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Midcentury Domestic to Post-modern Superwoman (Women Only)

Discussion in 'The Home Front Woman' started by C-dot, Jun 2, 2012.

  1. C-dot

    C-dot Call Me a Cab

    Preliminary notes: I'm posting this in the Powder Room because I am coming at this topic from a woman's perspective, and I believe the discussion would be furthered best by fellow feminine perspectives.

    Further reading - Author Lynn Peril.


    We've all heard the term "societal pressure", and we've all seen it powerfully directed toward women. It dates to the 1950s (you saw very little of it in the 20s and 30s), when the media, and in turn society, complete with an array of guidebooks, tried to condition a woman to serve her man - make him a home, give him a family, be an exciting lover as well as a perfect mother, and get involved in the community, all while looking your prettiest, etc. We all know now as women must have then that only Wonder Woman was capable of this feat, as many of the victim's of this conditioning were driven to the psychiatrist's chair and the "little yellow pill".

    We've come so far, we like to say, but has anything really changed? I suspect the stipulations have varied, but the Superwoman expectation is still there. Thumbing through June's Vanity Fair, I'm treated to advertisements featuring sexy women tossing their long waves alongside anti-aging serums and cancer awareness ads. Vanity Fair's own promotion section includes a slot for the shoe store Clark's, and the copy says, in part:

    "Delight in the details ... as Clark's takes you from the boardroom to date night in supreme style."

    A few pages onward, George Wayne's Q&A features Kelly Ripa smiling wide, with the accompanying introduction:

    "Kelly Ripa ... Can't seem to stop smiling. It's no surprise: she's helped turn Live with Regis into Live! with Kelly - all while raising a family."

    So the celebrated modern woman has a high-flying job that brings her into boardroom meetings, goes out on dates looking super stylish afterward in gorgeous outfits before she finds her man and gets married, then bears him children while advancing her career, looking fabulously young, and running 10K to raise money for cancer, among other things. I've heard this before...

    For a fleeting moment, I feel a bit inferior, a single girl with my little legal secretary job, penchant for cupcakes impeding my marathon training potential, and none of the toys or clothes I make raising any money to fight disease. Then I think, whats so terrible? I had the opportunity to have a big boardroom job, but I chose not to take it for wont of less stress. And I do so pull my weight for charity, but in smaller ways. The feeling of inferiority has now morphed into indignance.

    On the other hand, I would have positively burst with budding potential in the Golden Era, right down to the sewing and secretarial job.

    How would you have stacked up in the 50s, and how do you stack up now? Do you ever feel the pressure to stack up, even if its only for a moment? What is your future prognosis for this way of thinking? Ladies, I would love to hear your thoughts.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2012
  2. I think this is a great question to think about. Myself, I guess I was lucky not to grow up with such pressures -- instead, the idea was just to survive, never mind about the bells and whistles. Anybody who told my mother or grandmother they needed to be some kind of fabulous sexy compliant superwoman would've gotten a mop full of ammonia in the mouth, and the only lesson I ever got was "you better be prepared to take care of yourself, because you can't depend on anyone else to do it." My mother learned that lesson the hard way -- the husband who was supposed to Take Care Of Her In The Fifties turned out to be a no-account poolroom loafer -- and my grandmother was too busy working to worry much about how super she was.

    Me, I work three jobs to pay my rent, am a member of a volunteer group catering to local cinephiles, and mentor the teenage girls who work for me at the theatre. I'm also baggy-eyed, middle-aged, couldn't care less if I ever go on another date in my life, and the only time I ever run is when the magnesia starts working. Maybe that's not super, but it suits me fine.

    I think the real question all women should ask is this: who benefits from the "superwoman" pressures? Do women? Or do our old friends the Boys From Marketing, who've refined preying on women's insecurities to the highest possible art. The paint might not be as pink and sparkly as it was -- although even that's making a comeback -- but no matter what the color it's still the same old stand.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2012
    Annie B likes this.
  3. My question is - Why do people think woman should try to have it all? It only puts massive pressure on us all who perhaps don't feel that way. I work full time in a busy job and I like it. What I don't want is to stress myself out trying to be 'perfect' in someone else's eyes.

