The Pin Up Conundrum


As I work at the speed of a tortoise I am still working through and trying to implement many of the recommendations  made by those of you you who were kind enough to fill in my survey in July last year. Last night I was going through it for the nine hundredth time when I saw a comment about my use of vintage pin-ups in my posts and it stopped me in my tracks: for two women stated that they felt uncomfortable looking at them and in certain cases, considered them offensive. Woah…

My initial reaction was oh for heavens sake. And then I thought back to my recent hissy fit about Agent Provocateur and it struck me that maybe, just maybe, I was being something of a vintage hypocrite: on the one hand calling a modern company out on their overt sexualisation of women and on the other helping to perpetuate the myth that women, vintage or otherwise, are sexual objects, by littering my site with saucy ladies.

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Because that is how I have always thought of fifties pin-ups: as saucy ladies, with cute, carry-on style milk-men enjoying their inability to wear enough elastic in their knickers. Saucy sounds inoffensive, not sordid doesn’t it? Saucy says innocent giggly glamour but I’m not sure I have ever thought about it deeply enough to imagine that saucy actually spells sex. But it does. Those sheer negliees fifties pin ups are given to being painted in are very definitely about sex with their shadowy perky breasts and merest hint of nipple.

In my head I have justified this by considering the ladder of the years to be suitable enough distance from the subject matter. Nude portraits are a common feature on Brocantehome and I make no apologies for those: I consider them art and I have spent the ten years I have blogged here, applying the same justification to the pin-ups I feature here too. But perhaps they are not the same thing at all? Perhaps there is a (glaringly obvious) element of the anti-feminist about the work of the likes of Gil Elvgren and Art Frahm that should sit uncomfortably with my own ideology and indeed yours: for in the process of sharing thoughts on life, love and housekeeping I force them upon you too, don’t I?

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The thing is this: pin-ups add a frisson of glamour to an otherwise un-glamorous subject. They reflect, really rather fabulously, the imagery of the era, and offer us an alternative view of the fifties woman to the one in the apron so tirelessly promoted by the Mad Men of the generation. To us, so seduced by the decade, they idealize the other side of the vintage housekeepers coin: if we can look glamorous in an apron in the kitchen, we can look twice as glamorous draped in marabou in the bedroom and losing our stockings in the supermarket. And darn it, if we don’t all want to feel beautiful?

Furthermore, despite someone once calling BrocanteHome “the pink palace” and declaring in a forum, that they could not even begin to imagine that I would ever ruffle my lavender sheets by having something as sordid as sex (!), I am, as you are, a woman. And I think it is important to consider ourselves as sexual beings, to acknowledge that housework isn’t the be all and end all of our lives and that we are in fact whole human beings. So when I have wanted to add that frisson of female humanity to Brocantehome I have used fifties pin-ups to express it in a non-explicit way I had never considered offensive before. And now I have a conundrum on my hands: are the fifties pin-ups we have all become so familiar with a problem here on Brocantehome? Am I a vintage hypocrite?? I simply can’t decide.

So it’s over to you and your thoughts please? I would really appreciate some input on this one: would you prefer BrocanteHome to be a pin-up free zone or do you think a little bit of sauce is necessary fun? Do tell…

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40 comments on “The Pin Up Conundrum

  1. I don’t mind them. I think they’re kinda cute and funny.

  2. Although I think I am quite prudish I take no offence at your pin up pictures. They are representative of a certain period in history and we can’t just erase the way things were back then. It is your blog Alison – be true to yourself and if you feel comfortable with the content then so be it! x

  3. Karen Mary on said:

    Glad you asked! Thanks to my feminist sensibilities, I almost didn’t stick around because of these pics when I first visited. No matter the era, they underline that women are first and foremost about sexual appeal, that no matter what else they may be doing, this is what we want from them. I love your site, but I’d love it more without the vintage porn. Yes, we all want to feel beautiful. Guess it depends on your definition though. I find women digging in the garden, nursing babies, kneading bread, heading to the office or library—in wellies, dresses, aprons, jeans and suits—beautiful. No need for maribou.

