Skip to main content

The Male Gaze: Through the Eyes of 1960s LIFE Magazine Advertisements

An exploration of the presence of the Male Gaze in 1963 LIFE Magazine Advertisements

Published onDec 01, 2022
The Male Gaze: Through the Eyes of 1960s LIFE Magazine Advertisements

The male gaze, a term first coined by Laura Mulvey, has been present in American culture and media for decades. The male gaze is defined as follows:

“wo[men] stand in patriarchal culture as a signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his fantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer, not maker, of meaning.”1 

Although her analysis is describing women in film, Mulvey’s use of the “silent image” is applicable to advertisements. Since the 1920s, and the beginning of a shift in women’s freedom of dress and expression, women have been sexualized. This issue did not start in the 1920s, it has long preceded the 20th century, but it became more and more prevalent in media over time as the developments of magazines improved. With a particular focus on the 1960s, I will examine how the concept of the male gaze is visible in LIFE Magazine advertisements. I will highlight two advertisements that represent a highly prevalent issue across time and media spaces: sexism and misogyny.

Singer Sewing Machine Ad

In an advertisement by Singer Sewing Machines from the December 6th, 1963, issue of LIFE Magazine2, a woman is shown smiling in reaction to a sewing machine. The act of sewing is typically associated with domesticity and is often labeled as a women’s hobby. This advertisement is geared towards men, encouraging them to buy their wives a gift that will further perpetuate standards about a woman’s role. During the 1960s women’s roles in society were mostly limited to acting as homemakers, secretaries, teachers, or nurses. Being unwed was viewed in a negative light and women often did not attend college, thus working until they were married.

A woman is show opening a sewing machine gift while her husband, daughter, and son watch.

Singer Sewing Machine’s 1963 Advertisement was Sexist | “Every Woman Deserves a Singer Christmas”, LIFE Magazine Dec 6th, 1963 in Google Books

Eight sewing machines are displayed as well as other Singer products, each with a brief description of the item

Singer Sewing Machine’s 1963 Advertisement cont. | “Singer Gifts are as Special as a Woman’s Dreams”, LIFE Magazine Dec 6th, 1963 in Google Books

Women were restricted in their ability to freely express themselves and their interests or passions. This advertisement uses the slogans “every woman deserves a Singer Christmas” and “Singer gifts are as special as a woman’s dreams.” Given that sewing machines are most likely not at the heart of all woman’s deepest dreams and desires, this advertisement is pushing stereotypical homemaker views on women. Something of interest in the advertisement is the male vs female facial expressions. This is presumably unintentional, but I believe that it reflects a deeper concept. The males in this ad look pleased with this gift, the little boy even appears to be screaming. The females on the other hand appear less excited by this gift. The daughter has a blank expression, and the mother looks happy but not ecstatic. This advertisement correlates with Mulvey’s idea of the male gaze because it projects the woman in a light that is desirable to the male eye. Because this advertisement is geared towards men, the female is presented in a feminine, domesticated way. This advertisement is furthering misogynist norms by encouraging men to keep their wives in homemaker roles.

Holland House Cocktail Ad

In a second advertisement3, from the same issue of LIFE Magazine, Holland House Cocktails displayed an advertisement that is blatant in its sexism. A woman is seen on her knees next to her husband who is happily on the couch with a cocktail. The text discusses how the man, Charlie, has had a tough day at work. He wanted to come home to a Manhattan but gets stuck with the daiquiri his wife made him. Lucky for her, he enjoyed it.

A woman is shown sitting on the ground next to her husband who sits with his feet up on the couch. He is holding a cocktail. There is also a cocktail on the floor next to the woman.

Holland House Cocktail Mixes’ 1963 Advertisement is Misogynistic | “Holland House Cocktail Mixes”, LIFE Magazine Dec 6th, 1963 in Google Books

The advertisement also mentions how the wife completed several tasks around the house and with the kids while still managing to make her husband a drink. This advertisement perpetuates domesticity as much as the Singer advertisement, showing women solely in a husband-pleasing, housewife role. In relation to the male gaze, this advertisement poses the female figure in a way that appeases male desire. This advertisement caters to the internalized male gaze in order to sell a product. The positioning of the woman, on the ground, below the man, on her knees, all fit in with the concept of lowering a woman to a submissive position. This relates to the male gaze as a method of satisfying male desires to dominate women. Again, like the Singer advertisement, this Holland House Cocktails targets the male viewer by showing him his “idealized” gender positioning. Internalized misogyny is subtly targeted by these advertisements as they encourage the male viewer to objectify the female figure. This objectification is supposed to perpetuate the sales of the product, showing that women are used as objects in media and capitalistic schemes.


Works Cited

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Visual and Other Pleasures, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 1989, pp. 14–26. Springer Link,

“Every Woman Deserves a Singer Christmas.” Life, vol. 55, no. 23, 6 Dec. 1963, p. 10. Life Magazine Archive.

“Holland House Cocktail Mixes Advertisement.” Life, vol. 55, no. 23, 6 Dec. 1963, p. 68. Life Magazine Archive.

No comments here
Why not start the discussion?