Homemaking in the 1950s and NowPosted: April 29, 2012
Are you nostalgic? As a generation, are we harking back to past eras more than any other generation before us? Or this a natural human action: to yearn for something we can never truly have – or replicate? It certainly seems that there are more and more people of my age who look to their ancestors rather than their contemporaries for inspiration, style and a way of life. I consider myself no exception to this.However, for me what began as inspiration is turning into a way of life, in more ways than one.
A few months ago, we moved into our new house and so far the duties have been divided like this: I cook. Aidan does everything else. Actually, that’s not strictly true. We share tidying, washing, clearing up; but he does the DIY. Which, currently, is the most pressing of our needs for the house and the task that needs the vast majority of time spending on it. As I type this, in front our amazing wood burning stove, he is upstairs sawing floorboards, laying them, removing old nails, hammering in new ones. I made the breakfast this morning and will do the washing up after I’ve written this, before starting on my planning for the week.
I don’t see this as ‘falling into traditional gender stereotypes’. I plan our meals and do the cooking because
I’m better at it than he is I enjoy it; Aidan does the D.I.Y. because he is better at it, and I physically can’t. My do-it-yourself skills extend to just about managing to take some wallpaper off the wall, and to be honest I’d still prefer it if Aidan did-it-himself.
The two magazine covers above show two different approaches to home improvement as a couple in the 1950s. The first picture shows the wife assisting her husband, whilst wearing full makeup and a lovely set of pearls. The second picture shows the wife performing tasks herself, wearing more appropriate garb. Initally, when I looked at these, I thought, “I’m offering neither assistance nor help,” in the way these two wives are. What does that mean? Should I be at Aidan’s side whilst he fixes, saws, hammers, nails, curses and creates?
This third Homemaker picture probably typifies our roles more closely, although without me being quite so perfectly turned out, or with such a small waist. At one point in my life, it might have rankled me that I was fulfilling such a stereotype. Yet now I don’t see it like that, not really. We’re both in charge of the areas where our skills lie. We both have made the choice about how we operate as a couple. If I don’t want to cook one night, Aidan does it. If he’s getting fed up over the traumas of D.I.Y. I pep him back up and go to B&Q with him, not just leave him to sort it out because he’s the man. The key is, it’s a choice.
And that’s where it differs from the 1950s. How we choose to lead our lives does not get judged in any way by friends or family. If things changed tomorrow and Aidan became chief chef whilst I wielded the hammer and nails, nobody would bat an eyelid. (This is strictly not true; no-one in their right mind would be anywhere near me with a hammer in my hand, but that’s not the point). In the 1950s, the woman probably still was expected to clean the house and feed her family whether she’d helped with the home improvements or not; society pretty much dictated that and to do otherwise would be to face disapproval. How many men from the 1950s would have finished tiling the bathroom, with their wife on hand to help, then gone and cooked the evening meal, and washed all that up afterwards as well? Yet you could still argue that these same men may have had a day at work as well as the evening or weekend of D.I.Y. as well. The argument swings both ways: women and men were expected to behave in certain ways, fulfilling specific roles, whether they wanted to or not. Nowadays, certainly in my personal world, the choice is down to the individuals involved.
I’m wondering what I’m trying to say here… there’s no argument as such. Perhaps I’m doing nothing more than trying to justify a lazy Sunday while Aidan works. Or giving myself a reason to show case these pictures. What is becoming clear to me is that I could do more D.I.Y. if I wanted to. After looking at these Homemaker magazine covers, part of me is thinking that Ishouldbe doing more. At the very least, I could be serving up his meals with a much nicer dress on…
I began writing this thinking about how we – i.e., Aidan and me – are keen to replicate some of the mid century feel within our own home, and that these magazines could provide some of our inspiration. What I didn’t realise was how much the lifestyle itself was rubbing off on us as well.