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Cult of Domesticity vs. Women in the 1950s

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Sonia Howlett

on 12 December 2013

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Transcript of Cult of Domesticity vs. Women in the 1950s

Scientific sexism
Societal
Pressure
Acknowledgment of supposed deficiencies
Fifties Housewife
Supposed inferiority
Rise of Middle Class
Societal Pressure
Cults of Domesticity:
Versus
1950s
1800s
Works such as "A Treatise on Domestic Economy: For the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School" by Catherine Beecher glorified housework and motherhood, and suggested that no other path was possible.
Housework was considered a "science" and taught in women's schools.
Women were
lectured on their
faults and told that
only doing house-
work and fulfilling
other such Christian
duties would amend their
inherent deficiencies.
Literature and the media suggested that women's natural and most satisfying role was as a housewife and mother.
Movies, ads, novel and even textbooks cast women in essentially the role of passive, caring cushions for their husbands feet.
Single women were considered
abnormal - what was wrong with
them?
Education was seen as a means
of finding a husband - the
"M.R.S. degree", and girls'
schools taught homemaking.
Skewed science was used to justify woman's limited role.
Women were seen to have less"life energy" than men and therefore must focus it on important tasks (ie reproducing) rather than having strong emotions or thinking, both of which were considered drains on the system
Woman's role includes reproduction: "labor".
Women are crazy: "hysterics".
New Middle Class Post-Industrial Economic Situation
Rising affluence.
Men could support their family so the women didn't need to work.
Assumed that those who do work for wages were poor - social stigma.
Piety
Purity
Submissiveness
Domesticity
"True Womanood"
Four virtues:
Rights:
"The right to love whom others scorn,
The right to comfort and to mourn,
The right to shed new joy on earth,
The right to feel the soul's high worth,
Such woman's rights a God will bless
And crown their champions with success."
Thanks to the rise in automobile ownership and the burgeoning economy, many men could have a family and house
in the suburbs and commute to work
, where he made enough made enough money for the family to live on.
If women worked when they didn't need the money, they were seen as selfish - putting their desire for freedom above the needs of their family.
If women
worked and needed the money,
they (and their husbands)
were looked down upon.
Separate Spheres
Man
Woman
"In no country has such constant care been taken as in America to trace two clearly distinct lines of action for the two sexes and to make them keep pace one with the other, but in two pathways that are always different." Alex de Tocqueville, 1835
Emotionally feeble and in need of protecting their reproductive ability, women were to stay at home in their role as wife and mother. Their only call for entering public life was in the arena of charity, which was an extension of their motherliness.
"Woman's work" was portrayed as just as important as "man's work" to sweeten the pill.
"Woman has no call to the ballot-box, but she has a sphere of her own, of amazing responsibility and importance. She is the divinely appointed guardian of the home (...)" - Rev. John Milton Williams, 1893
Men were meant to inhabit the "public sphere" of work and wages.
Men were considered the primary bread-earners and workers, burdened by their responsibilities.
Their role was to financially support their family and provide emotional strength for their wives.
Popular culture and flawed science portrayed women as weak and inferior.
Shows like "I love Lucy" portrayed women as helpless without male aid.
Stay-at-home Mom
Dutiful wife
Women were expected to stay home and take care of their children.
The comfort of their husband and the health of their children were supposed to be their main priorities.
Separate Spheres
As in the 1800s, men and women had different roles within the house and in taking care of the family.
The women were meant to cook and clean and care for the children, while the men earned wages, lifted heavy objects for their weak and helpless wives, and operated machinery,
such as the lawnmower,
automobile, and grille.
The desirable traits:
From a 1962 article by George Frazier
"For a woman I ask the blessings of charm and chastity and a clear complexion; of wondrous wisdom and ready wit and a faint flame of color in her cheeks...All these I ask- and also such small miracles as patience with my procrastinations, indulgence towards my indiscretions, and interest enough in my involvements... These- and also such gladsome gifts as smelling good and smiling sunnily ... trying a little tenderness in my times of testiness, and participating, always and forever, in my passion. All these I ask for a woman - and, besides, that she never be
a witch.
"
acts masculine
wants to vote
wants equal rights
is probably lesbian
disrespects/dislikes men
runs for public office
these show she is:
selfish
spoiled
greedy
hedonistic
The undesirable woman:
Extracted from same article by Frazier "The Entrenchment of the American Witch," in the February 1962 Esquire.
-Godey's Lady's Book
Full transcript