Just like we (second-generation) feminists claimed back in the 1970s, changing the status of women would change everything, because women were everywhere…
In reality… by 1960 there were as many women working [outside the home] as there had been at the peak of World War II, and the vast majority of them were married… More than 30% of American wives were holding down jobs, including almost 40% of wives with school-aged children.
Yet to look at the way Americans portrayed themselves on television, in newspapers, and in magazines, you’d have thought that married women who worked were limited to a handful of elementary school teachers and the unlucky wives of sharecroppers and drunkards…
If all the working women were invisible, it was in part because of the jobs most of them were doing. They weren’t sitting… in the network news bureaus. They were office workers — receptionists or bookkeepers, often part-time. They stood behind cash registers in stores, cleaned offices or homes. If they were professionals, they held — with relatively few exceptions — low-paying positions that had long been defined as particularly suited to women, such as teacher, nurse, or librarian. The nation’s ability to direct most of its college-trained women into the single career of teaching was the foundation upon which the national public school system was built and a major reason American tax rates were kept low. The average salary of a female teacher was $4,689 at a time when the government was reporting the average starting salary for a male liberal-arts graduate fresh out of college was $5,400. (Women graduates’ salaries were significantly lower, probably in part because so many of them were going into teaching.)
Another reason the nation ignored the fact that so many housewives had outside jobs was that working women tended not to be well-represented among upper-income families. The male politicians, business executives, editors & scripwriters who set the tone for public discussion usually felt that wives not working was simply better.
So many political threads to unpick in just a few short paragraphs! — from the way one class’s disenfranchisement [underpaid women teachers] supports a larger social benefit [widespread public literacy], to the media’s role in enforcing social norms, always at the service of the top economic earners…
I was born at the end of 1955, and by the time I was in high school, I was aware that having been born just a few years earlier or later would’ve made a huge difference in the way I lived my life. One of my smartest high school teachers was a nun with a PhD from Fordham — she was grateful to be teaching chemistry to tenth-graders because, she told us, until she ‘found her vocation’, her father was pressuring her to quit school at 14 and start bringing home a salary. She was quite serious about her religious calling (one of a small handful of the Christians I’ve met who actually try to live according to the precepts of that Christ guy), but she also wanted us teenage Catholic girls to know how privileged we were. On the other hand, tenth grade was IIRC when they gave us some nationally-rated Vocational Guidance test, many pages of timed multiple-choice questions, where my top ranking at around 65%, was for “Librarian [female]”… but when I looked at “Librarian [male]” my ranking shot up in the high 80s. Five years earlier, I probably wouldn’t have thought to compare, and five years later, I suspect the guiding authorities were recalibrating that year’s test package to eliminate [the abilty for testees to check] gender bias.
I started teaching in 1965 for $4400.00 per year. It was enough to pay for my rent, a new car and other assorted sundries. The fourth week of every month, I ate beans and rice to get through the month. Strangely enough, I never thought to complain about it. That is just the way it was.
Yes, ma’am. It was a fun time, all right.
There is a reason why I don’t like to watch Mad Men and that reason is that their portrayal is just too good. I always walk away from it all depressed.
I don’t know if the book will mention it or not but I found that the road to liberation may be never-ending. It represents work that is never finished. It took decades for me to come to two conclusions:
1. I would rather die than allow myself to be physically dominated again and I would rather kill than die. So if you’re going to punch me, you’d better kill me.
2. I don’t have to have permission to try to accomplish something.
When I settled those two things in my mind, the world started treating me better. Hoocudanode?
I was born a year before you, and the AP math teacher at my school, who taught until she was forced out at the mandatory retirement age of 65, was the product of a Midwestern liberal-arts school like Grinnell. She taught all of the higher algebra and calculus classes and would help the chemistry and physics teachers when they encountered a rough patch. And she spoke all of the foreign languages taught at the school (Latin, Spanish, French and German) as well as Greek and Italian. When a world-lit class was started my senior year, the teacher (who was pretty sharp herself) consulted with the math teacher because she’d read Song of Roland in the original French. She was simply brilliant amazing, and I often wonder what opportunities would have been available to her had she been born a generation later.
Yes, the Army wasn’t known for overpaying the lower-level guys.
