The Decline of the American Housewife

The American housewife, to many, had long been a symbol of stability in the family. Fathers go to work and earn the family living wage.  Children go to school and learn to continue keeping the American family wheel moving.  This leaves managing the home and what’s in it to the housewife, cheerfully cow-towing to her husband’s whims and children’s needs.  Then, along came the 1960s, and like using butter-knife to cut a steak, slow movement was progressing to liberate the long-held ideology of the housewife.

At first, many New Left radicals thought they could spread their movement through the housewives, due to their involvement in PTAs, neighborhood associations, and general civic engagement, while turning away from viewpoints that fraternal organizations had.  Many also liked the potential to use the housewife’s meal preparation ability to make alternative cooking like that from Second and Third World countries, bringing worldly awareness to a meat-and-potatoes crowd, as well as the dedication the domestic duties such as clothing choices and recreational/family time to challenge fashion norms and engage in new pastimes such as the growing alternative music and movie cultures.  However, many machismo-minded males were caught unaware of how the Civil Rights movement brought about many changes, including that for women.  The medium of 1950s television would be radically challenged and changed by a new free and forward thinking class of the 1960s

Donna Stone (The Donna Reed Show}, Kathy Williams (Make Room for Daddy),  June Cleaver (Leave It To Beaver), and Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best) would soon be replaced by Julia Baker, a widowed black single mother who works as a nurse (Julia), Mary Richards, a single working woman living on her own in the big city (The Mary Tyler Moore) , Maude Findley, a two-times divorced active housewife who had a later-in-age abortion (Maude) and Edith Bunker, a housewife who later gets a job as a part-time caretaker at The Sunshine Retirement Home (All In The Family).

Norman Lear, the creator of All In The Family and Maude, would reshape the popular both through film and television.  Norman had the far-thinking ability to change social norms, but from a progressive World World Two GI’s point of view.  His characters ranged from an interracial couple on The Jeffersons to the first transgender character, Linda Murkland on All That Glitters.  Mr Lear had had his hands in all three major Television Networks and his influence demolished taboos such as LGBT censorship and abortion.  Among his many movies, he had made a provocative film exploiting how having a housewife is a big gamble in a dysfunctional marriage, Divorce American Style. (1967) , showing the burdens of separation and with it, alimony that leads to great deprivation and possible poverty.  This motion picture comes at the end of a ten-year run of movies that brought the worst of American family issues, especially husbands from a wife’s perspective.  Movies such as No Down Payment (1957), Days of Wine and Roses (1962), Darling (1965), Who’s Afraid Virginia Woolf (1966), expressing concerns about suburban lifestyle, alcoholism, sexual mores and abortion, and long-term marriage strife, things which didn’t fit in with the post-World War II American Dream.

While these issues were brought before our eyes through television and movies, more real issues were exploding due to the Vietnam War and the counterculture it invoked among young suburbanites.  Some like to think that class division widened during this time.  However, it was actually rebellion of the free-ranging, Benjamin Spock-groomed children.  In fact, the hippies, who were overwhelmingly white and suburban-raised, merely were rebels with too many causes.  Class divides grew through both greed and self-indulgence.  Women were, with young working men going to war in Vietnam, were needed on the home-front to build up our moral and technology for the war machine.  Instead of making thermostats, women were needed to make thermonuclear bombs and as more women entered the workforce, corporate America found it convenient with more money being earned, to raise prices so more money would be spent, causing a cycle which still haunts us to this very day.  Many average Joes were joined by average Janes in not realizing how scare oil is too, and how oil companies, along with the rest of corporate America, could use this to their advantage.

Following the 1970s oil crisis, even more women were needed in the workforce for financial needs of the family.  Ways which have separated our country from much of the of the world have been through popular culture such as Soap Operas and Daytime entertainment, turning into gossip and reality shows.  By the 1980s the housewife was more aligned with the suburbs than the cities, and by 1990s, the housewife could not expand and was clearly an upper class vehicle.  The younger you drift from the wealthier Baby Boomers, the less money you seem to earn, and that has also been a major factor in why Generations X and Y have been able to preserve the dream of the American housewife.



This entry was posted in 20th Century Women in Politics, American Life, LGBT World Politics, Popular Culture, Women and Politics. Bookmark the permalink.

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