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.
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.