There’s a vintage ad (1947) quoted on Digby’s website for a Pitney-Bowes postage meter. There’s a big machine in the foreground. Standing behind it, arms crossed and face turned away in disdain, is a sexy redhead in a stylish business suit. Her eyes are closed. To her right is a businessman who is clearly losing his shit. His tie has come unglued, his hair is disheveled, his reddened face is distorted into what would sound like a roar if you could hear it (or maybe a squawk), and his hands are extended in half-claws, half-supplication toward the redhead. His eyes are open, and if looks could kill . . .
What’s the Pitney-Bowes’ caption? “Is it always illegal to kill a woman?”
There’s a story imbedded in the ad. The “only good, fast, dependable, honest-to-Gregg stenographer I got, this redhead Morissey—balks at a postage meter! ‘I have no mechanical aptitude. Machines mix me up, kind of,’ she says.” Two weeks later, she’s in love with the machine. Why? “Now the mail is out early enough so I get to the girls’ room in time to hear all of the dirt.” So he sighs, “I wonder is it always illegal to kill a woman?”
OK, that’s just one ad. There were others. Both men and women read magazines, and presumably this was intended to be normal for both. This is in 1947, after the guys, what’s left of them, are back from the war, and the women who pitched in to keep our mighty engine running are now expected to do what? And what are the guys now competing for jobs expected to feel about that?
Now it’s 72 years later, but it still hits hard.. The artist really captured the guy’s rage: you can feel it, and if you’re honest, you might have a sneaky wish to smack the smirk off the redhead’s face. That’s built into the ad. Somebody got paid to normalize that.
We’re past all that now, right? Look at the rally photos, and you see female faces distorted in gleeful rage alongside their bullnecked compatriots. Equal opportunity to feel like kicking ass. The high that hate gives is now unisex, and people are still being paid to normalize violent memes.
What can anyone do, on the street, in line at the post office, within earshot of the hollering kid at the Safeway? Acknowledge the pain inside the anger, make the gesture that says, “I know, it’s hard, I’ve been there.” Anything that lets the air out of the plastic balloon that separates Our Kind from Those Others, the ones it’s OK to hate.