Women and happiness: Part one: A series of articles on the way it was and is now

Women and happiness. Part one: The way it was

In the 1960s, I was teaching school in Chicago. It was just about the time that the "women's feminist movement was getting started. I had graduated from college with a teaching degree and was eager to get my career underway. By 1969, the movement was in full swing and the women teachers at my school were campaigning to shed the required dress and skirt code for more comfortable pants. Pants suits were all the rage. I remember the day we all came to school wearing pants. What a comfortable sit in that was.

Betty Friedan had published The Feminine Mystique a few years earlier and had founded the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1966.. And Gloria Steinem had published the essay, "After Black Power, Women's Liberation" in the New York Times, separating the modern women's movement from other oppressed groups. The " feminists" as they were called were asking that women have equal work, equal pay and be freed from servicing men and children.

Friedan, a brilliant and volatile woman given to wild overstatement, called the suburban home a "... comfortable, concentration camp." where women suffered a "...slow death of mind and spirit." The Feminine Mystique had as it major thesis: "Women, like men, have a duty to their minds and talents and selves that cannot be fulfilled by living vicariously through husbands and children.".

The vast American obliviousness that shrouds everything that happened in the 1950s and before in a kind of gothic mist, has swallowed up the system of laws, social practices and cultural understandings that women who lived at the time experienced and that those who came after that time will never understand. They will never be able to grasp the plight of Friedan's suburban wives with their low-level depression and seething dissatisfactions.

Although it seems like a dream to me, I married in the 50s, when I was 21, because that's what I was supposed to do and I didn't want to be an "Old Maid". I became a teacher because teaching, nursing and being a secretary were my only choices. I put on a dress, fixed my hair and polished the kids little white shoes every evening and waited, with a smile on my face, for my husband to come home from work, because according to Good HouseKeeping that was how to make him happy. And more than once I asked myself the question: "Is this all there is?" I actually was not unhappy, but I was not fulfilled and didn't even know it.

*Next in the series: "Whine, Womyn, and Thongs" (Title by Christine Rosen) Click here for part two

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Comments 30 comments

Green Lotus profile image

Green Lotus 7 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Great reading Alek and I look forward to your next installment. (love the title). I remember wanting to be that "comfortably numb" person too. After all, our mothers, grandmothers and the media fed it to all little girls back before Betty. Thankfully, I never made it.

My mom was the perfect 50's housewife, a real June Cleaver. Then she had enough, got her doctorate in communications at age 43, became a college professor and public speaker and hasn't looked back since.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Wow! Thanks for the really nice comments. I hope the women here on hubpages enjoy this series. And maybe the men too. I'm trying to come at it from several different perspectives. I think I'd connect with your mom. I sort of did the same thing. And the last 20 years of my life have never been happier.

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

I am appreciative that even if the feminists got a little carried away at times, they opened doors for women, and also for men to see women in a different light. I believe many men nowadays including my mate, prefer a woman they can have an intelligent conversation with, share dreams with and who has her own goals; it enhances the union.

I enjoyed this superbly written article and I am looking forward to the next installment!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Violet. So glad you enjoyed the hub. There will be more on this subject soon,

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

I really enjoyed this glimpse back to the 1960's. A friend once told me how perverted the male administrators must have been at her school because the female teachers and the girls all had to wear skirts and dresses. This was a departure from when they were in elementary school because they had been able to wear pants, but for some reason in high school they could only wear pant suits on Fridays, and they would be sent home if these did not match perfectly.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the comments, SP. Actually, It was in grade school that we campaigned for pantsuits. I taught 7th & 8th grade for five years, before transferring to a high school, where I stayed for the next 25 years.

Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Hi, Alekhouse -- I enjoyed this very much, and I already look forward to the next in the series! I tend to agree with you that no matter how much someone of my generation or younger reads about it, we simply can't "get" the constrains women lived by then. I'm grateful of everything that's changed since, much at the expense of society at large (myself, too) ridiculing the "feminist movement" as extremist and radical. Kudos!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Elena, thank you so much for the thoughtful comments. Yes, times have certainly changed.

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 7 years ago from Southern California, USA

I do not know what the female teachers were required to wear at my friend's grade school in the sixties, but I know as kids they wore pants sometimes. When she attended the new high school that year they made a rule about how none of the girls to wear pants except on Fridays. I guess that was the standard thing back then, but to the students and some of the female teachers they thought it was kind of weird the high school had this rule, but not the elementary.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Yeah, sounds a little weird to me

judydianne profile image

judydianne 7 years ago from Palm Harbor, FL

This certainly brought back memories for me. All I ever wanted to do was get married and have kids.. at least that's what I thought back then in the 60's. After getting married and having 3 kids, now grown, there are times when I should have had more goals. I probably would have reached them. I did graduate from college in my 30's, when my kids were very young.

