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The 1950s Housewife: Influence On Feminism

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The 1950s have been referred as the bleak era of feminism. After the end of the Second World War, there was a new emphasis on the nuclear family as the basis of the welfare state in Britain. During the War, women were allowed to work outside their homes and took part in the War efforts; however, after the war elapsed, they were encouraged to take the roles of mothers and wives. The government aimed to reestablish the two as the primary occupation for women. [1] By 1985, 75 percent of the adult women were married; more specifically, 84.8 percent of women between 45 and 49 years were married. [2] At the time, married had become even more popular than before the pre-war period.

Furthermore, in the post war era, childcare facilities were closed, and there was a limited aid being advanced to working women. However, the state implemented social reforms, which were aimed at providing family allowances that were meant for subsidizing families. More specifically, the subsidies were aimed at supporting women in their roles as wives and mothers. [3] Despite the numerous efforts targeted at helping women, they were not satisfied by the position they were accorded. Sue Bruely observes and laments that the progressive vision adopted in the New Britain after the war was fundamentally flawed in its conservative view on women. [4] The media: films, radio and women's magazines had a significant role in shaping the society, this include the attitudes of women towards formal employment. The media had a regressive attitude and positively sought to discourage women from combining employment and marriage. The media embarked on discouraging women from pursuing careers and laid emphasis on the woman's domesticity and dependence, and encouraged women to return to their noble duties in the kitchen and nursery. Furthermore, television and radio aired women's programs that were dogmatic, and aimed at reinforcing the woman as a successful housewife.

Despite the tremendous efforts being laid to return women at their noble duty of being a housewife, the 1950s witnessed a massive stride towards attaining parity for women. This included parity on such issues as equal pay for teachers in 1952 and in male and female positions in the civil service in 1954. The achievement can be traced to the various efforts of feminist movements. For instance, Edith Summerskill fought for the rights of women both in parliament and through the conventional non-party pressure groups throughout the 1950s. furthermore, the feminist writers at the time, such as Viola Klein and Alva Myrdal argued that women could juggle both employment and household jobs well. The 1950s has come to be referred to as "welfare feminism." The majority of the feminists' leaders argued that their position was that of reasonable modern feminism, which advocated for sexual diversity and sought to establish the social contribution by women rather than call for impartiality or similarity of the sexes. In the 1950s, feminism was mainly concerned with social responsibility, and aimed to promote the general welfare of the society.

The 1960s fall in the second wave of the feminist movement, and it aimed at putting an end to the social and cultural inequalities between sexes. The achievements made by feminists in the second wave can be traced to the efforts made in the 1950s. The 1950s have seemed like a tranquil moment regarding the traditional notions of the family; however, various trends and events that took place in this period had significant contributions to the liberation of women that gained momentum in the 1960s. In the years following the Second World War, the number of college students grew significantly. However, a significant number of women who had attained college education were married soon after or were married before completing college. In their adopted new roles as housewives, they were soon to be bored and frustrated by the repetitive household jobs and became unsatisfied with their responsibilities as mothers. These women contributed greatly to the feminist movement that took route in the 1960s. Additionally, though traditional wisdom dictated that the responsibility of women was restricted at home, a significant number of women made valuable contribution in supplementing their husband's incomes. The Life magazine reported that women held a third of all the jobs available in the United States in 1956. A significant number of these women enjoyed their professions, sought promotion, and equal pay; however, the few rewards and legal resources that were available for women disappointed them [5] . These discriminatory practices increased the number of women who opted to join the feminist movement. Furthermore, the successes in the civil right movement cases such as the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka in 1954, which outlawed racial segregation in public schools, persuaded women to believe that reforms were indeed possible.

The Lessons the Modern Woman Can Learn From the 1950s Housewife

For many years, women suffered a sense of dissatisfaction; however, each woman struggled with the problem alone [6] . The materials that were published on women emphasized on enlightening women to seek their fulfillment as wives and mothers. Repeatedly, women were subjected to conventional voices and Freudian sophistications, that they should not desire a greater destiny than their own femininity. The published articles emphasized on educating women on catching and keeping a man, breastfeeding, handling toilet training, coping with sibling rivalry, and breastfeeding; how to purchase a dish washer, bake, and to cook gourmet snails. Furthermore, women were taught on looking, dressing, and making their marriage successful by acting in a feminine manner; and on how to keep their husbands youthful and their sons from becoming delinquents. The lessons also emphasized that women should pity rather than envy the irrational, unfeminine, and unhappy women who sought to be poets, psychiatrists, and presidents. Women learnt that a true feminine did not pursue professions, higher education, political rights, and the opportunities sought by the old-fashioned feminists [7] . Therefore, a significant number of the 1950s women devoted their lives from an early age to seeking to find a husband and bearing children.

