Feminine Archetypes on Women’s Suffrage Postcards as Agents of Propaganda

Insight into the prevailing beliefs of the early twentieth century

Andrea Hempstead
Assistant Professor
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi

Archetypes have been used as a successful marketing tool for years as the “collective unconscious,” so the use of feminine archetypes on suffrage postcards at the turn of the century should not be surprising. Both pro and anti-suffrage cards visualize the conformity to, as well as the divergence from, the mother, the maiden, the lover and the huntress to further their cause. The social importance of postcards during this time can be compared to the power and proliferation of the modern-day meme on social media, as billions of private visual messages were made public. Today, memes are used as a cultural practice of belonging for conversation, community and identification.

As consumerism grew in America at the turn of the twentieth century, so did the need to communicate to sub-cultures within America. By studying the styles, methods and modalities of the illustration of women as feminine archetypes on suffrage postcards, we gain insight into the prevailing beliefs of the early twentieth century surrounding gender roles, sex and power, gender and nationalism, and how these postcards were used as agents of propaganda using feminine archetypes.

Context and an understanding of audience are integral to meme generation. By examining the use of feminine tropes and archetypes in memes as situational understanding, we can see how the power of the narrative has shifted. The female narrator can use gendered assumptions to further her message through the common experience with the messaging of a meme.

Building off of historical analysis, sub-cultural beliefs and motives can be contextualized to gain an understanding of the use of archetypal imagery and messaging present on suffrage postcards and memes. By comparing and contrasting the use of the feminine archetype on suffrage postcards and memes, we can see how the feminine ideal and experience are tools for message making.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 7.2: 109th CAA Annual Conference on Wednesday, February 10, 2021.

American Woman: Societal Perceptions of Femininity as Impacted by Gendered Branding, and the Social Responsibility of Designers

Biased perceptions of femininity have not been taught but rather internalized by individuals from visuals encountered daily.

Mikaela Buck
Graduate Student
Texas State University

In the last 100 years the expectation for American women has been, more often than not, that she is demure, dressed to perfection, gracious in any interaction, with hair perfectly coiffed and makeup flawlessly applied no matter the situation. In the advertising age of the 50s and 60s women were portrayed as subservient and/or a sex-object. While the blatant sexism of that era is not as overtly expressed today and women have expanded this definition for themselves over the last half-century, gender bias and inequality still persist. These biased perceptions of femininity, typically, have not been taught but rather internalized by individuals—male and female—from the visuals encountered on a daily basis. 

Visual input has an effect on human’s innermost being without even a conscious realization as we are psychologically programmed to find meaning in visual forms. Therefore, the message conveyed through the colors, forms, typographic and illustrative representations on packaging and branding have served to deeply engrain in our society the ideology that women are objects and less than men.

Since perceptions of normality are formed during childhood development these biases—showcased through toy packaging and branding—are shaping our society at an early age. While no one aspect can be faulted for socialization, design does reach every nook of our lives and in branding it is about appealing to a target market so that products are sold. That said, can the same outcome be achieved while reinforcing positive thought processes rather than ones which marginalize or disadvantage nondominant groups?

What if we were to utilize design research methods to examine the role of brand and package design in the United States on cultural perceptions of femininity. The goal of this research would be to determine the social responsibility of designers in creating appealing designs for adolescent products in order to create greater access to equal social and economic opportunities for tomorrow’s women.

This research was presented at the Design Incubation Colloquium 6.1: Quinnipiac University on October 5, 2019.