BTW Stuck, you’re a brave one to join this group. How do you know we won’t turn into a latter-day coven devoted to the doctrine of SCUM?
@stuckinred: Wow. Did you have any benefits other than pay? How did you live on that? We had medical and teacher retirement that we paid into, but nothing was covered for us. Since I am in Texas, there never were union benefits or tenure. It was always year to year.
Damned at Random
I’m lurking. My copy still hasn’t arrived.
@Damned at Random:
It’s okay. The first section, the one for tonight, concentrated on How Things Were. If you know how they were, you can just join in. If you’re a sweet young thing, you may have to read that section to catch up.
Back to my mantra: The 50s sucked, the 50s sucked, the 50s sucked.
@stuckinred: And I’m guessing that, just like Sister Elizabeth, you got(not very appetizing) meals, a sheltered (if barren) place to sleep, all the cameraderie you could stand (even more, sometimes), and the chance to petition for further education for “free“!
Not to mention all those Intangible Benefits of knowing that your every deed was in service to a larger, better cause than your own meagre ambitions!
@Josie: Three hots and a cot. Once I got to Korea the money went further but this is NOT about me or my kind! :)
@Linda Featheringill: I have a graduate degree in Adult Education and I took my lumps for a number of years in that program! Once a woman brought her 12 year old son to a class and after he asked “why were the men so quiet”!
Are you sure, AL, you want to keep the post heading you have (“When It Changed”)? It took me a while to figure out that the discussion is about a Gail Collins book and not a Joanna Russ story.
@Josh: Me too!
Heck, if it were possible for me to hunt down & kill people through this particular internet portal, be assured that some of the Pustulent Trolls would’ve disappeared a looooong time ago! :)
“IF a man can resist the influences of his townsfolk — if she can cut free from the tyranny of neighborhood gossip — the world has no terror for them; there is no second inquistion.”
I first read that as a header to a story by Joanna Russ (RIP). Russ was, and is, one of my feminist idols; I’m glad that “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” (http://www.amazon.com/Suppress-Womens-Writing-Joanna-Russ/dp/0292724454/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1307579972&sr=8-2) is still in print to warp younger women’s minds, and just wish “Magical Mommas, Trembling Sisters, Puritans & Perverts” were more widely available!
First, let me say thanks Anne Laurie et al. for recommending this book. I’m zooming through it because it’s so readable. I also intend to have my 14-year-old daughter read at least the first section so she has some sense of how things used to be. She’s a budding feminist but really has no sense of the history of the women’s movement.
I’m a bit younger (b. 1962) than many of the commenters here. I don’t ever remember feeling like my opportunities in education/career/lifestyle were limited. My mother could probably tell some interesting stories though. I imagine a few of the narratives in this first section would sound pretty familiar to her.
What’s odd to me is that, even though my mother broadly supported the goals of the feminist movement, should would NEVER call herself a feminist. She benefited (and knew she did) from the women’s movement but actually calling herself a feminist would have put her on the team with THOSE (liberal) women.
I must admit to feeling a little wistful when I see someone referred to as a second-generation soldier for equality. Sigh.
Still, progress is being made. My mother endured things that my daughter never knew. And if I had raised my mother, she would not have put up with so much shit, either.
@Josh: Freudian slip (see comment above). I’ll change the header later, for consistency — the only way I know to do it involves pulling the post down temporarily.
My personal anecdote:
High school class of 1972. Very small private coed liberally-oriented school (same one Atrios later graduated from, I found out a few years ago!) National merit semi-finalist (only girl in my class), good grades, and my headmistress advises me to go to……
junior college, like all the other nice girls.
I went to Vassar instead.
Although in my own mind (and I think my parents’ minds) there was never any question that I would go to a good college and strive for a high-paying career, looking back, I realize that even in 1972, I was still on the cusp of what the expectations were for girls graduating from high school. I was kind of shocked that the headmistress would think I should go to a junior college because I was a girl, when boys in my class were going to Dartmouth, Yale and Harvard.
@Linda Featheringill: My mother married my old man and quit the University of Illinois. They got divorced and she raised my brother and sister by working her ass off in various secretarial jobs in LA. She lived feminism but she could have achieved so much more.
