed to do, right? As long as it’s merely absurd, like claiming to have smoked pot but not inhaled as opposed to sexually manipulating a young intern with the power of the presidency. See the difference? Good, we’re on the same page.
In the spirit of I-shall-become-stronger-by-owning-the-negative and using it for a positive charge, I therefore find blatantly sexist “news” articles from the 1940s chuckle-worthy. This is especially true when they’re titled “‘Men Seldom Make Passes–‘: Blonde Wins Beauty Contest for Girls Who Wear Glasses”. That’s right, ladies, if you wore glasses in the 1940s you were a segregated minority on top of being a segregated minority. What followed is as follows:
“Vera Parks, a far-sighted blonde, today won first prize in a beauty contest for girls who wear glasses. She had on a pair of octagon-tops with coral mountings which set her back 18 bucks three years ago. The contest took place in the Hotel Piccadilly and was sponsored by the Community Opticians Association, an organization which wants to prove that Dorothy Parker didn’t know what she was talking about when she wrote: ‘Men seldom make passes, at girls who wear glasses.’
‘Anybody ever make a pass at you?’ the winner was asked as she relaxed with a scotch and soda. ‘Naturally,’ she said, ‘my husband.’
Mrs. Parks immediately began planning her trip to Hollywood, which is the prize she receives. She wants to go to a premiere out there and see Claudette Colbert and Ronald Coleman.”
Isn’t that cute? She dreams of Claudette Colbert while sipping a scotch and soda by her husband’s side. She may wear glasses, but she’s still the picture of wifely femininity: simple, sweetly involved in her silver screen stories and liquored up. Yay for the 1940s!