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November 14, 2012 3:51 PM   Subscribe

What advice used to be commonly accepted, but is now widely viewed as sexist?

I'm looking for examples of advice that seemed completely normal/acceptable at the time, but is sexist or outdated by today's standards.
posted by karminai to Society & Culture (57 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Learn to type.

Girls (as late as the 60s that I'm specifically aware of) were told to learn to type so they could become secretaries; lots of boys refused to take typing classes because they'd always have a woman to do it for them.

(Now, of course, learning to type is excellent advice given to both sexes, but it's not followed up with by "so you can be a secretary".)
posted by katemonster at 3:56 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hm, what about stuff like telling teen girls that using tampons instead of maxi pads will turn them into sluts? Would that count as advice for these purposes?
posted by elizardbits at 4:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Go to college to find a nice man to marry.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

The father of someone I know was told in the 70s to avoid getting anything higher than a B in college, because men don't like women that are smarter than them.

Another friend was made to go to secretarial school instead of college by her mother (again, the 70s).

Also: Close your eyes and think of England.
posted by magstheaxe at 4:11 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

Marry a rich man because he will take care of you your whole life.

If you get a job (for pin money of course), get one that is flexible for your husband's needs and don't worry about unimportant things like benefits or pensions. (I counsel people at work all the time that have worked at the same employer for twenty years (who offers an excellent employer-matching defined contribution plan) that didn't sign up because their then-husbands said it wasn't worth it.
posted by saucysault at 4:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

What I've seen of The Rules is jaw-droppingly sexists.
posted by she's not there at 4:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

You'd be so pretty if you smiled more.
posted by scratch at 4:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [12 favorites]

Play dumb to "catch" a man. Deliberately downplay your intelligence and talents so as to preserve his ego, as men don't like smart, capable women.

In her book "Marriage, A History" Stephanie Coontz actually quotes from a 1950's advice book - If you want your husband to feel manly, deliberately lose when you play board games, or invent a problem around the house so that he can fix it and feel strong and useful.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Boys should take woodwork/metalwork/shop and girls should take home ec/sewing/cooking.
posted by b33j at 4:23 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Don't you worry your pretty little head" <- sounds like something a jerk would say to the feeble minded.
posted by Neekee at 4:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine has a book of tips for American women from the 40s that includes plenty of these gems: for example, a married woman should always get up in the morning an hour before her husband does, so that he will never see her without her face (i.e., makeup).
posted by brianogilvie at 4:35 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's been a long tradition of advice for women on how to (or whether to!) participate in sports or athletic activities. For example, A List of Don’ts for Women on Bicycles Circa 1895. Some of the advice in that list is totally sensible and applies equally to women and men, like "Don’t forget your toolbag" and "Don’t wear clothes that don’t fit." However, most of it is pretty sexist.

Advice to women that they should avoid sports continued into the 20th century; it was considered unladylike and bad for one's health. And, of course, it made one unattractive to men: Are Athletics Making Girls Masculine? A Practical Answer to a Question Every Girl Asks (1912) Dudley A. Sargent, M.D.*

*from Women and Sports in the United States: A Documentary Reader by Jean O'Reilly and Susan K. Cahn
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:40 PM on November 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses.

(Did anybody ever actually say that as advice, or has it always been a joke?)
posted by Sara C. at 4:42 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

"You'll never be happy if you make more money than your husband."

My grandmother actually told this to my mother. And my poor mother actually believed it for a crucial little period -- that period when she was deciding on a career, unfortunately. She decided not to follow her dream because the profession was (and is still is) viewed as masculine. As a small child, she would tell me this story while shaking her head -- both at herself for believing it, and at her mom for giving such advice.
posted by artemisia at 4:43 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Real men don't cry.
posted by Specklet at 4:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [10 favorites]

Oh, god, I thought of one from my own family, within my own lifetime -- in fact, within the last decade.

A few years ago, my father's mother "warned" him that, if my stepmother-to-be didn't take his last name, it would mean that she wasn't serious about him or their marriage.