To be honest about it, there were lots and lots of times when we weren’t dignified or refined or decent or completely sober or completely sane. I can see why some women of that generation wouldn’t want to be associated with us.
But standing up and shouting back feels so good. Rebellion is manna for the soul.
Janet in Virginia
I am amused by the irony of reading about all the jobs and roles women were not at all suitable for and couldn’t possibly handle, and what we are learning now (finally) that men should not be allowed to run the world or even have a Blackberry, for crying out loud. Sorry to be strident (and I love/like many men) but for heaven’s sake, what is it about men with power and their sex needs? Have they no self-control? Do they ever sit in a meeting that’s running long and worry about getting to day care or school in time to get the children? Or what to fix for dinner? I’m glad I was born in 1953 and that trailblazers like my mom made it possible for me to work full-time and raise 3 children and not ever feel like a bad mom. Thank you mom.
Yes, she did.
Freedom truly isn’t free. Sometimes the price is overwork and doing without things.
Is she still with us?
@Linda Featheringill: Nope, lost her 4 years ago. After a really shitty relationship with her for years I did my level best to make things right. My sis says I did so I have that going for me.
If she knew that you loved her, then it’s all right.
@Linda Featheringill: I’m counting on that.
My father was not too keen on the idea of my attending college; he would have preferred me starting to work right after high school. (I graduated HS in 1969.)
For most of my college years I hung out with a group of bio pre-meds. It was a group of 6 or 7 guys and one other women besides myself (I forget her name, let’s call her Miriam). Senior year (1973) I was the sounding board/rant hearer for everyone’s frustration waiting to hear which med school they were accepted by. One day a friend from one of my other hang-out groups stopped by where the pre-meds hung out and saw that the Miriam looked sad. He asked her what was wrong. She replied that she hadn’t been accepted my any med school yet. (She really, really wanted to be a doctor.) The guy looks at her and says, “But Miriam, nice Jewish girls become teachers, get married and have babies. They don’t become doctors.” I wanted to kill him and I hustled him out of the office, telling him that I’d just gotten her calmed down after she called home and found out there were no letters again that day. Her parents and all her relatives were telling her that same thing — nice Jewish girls become teachers, get married and have babies. That’s 1972…
(I always kind of knew I wasn’t getting married and that college was my way to get into the work world.)
I read a column several years ago which basically discussed how women were held to impossible standards when it came to housework. Prior to TV advertising in the 50s houses were not pristine, you could not eat off the kitchen floor. After the war, and when women were once again relegated to “homemakers” and before they got back into the workforce in droves they had to keep them occupied. With all the new fangled appliances (washers, dryers etc.,) the housework got easier, so they had time on their hands, which was generally spent watching soap operas. In order to keep women occupied and from getting into mischief the advertising execs decided to promote impossibly high standards for a home’s cleanliness. There could not be a speck of dust, not a smigdin of dirt anywhere, the laundry had to be spotless and wrinkle free, the place had to look like something out of a magazine 24/7.
Then women started going into the workforce in droves, due to economic circumstances a man could no longer support the average family, rather than work for “pin money” the woman was working to put food on the table, just like the man. YET the impossibly high standards required by the advertisers remained. Women felt that if their house was not “picture perfect” they were a failure, because they imagined that their neighbor’s house was so. (Whereas the reality is that their neighbor’s house is just as much a disaster as theirs is, they only THINK it is better cause whenever they go over there for a dinner or something the event was planned and the hostess has had the chance to clean up)
Have you noticed ads recently? Have you EVER seen an ad for the Swiffer Sweeper where a man is using it? Nope. Have you ever seen an ad for the Mr. Clean power eraser where a man is using it? Nope. Ads usually follow this theme. Man and child (male or female) make a mess, Female chuckles to herself and then cleans it up.
Despite the fact that women are not only an equal wage earner in the household but are sometimes a major breadwinner they are STILL expected to do the majority of the “home making”. Nothing has changed. Nothing.
1983: The dean of my college told me that women went to college “to meet a better class of men.” 1983 This is so much closer than people I talk to seem to think.