    I suppose there are a few women who like running round like crazy, trying to fit all the things in mentioned above. IF it fulfulls them and makes them happy, then good for them. I for one know that it is a surefire way to send myself to the loony bin and I refuse to kowtow to the idea. A few years ago I quit a very stressful job precisely because that combined with everything else I was trying to fit in nearly gave me a nervous breakdown. Lesson learnt! Never again.
  4. I think that there is something to be strongly said for equality. However, how our society has sought equality is by further elevating traditional male tasks and activities and relegating traditional female tasks to the trashcan. I don't earn any bonus points by being an excellent baker or seamstress. Women aren't actually more valued; but women who fit a certain "type" are able to be more readily accepted. Today I heard a study that interviewed women and men IT professionals in separate focus groups about gender issues in the workplace. One of the men's top complaints about have women in the workforce was that they "Could no longer talk to their employees the way they used to" and some other stuff I won't mention. The idea that somehow we've passed "the bar" in going into equality isn't remotely true, and it's a statement fed to women to get us to stop working harder towards equality.

    The plain fact is, not many women *are* in the boardrooms and we are far from equality. Look at the Fortune 500 companies- very few women CEOs. The glass ceiling still exists. There is ample evidence of that given how few women have risen to power positions. Even if you look at "female-dominated careers" in business- HR and ID- at a certain level the number of women in power start to drop off. As far as the level of jobs go: how does society run without all level of jobs? Today I've had my hotel room cleaned by a maid, my meal set out by a server, and my dishes collected by a bus-person. Not to mention the 10s of people I didn'teven interface with that made my whole experience possible. What would I do without these people? Society would shut down. Absolutely shut down.

    As far as being pressured, I am who I am. What is important to me is not necessarily important to someone else, nor should it be. I'm pretty sure some of the decisions I've made career wise and personal wise are going to have consequences. That's why they are called decisions. You can't let someone else set the metric of your own self worth. It's hard not to let comments get to you, but people are going to say negative things.
  5. ThemThereEyes

    ThemThereEyes One of the Regulars

    Yes, I've certainly felt moments of "not good enough." I am a divorced woman and a single mother to two young boys, worked full time retail until recently and now going back to school part time and begin a part time job next week. I am 36 and have to live with my parents, for which I am grateful but also I hate that we have no place of our own. I have not even a dating life, I am poor, I don't get polished up anymore (part of that is being sick and tired of having had it as part of my uniform).
    I see the adverts and they show me I need to polish up, date and be fabulous, stay trim and young looking, catch that man! Then also be an ultimate mom cooking, baking, cleaning, cheering on the kids for whatever and only smile when they make a mess, oddly happy to clean up. Oh, and also be a high flying professional with uber pricey shoes to go with my mortgage payment of a handbag. All so I look even better with my perfect pearly whites and luscious lashes.
    It makes me indignant. Then I remember, while sometimes I get lonely for male attention, I would never trade that for the well being of my boys. Too many sickos target single moms and also dating can be confusing for such small children. I say what needs to be said when often no one else will. I also remember that I do work hard in everything I do, I am smart, I have been through a lot, I've grown, I am real and see through the BS. Most importantly, I am raising my sons to be good people, gentlemen, and teach them the most important things in life indeed do not cost money and we are not the sum of our possessions.
    In the 50s, me? Hmm, I would've gotten down the busy mom part down pat. Can't say I would've been the doting housewife. Doting on adult men only ever got me treated like a doormat.
    Whew! Sorry if I went on and on. Just I agree there's a ridiculous pressure to conform to some banal notion of perfect. I am happy just to be me, lead spine and sassy mouth, sure. But I'll be happy to just relax and be a decent person.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2012
  6. Juliet

    Juliet A-List Customer

    Hmm... of course I wasn't there, but I honestly don't think that the percentage of "doting and perfect" housewives was that incredibly high. I know women who've been working professionals (and wives and mothers) at that time, and they certainly don't regard it as some sort of impossible feat. They simply managed. Pretty much like we do now.

    What I'm curious about is when advertising turned into a deliberately unrealistic direction. I might be in a minority here, but when I look on vintage ads, I feel stimulated to make an effort. When I look on modern ads... it's depressing, really. I'm not an advocate of "any figure is beautiful". But what's going on with the female image? What's with all the airbrushing? nobody even looks real anymore. Except some girls might not know that. To quote Jessica Coen - "[E]very day a young woman somewhere sees one of these overly polished pictures for the first time … and has no idea that they're not real ... And maybe she doesn't have someone in her life to point out that this is complete and utter bullshit." .
    I wonder if the frenzied over-exposure through the media has something to do with this change. When absolutely every misstep you happen to make, every pound you gain or loose, every time you happen to be unwell is documented by a cell phone picture, dragged through newspapers, TV features, blogs and forums, what remains, that can not be so easily attacked? Professional achievements, possibly? Or in case of ads, a picture of the woman of the future - painfully thin, heavily made-up, untouchable, in complete control of her life, her emotions and her family. Her husband is, of course, the epitome of manliness, yet he is only present as decoration. No, thank you, she's man enough herself.