(My stepmother did, in fact, take his name. Not sure if it was my grandmother's meddling, or if it was her own independent choice. But still, the "advice" is pretty repulsive.)
posted by Sara C. at 4:51 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Lots of cooking advice, e.g. this 1932 Crisco advertisement, was accompanied by injunctions about how you want to keep your man happy by feeding him as well as he might get at a restaurant, lest he start looking elsewhere for his comforts.

Show your man how much you care... Try it, if you would be kind to your husband. (Pillsbury Pie Crust mix, 1950)

Or, in this 1948 Chase & Sanborn Coffee ad, if your husband is a grumpy jerk in the morning it's because you don't make good enough coffee, you lazy slut.
posted by XMLicious at 4:52 PM on November 14, 2012

From a recent askme, don't take Parental leave (even if legal and offered by the employer) if you are a man because wanting to spend time with your new-born baby clearly means you aren't serious about your career.
posted by saucysault at 4:59 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

Learn to type.

On this note, I've often thought back to advice that was given to me in high school and then when I was in college (graduated in 1997) which was that being a secretary was a good way to get a "toe in the door" and that I could then move up. At the time I thought that was weird advice (did not want to be a secretary!) and then, in retrospect, very sexist and silly actually. I'm sure that there was a time that this made some kind of sense but not so much anymore. And I don't know any men that were advised to get their toe in the door by answering phones.
posted by amanda at 5:00 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Another: Why buy the cow if he can get the milk for free?
posted by amanda at 5:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

And I don't know any men that were advised to get their toe in the door by answering phones.

Not likely, but men are told to work in the mailroom for that purpose.
posted by deadmessenger at 5:03 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

My grandma always said, never learn how to do the first part of a chore you didn't want to have to do, like how to turn on a lawn mower, because that way you could make a man do it for you.

It never occurred to her to think of this from the other way around, or that there would be a woman in her family who wouldn't have a man to take care of them their whole lives.
posted by Mizu at 5:11 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Men don't like women who are smarter than them.

When you're playing a game with a man (board games, golf, bowling, whatever) always let him win.

Keep your home neat and clean, so your husband will be comfortable.

Be gracious when he brings home his coworkers.

Before your husband comes home in the evening, freshen up your makeup and put on a pretty outfit. Greet him at the door with a smile and his favorite drink, and have his newspaper waiting by his chair. Make sure to cook his favorite meals. Don't nag him or let the children bother him; always listen as he tells you about his day,even when you don't understand. Never argue with your husband.

Don't worry your wife with financial or business matters she can't understand; ditto for world affairs.

Remember that women are always very emotional.

Try to show interest in her enthusiasms and hobbies.
posted by easily confused at 5:16 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"That's what a woman's for!" ... as my 85 year old grandpa told me when I explained that my girlfriend, who is a licensed civil engineer, was handling day to day stuff like mailing out birthday cards because I kept forgetting to send them out in time.

I was extremely polite about correcting him, pointing out that I was the less socially and financially useful one in the relationship between her and I, and later in the conversation needled him about Grandma winning several hundred dollars to make up for his $70 loss at the casino they went to in order to celebrate his birthday. He said "You sure set me right! I'm gonna go tell Grandma!"
posted by SpecialK at 5:18 PM on November 14, 2012 [6 favorites]

Oh, here's one that was "generally understood" to be true: 'ladies' i.e. 'nice girls' didn't enjoy sex --- the only women who DID enjoy sex were sluts. This was later replaced with any women who DIDN'T enjoy sex (no matter how repulsive the guy was) are obviously frigid --- in other words, it's never the man's fault, if there's a problem then there's something wrong with HER.
posted by easily confused at 5:21 PM on November 14, 2012 [9 favorites]

Boys don't cry; emotions are gay or feminine, which are negative traits.
posted by Occula at 5:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't learn to type.

My grandmother told my mother never to learn to type, because if the men in the office find out you know how to type, that'll become your whole job.