49 boomer here with 2 older sisters. Our parents told all of us that we could do anything we wanted. Mom stood up at various times for all of us to get things we were told we couldn’t have due to age or sex. Both sisters went to state colleges but here in CA we had some pretty good schools in the system. Towards the end of her life older sister taught at USC.
Growing up in that household always made me wonder why the common wisdom was that women could not do the same things as men. It was great to find out that they could. And that sometimes they can do them better.
@Linda Featheringill: My mother back then was as feisty as they come, and it always seemed that feminism should have been a natural fit for her. With her it was pure culture war stuff. To coin stuckinred’s phrase, she lived feminism but the label was anathema.
Well . . . maybe that hasn’t changed.
I’ve known lots of women who left their man because they both went out and worked all day and then she worked in the house another 3 or so hours while he sat on his ass.
No. In order to sell products and make money ad execs blah blah blah. I don’t believe there was a sekret club that valued *anything* over making money.
Which isn’t to say it wouldn’t be loverly if ads showed men doing domestic stuff. I just don’t believe that reinforcing social norms is more important than making money to advertisers. If video of castrations sold more Mop n’ Glo that’s what would be in the spots.
I think it’s important for younger women to remember that women had few choices prior to the 70’s due to economics. Many sat out horrid marriages because it was so difficult to support children alone. Also, when I was a child, women were not allowed their own credit. If your husband died or divorced you, department stores might cancel your accounts.
Not really that long ago, was it?
(I just downloaded from Audible a copy of the book, so I apologize if this is repetitious material.)
True, but in order to sell more products they had to push the idea that unless you could eat off your kitchen floor YOU WERE A FAILURE AS A WOMAN. That has been the nefarious goings on in the ad industry for decades. They push their ideas in order to sell more products but in their push to sell more products they basically push women into impossibly high standards that a woman working a 40 hour or more week could not possibly hope to live up to without killing herself.
Entered engineering at a major land-grant college in 1978. Told by a professor that I was “taking a seat from a man.” Graduated in 1983 with a Masters degree. On first job, was told that I was hired only because I was a woman. Hit glass ceiling later in my career – still there. Call myself a feminist, but wonder if anything has really changed in the last 30 years.
I’m finding this book a lot more readable than Nixonland – I have some hope of keeping up.
One thing that just horrified me was someone’s comment that implied that a woman’s life after her children left home was kind of pointless, because keeping house for just her husband couldn’t possibly keep her occupied all day…
@Litlebritdifrnt: Ads like that just gall me. Paper towels. If I come into the kitchen and find that my husband and child were playing table soccer with a bowl of salsa, my first impulse is not to clean up the mess, but to hand the roll of paper towels to husband and/or child. But that plays into the other ad stereotype where you’re a guy just trying to have some harmless good times with the other guys and here comes the wife killing your buzz by expecting you to be tidy.
(Ads that imply that all women’s food should be consumed in 100-calorie doses, preferably in the form of yogurt, also make steam shoot out my ears, but I think that’s possibly a different thread.)
It may not be overt but it sure exists.
I have attended sales seminars where it was pointed out how different products are sold to men and women, it is intentional and it’s due to stereotypes.
I think that the way men and women look at the world around them generally is different. Is it because of our biological differences or is it due to societal norms? Or something in between? I am not trying to say one is better than the other but we are different (which by the by is a very nice thing IMHO).
My great grandmother found herself alone with 5 children and so she [or somebody] put the four older children in an orphanage. I don’t know if she ever saw those kids again. I do know that the two girls never forgave her during her lifetime. They felt she had rejected them.
Then later my grandmother, one of the orphanage kids, became a widow but her kids were older at this time and she only had one child still at home. About this time, she was known to say that she understood her mother better. She found a position as a live-in housekeeper where they allowed her to keep her child with her.
My mother was separated from my dad for a while, with three children still at home. She tried to keep body and soul together by picking cotton. Have you every done that? It’s a bitch. Also, she worked as a kind of day laborer, where there was no guarantee that she would work every day.
Women really didn’t have a whole lot of options a good deal of the time.
