Post-feminist revolution, 1950s housewives carry a certain amount of hip kudos. Now that we have equality (or a facsimile thereof) we don't have to be on the defensive anymore. We can wear a stiff, full skirt, vintage aprons, masses of lipstick, absurd hair and play at having afternoon teas and being as ultra-feminine and retro as we want.
Oh, of course it's all in a kitschy, mocking, ironic, fun sort of way; none of us would dream of exchanging our stimulating, economically independent, exciting, blast-a-minute lives for the domestic drudgery, 24/7 childcare and terminal bordeom a 50's housewife had to endure, would we? I said would we...?
Could it be that some of us secretly wonder if life wasn't a litlle easier in some ways for women back then? Certainly there was all that sexism, subservience and lack of power but then on the flip side there was an absolution from financial responsibility - we could stay home with our children and not feel worthless and boring.
Motherhood was at least socially valued...even
if 1950s housewives didn't get much tangible reward for it. Wasn't
there plenty of time to cook, have fun, do things and develop skills
and accomplishments? It's certainly true those stay-at-home wives had to
do all the housework and childcare. How lucky we are now to be able to
go out and work and still have time to...er, do most of the housework and childcare. Oh I know, they weren't 'stimulated', 'enriched'..they couldn't grow!
I confess,that in my darker days of struggle, I've thought about being a 50's housewife . Were they really Stepford-like, robotic creatures under the economic, social and political thumb? What would a day in the life of a 1950s housewife really be like..? Cue music and fade-out for dream sequence....
(Of course, as in any age, just what sorts of freedoms and privileges you enjoy has a lot to do with economic status but since I want to enjoy myself, I'll opt for a comfortable, middle-class fantasy)
7.30 AM: An alarm rings and I roll over so I can see the sunlight streaking through the cream venetians - it's a fantasy so of course it's a perfect day. I don't get up though, because my 1950s husband (whom I shalll call Mr. X) always brings me a cup of lemon tea in the morning - he's sweet like that.
Mr. X heads off for the bathroom to shower and get ready for work and I call out lazily after him. "Thanks darling. Mmmm...delicious. Oh by the way, would you mind terribly waking up Timmy and Debbie ? I dont want them to be late for school." It took me a while but I have him well trained.
tea I float downstairs in my Hawaiian print housecoat to make pancakes
and pack the kids lunches. The kids are noisy and rambuctious, but I
remain calm and serene and I even keep cool after Mr. X rejects the
pancakes and demands a full cooked breakfast of sausages, bacon and
eggs, ground coffee and a squeezed orange juice. After half an hour or
so of frenetic activity, culminating in me offloading Mr. X and the kids
for 6 or 7 hours, I sit down with a fresh coffee at my pastel pink
breakfast nook and flip through a copy of Good Housekeeping. Maybe later I'll watch a little TV; maybe the Home Show or Queen for a Day...a charming little program (sarcasm alert) where corporate sponsored prizes are given to the woman who can tell the most pathetic hard luck story.
10.30 AM: The phone rings and it's my friend Margo asking me out to play tennis at the club, then lunch with the girls afterward, followed by a spot of shopping. I hesitate - I was going to spend the morning making raspberry jam and pottering amid the rose bushes. However the shopping appeals, so I acquiesce. and after some token dusting of the living-room knick-knacks, I float upstairs to get dressed. I'm so relaxed it's crazy.
After a long hot shower I notice the tap wont turn off properly and it keeps dripping. I make a mental note to call Jerry the plumber when I get back from shopping. Of course, I should really call Bob the plumber, since he's cheaper and more experienced but Jerry is better looking and we have a little harmless, mild flirtation thingey going on between us. Margo put me on to him.
I fling open my wardrobe, which takes up a whole wall and am confronted by a bulging mass of flowery taffeta, chiffon, silk and gingham cotton. I rub my chin - decisions, decisons.