Mind you, her advice isn't 'sexist advice' so much as 'advice on how to cope with institutionalized sexism'. But then the same could be said for most of the advice above, including Learn to type.
posted by feral_goldfish at 5:30 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just thought of another goodie: Women should douche and use what were called "feminine hygiene sprays" because ladybits in their natural state are stinky and yucky. (I am old enough to remember advertisements for those products from the '70's, though not old enough at the time to figure out what "that not so fresh feeling" meant.)

Another one is "When Mom isn't home, Dad will feed the kids frozen pizza and Cheez Doodles and let them run wild, because dads can't take care of their own kids."
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 5:31 PM on November 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

"The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
posted by Sal and Richard at 5:49 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mr. Mom.
posted by Pecinpah at 5:53 PM on November 14, 2012

Boys will be boys.

At least I always found that attitude to be very sexist.
posted by whoaali at 6:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [16 favorites]

Real men are good at sports.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:21 PM on November 14, 2012

My father once told me maybe 15 years ago that I would never succeed in business if I refused to wear skirts. I wear power suits and do just fine, thanks.
posted by kamikazegopher at 6:33 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

@Sara C: "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses" is a Dorothy Parker quote/couplet. I think that makes it "bitter observation" rather than "advice."
posted by hishtafel at 6:45 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Why buy the cow if he can get the milk for free?

Why buy the pig when all you want is a little sausage?
posted by waving at 6:56 PM on November 14, 2012 [38 favorites]

I've got a whole blog of these: Obsolessons.
posted by MsMolly at 8:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [8 favorites]

The song Wives and Lovers.
posted by alphanerd at 8:20 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Girls should go to college primarily to find a husband and secondarily to become a teacher or nurse for a couple of years until they start having children, when of course they will leave the work force, and become a full-time housewife, because of course no real man would "allow" his wife to work outside the home once she has a brood to keep her busy and "fulfilled".
posted by marsha56 at 8:23 PM on November 14, 2012

Assuming that your parents have remaining leftover educational funds after ensuring that their sons are properly educated, because of course educating your sons must take priority over educating your daughters. And if not, no worries, because everyone knows that education is wasted on girls, because of uteruses.
posted by marsha56 at 8:27 PM on November 14, 2012

The quickest way to a man's heart is through his stomach (and straight up as my sister used to say, but we're crazy like that). The original quote though meant that a woman needed to learn to cook and cook well if she wanted to catch a man. Because, you know, that was the only goal in a woman's life.

Even as recent as five years ago, someone actually suggested to me that going to college would be a great place for me to catch my next husband. Even though I wasn't looking for a new husband, and didn't indicate that I wanted one. So that advice is alive and well these days.
posted by patheral at 8:28 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Women can't be scientists.

Advice given to me by fellow college students in the 90s, if you can believe it.

Women are forbidden from many other professions, as you can imagine.
posted by medusa at 9:22 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

A career councilor told my mom when she was in high school to go to Purdue and get an engineering degree so she could become an executive secretary at GM.
posted by stray thoughts at 9:49 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

For everything that comes immediately to mind, I can find you people who still think they are the norm. Like the idea that men/women are basically fundamentally incapacitated in some manner, therefore they must be cared for like children. Men are too emotionally stunted/ego-fragile/unhygienic/etc. to survive alone with any civility. Women are too mentally stunted/weak/emotional/etc. to survive alone at all. Both lack any semblance of common sense, must be lied to because they can't handle reality, and I can go out right now and find perfect examples of these people in less than five minutes.
People still propagate this crap because people still want to believe it. Why think for yourself when there are handy stereotypes? Although these are pretty much handy white hetereonormative stereotypes from ages ago, enmired from conditioning. Still, if that guy doesn't want to clean, and that girl doesn't want to do math, they can happily pretend this is the way of things and everyone will tell them they are hopelessly normal, because people who do not like these norm either have left the area or know better than to say anything to these people.
posted by provoliminal at 11:01 PM on November 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

