I was recently pointed to an article which posits the question, “Are we bringing back the 1950s housewife paradigm?”. The author points to the latest fashion design week, where not one but two designers admitted to using 1950s housewife tropes in their designs (one papered his models in custard tins and plastic bags, while the other took more style lines from the era via skirts and dresses), the popularity of Mad Men, and how celebrities like Katy Perry and Taylor Swift have embraced “their inner housewife”.
The article is keen to point out that this is also the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, in which Ms. Friedan urges women to retire their aprons, walk out of their kitchens and find self-fulfilling work and claim their independence. I suppose one is to ponder what Ms. Friedan would think of the modern woman’s desire to wear red lipstick and knee-length skirts whilst toying about in the kitchen wearing a lacy apron.
What is amusing (and sad) to me is that fashion is dictating this author’s opinion on what was a gender war. The 1950s woman had very few options given to her: marry (best choice), or if no man would have you, teach or care for children, while also caring for your aging parents. If she went to college at all, the expectation was to drop out and/or quit when she found a husband. Some women were even sent to college for the express purpose of finding a husband who would someday have a well-paying career. Women were ruled by their husbands, and in turn the children she was expected to have would run her life inside the home. Intelligence might have been seen as a positive, but she wasn’t ever asked her opinion unless it was home-related. I’ve had some seniors I volunteer with tell me of stories of when they were young and married, how discussions of politics and religion and finance were “men’s areas” and how the women were shooed away from such talk. A 1950s housewife was expected to be beautiful, put together, gracious, and above all else, subservient to her husband.
Just because a lady likes to put on a diner dress, roll her hair up into pin curls and paint her eyes and lips into the classic bombshell look does NOT mean she’s ready to hand over her individuality (and her brain!) to a man. Having a lust for baking and all things frilly does not a meek woman make. Trust me… I dare you to tell me to shut up and get back into the kitchen!Now to be fair, the author does touch on the exact rant I just gave you:
“But the revival of the 1950s housewife look isn’t necessarily a cause for concern. Dressing up doesn’t need to be a problem for feminism and there’s even something liberating about fashion designers like Kukhareva reinventing the housewife as a newly emancipated, sassy renegade marching down the catwalk.
Yet playing dress up should remain firmly within the remit of style. When fashion blogs breezily talk about ‘celebrating’ the housewife without thinking of its wider associations, and when women like Swift and Perry denounce feminism or show a lack of understanding of its ideals, it’s time to ensure that it’s just the flower-print 1950s dresses that stay retro, not our underlying attitudes.”
Even here, I have an issue. Just a little niggle, actually. The “new wave” of feminists (like, say, Taylor Swift’s age) have grown up fearing the “Feminazi” who burns bras, hates men, and froths at the mouth at the mention of a woman even TOUCHING a frying pan. I say this with distinction as I was raised as such and am in a similar generation. I shied away for YEARS calling myself a feminist, because I didn’t hate men, and I didn’t have a problem with my mother staying at home caring for her family. It wasn’t until I realized that true feminism is about the choice to stay at home or earn a career, that true equality means equal pay for equal work, and that a woman shouldn’t be held back from enriching herself because “that’s men’s work”. Are we at risk of sliding back to the “good ol’ days” of 1950, with segregation, marital rape, and a prevailing attitude that women are to be wedded and bedded and silent? I don’t think so. A pair of back seam stockings and retro hairstyle is a far cry from that. Even attempting to juxtapose the two is laughable because on it’s face retro clothing is a choice a woman makes to be proud of her sensuality and femininity, while keeping her self-worth at an acceptable level. Liking the vintage look isn’t a political statement or a defense of “traditional” values, and maintaining said style isn’t some comment on anti-feminist thinking. Just as women wearing men’s work boots doesn’t mean we are ushering into a woman-dominated Mad Max (or Zardoz), a woman donning a circle skirt and cardigan doesn’t mean she’s ready to give up all that difficult schooling and career thing and defer to a man.
Now, who wants cookies!?