    I think the worst thing about the modern projection is, that no matter how you do it - you'll never measure up. As in - "look at her, she's so beautiful, hasn't gained a pound in 6 years, men swarm around her, but tssss! - she's dumb. Well, maybe not all-out-dumb, but not very clever. Never got anything on her own merit. And she'll be ugly soon enough, anyway" or "look at her, she's the boss of this and that and she's a genius, even if the poor thing doesn't know how to dress. And she's OLD! Wrinkles!". And a LOT of women join in on the bashing with relish.
  7. I'd agree- but I think a good portion of the bashing is done and started by women.
  8. Juliet

    Juliet A-List Customer

    Definitely. I actually wonder sometimes what exactly goes on in Anna Wintour's head. I know what's the deal with Lagerfeld, but Wintour?
    Although , I suppose, one could make the argument, that she's just making money. Still.

    I also meant to remark on the equality issue - and please don't kill me for this - I have to wonder if many women are actually ready and prepared for complete equality, meaning they absolutely pull their own weight? No benefits of being a lady, no opening doors, no paying for dinners, no "nice" language, all genderless interaction?
    I know some gals (ironically all in my work-field), who couldn't care less either way, but I have to honestly state that most women I know would be just outraged.
  9. I originally wanted to put in my original post, but I kind of find the image of the "superhero" to be a bit insulting. I'm not quite sure why, but I think it has to do with the implication that we should all strive to be self-sacrificing altruistic heroes. If you look at most superheros, they're overwhelmed and have to give up a lot for their abilities and superhero work. Men can have the kids and the job and just be normally everyday people. For us women to do it, we have to be "superwoman" to have the same things.

    I don't know, maybe I'm in the minority, but I always felt kind of sorry for most of the superheros in comics- they have pretty heavy losses and hard lives. I'm pretty sure I'm not phrasing this correctly at all, but why are we applying the label "superhero" to a subset of women who aren't heroic and I don't think should be forced to be? You shouldn't have to make superhero level sacrifices to hold a prestigious job and raise kids. I'm not sure if I'm more upset that we have such high expectations for women or the fact that it's so difficult to do both that we have to label the women who do it as superheros.

    Would we apply the label "superhero" to a man who did the same thing? Actually, I have a sinking feeling that many involved fathers get labeled as superheros in modern society, which just hits me as wrong. You're not supposed to be a superhero just for taking care of your kids. It's sickening.
  10. For a great many working women this is exactly the way their world is. The factory I worked in in the '80s earned you exactly no benefits for being female -- your quotas were just as brutal as those for the men, the language was the sort that would get you kicked out of a gas station, and after a day on the machines, covered in grease and ink, it was hard to tell the women from the men from looking.

    I think the whole superwoman thing is largely a middle-class/upper-middle-class thing -- and it says as much about class-related insecurity as it does about gender-related insecurities. The whole middle class has been so obsessed with attaining status and keeping status and god forbid not slipping back into the proletariat for so long that it's as much a part of its nature as breathing.
  11. Juliet

    Juliet A-List Customer

    I agree. As a matter of fact, I find this a lot in both fields I've been immersed in - science and dancing (funny pairing, huh?).
    And yet, out of all the women I've spoken to, a large percentage of those who shout for equality are really demanding all benefits and hardly any of the responsibilities, because, hey, they're women! Maybe it's a European thing, I don't know, but it's present all right, and I just can't approve of that.
  12. lareine

    lareine A-List Customer

    I don't think I would have stacked up very well in the 50s, because I expect my husband to do an equal share of the housework and if he doesn't pull his weight then half the housework just doesn't get done! And I don't do my own half terribly well either. Our house would be an embarrassment to any woman who feels the pressure to create a pristine home.

    Thankfully I have never felt under any pressure to create a pristine home or present myself as some kind of superwoman. I do make an effort to look nice at least part of the time but that's because I want to, not because I feel obliged, and I certainly don't feel any pressure to advance in my career or run marathons or raise a perfect family all while being a bombshell in the bedroom and Nigella in the kitchen. Not sure if this is down to a healthy upbringing or living in a culture where most people aren't hugely bothered about the image they present. Who you are on the inside seems more important most of the time, which is just fine with me.

    I'm not aware of ever having been discriminated against because of my gender, or suffered from lack of equality, which is nice. Of course it's possible that I'm not treated equally but I just don't notice because I don't care about the things I'm not equal in!
  13. C-dot

    C-dot Call Me a Cab

    I agree, especially in its most commonly used form, "Supermom". I can see her now, smiling dazzlingly at me from my TV screen*. She manages the house, the kids, the husband, her looks and her job with mind bending efficiency, and never breaks a sweat. (*This busy lifestyle is why Speedy Auto Glass will replace her windshield at home.)