I remember our male schoolteacher quite seriously telling all the girls not to do situps in gym class because it might do ...something (?) to our uteruses and we would never be able to have babies. This was like, in the early 90s.
posted by embrangled at 11:12 PM on November 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Behind every great man there's a great woman"
posted by MuffinMan at 12:44 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

MuffinMan reminded me of a phrase from My big fat Greek wedding that I always quite liked - "The man may be the head of the family, but the woman is the neck. She tells the head where to look." Slightly sexist advice I suppose, and it sounds grandmotherly, but I like the concept of her being the real power behind the scenes, somewhat like a powerful political advisor eg Karl Rove or E. Blackadder in Series III.
posted by guy72277 at 1:22 AM on November 15, 2012

Even as recent as five years ago, someone actually suggested to me that going to college would be a great place for me to catch my next husband. Even though I wasn't looking for a new husband, and didn't indicate that I wanted one. So that advice is alive and well these days.

Heck, a few days ago a psychiatrist actually wrote this (which I find difficult to believe and still wonder if he isn't pulling readers' legs by tempting them with another group to hate, since it's partly the subject of the post: hatred of a group masking an issue such as higher ed being so expensive in the US): "There was a time where women went to college to get an MRS degree, and I am telling you that that time is today, there is nothing else of value in there."

Because LGBT women don't go to college and straight women don't use higher ed experiences for networking with other women...

My grandfather, who I actually adored and who taught me how to do woodworking, basic plumbing and basic electricity, genuinely got worried when my height passed that of all the other women in the family and would say something I think must have been a catch phrase in his day: "We need to put a brick on your head or else no man will want to marry you!!"

Like amanda, I too was often given the advice to use secretary work to get a foot in the door. I finished my BA in 1998, and did in fact try to go that route in the job I have now... thankfully my bosses at the time were horrified by the idea and gave me team and project coordinator duties straight out of the gate (I had been a successful freelancer for several years). Eight years later and wiser, I am aghast at how I underestimated my abilities at the time, totally giving in to sexist advice just because so many people in positions of authority had repeated it. And I'm immensely grateful for management that saw past that youthful blindness.

"Women don't wear pants/trousers."
posted by fraula at 1:59 AM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Girls shouldn't lead a man on because once he is excited he "just can't control himself".
posted by saucysault at 4:08 AM on November 15, 2012

"If you want to find a nice husband, you need to lose some weight."

A direct quote from my family physician to me, when I was 16. Yeah, not my doctor anymore.
posted by guessthis at 4:56 AM on November 15, 2012

When my mom was pregnant with my brother, she told her (male) doctor that she planned to breastfeed. He was indignant and told her that she had no right to do that because "those belong to your husband." This was in 1970.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 6:31 AM on November 15, 2012

The concept of "legitimate" rape. Apparently this was accepted by many as recently as last week. Some may still subscribe to the idea.
posted by skypieces at 7:51 AM on November 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Huh. Those are quite mild. (Even though it's horrifying some examples are just about contemporary.)
A woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the more you beat them the better they'll be.
posted by glasseyes at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2012

My great-grandma got to go to college because her dad believed that if you educate your son you end up with an educated man, but if you educate your daughter you educate the whole family -- I guess because she'll be staying home and raising a new generation using that education some day.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:52 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Whenever my sisters and I would make traditional handcut German noodles called spatzle, our grandmother would always instruct us to cut them very skinny, because "no man will marry a girl who makes fat spatzle!" This was 'folk wisdom' she'd learned from her own mother & grandmother.
posted by easily confused at 4:18 PM on November 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

A girl should never, ever call a boy first.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:14 PM on November 15, 2012

A recent AskMe I can't find a.t.m. made me realize a super-common one that a lot of people still repeat without realizing the subtext: that it's okay for young boys to harass and bully young girls because "that just means he likes her." Sets kids up for all sorts of messed-up ideas about relationships later on.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:20 AM on November 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

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