  4. Laura_Elsewhere on said:

    It’s a really tricky one, isn’t it?

    I would hate anything to be ‘banned’ from here. But… I can see very clearly that these pin-up images, Dita von Teese and the burlesque and retro craze in the media are not the pretty and fun thing they appear to be.

    I know teachers and nurses who report a dramatic increase in sexual innuendo comments and even physical contact such as having their bum pinched or slapped – harmless enough, you might think, but think about it… do you really think it’s right? Proper? Appropriate? Respectful?

    How would you feel if it went from a pinch on the bum, to a grope of the breast? Is that right for your workplace, or perhaps when you are out shopping, waiting at the school-gates?

    Would it be right for your doctor to pinch your bum during a consultation? If not, then how can it be so harmless?

    the problem is not with enjoying vintage and retro home-making, housekeeping, artwork and style… the problem is that the media have skewed this into making us less strong than we were 10 years ago, I feel – and arguably less strong and respected than our mothers or grandmothers were back in the 40s and 50s.

    My mother, at grammar school in the 1950s, doesn’t remember anyone ever having problems with comments or unwanted attentions on the school-bus or around town. I didn’t take the bus to secondary in the 1980s, but I remember the odd comment, things shouted by passing men as we walked to school or went for lunch. My nieces, who finished secondary within the last five years, say it was normal for men to shout things at them, offer them cash for ‘services’, and all their friends had the same. (This was in a far ‘nicer’ neighbourhood than my schooldays!) they say you never sat upstairs on the bus because you would get grabbed by some guy or by the older boys.

    I think because of the increase in girls and women being viewed primarily as SEXUAL and only after that as a person, we need to be very very wary of how we use images which say “nurse = sexy and playful” and so on.

    I think the idea that taking one’s clothes off for money is empowering is probably a bit of wishful thinking by marketing men, who must be delighted with the whole burlesque thing. How is it empowering? Nobody has ever been able to explain it to me. They say things like “I feel empowered by doing it!” but they don’t explain in what way they feel empowered.

    I feel empowered by being able to walk safely around my town without being shouted at, being able to get a bus without being groped, being able to walk home after 4pm in winter in the dark without fearing sexual assault… how have I achieved all these empowering things? Easy – I turned 45 and look it 🙂 I am beautiful, and I know it, my fiancé knows it, my nieces know it, my friends know it – but luckily for me, society no longer classes me as sexually-attractive, so I can now feel ‘safe’.

    But if I were trying to save lives in A&E on a Saturday night, I would not appreciate being groped by a drunk who thinks all nurses are sex-bombs who are gagging for it.

    And if I were in A&E with one of my nieces in serious illness, then I would be really angry to see a nurse being delayed by that…

    And as for a teacher I know who now insists on a male teacher sitting with her in the busy, packed school-hall on parents’ night because of the comments from fathers trying to chat her up, and mothers telling her to her face she is a slag… she dresses nicely but not inappropriately; she just can’t work out where it’s come from, but it’s the last decade only.

    So, in all, I think don’t ban pin-ups… but when you use them, think really hard about whether there is another image that shows us women as being complete, rounded wonderful individuals…. we are sexy, yes, but many of the pin-ups show us as only-primarily-and-above-anything-else-sexy, which is far more limiting and depressing and confining than not seeing the sexy side of us!

    How about looking out the pin-up images that show us in situations which ARE about sex? there are plenty showing a woman in bed, after all – but avoid the ones showing women who are working or in public as being sexual objects above all else.

    • I do not really care for them. I don’t mind a little silliness, but the gals are like Barbies, and about as vacuous looking. I actually have not been visiting your site as much since they have become a mainstay. I do not believe that it has anything to do with prudishness at all. While the graphic art is nicely done, and the women are lovely, I would be embarrassed for my sons to see women portrayed this way. Especially after everything we have talked about in regards to how women are portrayed, and routinely have been portrayed, in the media. I love a lot of other things about your site, and I used to get eye candy when I could get time to check in. But, no, not so much anymore.

