The differences between the sexes in the 1940s is extremely prevalent when observing the media and literature around that time. While reading through The Utah Chronicle during the decade of the ’40s, it is evident throughout the ads and articles that women and men had distinct qualities that they were supposed to live up to in order to fit in with society. It was normal for ladies to be seen as objects that played very little roles in the development of the world. Typically, women held little control or power and were constantly being simplified to having no other purposes on this earth than being a beautiful caregiver to her husband and children.
Contrary, men were socially constructed to be a breadwinner, a worker, a gentleman, intelligent, and powerful. They were expected to provide for the women and family and uphold a high standard of manners. Both sexes came with the pressure to be a specific way. Rarely do you see any influence to be authentic to oneself in the 1940s. People had to fit the mold.
Many articles published during the ’40s display these ideas through the language and conversation. One article that especially points this out was in the November 28, 1940, issue of The Utah Chronicle. The “Helpful Hints to College Men” column reported an etiquette book that the Mortar Woman’s Honor Society created called As We Do It. “I know some of us [women] do let things drop on purpose, but even then, you should be gentleman enough to pick them up.” (“Helpful Hints”) As We Do It was published in 1940 by the University of Utah, courtesy of the Mortar Board, which is a select group of female honorary students. It was a guide to help college students with their etiquette, including, style, telephone etiquette and dating etiquette.
An excerpt from the book discusses how women should be a “good sport” on dates and try out activities like skiing, even if they don’t have the desire to. “After your escort has unwrapped you several times from around the pine tree, he’ll probably only be too happy to let you play in the snow. But rest assured he will admire you all the more for your stamina, and will ask you again if you have enough fun to show him you’re a jolly sort.” (As We Do It, p. 21) This excerpt displays the general idea of women pleasing men and the assumption that the woman would fail and be weak during the activity.
A November 14, 1940, article in The Utah Chronicle includes several different examples of women being continuously referred to with an adjective describing their beauty. For example, “cute Beth,” “she said with a gleam in her lovely brown eyes,” “chimed in blonde Betty,” “petite Betty Lou,” or “attractive Nonie.” Words like dainty, fragile, tantalizing and petite are used to describe all women.
In one Utah Chronicle column called “Keep the Change,” men explained the nicknames they gave their girlfriends. A few of “the prize winners” were, “I call my girl Hinge, because she is something to a door,” “I call my girl Calibre because she is such a bore,” and, “I call my girl Hitler because she is sh-Nazi.” Men publicly spoke of their girlfriends in a condescending way, which in the 1940s was completely acceptable.
An excerpt from As We Do It discusses the fashion of men tipping their hats to other men, and when to do so. The authors suggest tipping hats to most men because “you might be asking him for a job or daughter sometime in the near future.” (p. 24) This further supports the sexist attitude of how men assumed “ownership” of a woman.
Another example of women being portrayed in a certain way is in an Atlantic article written by Megan Garber called, “‘When You Supervise a Woman’: The 1940s Instructional Manual.” This article includes instructional brochures of how to teach women about the utmost basic workplace protocol. Garber suggests that it is condescending and “is both ridiculous and hilarious by today’s standards, they’re also sort of sad: a reminder of how institutionalized sexism and its analogs can be, in the workplace and beyond.”
Not much has changed when comparing the general perception of gender roles from the 1940s to now. Books and magazines about “how to get the man/ woman of your dreams” are constantly being published and brainwashing people into an unauthentic way of living. Hopefully, society can continue with the progressive momentum we have had over the last 70 years, so the next generations can experience complete equality.
Brook Williams is a senior at The University of Utah. She plans on graduating in the spring of 2019 with a degree in communication.
Mortar Board, As We Do It, University of Utah, 1940.
“Helpful Hints to College Men,” Utah Chronicle, November 28, 1940, 7.
“Freshman Women Express Views on Fraternities to Reveal Many Startling Conceptions,” Utah Chronicle, November 14, 1940, 5.
Marilla Barlow, “Keep the Change,” Utah Chronicle, November 20, 1940, 4.
Garber, Megan. “‘When You Supervise a Woman’: The 1940s Instructional Manual,” The Atlantic, August 27, 2012.