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.


    1. There were many ‘liberated’ women in the 1950’s and 1960’s. You just didn’t hear about them a lot. They were a minority but acted as if their careers were the most natural thing in the world. They also had an air of confidence that never let on how badly they may have been treated behind the scenes.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Elin, thank you for this reflection. It will not surprise Marilyn and Garry that I see exceptionalism as the hidden monster behind this strangest of strange facts: women submitting themselves in subservience to men even to the point of supporting the likes of Roy Moore. In this case it’s gender exceptionalism, the presumption of superiority/inferiority, akin to national, racial, cultural, religious, and species exceptionalism.

    As the author of this piece who was raised in a family that had not drunk the poison of male superiority, you are in an unusual position to view this period of American history to the present. I am not familiar with the article or the Amazon series but your reference makes me want to add it to the list of shows i might love to hate, but need to watch. What a life in year One of Anno Trump!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Some of us come from families where our culture leans towards strong women to run the day-to-day household. It isn’t a religious issue, either, though the Halacha is full of it. It is more like a social thread. The head of most Jewish families is a woman, either the oldest or the one everyone agrees is the most capable. On the whole, husbands are happy with this. They know that the really important things are cared for and they can get on with their part of the job.

      It feels right. You can still see basically the same thing (too) this in other ethnic groups. Black, Greek, and most Mediterranean cultures and in Ireland. Also middle class British households (Terry Pratchett made a big deal about deferring to “Old Mum.”) Not sure about Scotland — I just don’t know enough about them.

      Ellin wasn’t feeling well last I checked, but if she feels up to it, I’m sure she will be by.

      Don’t we all wonder if our president had a really horrible relationship with his parents? How else could he become this mean little man?

      Have a wonderful, peaceful, restful week of celebration. We need it! This has been a hard, painful year full of ugly revelations about our fellow human that most of us wish had stayed dusty on the backs of shelves. It looks like we will have at least three more of them before this ugliness ends.


      1. I don’t think the existance of strong women in families counteracts the belief in the basic inferiority of women. Women were strong but in the household, not in the ‘men’s’ world. So that could even reinforce the sense that women belong in their sphere of comfort in the family. That also still leaves a lot of room for hostility to women who ‘invade’ the men’s world of the workplace.


    2. It is strange, given when I grew up, that I am so shocked by the level of inequality there is in people’s perceptions of the two sexes. I had always heard that some people considered women ‘inferior’ to men. I must have thought that that was merely an intellectual position. It never occured to me that women would be treated so badly in the workforce, or paid less, or sexually harassed at every opportunity. I thought we had made major strides towards equality and better attitudes towards women in the sixties and seventies. It’s sad to realize that this sea change has only happened in some circles and in some parts of the country. Too many women are stuck in a time warp, without the tools or the support to get out. Hopefully this will be another time of change and the needle with move another inch towards gender equality.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging my piece. Your comments are knowledgeable, sensitive and articulate so I am very flattered that you thought so highly of my piece. Your compliments of my writing mean a great deal to me. Thank you again.


  2. I just wanted to say before I run out that it isn’t necessarily what we really BELIEVE. It’s what we’ve been trained to do because for some reason, we think this is how we keep “marriages” together. I think most of us don’t believe it, but we think we are obliged … and I also think most women hate it … right under the subservience!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t think there is anything wrong with a division of labor within the home. But it has to be done with equal partners having equal say. I think most women take charge because their husbands just won’t step up.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We started doing it the way we did it (but no longer do it today) because Garry worked such insanely long hours. I either worked closer to home or substantially from home via modem — back when there were modems!

        Garry has changed hugely over the years. He still can’t cook — or won’t — but he does everything else and that’s fine. And he is still changing, which is remarkable in a 75 year old guy!


        1. Tom always had to do most of the household chores because his ex wife refused to do them. He even did the cooking although he worked outside the home and she didn’t work and stayed home all day! So Tom has always been unusual for a man. But I try to do the things he hates, like laundry and shopping. He cleans up and cooks and takes care of house repairs, which I hate to do. SO it works out pretty well.


  3. My mom came from a family of 7 girls and 2 boys. The boys (and the dad) were “losers” each in his own way. The women were mostly formidable and strong. But in the case of some of them, the power came through in traditional female passive/aggression. One of my aunts, however, remained single. Built a great career and ended her life able to give $25k to each of her nieces an nephews (25!) as well as a comparable amount to her remaining siblings, as well as having supported herself in a very nice assisted living facility for 11 years. As a young woman, she was the butt of a lot of sexist jokes in the family, but she just laughed. There’s more I could say but she’s not the point of this.

