Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Life Could Be a Dream...

I recently read the book and watched the movie, Revolutionary Road. I enjoyed both and it got to me to thinking about why women are always portrayed to be so unhappy in marriages in the 50’s.

There are a few reasons that I have seen posed for why married women in the 50’s were so unhappy with their lives:

1. Money - I have a job and I make my own money but really everything I make gets swallowed up into a joint account that pays for our lives. Mr. Rose and I each get an allowance for discretionary spending and everything else falls into budgeted categories.

If I stopped working, would I somehow feel different about the money in our account? I really don’t think I would. If I wasn’t working it would be because I was staying at home and raising kids. That and keeping a house is just as much work as trudging off every day to push papers in a cubicle.

2. Career – I have got to say that I think raising kids can be way more fulfilling than some soulless desk job. Would you rather be an admin assistant fetching and scheduling or an active mom shaping the minds of the next generation? If you’re not challenged by raising your kids, you are not doing it right. They are little sponges that you can pour infinite amounts of time and creativity and knowledge into.

3. Social Networks – C’mon! I know that not every suburban housewife will be to your taste but there have got to be some like-minded souls in your neighbourhood that you want to get the occasional Friday two-martini lunch buzz on with. Oh, and have you considered living in a college town instead of burying yourself in the boonies?

You know what I think it is? These women never had a chance to sow their wild oats. People have oats and they need to be sowed. Men get to go away to war and live this different, exciting reality. I’m not saying that war is pleasant but it’s certainly a change of scenery and seems to involve a lot of drinking, whoring, and playing with guns.

I think way more women would have been satisfied to settle down and raise a family if they were actually settling down from something. Your entire life can’t be played on the same note. You need variety. And what’s more, when you are young you need to indulge. You need to explore. You need to experiment.

Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Wish you lived in the 50’s just for the cute dresses?


Deb said...

I think all the points you touch on depend on perception.

1. Money - You might not feel differently about the money if you didn't work, but what if Mr Rose had a different attitude about it. What if he decreed how much you may spend on what and whether you got a spending allowance?

2. Career - "If you’re not challenged by raising your kids, you are not doing it right." I think this quote is brilliant. Now having said that, raising children can feel like a thankless job. A job that doesn't have a home time and it depends on the spouse whether you ever get time off.

My grandmother had 9 children in a 10 year period, and at least once had 3 in diapers. My grandfather, to this day, has never changed a diaper. She did this with cloth diapers and no washing machine.

It's easy enough in our current world of 2.4 children and enlightened husbands to keep up with the drudgery side of housewifery, but I can see how that wouldn't always be the case. When you're constantly cleaning, feeding, chasing children, there's limited time for challenging their minds.

Now on the flip side of that, what about when there's no kids to raise? Either before they're born or after they start school. It's pretty unheard of now for a woman to stay home unless there's kids, but that didn't used to be the case.

3. Social networks - Depends. I was recently having a conversation with some women about how farmers used to take car keys with them when they went and worked in the field. That way their wives couldn't leave and galavant about. I imagine it could result in some pretty serious isolation.

However, I think overall, this aspect of being a house wife wouldn't be so bad in the 50s. It was a pretty safe bet that there'd be plenty of other women on your block that didn't work.

I think it would be more isolating in the 80s and early 90s. By then, the majority of women were working and it was before the internet. Now, there are vast communities of stay at home moms that connect over the internet and then meet in person.

I think you make a good point about variety, but I also think it comes down to choice. I mean, I chose to stay home with my children, but if someone told me that I had to? That just wouldn't fly. But then it was just expected. That was just what you did and what you were born to do.

Now, I have to admit, I think the cute dresses are tempting. Though, I don't think I'd do any real cleaning in them. Maybe a bit of dainty dusting before I sit down for cookies and tea.

Sterling Lynch said...

Great post.

I think the stereotype you are challenging exists because of a gross over-generalization.

Yes. Some women were bored senseless, unhappy, and were forced into a lifestyle they would not have otherwise chosen for themselves.

Many women were happy whether or not they had a choice in the matter. Choice is important to some but not all people.

I think it is important to challenge the 50s housewife stereotype because it is important that both women and men realize that maintaining the household isn't necessarily a de facto prison sentence.

Lady Rose said...

I do see what you're saying Deb. But as to the money, there is also a terrible stereotype about men in the 50's. I find it hard to believe that every man was so tightly controlling about money. I believe that the Mr.Rose's of the world existed, even in the 50's.

As for careers, I think that there are plenty of jobs just as thankless as raising kids. If you are looking for validation outside yourself you are always bound for some measure of disappointment.

I'm with you on modern conveniences! Handwashing diapers for 3 kids? uh, no thanks!

Deb said...

I agree with you. However, if we're generalizing about women being unhappy in the 50s, I just took it one step further and generalized about one situation of what may cause this.

There were certainly marriages in the 50s that were equitable and respectful - both in dealing with money and with other aspects of it. Likewise, there are still relationships today where one person is controlling and abusive.

For the record, I don't think raising kids is a thankless job - just feels like it some days when you're severely lacking sleep.