  5. I’m a big, big fan of the pin-up. She exemplifies an era I would happily live in and damn the sexism. I’m especially partial to the work of Duane Bryers and his buxom redhead, Hilda. How anyone could be offended by the country girl with her healthy figure and love of the outdoors is beyond me. I think in some ways today’s attitude towards women is not only more biased, but also violent.The attitude many young men have towards women is shocking. Talk about objectifying. And young women don’t help themselves with their own behaviour either. The checks and balances, taboos and guides for behaviour society used to have seem to have all but disappeared. The vintage pin up is like a church outing by comparison. I think the number of women offended by the imagery you use are in the minority.and you can’t please everyone. Its your site Alison. You administer it as you see fit. Going all pc on it negates who you are as a person. When I think of Brocante, you immediately come to mind and although we have never met, I feel I know you as a person, at least a little, through Brocante Home. It would be a shame to change that.

  6. I don’t mind them but then again I don’t mind the sexuality in general. I think it’s natural and shouldn’t be taboo. Then again I don’t think pin-ups are glamorous. They’re overtly sexual. When I think of glamor I think of women in gloves and nice dresses, who obviously take care of themselves. I would prefer a mix of pictures to fit your theme. If you’re not talking about the bedroom then maybe leave the pin-ups behind. However it’s still your blog and I’ll love it either way.

  7. Alexa McCabe on said:

    I have no problem with it 🙂 not offended at all !!! I love them 🙂 they make me laugh at how silly they are sometimes!! I certinaly don’t find them to be ” vintage porn”!! It’s up to us as a society to let people know what is ok and what isn’t and I don’t think a Pin Up is the problem. Do what you want with your site 🙂

  8. chrissie on said:

    Would never have entered my head to feel offended so surprised when you mentioned it in all honesty. I am over 60 and was wolf whistled by builders on my walk to school clad in a panama hat long brown skirt and yellow sash ! Often a brown mac and knee socks ! I was then 14 and a very young girl then compared to a girl of that age now. It was commonplace. I have survived. Get a life folks !

  9. M J Dick on said:

    Oh please, come on, they are cheeky pretty little snapshots of 50’s women who never really existed and are no threat or role model to real people, for goodness sake enjoy them for what they are instead of constructing an essay on the dangers of the depiction of women as sex objects, lighten up!

  10. This really made me think, and I’m still working out how I feel about it, to be honest. I don;t mind pictures of partially dressed women, but don’t like the saucy, Benny Hill/Carry-On esque type pictures. For instance on this page I’m not keen on the first two, but really like the third, of the woman sitting on the bed. So it’s not the nudity/semi nudity I don’t like, but more the context.

    Having said all that, I have been reading Brocante Home almost since the beginning and it has never occurred to me to mind before. You should carry on doing what you want, with your site, and I’ll carry on reading 🙂

  11. Laura_Elsewhere on said:

    It’s really interesting reading all the comments. It seems that some of us who are not hugely in favour, or actively against, are bothered by the *context* specifically, rather than the sexiness – several of us have commented about that.

    so maybe it’s about the positive idea of we women being beautiful all the time, everywhere, in many ways – rather than only looking sexy all the time in every location.

    After all, ‘sexy’ is only one way to be beautiful… and I’m very happy to be sexy when I am with my man – but I don’t want to be sexy when I’m at work, or to my elderly parents, or to my niece’s boyfriends, etc., etc…

  12. Heather F on said:

    I’ve never really understood the allure of pin-ups. I especially don’t get it when I see a girl with a pin-up tattoo. Are you attracted to that girl or do you want to be that girl or do you think you’ll turn a guy on because you have a bosomy girl in lingerie with her rear sticking out tattooed on your arm? That being said, I’m not offended by them. It’s your blog. Do what you want.

  13. As a long-time reader, I was attracted to the site by the variety. I was tired, as a pretty overtly sexual person myself, of seeing vintage housework only being done by domestic servants. Hello? I don’t have servants. (But I love them. Bring on the Downton Abbey!)

    I don’t have a problem with pin-ups in general, and I’m glad they’re actually coming back into style.

