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October 27, 2021

1956 Bell Telephone System Ad

Originally published in Life Magazine on May 14, 1956, this Bell Telephone System advertisement utilizes the ideas of gender essentialism and separate spheres to reinforce common sexist ideals of the 1950s while selling its product.

In the foreground, Bell depicts an overwhelmed father who lacks the nurturing abilities required of a traditional housewife. The essentialist notion that women are naturally better homemakers than men justifies the existence of separate spheres. The idea of separate spheres defines a woman’s domain as the domestic space, while men belong in the corporate world.

Bell’s advertisement highlights this ideal, stating in the subtext that a woman’s office is her kitchen, while her husband works “in town.” The only instance of gender inequality Bell addresses is the absence of a phone in women’s defined workplace. Apparently, the answer to women’s lib is as simple as buying a new phone.


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