12.45 PM: Tennis went well. It was a close game but naturally I won - it's my fantasy after all. I feel pumped. Plus I think that new Scandinavian tennis coach finally noticed me. I make a mental note to hit on Mr. X to throw some money my way for tennis lessons. I need to sharpen my game. We have a quick shower and I change into my burnt orange suit with the roll collar, mushroom pink beret and matching gloves.
At the mirror I darken my highly stylised, arched eyebrows with a brow pencil, powder my nose and refresh my lipstick. Glancing at Margo brushing her jet black Ava Gardner hair, it strikes me she looks a little artificial and I wonder if I appear the same. Whatever, this is the 50's.
Margo and I decide to walk to the restaurant as it's close by. I notice with a smile that men passing by tip their hat to us. How cute. Helen and Judy are waiting for us and we spend a pleasant hour eating, chatting and gossiping, although I'm a little taken aback by how intolerant the girls are, as their conversation is peppered here and there with racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. I figure it's a sign of their times. Or sheltered lives.
2 PM: After lunch Margo and I hit the shops...and lordy, I recklessly spend two thirds of the housekeeping money on an expensive pair of turqoise gloves, a pink girdle (yes, housewives wore them back then), a yellow polo shirt for Mr. X, yoyo's for the kids and a roll of harlequin print material I thought would make great cushion covers.
The service in the shops is fantastic and before we go home we stop off for a strawberry sundae and a quick browse at the book shop next door. I come out with Look Younger, Live Longer, by Gayelord Hauser. Nothing much has changed in that department, I think to myself.
4.30 PM: Driving home in my 1950 green Buick Roadmaster station wagon with wood panel trim, I turn on the radio and contemplate what Mr X and i should do tonight. Thurston Harris's 's Little Bitty Pretty one fills the car as I go through the options. I could throw on my tan pedal pushers, pop my hair in a pert ponytail and and we could have a barbeque on the patio. No wait on, scrap that...Mr.X doesn't like me to wear pants; he thinks they're unladylike.
So, we could curl up on the Swedish inspired sofa and watch The Colgate Comedy Hour or The Phil Silvers Show.. Or maybe I could get out my hula hupe..now that would be fun. Halfway into the driveway, I switch gear and reverse out. In my reverie, I've forgotten to pick Debbie up at ballet - I'm 15 minutes late, which means I wont get time to lay out Timmy's milk and cookies for him. I feel an out of proportion sense of guilt.
Honey, I'm Home
5.00 PM: When Debbie and I get home I notice Timmy is wearing mouse ears. He's sprawled over a powder blue pouf in the living-room watching Mousketeers...M-I-C....K-E -Y....M-O-U-S-E! Good lord, it's 5 o'clock already and I still haven't got dinner organised. There's barely time to hide my shopping and fix M. X his pre-dinner martini. I know he'd kill me if he knew what I'd spent today.
I race up the stairs, chased by Debbie, who asks me if I've finished her swan costume for ballet and didn't I know she has to have it by tomorrow? Whaat...? I have a moment's panic , then realise I'll probably be out of this fantasy by the morning. Phew!
I stuff the shoppings bags under the bed to sort out later and just have time to powder my nose, squirt some spray on my Grace Kelly-like hair and touch up my Revlon Peach Blossom lips before I hear Mr X's car crunching the driveway. Like a maniac I shoot downstairs and start shakng the cocktail. Shoot - as soon as X walks through the peacock embossed double glass doors, I can see he's had a bad day - he looks stressed and weighed down with responsibility, like he's lugging a camel behind his back..
5.30 PM: "Hi Honey. bad day?" I say sweetly as I shove the cocktail under his nose".
X grunts something incomprehensible and loosens his tie. We kiss perfunctorily. He ruffles Timmy's hair and says "What time is the babsitter coming?"
"Wilikers...sweetpea, don't tell
me you've forgotten about Redkin's retirement dinner tonight? It's
important . Old man Smythe will be there. You haven't even called
the babysitter have you?" Mr X frowns severely, looking at me like I'm
a three year old. For a moment I thought the was going to wag his
finger at me.
