Then and Now
Some of these women, like Donna Reed, were prone to getting into comical jams. These jams were usually caused by going against sound and stern advice from their very masculine husbands, and were usually solved by these same suburban knights. The women of today’s media have brought more realistic and edgy subjects to America’s table. Roseanne, Claire Huxtable, and Lois Wilkerson all challenged the traditional women of television while producing laughs and facing realistic subject matter (TV Moms Bring Home the Bacon-A Look at the Evolution of TV Moms, 2009).
These media portrayals showed women who abandoned the ladylike “momisms” of the 1950’s and were sometimes crude, imperfect parents, and no longer demure or deferring to their husbands. In the instance of the well-known Claire Huxtable, her husband, Heathcliff, did much of the cooking and domestic chores while she pursued her career as a successful lawyer. These women worked, challenged their husband’s opinions, and still managed to keep most of the feminine grace that women have always aspired to.
The vision of the damsel-in-distress type has been all but erased by the media’s modern portrait of women. Despite the vast differences between the women of the 1950s sitcoms and the modern sitcom mom, they are connected by a very thin but definite thread. “We were not told we could do anything we wanted; we were told what we wanted to do” (Helen Jones, 2011). Education for women, though not as limited as one may think, was not taken seriously. Many women went to college simply to seek out a husband they thought would be successful (Gender Roles 1950’s, 2008).
Women were prone to marry right out of high school and were encouraged by the society they lived in to do so. According to the United States Census Bureau, the median age of first marriage in the 1950s for women was 20. Career options for women were limited to secretarial, nursing, and teaching positions. “All the girls I knew in college were there either for business or to get a teaching certificate. We were encouraged more to teach though, so we would be better able to fill our duties as wives and mothers” (Helen Jones, 2011).
Women choosing careers in sciences took the chance of being shunned in the fields they chose to study and practice within. “We had one female doctor that I knew of in Abilene; she catered to the very poor and took most of her payments in trade. We were not allowed by our husbands to go to her or take the children; she was shunned in higher society” (Helen Jones, 2011). The ratio of men to women going to college in the 1950s was nine to one (Gender Roles 1950’s, 2008). Today, women in college outnumber men with 57% of current college students being female (Ghosh, 2010).
The occupation of raising children and keeping a household is still predominantly fulfilled by women as it was in the 1950s, though the way in which it is fulfilled varies. “I am amazed by young women today. I did not work, I was a wife and mother and that was my whole job. It took up all the time in my day. I cannot imagine adding education and work to all that I did in one day” (Helen Jones, 2011). The picture of the All-American 1950s homemaker, even at 85, Helen Jones married in 1947 and taught school until her first child was born in 1950 when she began her lifelong career as wife and mother.
When asked her opinion on the major difference between the women of her generation and modern women, she replied, “Women now are the busiest people I have ever seen! I am amazed in everything they take on and all that they accomplish; I just wish that their appearance would be more feminine! ” The women of today typically find their plates much more full than their 1950’s counterparts. With women taking firm footing in every career field, even those traditionally occupied by men, and keeping hearth and home; today’s wife and mother must be extremely efficient with her time management.
Whitney White-Vinyard, a former homemaker with two children, went to work after her youngest turned seven to help support her family financially (White-Vinyard, 2011). She added the pursuit of her master’s degree in psychology to her full plate at about the same time, deciding that if she was going to work that she would do so in a field she enjoyed (White-Vinyard, 2011). “Nothing from the 1950s has changed much. I feel immense pressure to look my best, keep my house immaculate, and be there when my kids need me.
I don’t feel there’s anyone to fill the gap that my working and my studies creates in household management. ” Whitney indicated that she feels that women feel the pressure to meet all of these roles and men continue to feel responsible solely for masculine things like finances and mowing (White-Vinyard, 2011). Whitney expressed concern for her kids and described feeling disconnected from her family, but is dedicated to her educational pursuits and must work to continue to contribute to family finances. “Women today have even more demands placed on their time and behavior, and more stress I think.
I have to prioritize. People come and say they don’t know how I do it all. It may seem that I do everything on the surface, but a quick peek in a closet shows which corners get cut on my list! ” (White-Vinyard, 2011). The women of the 1950s suffered afflictions that can now be linked to stress (Friedan, 1964). Unfortunately, stress is not a thing of the past, but the manner in which it is handled today is much different. “Thus terrible tiredness took so many women to doctors in the 1950s that one [Doctor] decided to investigate it.
He found, surprisingly, that his patients suffering from “housewife’s fatigue” slept more than an adult needed to sleep…and that the actual energy they expended on housework did not tax their capacity”, (Friedan, 1964). These women went often to doctors to relieve their “housewife’s fatigue” and were prescribed tranquilizers, and this began a problem for many women of that time (Friedan, 1964). Today, stress relief is well publicized. “Women are socialized to be the caretakers of others. More women than men have both a career outside the home and continue to try to juggle traditional responsibilities after hours.
Over 70% of married women with children under the age of 18 are employed outside the home. Sociologists describe women as struggling to achieve the “male standard” at work, while trying to maintain the perfect wife and mother standards at home” (“Stress And Women”, 1995-2009). Yoga, aerobics, massage therapy, and counseling, these are all methods of stress relief utilized by the women of today (“Stress And Women”, 1995-2009). The modern woman has learned to make herself as well as her family a priority; this seems to make them more capable of gracefully handling the overwhelming job of career, wife, and mother.
The women of the 1950s were graceful and ladylike. They filled the roles they were told to fill, most trying desperately to be the picture perfect example of the wife and mother. Today, women fill the shoes of their 1950s counterparts, keeping the femininity and grace, while having careers, earning degrees, and raising children. In some cases, these women are doing all of this even without the benefit of a father or second breadwinner for their families. The feminine ideal has changed drastically through the years.