A new photo series is going viral this month for calling out sexism in 1950s advertising—and in America in general.
Visual artist and photographer Eli Rezkallah’s gallery “In a Parallel Universe” takes misogynistic ads from yesteryear and switches the gender roles, making women dominant and turning boys into eye candy. The ad series, which was photographed by Rezkallah and produced by his company Plastik Studios, focuses on ads from Lux detergent, Hardee’s, Van Heusen, and Hoover vacuums, just to name a few. The project features professional photoshoots recreating the original 1950s ads, switching out women with men and vice versa.
As a result, the photos turn the brands’ messages on their heads. Men are submissive, stay-at-home fathers who struggle to open ketchup and become ecstatic at the thought of getting a new vacuum. Women, on the other hand, fondle men in leotards, spank their partners, and valiantly place their feet on severed men’s heads.
Rezkallah, who lives in Beruit, Lebanon, said the idea came from visiting his family in New Jersey. He heard relatives making misogynistic comments about women’s roles in the family, and realized his family’s beliefs mirrored vintage advertisements’ sexist messages.
“Last Thanksgiving, I was visiting my family in New Jersey and I overheard my uncles talk about how women are better off cooking, taking care of the kitchen, and fulfilling ‘their womanly duties,’” Rezkallah explained in a statement sent to the Daily Dot. “Although I know that not all men like my uncles think that way, I was surprised to learn that some still do.”
In Rezkallah’s eyes, the “essence” behind sexist advertising in the 1950s is “still present in the folds of today’s modern social fabric.” So by creating the photo series, he hopes the satirical ads give men “a taste of their own sexist poison.”
“I hope that people who are stuck in stereotypical gender roles imposed by patriarchal societies would be able to visually see the cracks in the limitation that those roles carry through this project,” Rezkallah told the Daily Dot. “‘I’m extremely happy that the message was very well received online and understood by a vast audience.”
This isn’t the first time artists have swapped gender roles in pop culture to make a larger point about sexism in mass media. A YouTube video from 2014 switched genders in popular movie scenes, showcasing how the male gaze quickly becomes uncomfortable—and unrealistic. Meanwhile, #MasculinitySoFragile highlighted how gender roles vastly influence advertising to this day, more often than not upholding toxic masculinity’s values. If anything, “In a Parallel Universe” shows that while the 1950s are over, there’s still a lot of work to do to fix its misconceptions in modern media.