Thursday, September 3, 2009

Feminism and Smoking in the 20th Century

On September 16, 2009, Sharon Cook (Education, University of Ottawa) will be speaking at the Ottawa Historical Association meeting at the Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa. Her topic is "Constructing the Modern Canadian Woman Smoker, 1970-1990." Here's a short description of her talk:

In previous eras and coupled with other social forces, smoking had given women an air of authority, even insouciance. In the “Age of Aquarius” it served a similar purpose of offering liberated modern women the visual means to telegraph similar types of authority. The alignment of smoking with the women’s movement became a staple of visual culture. Produced about and by feminists, it took hold so firmly in popular cultural products like women’s magazines, advertisements, television and film representations that the dangers of smoking were masked by the powerful cultural messages culminating in the second wave of feminism. Using many of the same techniques that had been honed by the end of World War Two, advertisers and other cultural architects added to the stock-in-trade approaches by presenting the liberated woman smoker as an iconic image for the modern age. This paper explores ways in which feminism became closely linked with smoking between 1968 and 1990.

Dr. Cook's webpage is here.

I remember clearly the Virginia Slims "You've come a long way, baby" ads. The suggestion that women's progress meant freedom to smoke was hardly subtle. Virginia Slims was one of the early corporate sponsors of women's professional tennis, too. Martina Navratilova's first #1 ranking came in 1978 after she won the Virginia Slims tournament (she won Wimbledon that year, too).


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