I was a child in the 1950’s and a teenager in the 1960’s. So I should be well versed in the misogynistic attitudes that were, and in some ways still are, ingrained in the American psyche. But I grew up in a progressive family in New York City. The women we knew were mostly professionals and I was expected to be a professional too. Not just a working woman, but a professional doctor, lawyer, psychologist, or whatever. I apparently missed the sexism and marginalization of women as well as the excessive empowerment of men.
It never occurred to me for a nanosecond that men were better than women in any way. Apparently I’m outside the norm, even today.
I read an article in The Washington Post by Sally Kohn, titled “Sexual Harassment Should Be Treated As A Hate Crime”. The article cites recent studies that show that both men and women have unconscious biases against women. In fact, women hold these biases even more than men do! We are all absorbing the cultural messages that women are inherently inferior. Even further, society is also promoting the view that women should be submissive and subjugated to men and that men should have disproportionate power, privilege and dominance.
There’s a wonderful show on Amazon called “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. It is wildly funny and entertaining and totally binge worthy. We binge watched it and got a crash course in the social position of women in the 1950’s. I only watched one season of “Mad Men” so this was an eye opener for me. It may have hit home for me because the main character, Midge, like me, grew up in an upper middle class, Jewish family in New York City in the 1950’s. The high ceilings in the luxurious apartments, the doormen and the maids, the overly involved parents, all rang true to me.
Midge was brought up believing that she should get married right after college, have children and stay home to take care of them and her husband. Period. She took her role in life seriously. Particularly the part about keeping your ‘man’ happy and pampered.
Midge’s wedding in the show
Midge went to bed with her hair and makeup still beautifully done. She waited for her husband to fall asleep and only then did she get up to put curlers in her hair, take off her makeup and put cream on her face. To add insult to injury, she also set her alarm to wake her before her husband got up. Then she could take the curlers out, do her hair and put on her makeup, get back into bed and pretend to be asleep when her husband woke up. So he never knew about Midge’s frenzied and exhausting ritual of female submission. All to keep her husband from seeing her in anything but the best and most flattering light!
Midge also admits to her husband, after they are separated, that when she knew they were going to have sex, she would undo half of the hooks on her complex, corset like bra. She did that so he would have an easy time getting it off of her in the heat of the moment. She thought it was part of her job to make everything as easy as possible for her husband.
Midge would also obsessively measure every part of her body with a tape measure and record the numbers to make sure that she was maintaining her girlish figure. She seemed to believe that her world would fall apart if she wasn’t perfect for her spouse 24/7, in all ways. What a terrible way to live! And what a one sided relationship!
All of this appalled me. My mother always wore makeup and nice clothes during the day, even on weekends when we all stayed home. But she did wear curlers and cream to bed. I don’t know how many women went to the lengths Midge did to be a ‘good wife’ and keep her husband interested. But the fact that there were any, makes me truly sick. And Midge was an intelligent, college graduate with a strong personality and a lot of self-confidence.
As part of the plot, Midge is discouraged from working, even after her husband leaves her, but she gets a job anyway. She is also discouraged from pursuing stand up comedy because that is a ‘man’s field’. She does this anyway too. So she’s not totally passive or without backbone and ambition. This makes her subservient behavior even more egregious.
Midge doing stand up
In some ways, things haven’t changed that much in America. We recently had an election in Alabama in which large numbers of women (as well as men) voted for a man who openly said that women should not vote or hold office. He was also accused, by multiple women, of sexually harassing teenagers as young as 14! How could any woman vote for someone like that? How could ANYONE vote for someone like that in 2017?
I guess there are people, including women, who still believe that men are superior and should control everything, in public life as well as private. They are also people who will believe a man’s lame denials of sexual abuse over multiple women risking a lot to come out and accuse him. Or maybe it’s even worse. Maybe sexually abusing women is okay in these people’s moral universe. Maybe it’s considered men’s right, or somehow the women’s fault.
It’s sad to see that while women have made so much progress in so many ways, we are still in the dark ages in other ways. We’ve come a long way, baby! But there’s still a really long way to go as well.