    That's another thing - All these heroic women living "today's hectic lifestyle". I guess everyone in the world is more in demand than me: Any semblance of my own "hectic lifestyle" ends at 4:30 p.m., when I leave my desk, commute home for an hour and have dinner with Perry Mason.
  14. I don't think I've ever been in a pristine home in my life. I don't believe they exist outside of a marketing executive's fever dream. All those Supermoms shove their crap under the bed when company comes the same as women have been doing since beds were invented.
  15. lareine

    lareine A-List Customer

    Same here, except that my commute only takes 15 minutes on my bike. Being child-free by choice has helped, I'm sure. Parents seem under a lot of pressure to take their children to all sorts of "activities" outside the home, which of course results in a lot less free time for the person who ends up playing chauffeur and makes the rest of their life more hectic as a result.
  16. ThemThereEyes

    ThemThereEyes One of the Regulars

    Absolutely true, unfortunatlely. I've never understood it. Women tearing down women, mean sport.
  17. Flicka

    Flicka One Too Many

    Welcome to Sweden. Men rarely hold doors for me - I hold them for them. If somebody holds a door for me, it's almost always a woman. I never had a man pay for my dinner and my drinks only when we do alternating rounds. Language? I don't think the idea ever entered their head. That would be fine if I didn't still pay the negative price of being a woman.

    I spoke with a few elderly female academics (in their 90s) and they all said: I don't understand how women today do it. When we were young it was OK to focus on one thing - family or career or whatever - and let the other stuff take second place. But today, you're expected to do it all and look good while doing it.

    To return to my initial statement, I think that women today are paying the price if a sort of failed equality. They are being told they have to be better than men in the traditional male sphere and yet, also be super-good at the traditional female sphere, and also sort of let men know that they know that inside they are dying for the sexual attention of men and that without it, they are incomplete as women.

    And then we have the grotesque modern society where everything is Buy! Buy! Buy! Like Lizzie said, it's a world ruled by the Boys in Marketing who are playing at all of our insecurities to get us to consume more. The result is one of those hamster wheels - we run and run but we don't get anywhere. We're eating cake and wondering why we're still hungry. So the most subversive thing you can do today is to jump off that wheel.

    I personally trace the origins of the modern consumption focused society to the 50s. However, despite what the ads tell us, most people still lived much like they did 20 years before. They didn't consume like we do. They ate slow cooked food with less meat, rode bicycles and made their own clothes. It is, to me, a much more sustainable lifestyle, mentally and ecologically, than the modern one. That's what attracts me to a 'vintage lifestyle'. The traditional values I miss are not men holding doors and people attending church in their finest. I miss a focus on being kind, thorough, and thinking more of what's on the inside than the outside. On other people rather than me, me, me.

    Today people pay money to take classes in mindfulness. I would argue that a vintage lifestyle is about living mindfulness. I'm working towards that, but it's hard. All my life I have been driven by negative feelings to the point where feeling good actually triggers discomfort in me. I have a high-powered job and I've been working around the clock for years. I can't do it anymore, yet it's harder than I thought to get off the hamster wheel.

    Sorry, for rambling. I hope I made some sense anyway.
  18. Juliet

    Juliet A-List Customer

    You make perfect sense.
    But that's interesting what you say about Sweden! Every time I was there, I've always had doors opened, and suitcases carried. Even if it was 3-4 years ago.

    I couldn't agree more about the failed equality.
    And about the modern culture - I feel more and more, that we live in an age of plastic, substitutes and throwaways. Not only in terms of material things, but in terms of relationships, too.

    I think, that the former is the natural consequence of the latter, really.
  19. Flicka

    Flicka One Too Many

    Were you in Stockholm? I think people are nicer outside of here. They're also much nicer to tourists. My (Swedish) friend who lives in London these days is always apoalled when she visits. She claims people here in Stockholm get ruder and ruder for every time she visits. I don't know if it's true but I have lived here all my life and I have never, not once, had a man offer to help me carry something. My mother is severly handicapped and she recently remarked how only women and immigrant men give up their seats for her. My pregnant friends all say the same - middle aged white men break for nobody.

    Anyway, I don't think kindness and consideration should be contingent on privilege. I help people when I can and I don't see why the same courtesy should be more onerous for a man. The bigger and stronger you are, the more care you should show for those weaker than you, IMO. It's about empathy, not privilege.
  20. Flicka, precisely! If you see someone needs help and you are able to give that help, then you should. It's just common courtesy, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman.

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