The ads tapped into many of the prevailing feminist women's liberation themes of the sixties, seventies, and eighties and tended to depict young glamorous, independent, liberated, slim, and attractive women smiling gleefully while elegantly pinching a long, slender Virginia Slims between their fingers. The tobacco company producing Virginia Slims made no bones about linking their brand to feminist ideas about emancipation, empowerment, independence, and liberation as they developed their niche brand aimed specifically at women. They even came up with a term for their marketing practice - femvertising.
Many of the ads of the sixties and seventies featured anecdotes and staged photos depicting scenes from earlier in the century in the background. These showed women slaving away at household drudgery or being punished for smoking by their husbands or other representatives of the oppressive Western patriarchy. In the foreground, a glamorous fashion model posed smiling next to the slogan, "You've come a long way, baby." The ads equated a woman's right to smoke with other rights women had been denied in the past such as the right to vote and the right to gain employment access to male-dominated professions.
Interestingly enough, some credit Virginia Slims for the growth, acceptance, and success of women's tennis in the 1970s, which led to a spillover effect into the growth and success of other women's sports. Virginia Slims sponsored the Women's Tennis Association from 1971 to 1978 and the Virginia Slims Circuit, which eventually formed the basis of the WTA Tour. As they had in other areas, women began carving out a place for themselves in areas previously dominated almost exclusively by men.
More importantly, Navratilova was an incredible tennis player. To say she dominated the sport from the seventies to the nineties is sheer understatement. She was so good she inspired an entire slew of jock strap jokes that took a swipe at her femininity. The implication was simple - only a man could play with the strength and skill Navratilova demonstrated. Despite snide jokes to the contrary, Navratilova is a woman, and during those decades, she was women's tennis. Her amazing playing helped garner and generate an unprecedented interest in the sport.
Navratilova profited immensely from tennis both in terms of prize money and sponsorships, but her career also helped advance the cause of women's sport and help lay the foundation for future female athletes to make careers for themselves. In many ways, Navratilova was the epitome of the Virginia Slims slogan - living proof of a woman who had indeed "come a long way" and was helping other women go a long way as well.
It was relatively easy to claim female doctors to be as competent as a male doctors. It was quite another thing to claim a female boxer was as powerful and quick as a male boxer. The best female athletes could, on occasion, beat mediocre male opponents in some sports, but when the best women in any given sport were pitted against the best men, there was no contest. The men dominated every single time.
More often than not, the best female athletes struggled even against average males, as demonstrated by the 7-0 trouncing the Australian Women's National Soccer team suffered from the Newcastle Jets, a team made up of 15-year-old boys. It is estimated the top-ranked woman tennis player in the world would land somewhere between 1700 to 2000 on the men's ranking list. This real, physiological difference between men and women drives feminists and other leftists crazy because it is an affront to their deluded philosophies. In addition, it marked an obstacle grounded in reality - one no ideology had any success in hurdling or averting. No matter what feminists claimed about women and men, in sport, women had come a long way, but it's a woman thing - and there are limits.
In the 2000s, Virginia Slims changed its slogan from "It's a woman thing" to "Find your voice." During this time, Martina Navratilova retired from professional tennis in 2006 and, accepting the latest Virginia Slims slogan, wasted little time finding her voice. Like so many other famous athletes, musicians, actors, and celebrities, she dedicated herself to activism. A quick glance at her Twitter scroll reveals she resides firmly within the tank of leftist group think, and models herself as a champion of gay rights and women's rights. The header banner on her Twitter reads "Stand up. Speak up. Fight back" and to her credit, she did just that when she recognized the insanity of the current transgender agenda, which, among other things, allows people born as males to compete as women in women's sporting events.
In a recent op-ed, Navratilova caused quite a stir by writing the following objection to the inclusion of transgender women in women's sports,
"A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required, win everything in sight, earn a small fortune, and then reverse his decision. It's insane. It's cheating. I am happy to address a transgender in whatever form she prefers, but I would not be happy to compete against her. It would not be fair."
LGBT sporting organizations and transgender activists were quick to deal with this rather blunt assessment of reality on Navratilova's part. Naturally, they labelled her comments "transphobic" and "problematic." In addition, her words promulgated "hateful stereotypes" and revealed her to be a bigot. Navratilova's critics even declared the former tennis star had "a false understanding of science and data."
The purpose of this post is not to deride Navratilova or her politics, but to highlight that the former women's tennis champion had, despite her dedication to leftism, done the right thing by opposing transgender women in women's sport. She must have remembered the Virginia Slims ads and how she and other women had "come a long way." She must have also recalled that women's tennis is women's tennis because it is "a woman thing." She must have understood this was now being threatened by, of all things, men, the very obstacle women had struggled against all throughout the twentieth century. So staying true to the marketing ideology of Virginia Slims, Navratilova "found her voice" and objected to this latest push for inclusion. Adhering to the passion of her Twitter banner, she stood up and spoke up.
Sadly, she failed to stick to the third point in her Twitter-banner declaration. When the leftist mob descended upon her, Navratilova did not "fight back" and chose instead to apologize and explain her way out of the controversy she had caused by having the audacity to speak the truth.
And why not? Navratilova stated she would not be happy to play against a transgender woman because she knew it would not be fair, but she knows she does not have to play against a transgender woman because she is retired. She has had her success, has made her money, and has paved the way for other women in sport. What did it matter to her in the end if she threw all current, future, and upcoming Virginia Slims women to the mercy of their testicular sisters?
In my mind, Navratilova's retreat essentially marks the end to the Virginia Slims saga. The eternal struggle against the patriarchy has come full circle. For over a century, women have fought for their rights and liberation and to be on equal footing with men. In 2019, women have finally achieved that for which they have always longed. They will have the opportunity to be viewed as equal to their male counterparts and, as Navratilova correctly recognized, they will lose to them and, ultimately, be oppressed by them.
In confirmation of this, the UN recently chimed in on the transgender agenda by stating it regarded the current testosterone tests used on transgender female athletes to be a human rights violation. This lays the groundwork for the very real possibility of men competing in women's sports without having undergone any hormonal treatments whatsoever. Prepare yourself for the circus spectacle women's sports are likely to become as bonafide men crush women's skulls in MMA fights and finish bicycle races thirty minutes ahead of their bonafide female counterparts. In a decade or two there may not be any women left in women's sports. Such is the beauty of an inclusive world and the logic of leftism.
Women, who have celebrated coming a long way, making it a woman's thing, and finding their voices, must now face the reality of what might very well become the Virginia Slims cigarette brand's latest and last femvertising slogan -
"You've come far enough, baby! Time to head back!"