To the left is an early ad for the electric vibrator featured in the Sunday edition of The New York Tribune on January 5, 1913. It appears at the end of Part III (“The Sunday Magazine”) and right before Part IV (Financial, Real Estate, Music).
According to the testimonials in this ad the vibrator could do everything from helping gain weigh, curing anxiety, helping digestion, to curing dandruff! Yet, at the time the main use of the vibrator was to cure women of “hysteria.” I will not be giving you a history lesson on female hysteria (see further reading at the end). However, it is important to know that hysteria was to many considered a disease, to some considered another way for men to control women, and it ‘affected’ mainly middle and upper class women. Symptoms included “anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasy, sensations of heaviness in the abdomen, lower pelvic edema, and vaginal lubrication.”*
Female hysteria has been a topic of numerous articles and as well as a film in 2011. But what I find interesting about this ad is its public nature and the public nature of female sexuality. The ad featured here stresses the health and beauty value of the invention, the vague, suggestive writing alludes to the other uses:
Can you imagine an ad like this in a newspaper today? I can’t. Not even because of what is being sold but how it is being sold. The vibrator here is being advertised as “Power For You.” In many forms of current media, sexuality is used to exploit, not empower. Even though the ad encourages women to use the vibrator for beauty and health, it seems to also empower women to use the vibrator to ‘cure her own hysteria. ‘ Sounds like sexual empowerment to me!
What do you find interesting about the ad? (I also like the “mail in” offer).
What about the lack of change in the views on female masturbation? Was it taboo then, why is is taboo now?
For some further reading:
History of the Vibrator
Vintage Vibrator Museum
The American Journal of Clinical Medicine Vol. 15, issue 1 1908