    I think female attitudes toward women are more complex than just buying into the “male superiority” mythos. I am biased against women, it’s true. Not that I think they’re inferior to men, but because the way women have been historically warped by society so that they can achieve power only through the circuitous route of duplicity and manipulation. I learned to mistrust women in general because my mom was untrustworthy. She was also very much invested in “Let the man be smarter than you,” idea and tried to raise me to understand that. In fact, she may have been right.

    Maybe in the future it will not be emasculating to some men to be with a strong, independent, intelligent, self-defined woman. Maybe they won’t view that as competition, but the bottom line of the whole misogyny thing — IMO — is the male fist. I also think it has to do with sex; women want to nest, safely and securely. At a certain point, it seems men also want this. That requires a compromise. Not all people are well off and children are expensive.

    At this point in my life, I give men a wide berth. If one approaches me as a sexual object or love object, I’m very wary. A few have and I have really, truly, almost literally, run away.


    1. Your mother’s family sounds interesting, as does your Aunt. I understand your mistrust of both men and women, for different reasons. However, I see many exceptions to the rules in both sexes. The professional women I know do not use duplicity or manipulation. They just work harder than everyone else and do a better job. They have trouble too with both men and women who pass them over for promotions that are given to men.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Absolutely. Women who do good work still have trouble with women and men.

        I have often wondered about the change in our world from the 30’s to the 50’s. I don’t know about New York, but in the states from which my family came, life went from rural an agricultural to something a lot more urban. I think a lot of people in the 50s were creating a new world. I now wonder how it was for my mom to go from being a poor kid on a farm in Montana to being one of two of the daughters to attend college to becoming a schoolteacher on an Indian reservation to being the stay at home mom of two kids. She was adamant about filling her “role” — I’m not sure my dad was nearly as interested in that. I think he would have been good with her continuing to teach, but I don’t know. A whole new myth of family was in the works, I think, out here in the west anyway.

        I also wonder about the effect of the war on the psyches of men in those years. They didn’t talk about it much; there was no PTSD (there was but few people spoke about it; I don’t know if it was named). AND all these women who’d worked in the factories (ships, planes, etc.) or for the government in “white collar jobs” (my aunt worked for the OSS) had to find a niche somewhere else and “let” the men have the jobs. And women who, in earlier generations, might have pulled their own weight on the farm, working side-by-side with the men, were now “ornamental”? Strange.

        I think advertising — the growth of it — and its effect on defining popular culture made it seem “right” for women to stay home, keep house, raise kids, look beautiful. I don’t know. I don’t know what they thought. I don’t know how vulnerable the men were after the war, either — I know one of my uncles had a nervous breakdown (and it was kept very quiet).

        And here was the GI bill and guys who had never imagined college or university (like my dad) were suddenly discovering they were brilliant and the world into which they walked as young adults was so different from that of their own dads.

        I wish my folks were around to ask.


          1. My father studied battle fatique after WWI. He called it the traumatic neuroses of war. It later morphed into PTSD. ALl the recent studies in the field are based on the research and analysis my father did in the early 1920’s.


        1. After the war, there were enormous changes in society and in the economy. So people living in those times had to do a lot of adjusting in a lot of ways.I have read how hard it was for women who had worked through the war and were told afterwards to go back to the kitchen and stay home with babies. It’s hard to take something away once people have a taste of it. That may have been why th 1950’s were so repressive to women. And so puritanical.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. My opinion is that the institution of marriage as set up today puts strains on men and women to perform traditionally according to the moral standards of the past. As a result, some men have a difficult time just being friends with other women on equal terms.


    1. I think men have always had problems being just friends with women. Maybe they feel that every woman has to be a sexual conquest or be submissive to them in some way. Somehow sex messes up the relationships between the sexes in a lot of ways. Hopefully we are beginning to sort that out and things will improve for the younger generations.


    2. At the risk of asking a dumb question, who said that? I never heard that from anyone and I ran my life according to my own precepts. Most men who have no women friends think they need to treat women different than men. Why? Who said?


      1. The whole movie of “When Harry Met Sally” is about whether men and women can be friends. It works for some people and not for others.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Well, today a man has to treat a woman differently and it’s far more difficult to for a man to have female friends. When almost anything can be “harassment” or “abuse,” e.g., Mz. Kennedy’s “[sic]…and BEATS her if she doesn’t (physically, psychologically, through cultural expectations, any number of ways)” there’s little room for the trust needed for friendship.

