Why Are We Romanticizing (Probably) the Worst Era for Women Ever?
I love Mad Men; I do. I think it highlights precisely how deep sexism was embedded in ad agencies, within the home, and within the social spheres of the women, but like many a-great critiques, this point can be (and is) missed. I hope this show never, ever, ever goes off the air (I mean, I love it), but there is no doubt that it contributes to an unhealthy fascination (which is becoming obsessive) with this era.
There are many great things about the 50s, like The Comets (Rock Around the Clock, anyone?); buuut it wasn’t exactly a great time for women. An interesting transition, or regression rather, was occurring. Women were forced back into the home following WW II. Following World War II, women found themselves with a new image, “but the new image this mystique gives to American women is the old image: ‘Occupation: housewife’” (Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 43). This shift from the American woman as growing and changing with American society to being, once more, limited to the walls of her home is, as Betty Friedan describes it, world-shattering (Friedan, 44). American society, such as the male-dominated workplace, adjusted and, too, contributed to her confinement.
So what is with the (new?) romanticization of the time period? Is it connected to the religious resurgence and push for traditional household? Is it part of the backlash against feminism? Is it part of the feminist movement, an, “I can be a housewife in all the traditional senses and be a feminist too!” (which I’m not arguing against, not here at least, though I think this line of thought can be problematic)?
What (finally) prompted me to write on this was my recent attendance to a bridal shower. The theme was 1950s housewife and all of the ladies were appropriately clad. There were 11 bridesmaids (though not all of us were present), but aside from that chunk of youth, the rest were 40-80 year old church folk. On the table was this “Guide to Being a Good Wife,” with the last “rule” circled and highlighted:
“The most important thing to know is that a wife always knows her place.”
If I didn’t know ma’ lil’ punk rock girl and her man to be so well I would have bolted then and there. And I get it, it’s satirical, but my worry is that the 11 or so that made up the “youth” were the only ones that got exactly how fucking ridiculous said rule is. The absurdity of the statement was addressed at the close of the shower (which, by the way, was a blast and chalk full of dirty-joke induced giggles up at the head table), but we were still among women who (arguably) this was lost upon. For them, it was quite possible that a statement such as this was reaffirming to their beliefs.
This issue of “audience” and the relationship with responsibility of the author/comedian/television show/artist/etc/etc are incredibly interesting to me and there is much to be said which won’t be expounded upon in this particular blog post.
What do you think? Is it innocent dress up? And even if it is (and it is) innocent on the part of the planners and participators, should we be held responsible for the (potentially unforeseen) consequences (such as the message to the young children who don’t understand satire and to the older folk who understand the message, but not that it is a satirical critique)?
Outside of the bridal shower and each individual indulgence in recalling this time period, will there be backlash from this romanticization? Are we (re)selling (unintentionally, maybe) a specific kind of femininity and idea of woman?
The typical reaction to these worries of mine go something like, “chill the fuck out; it’s one night of 6-inch-heel, red-lipstick-wearing, apron-donning dancing.” I think it’s a mistake (always) to discount the effects of our actions, even if they are unintended, unintentionally, and seemingly harmless.