Sexy shoes or hiking boots?

In 1965, learning to be an effective wife seemed no different to me than learning to be an effective airline stewardess or, for that matter, a woman. Exquisite attention and skill had to be applied to the facade of being a wife, a stewardess or a woman. At least that is how I interpreted the messages that I was incorporating into my repertoire of how to be female.

In 1963, Jack Jones released the recording Wives and Lovers with the lyrics that cautioned the fate of wives if they didn’t pay attention to their looks, “Day after day there are girls at the office, and men will always be men. Don’t send him off with your hair up in curlers; you may not see him again.”

I took these warnings quite seriously during the years of my budding femininity, associating this admonition with sheer economics. A girl had to learn how to save money to ensure her future, and a girl had to learn how to ‘handle men’ to ensure the future of her idealized life.

As many of us are products of our era, this notion of focusing on looks to keep your man was what my mother drilled into my head during my teenage years as well. Oh boy, did she!  The single most important goal that she held was for me to believe that without a man by her side, a woman didn’t have a chance in the world—a belief that held great merit in her day and shared by many women. I endured a constant assault from her to achieve perfection on my hair, makeup, posture and weight.

Marilyn Monroe is reported to have remarked bitterly, “In Hollywood, a girl’s virtue is much less important than her hairdo. You’re judged by how you look, not by what you are.”

I was sixteen years old and Mamie Eisenhower was the First Lady of the United States.  She seemed to support the Leave It to Beaver example of how to be a wife—exquisitely illustrated by a quote taken from a 1950s high school textbook for a home economics class, “Prepare yourself. Take fifteen minutes to rest so you’ll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your makeup and put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking.” These were the skills being taught to the young women of my generation right alongside the second wave of feminism.

Tell me:

What does being a woman mean to you?

Does being a woman and being feminine mean different things to you?

How do you present your feminine side?

Can you switch easily between sexy shoes or hiking boots?

Which do I wear?

I love both and am comfortable in either. I have a part that loves to go hiking, camping and remain grungy for days on end even while another part of me puts on makeup before leaving my tent.

What do you men think about this topic? I would truly like to know.

Next week: How I failed to notice or understand the importance of the second wave of feminism. Instead, I struggled with exactly what my heroic sisters were fighting for in part; the right to chose on behalf of our own bodies. I recall the incredibly demeaning mandatory weight check prior to each flight.



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  1. Dawn, You have done it again! You have helped me capture another moment in my life. I was reared the same as you. I think being a woman is wonderful and we have lots of choices. Far more than men. I think learning who we are and being authentic and true to ourselves is what truly matters, and I would like to see more women appreciate each other rather than being so critical. Women as individuals are people with which to reckon, but as a group we are even more powerful and can make hard decisions and do the work. I am proud to be a woman, and I like men who spport us as human beings, not possessions. Thank you for this opportunity to give my thoughts a voice. Helen

    • Helen,

      I absolutely agree with you on all points. It is truly great to be a women. I adore men who support us in our strengths. Individually, women are powerful but united in voice, we can change the world. As a woman, I hope we can continue to broaden our collective appreciation of how we each chose to view and present our femininity.

      Thanks again, dawn

  2. Dawn,
    This hit home for me too. I wondered for a long time why I thought it was okay to achieve and to be attractive. I got all those 1950’s cultural messsages about what women do and my Dad told me I could do what boys did if I wanted to (like fish, mow the lawn, run for office). What a great gift that permission has turned out to be. However, some men who have found me to be a bit confusing. I grieve like a woman and when they swoop in to take care of me I usually want to figure things out for myself. gayle

    • Hi Gayle,

      You make some excellent points regarding role uncertainty between male and females during these past few decades.

      Talk about different parts getting activated. Holy smokes! I want to do everything myself AND have my car door opened for me at the same time. If I am that divided about role division, just think what it must be like for a male trying to accommodate to the ever changing social times.

      Blessings, dawn

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