"Of course I have!" I say huffily and involuntarily find myself pouting like...yup, a three year old. While X is distracted with the kids I run into the den and flip through the teledex. I find LAST-MINUT SITTERS R'US and dial the number. A saccharine voice informs me someone called "Tammy" will over in an hour and a half. I race upstairs to get dressed then race back again because I realise I have to feed Timmy and Debbie first. I whip up some milk and sandwiches and plonk the kids at the kitchen table.
Back upstairs I flip through my clothes rack and decide on a black silk Dior dress with cutaway V-line back. Rummaging through my Chinese- themed jewellry box, I find a marcusite brooch in the shape of a clipped poodle and pin in on my dress. A quick squirt of Chanel No 5 and I waft downstairs looking like a million dollars. I'm feeling proud of myself - there's nothing to this 50's housewife lurk.
Asparagus hors d'oeuvres and Polite Conversation
7 PM: Redkin's retirement dinner is excrutiating. I spend the evening in a haze, divided between polite chit-chat with stiff matrons and fending off old man Symthe's groping nicotene stained hands, which I am forced to endure because he appears to be Mr. X's boss.I'm amazed at how polite everyone is, except for Smythe, who seems to think he can do whatever he likes.
Throughout the evening I barely exchange two words with X, who is busy flirting with a bevy of nubile secretaries in bulbous floral dresses, though every now and then he shoots me a heavy frown whenever I look like I might be anything less than enthralled with Smythe's company. A waitress who looks like Jayne Mansfield is weaving her way though the throng, offering colourful hors d'oeuvres with little toothpicks sticking out of them. As she passes some of the men snigger lewdly behind her back, including X. Somehow this fantasy is slipping from my control and I can't seem to do a thing about it.
10.30 PM: Mercifully the evening ends and X and I gather our coats and exit. Mr. X's breath reeks of whisky and I politely suggest that I should drive, lest he be breathalysed by the cops. He looks at me like I'm a Martian and we drive home in silence, except for Mickey and Sylvia singing Love is Strange on the radio, which seems appropriate.
A Mild Rebellion
11 PM: While X drives Tammy home, (I offer but he insists on doing it) I wash the dishes and clear the debris that has accumulated in the kitchen. I figure since I'd been such a good girl all evening and he's still a bit tipsy, now might be a good time to ask him about the tennis lessons, so when he gets back....I do.
"Why do I want tennis lessons" he says with a scowl and "Didn't I want a washing machine? Isn't that more important?". I have to admit he has a point. I don't fancy washing the clothes by hand, so I suggest maybe I could get a part time job and use that money for frivolous items like tennis lessons. Well, you'd think I'd aked him if I could sell my kidney. He asks me if I'm casting aspersions on his "ability to provide" and besides a job would be "the ruination of you", though he doesn't explain why. I tactfully question his logic but he says with authority "and that's the end of the matter!" and apparently.. it is.
Time for Bed
11.30 PM: "Now turn out the light..it's time for bed." I'm about to ask him why the heck I have to go to bed when he does but he's already climbing the stairs and mumbling something about the "the man of the house" and "I wear the pants". Gee Whizz. I dutiifully follow, almost against my own will. I could argue but I don't want anymore friction. I just hope he doesn't find the shopping under the bed.
Upstairs, he's already in the bathroom brushing his teeth. Absentmindedly, I pick up X's shirt, which he's carelessly thrown on the floor. My eye is caught by an apricot coloured smudge. What the..? Is that lipstick on his collar? I have a weird sensation of being crushed like an ant under a tractor wheel but a gruff voice from the bathroom overides my ponderings:
"And what's the matter with the shower tap? it wont stop dripping...you're supposed to take care of these things! What do you do all day?"
Gosh...I forgot to ring Jerry. I throw myself on the bed and bury my face in the pillow. With one eye I glance at the bathroom door, just in time to see X come toward me wearing a leer and a striped pyjama top tucked into matching baggy bottoms. I click my Roger Vivier kid leather polka dot stilettos with accented bow together:
There's no place like the 21st Century
There's no place like the 21 st Century