    I totally understand that they present a sexualized view of women. I have never, in my life, been reduced to my sexuality, and believe me, again, I’m a really sexual person. No man who knows me would ever reduce me to my bra size. I do housework. Sometimes I do it naked. Mostly not. Let’s be practical–sometimes!

    And don’t get me wrong. I’m a big-time feminist. Again, no man who meets me is ever going to reduce me to what’s filling my bra (even if he’s spending time wondering about it).

    Ultimately, Alison, it’s your website. If someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, they can certainly go elsewhere. There’s a plethora of housekeeping, homemaking, and sites celebrating every variety of wifely art. I know, I’ve been to and subscribe to many.

    Keep up the good work. Even Jesus had haters.

  14. YOU KNOW WHAT?? BY GOLLY……………WE ARE ALL WOMEN 1ST & FOREMOST!!!!!!!!!!!! NOT HUCHY MAMA’S………..NOT ADULTERS……….NOT JUST HOMEMAKERS………..NOT JUST WIVES & MOTHERS & GRANDMOTHERS!!!!!!! WE ARE ALL BEAUTIFUL, SEXY, VALUPUOUS, GORGEOUS WOMEN!! IT IS SO EASY TO GET LOST IN OUR ””HOMEMAKING””, THAT WE FORGET THIS, SO EASILY. THEN WE START TO FEEL LOST , DEPRESSED , FORGOTTEN & FORLORN!! WE START TO WONDER WHY OUR “””””HUSBANDS”””” WHOM WE SERVE SO FAITHFULLY START TO “”””””WANDER?????????”””””” WELL, WHEN WE LET OURSELVES FORGET WE ARE WOMEN, REAL FLESH & BLOOD WOMEN & LET OURSELVES PHYSICALLY, MENTALLY & SPIRITUALLY GO ………..WHAT IN THE WORLD DO WE EXPECT?? I THINK BROCANTE HOME DOES A ””””””’FANTASTICALL, WONDERFUL”””””’ JOB IN TRYING TO GET US TO “””””””””””WAKE UP”””””'”” & REMEMBER THAT YES!!!!!! WE ARE TO MEET OUR HOUSEHOLD NEEDS, WANTS & OBLIGATIONS!! BUT, I FOR ONE NEED SOMEONE TO HELP MOTIVATE ME TO REMEMBER THAT “”””””””””GOD, HIMSELF””””””””””” MADE ME “”””A WOMAN””””, NOT A WORKHORSE, A MULE OR SOMEBODYS’ SECOND CHOICE. I AM, ONCE AGAIN, A VIBRANT, GORGEOUS, BEAUTIFUL WOMAN, CREATION OF GOD ALMIGHTY, THAT HE WANTS ME HAPPY, WELL DRESSED WOMANLY & GLAD TO BE SEXY, INTELLIGIENT & ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HELPING ME TO REMEMBER THIS……………MAY YOU CONTINUE ON WITH YOUR GREAT BIG WONDERFUL WORK IN THIS AREA…………I FOR ONE NEED YOU, & I AM NOT AFRAID TO SAY , I NEED YOU VERY BADLY………..GOD BLESS YOU ALL, AS YOU CONTINUE IN A WORK THAT WOMAN NEEDS TODAY……………….THANK YOU, MUCH LOVE & GOD BLESS………….BRING IT ON…………I FOR ONE WILL BE WATCHING, WAITING & HOPEFULLY BECOMING & BEING THE WOMAN THAT GOD MEANT FOR ME TO BE……………VIBRANT……….BEAUTIFUL………….& VIVACIOUS!!!!!!!!!!!!!! THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. I think the pin-ups are cute. Although the one on this page with the lady whose panties are down by her ankles as the wind blows up her skirt is ugly in it’s execution with all the contents of her purse spewing out combined with the illogic of panties falling off as the wind blows her skirt up by her hips. And the colors are awful, too.

    Oh, and count me in as another Hilda fan. She is just so darn cute.

    I love all kinds of illustrations from the mid-20th-century, especially the classic aproned housewife. So I won’t be miffed if you decide to stop posting pin-ups, but it is your blog and I don’t think you should be pressured one way or the other.