The end of the 1950s was marked with a massive decline in the number of women attending college while the average marriage age dropped to 20 years. Additionally, by the age of 17 years, a significant number of women were engaged. Many women were unhappy with what was commonly referred to as the problem with no name, or the housewife's syndrome as referred by some doctors; however, women continued to have more babies. More so, college students were engaged in having more babies as opposed to pursuing careers. The women had no career goals, and their aspirations were limited to being married and raising a family; however, they were overly dissatisfied, desperate, and lacked a personality. Women were mere food servers, putter-on of pants, and bed makers. The housewife was unappreciated. The 1950s woman is was a stereotypical woman-in-distress, who is always dependent on her husband for survival. She is also perceived as an inept woman; the woman-driver, the extravagant wife who cannot budget and is the primary cause of the man's downfall. Women were not expected to attend college and most women were married straight after high school and assumed the traditional roles. Women who showed braveness and continued to college were not taught science and mathematics; rather, they were allowed to pursue home economics and cooking. More so, women were not allowed to join in conversations, and men feared learned women due to their tendency to think of their interests and to disagree with the men. Despite the hard and unhappy life of the 1950s women, they have valuable lessons for the modern day woman.

Citing the problems faced by the housewives, the home economist suggested a lack of proper preparation for the housewife; thus, he suggested a more realistic preparation for the housewives, such as high-school classes in home appliances. The home economics class was designed for the female students, and the contents of the course reflected the larger social cultural context in which the home economics was situated in the 1950s. Furthermore, college educators came up with suggestions on increasing the number of discussion groups on home organization and family issues, and on the preparations of women on their adjustment to fit domestic lives and its subsequent roles. These were valuable suggestion for the benefit of both the 1950s woman and the modern woman.

The role of women in the 1950s was a retrospective role in various ways. The society had massive expectations on women's' behavior both at home and in public. Women had certain roles and the society expected them to fulfill the roles without failure. A woman was expected to be an industrious homemaker, and an obedient and caring wife to her husband and family. Home The ideal wife was expected to be restricted at home, and to nurture her family to gain respect from the society. A hard-working wife had the dinner ready by the time her career husband returned home from work, and a wife was only a valuable and respectable if she obeyed her husband, carried out his orders, and agreed with the husband without question. Even in instances where a woman wanted to voice her opinion, her lack of education would restrict her. The modern day society is significantly different from that of the 1950s; however, the roles and responsibilities of the 1950s woman, though burdensome, are valuable to some extent.

The home economics lesson offered to the 1950s women is valuable to the modern-day housewives. The course taught the preparation of meals; however, it taught more than just the fundamentals of food preparation. The class contained other valuable lessons, which included the principles of food buying and food handling. Furthermore, there are valuable lessons in choosing the most cost-effective and healthy boxed meals from the supermarket, this is perceived as a symbol of success in America's capitalism. [8] Furthermore, housewives of the 1950s were taught on buying such household appliances like the refrigerator and microwaves, these were valuable appliances in food handling and preservation. The lessons are structured to change and shape the minds of young American women. They blended the gender roles and technical issues involved in food preparation, and the marketers' interests in asserting a society, which was increasingly influenced by mass consumption agents.

The modern American society possesses similarities with the 1950s society. The society is marked with numerous agents of mass consumption and promotional events that are aimed at promoting mass consumption. Furthermore, the increased cost of living and the advances in technology have necessitated budgeting and an increased need for budgeting. Therefore, the 1950s housewife offers numerous lessons for the modern-day housewife. The modern-day housewives can learn the principles of food buying and food handling, choosing the most cost-effective and healthy boxed meals from the supermarket, and buying such household appliances like the refrigerator and microwaves. These were critical lessons learned by the 1950s housewives, and are of significance to the modern-day housewife.


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