        My personal belief is that the idea that men couldn’t in the past be friends with women was promulgated because too many men were pathetic, cowardly losers who wanted a romantic relationship with a woman but got stuck in the “friend zone,” stayed there because they were weak, turned bitter, and then just messed things all to hell up.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. So being a wife and homemaker – a maker of a “safe space” for their husband is inherently being subservient? Only holding a job is a measure of equality and independence?

    Yeah, I’ve heard that from feminists before. It’s the nadir of misogyny and a key reason for so few women identifying as feminists.

    As for Moore – A lot of us just didn’t believe the women in question – not because they were women but because of the timing, the nature of the WaPo personnel involved in orchestrating the claims, the the specific “attorneys” involved in the “case.” That, and making claims 30 -40 years after the fact that can be neither proved nor disproved and DON’T carry any risk in making.


    1. No one actually said working was the proof of a woman’s strength. My mother didn’t work out of the house — and Ellin was an in-home mother too, so you are reading something that isn’t in the post. Also, I don’t believe it and I’m sure Ellin doesn’t either.

      Moore was banned from the local mall for hitting on teens. These allegations are NOT new. They did NOT pop up from nowhere in time for the election. They have been lying around stinking up the joint for decades, but no one wanted to listen. The man has had an evil reputation for a long time. Anyone with ears to hear and eyes to see knew that … but party and politics are more important than truth. Or character.

      You are still not listening. I’m betting you won’t ever listen. If the truth offends you, deny, deny, deny. And don’t forget to tell the rest of us we are liars.


    2. Wow. We rarely get right wing jerks commenting here. Welcome to the other side. Sadly for you reality has a somewhat liberal bias. But it’s still real.


      1. Reality has no bias at all. A person’s PERCEPTION of reality is very likely to be biased, but REALITY is out there to be discovered in its glorious objectivity. IF a husband EXPECTS his wife to create a “safe space” for him and BEATS her if she doesn’t (physically, psychologically, through cultural expectations, any number of ways) YES she is being subservient out of a desire to preserve herself. IF they decide that is the life they want MUTUALLY, no, she is not being subservient. That’s obvious, isn’t it? Men do bully women. I know this from direct experience and from observation. The question is always, is the woman a participant in that bullying?


        1. I think many women don’t see a way out. They think they are too poor, too uneducated, too weak to make it on their own … and of course, there’s the fear that underlays it all. I would like to say that truth and reality are neutral spaces, but I’ve reached the point where I’m beginning to lose track of what the truth IS. I hear a lot of versions of truth and there is some truth in each version, but THE truth? THE reality? I’m no longer sure what exactly that is.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. And there are so many secrets. We know things … and there are many things we SHOULD know, but we don’t have the information and may never have it. Sometimes — tonight is one of those time — this really bothers me. Remember the “more transparent” society we were building?


          1. I was a stay at home Mom and was also emotionally abused by my husband. I wanted to leave at various points but couldn’t afford to financially. So if you can’t support yourself, you are automatically ‘subservient’ in some ways because you can’t get up and leave at will.Many women in the 1950’s and 1960’s and even beyond, really didn;t have a choice but to try to keep their husbands happy, whatever that meant. Usually, it is a mutual relationship and that’s not really a big problem. But in some cases, it can be toxic.


  6. Oh this is such a great Post. I too seem to have avoided the typical teachings for women in the 50’s. My first 5 jobs as a young woman were ones only men had done before but I didn’t even notice that at the time.

    Maybe it’s because my mother, a woman of amazing creativity and courage, finally escaped her family’s rigid religious training to go out into the world on her own as a person, rather than as a woman. The church she made her Exodus from I will not mention by name, however they STILL teach a class to all their young girls called Fascinating Womanhood. I can’t bring myself to even tell you the topics of the class…not in this day and age!


    1. Hopefully there will be less indoctrination of young women like your mother had. I’m sure it still exists today, particularly in evangelical sects, and in the south, as seen by the Alabamans support for Roy Moore. It’s hard to believe that part of our society is getting past the inequalities of the past, and part of it seems to be as mired in them as ever. We are becoming a bifurcated society. And the two worlds can not see eye to eye on almost anything.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh Ellin this is such an important topic. The first female mayor of Ottawa, (Capital city of Canada) Charlotte Whitton, said, many years ago, “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s a joke about Ginger Rogers. She had to do everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels. And she got half the credit! I see with my corporate women friends, that even if you do twice as good a job, you don’t always reap the same benefits as men. My good friend’s job of 15 years at a bank was just obliterated. Two jobs were merged into one. And the person who got that one job was a 40 year old man who had been with the bank only 4 years. My friend is 54 and had been with the bank for 15 years! That could be both agism and sexism. Either way, she’s screwed. And she worked more than twice as hard as everyone else!

      Liked by 3 people

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