  16. Imogen on said:

    I never took them too seriously but have never thought about it before. I Had a good think and as I’m sure that the majority of your readers are women then I’d thought they could have a giggle at it and view them with the humour and irony I’m sure they would be intended to be viewed with.

  17. prairiecactus on said:

    At least your pin-ups are not the classic Vargas of years past.
    I actually did a search of vintage pin-ups and found a huge selection of different artist who drew and painted this type of art, and it is art. Many were certainly provocative and some lewd. I also found so many that were just fun, tasteful, glimpses of what might have been considered a little risque at one time, a little teasing, a bit daring….but not close to porn.
    I do think some of the art you display is a bit over the top…but really most of it is absolutely gorgeous art.
    We all try to be aware of the sensibilities of others, and maybe more so today in such a p.c. world, but ultimately, this is YOUR blog.
    I have never considered not reading or enjoying your site because of the art work you have displayed.
    I shared this with my daughters and was surprised by their take on this subject…they are in their 30’s and felt annoyed by the way women were depicted in some of the work. They felt it cheapened women in general and some how showed a lack of respect for the females.
    My oldest, a young mother, said she would be upset if she found her husband looking at these pin-ups.
    I am sure you will find a happy medium that will satisfy all your readers in this situation. Your own heart will guide you,

  18. I never thought of the pictures as anything other than a bit of fun.I don’t find them in the least offensive.

  19. Maybe I’m naive, but sexuality has been a part of our psyche since the dawn of existence and I’m happy to see it embraced and quote unquote used as empowerment. There is plenty of power in making a man drop his jaw and descend into a primal state, drooling like an idiot. Like another commenter mentioned, it’s natural and kind of fun in a safe country like ours. Certainly I don’t see it reinforcing anything that hasn’t been buttressed, flaunted, covertly and overtly slammed into our faces these past couple decades.

    Also, this art is, like you said, a fabulous glimpse into the mind of an era and I’m so glad that it exists. Think about what these images said about the society as a whole rather than the boxing in of a particular sex to a role.

  20. The pin-ups aren’t my “thing” and some of them make me feel a bit squeamish, but I also love the pretty-ness and the vintage retro appeal of some of them. In spite of that, it’s never sent me running from your blog. Regardless of how your readers feel, I think you should be “you”. If you love them, if that’s part of what makes you smile, go for it. What turns some away will be a magnet to others, and you and your blog will be authentic.

    • Laura_Elsewhere on said:

      Ah now this is where I bow out.

      Sorry, everyone, especially sorry to Alison…

      the discussion thus far was about people’s personal opinions.

      Sadly, I was awaiting this point – the point where Valerie and Chrissie tell me that my views are not valid, and that their views are more important and more correct than mine.

      They are right and it is I who is wrong and I need to “lighten up”

      Sorry – I’ve been raped and I didn’t find it “lightened” me up any. I didn’t find it empowering to be told I wanted it “like all women do”.

      And I don’t find it heartening for women to tell other women not to give their opinions when asked.

      So… I’m offski.

      Alison, I shall email when I feel less emotional – bless you for everything you’ve given me in the last decade. It’s been really good… but I draw the line at being told that my concerns about increasing sexual assaults, rapes, objectification and sexual discrimination against women in our society over the last decade are something that I should “lighten up” about.

      I obviously have no sense of humour. I still don’t see what is wrong with keeping the sexy images to situations which are sexy situations, rather than imposing sexiness into every aspect of life, in public as well as private.

      Obviously I am a humourless prude.

  21. prairiecactus on said:

    I ask my husband what he thought of today’s pin-ups…he gave his very sensible opinion, they are seductive, meant to be. If she stays true to her own values and her own comfort zone then it’ll all work out.

  22. savannah120627 on said:

    Bottom line, your blog. Enjoy yourself and explore all the art forms you enjoy. I think we tend to overthink… Then over attack, over defend, over…. Just enjoy Brocante to the max and we will also.

  23. Valerie on said:

    I did think ‘oh for heaven’s sake’ and consider it strange that people feel uncomfortable with pin ups. I love them, they’re fun – I thought those prudish ideas went out in the 50’s! I’m very very bored with people being offended with everything. Lighten up!

