Disguised Racism?: A Very Brief Analysis of a Postwar Image


This postwar image and ones like it regularly appear in textbooks. Scholars use such images to make arguments about how new technologies made housework less time-consuming and advertising made these appealing necessities.

Other arguments focus on the sexism of having a Woman use the vacuum in this advertisement – a Woman who is wearing an apron and presumably also cooking lunch and dinner.

Still other arguments rest of the implied harmony and peace and content for this Woman and her implied husband and children, and such argument focus on the corresponding problems with this rhetoric, specifically what it ignores. 

Additionally, such images served to reinforce that with World War II over, the Women who had taken jobs needed to go back home. In the later years of the war, about 35% of Women were employed, up about 10% from before. 

But, I have never seen an argument or analysis point out that in reality in the vast majority of cases, the Woman depicted in this picture and all the Women for which she becomes a historical stand-in would seldom, if ever, actually vacuum their own home. White families hired Black Women (and immigrant Women) to do their cooking, cleaning, and frequently, childcare, too, and they paid them far below any kind of reasonable wage and generally offered little respect and thanks in return. 

Regardless, though, this image–and the countless parallel ones–delete and ignore Black Women and their work and their agency. That’s the true take-home message here.