Funny, when you reach the "golden years," you have a lot of time to think about why you didn't do more.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

judydianne, thanks for the comments. You are certainly right, only I don't wish I had done MORE, I wish I had done something else. I would have liked to have been a photographer, but that option wasn't open to me. At least I thought it wasn't.

cosette 7 years ago

you were 21 in the 50s? wow, seriously, you look way younger than that. that was a very interesting hub. i kind of agree with those feminists and then i kind of don't. i guess i don't like the way they diminish the importance of taking care of so many unseen, unappreciated responsibilities, and raising good children. i feel that they devalued those things and i see them as worthwhile pursuits and more important than many endeavours a person can choose. at the same time, i know the women's movement opened doors for women and took them out of the house and into the world, and that's cool - if that is what a woman wanted. but women who wanted to be home with their children should have been applauded for their choice as well.

good thoughtful hub.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Cosette, You're absolutely right. I think that the media, etc. wanted to portray the women in the movement as "not caring, egocentric, misfits"; but from the extensive reading I've done, I don't think this was the case. Yes, the focus was on the women, but I think that is exactly why it was successful.

There are still a lot of changes that need to be made, especially in the corporate world and the workplace, but it is so much better today.

Thanks, Cosette, for the kind remarks about my appearance. It's appreciated when you get to be my age. And glad you enjoyed the hub.

Kat_H 7 years ago

Funny. I remember when I was a kid they actually sold white shoe polish!

Enjoyed the article, looking forward to the next one.

And knowing you personally, I can attest to the secret fountain of youth formula you've got stashed somewhere.

She really does look this good folks! Thank dog for good genes.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Hey, Kath, Thanks for checking out the article. If you hang around long enough, I'll pass that fountain of youth along to you.

BrianS profile image

BrianS 6 years ago from Castelnaudary, France

Horses for courses I think, whether you are a man or a woman. Some people are happy to settle for the routine and fit into the stereotype and some people are not. That said it is much easier to break away from the preconceived ideas in the 21st century than it was in the 20th century.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

How right you are. Thanks for the comments.

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 6 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

I think that we shouldn't ever be completely satisfied with our lives. We should, all of us, be making the means in which to fulfill our goals and dreams. Working towards such an ends will justify the means! Thanks for a wonderful peek into the past that was. Great hub, alekhouse.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks for the nice comments, Dohn. They're appreciated

Lisa HW profile image

Lisa HW 6 years ago from Massachusetts

Alekhouse, some of this brings back memories for me. I came along just after things stopped being "the way it was" for women.

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Well, you'ld have to be there to feel the impact of it. It was a powerful thing. Thanks again for the comment.

Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 6 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Then there was the "Cinderella Complex" which described the obliviousness in another way. I came up through this just a few years after you. Yes, a lot has changed, but it's not enough.

I was sad that Hillary didn't get the final stop in the buck trail. Going on to read the next...

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

So you really understand the issues, etc. Just finished an article for one of my blogs (busineswomensforum) about women still banging their heads on the glass ceiling. Thanks for the comments.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for this Alek. I have read The Female Eunuch and other feminist literature and found it very interesting. Like all oppressed groups women at times collaborated in their own suppression, but some brave souls have led the way to greater freedom. I always say that freedom is indivisible - to the extent that someone else is unfree I am also unfree.

I also read an incredible book, I can't remebver the title or the author (how's that for a Freudian suppression?!) but it, or the author, a woman, preached how wives should be subservient to their husbands and always do whatever makes their husbands happy (I remember the title, suddenly, I think it was called "Total Joy" or some such). I was amazed that a woman would write such nonsense, but it (the book, I mean) was very popular at the time.

Thanks for sharing an intersting read - going on to the next pretty soon)

Love and peace


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Glad you enjoyed the hub, Tony. I had a great time reseaching it

poetlorraine 6 years ago

great start, enjoying getting to know you a little better

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 6 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Lorraine, for the nice comments.

Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 4 years ago from East Coast, United States

Hi Alek - being a housewife with a bunch of kids is quite a job in itself, especially if you are creative, making food from scratch, refinishing furniture, sewing, painting, gardening, running most errands, etc. Housewives often run local clubs, school organizations, and help neighbors and relatives who are in poor health.

Being a housewife is no small job. But! When times get tough, if husband gets hurt or sick, if the marriage breaks up, a woman needs a backup plan.

Today, if you stay home, people think you are a nut or lazy. You may be condemning yourself to a life of poverty. If you work, you don't have time for everything that needs to be done and life is a total rat race. Being a woman was never simple and never will be. Voted up and tweeted!

alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 4 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky Author

Thanks, Dolores, for the thoughtful comment. You made a lot of good points........Nancy

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