@Litlebritdifrnt: “When Everything Changed,” page 29:
J. Kenneth Galbraith wrote some excellent essays on the housework issue — including one where he argued that one of the reasons behind the rise of the “Seven Sisters” colleges was that technology improved so swiftly, starting with the (original) Gilded Age, that upper-income men needed wives sufficiently well-educated to keep learning new “household” skills. A successful Robber Baron couldn’t assume his blushing bride would’ve learned all the cooking & cleaning jobs essential to establish his standing in the community from her mother before her marriage, because the minimum standards kept changing, as you point out. By the 1960s, the aspiring Mad Man needed a helpmate who could keep abreast of the artificially-inflated, ever-changing standards for “success” while competently using machinery (cars, dishwashers, typewriters) that had required the services of dedicated specialists only a few decades earlier.
C. Northcote Parkinson, a decade after explicating Parkinson’s Law, wrote a book called Mrs. Parkinson’s Law stating that what was then considered ‘women’s work’ — housekeeping, childraising, nursing, teaching, office-droning — was impossible to “rationalize” under standard economic theories, because serving other peoples’ needs is completely irrational under those terms!
And I’m sure that it still happens today even if not as often. Even if things are getting better and I’m pretty sure they are, it is way too slow a process.
Thanks to everyone who showed up! Same time, same place next week, and I’ll do my best to get the title right next time?
I’m thinking we take it easy, amble through the next two short chapters — “The Ice Cracks” and “What Happened?”
Sound good to y’all?
When I was in high school, ’67ish-71, senior year we had a huge demonstration to allow women (girls) to wear pants in school. I was on the year book staff and when they published a casual picture on one of the pages, they cropped out all the protest buttons on my purse.
God, I hated that time.
This book is very good, though.
And yet here we are in 2011 and the advertisers are still basically telling us that the kitchen floor has to be clean enough to eat off and IT IS THE WOMANS JOB TO MAKE SURE IT IS SO. There is another ad which points this out painfully a toilet roll ad “Honey we are all out of toilet paper could you toss me a roll” Sounds simple, but in those simple words we are told the following. a) it is the woman’s job to go to the grocery store and buy toilet roll, b) it is the woman’s job to then store said toilet roll somewhere in the house c) the male of the house has absolutely no idea where the woman of the house stores said toilet roll, d) when the toilet is out of toilet roll the male has to ask the female for a toilet roll because he is too fucking incompetent to a) buy toilet roll, b) know where in the house to store said toilet roll c) check the bathroom prior to visiting said bathroom to think “hmmmm there is no toilet roll in there I will go to the place where the toilet roll is stored and get some”
This is the most obvious example of why women are supposed to somehow run the fucking universe while men sit on the couch, watch TV, and scratch their balls.
@jnfr: I had forgotten this! I graduated in ’71 and we dressed up literally for school. When I was a sophomore this kind of ordinary girl wore pants one day and rocked our world! After that we all wore pants and jeans. God, what an iconoclast she was.
@Litlebritdifrnt: Or text their balls. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…)
But seriously, for some reason housework itself isn’t such a feminist issue with me. There’s just a lot to do, esp. with kids around. My kids are grown, but when frustration is high, such as around holidays, I try to think of the people who have had work or health or life taken away from them, and who would just love to be able to do for their families, or for others. Of course I have a spouse who helps out so maybe I am spoiled. A fifty-fifty split of the drudgery inside the house? No. But he does yard work and auto repair work that I don’t do, so…
@Litlebritdifrnt: I hope all the mother’s of sons here are raising their offspring to be different. I think my son is going to make a really good husband some day. When I visit him, he loves for me to cook although he’s perfectly capable of that himself. He does the shopping or takes me to do it, sets the table, makes the salad, pours the wine, and then cleans up the whole mess while I sit and watch. He’s been doing his own laundry since he was 12 and was shocked when he went off to college and dorm mates would save up their laundry for a whole month and take it home for Mom to do. He’s 32 so this tells me that lots of moms out there are not doing future daughters-in-law any favors. I hear friends complain about how all they do is work when they visit their children. Not me! I do sew on buttons, other mending, and occasionally iron a shirt for him, but that is it!