  24. Jane Grayson on said:

    A bit of fun from a bygone era. Keep them please!

  25. Hmmm… another Valerie commented who isn’t me…

    so I just have to chime in here to clarify my former comment. I would NEVER say someone else’s opinions don’t count or they need to lighten up. That is not my viewpoint at all. I think other people’s opinions are their own – you’re absolutely free to have them and I support you having them. I’m not going to tell you not to feel how you feel.

    I’m just saying that Alison’s blog is her blog – her place to be herself. And if she starts editing it to please a small percentage of her readers then it’s not her own anymore. I’m sorry I don’t mean to say that small percentage of readers don’t count, it’s just that as a blogger, if you try to build your blog to please everyone it’s impossible. And it takes away the joy of blogging as a personal expression. However, if someone points out something (like the pinups) that gets her thinking and changes her viewpoint and she decides to stop with the pinups, then that’s perfectly understandable.

    I never meant my statement as a putdown or shut up to people who felt offended, more as a statement to Alison that she needs to be genuine and authentic to herself and not build her blog to please 100% of the people. I really hope that what I said does not offend anyone. I’m never drawn into these internet food fights, but I guess I feel a little hurt that someone misunderstood my original comment, and thus me.

    • chrissie on said:

      Same here Valerie, could not have put it as eloquently as you but much in agreement.

  26. I love them,not offended at all,x

  27. Jeanette on said:

    I think everyone forgot that Alison ASKED our opinion. This doesn’t mean we cut each other down to ” lighten up” or ” how could you”. First and foremost we are a blogging family and as a family we must always consider each other. Now- dear mamma Alison -my thoughts that you so kindly asked about.
    I don’t mind some pin-ups within context. We are women, we have sex, but I also have children( a 5 year old son included) that I have to sometimes hide the screen from. “Mommy I see her—–!” Even my 13 year old(who knows how things are done and work) feels very uncomfortable. “She is very immodest, isn’t she mamma?” Yes I know the blog is not meant for children- but considering that I am raising 4 future housekeepers, I love sharing the articles with my daughters.
    I love the blog, I will not stop reading it. I guess since we as a society are over-sexed anyways, I always love a soothe calming balm of domesticity. Thank for asking Alison!

  28. ElaineP on said:

    Ummm .. I think your pinups are lovely. As to the rest of it – we are responsible for educating the world as to what is appropriate or not. Alternatively we go down the route of ‘wearing short skirts is like asking for rape’. Worth a quick look at http://www.everydaysexism.com/

    The fact that women are still paid less than men offends me more than dropped knickers ……

  29. I am a 40-something career woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister and friend. I find no reason to be remotely insulted, intimidated, or diminished by the pin-ups. It never crossed my mind. I would like to see them continue, they are a part of the character of your lovely blog. I would not like to see you curb the spirit you share with us, as your spirit is what brings us back through the years.

  30. Kathy Richards on said:

    Hi Alison firstly thank you for all your hard word on Brocante Home & for sharing it with your followers. Love your site in general – you are a fabulous woman and your writing truly inspiring. I love the retro pin-ups and, even though I respect not everyone shares my views, ultimately it is your site and you don’t force anyone to read it.

  31. Love ’em. They make me smile! They’re cute and fun. Sexy? Yes. Offensive? Not at all. Not to me anyway. And like all art, it is in the eye of the beholder. So my vote is for “please, please don’t take away the pin-ups!” <3

  32. I think they are pretty, totally in style with this blog, and I’ve often wondered where you found them. But at the same time I admit they kind of make me feel bad because it’s a reminder that my husband does not see me this way, and I wish he did.

  33. Suzanne Harris on said:

    I love the pinup art. It’s charming and extremely feminine.

  34. Marilu on said:

    I think they are fun and cute. Keep them on!

  35. Wendy on said:

    I like them. They are an extention of who, what, when, why and how.
    They are part of our history in art and life. Just like we can’t exclude Picasso as an artist(who would do that?), we shouldn’t exclude these as an art form.