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Martha Roseberg – “When Women Outlive Their Ovaries”—The Sexist Ads Big Pharma Has Used to Hawk Drugs

In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) boasted slick, Mad Men–style ads in which women clearly “knew their place” and stayed in it.

Ads about the pathos of aging wives and mothers losing their looks, children, femininity, and purpose in life were rampant in medical journals. One ad shows a woman at her child’s graduation ceremony with the headline “Magna cum depression,” referring to the empty-nest syndrome she will soon, presumably, experience.

In an ad for Valium we are told that the woman pictured (“Jan”) is “psychoneurotic” because she is unmarried at age 35. “You probably see many such Jans in your practice,” says the ad—“The unmarrieds with low self-esteem. Jan never found a man to measure up to her father.”

Some ads were almost sympathetic to “housewives,” who were supposed to find fulfillment taking care of others and their homes, with no career of their own. “Why is this woman tired?” asks the headline under a photo of a dissipated, bathrobe-clad young woman about to tackle a stack of dirty dishes. She may just need more sleep, says the ad, but she also may be one of “many of your patients—particularly housewives—[who] are crushed under a load of dull, routine duties that leave them in a state of mental and emotional fatigue. For these patients, you may find ‘Dexedrine’ an ideal prescription.”

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