I haven’t read the book yet, haven’t even gotten a copy and I’m not sure I’ll ever have the time to do either, since school runs all summer. So I’m just going to say this:
ladies and gentlemen, but more so the ladies because you really had to deal with the shit–thank you, thank you thank you thank you. I’m pathetically young for this thread, being born during the back-end of the Carter administration, and I’ve still got to deal with the body-image issues and the fact that every show on TV involves a chunky, fun-loving dad and a grumpy, skinny mom with no sense of humor, and the fact that in the eyes of the media women over the age of 24 or so stop being attractive…
but it’s so much better now. My husband and I got married on the beach, and no one gave me away. I kept my name and no one blinked. He’s supporting me through nursing school, and after I pass the boards he wants to work at home, part-time, I’m going to be the “bread-winner” (very small loaf, nowadays) and he’s going to keep some house and raise some kids, because he wants to. Nursing is no longer considered just for women who want babies but couldn’t find a husband, or the only career option for women who were good at chemistry. I am so grateful. And he’s grateful too–he loves living in a world where there are somewhat less stereotypes about what is the manly thing to do. Where he could stay at home with children and not be laughed out of the bar.
The world is slowly becoming a better place for men and women because of how hard you all fought. We’ll do our best to keep it up.
ps: he does the cooking, I do the laundry, we both wash dishes. I pay the bills and manage the money. He makes the computers work. It works!
@BonnyAnne: A nice post, BonnyAnne. It is so much better now, for all the reason you state.
Dying to know what happened to Miriam! Did she get into medical school or not?
I think I took the same test AL mentions in the post at about the same time. It was called vocational interests and was supposed to measure what profession your personality would fit. There was a graph with the list of professions and average scores for girls where the line formed an S shape. My scores also formed an S shape but exactly opposite the girl’s average.
Another test story:
My high school announced an engineering aptitude test (by Junior Engineering Technical Society which I see still exists today) and over the PA system offered it to “all boys” who were interested in engineering.
I stomped down to the school office and signed up. I was the only girl in the city who took it. And scored very well on it, too.
The JETS web page now has pictures of both girls and boys, so there’s some progress.
@Purplegirl: I’d like to know what happened to Miriam too. I graduated from college is 1975, and my pre-med guy friends would seriously argue that a girl shouldn’t apply to med school, that it’s a “waste of a place” because she’d just quit and have kids later.
Watching Gilmore girls with my daughters and their friend, the teenage girl, Rory, had ambitions to go to Harvard, and I remarked that that wasn’t an ambition that I could have had because Harvard didn’t take girls then. They were all shocked – they couldn’t believe it! I said that I’d considered applying to Yale, but the year before me was the first coed year and they were so mean to the girls I didn’t think I had the courage. Again, they were shocked – even the boys couldn’t imagine why Yalies would resist having girls there. I guess it’s progress that they take equality for granted, but I wish they had a better idea of how far things have come.
I like to say Betty Crocker made me a feminist.
I was born in ’59, and my mother’s late fifties cookbook not only taught me to cream butter and sugar and how to keep cakes from sticking, but also that I should take little moments for MYSELF thoughout the day in between waxing the wastebaskets, dusting the nailholes in the baseboards, fixing whatever my man’s favorites were, and entertaining with a girdle and a smile.
There were lots of recipes contributed by “Mrs. Walter Fitzgibbons” and “Mrs. Egbert Plowhorse” and there was only one woman quoted in the whole book who had her own name. Because she wasn’t married.
I was born in 1950 in a liberal Republican home. There were such things back then! Mom was a coal miner’s daughter, who’s older sister went to college also. Her Mom, my Grandma, went to business school (in the early 1900s!) and got a job doing bookkeeping for a coal company.
My Mom had a degree in journalism, met Dad working at the local paper. Once the 2 kids were in school she resumed working a 30 hour week, partly at home.
She died of COPD in 1997 from smoking Pall Malls, which were given away to students at football games at college. She stayed alive 5 years longer than doctors expected, so she could vote against the Rs… because the Republican party became the party of anti-free-choice – we weren’t supposed to tell Dad that she voted for the – GASP – Democratic candidate in two federal elections running.
I don’t know – she would never have told – but I suspect she had a best friend/cousin die of a back-alley abortion in her youth.
My wife is retired from working as a news correspondent, I’m retired from state government – software development. I cook, she does dishes (sometimes). We share everything I can think of but heavy duty work, like twisting off jar lids, etc.