Desperate Housewives of the 1950s and 1960s

          Betty Friedan’s 1963 publication of The Feminine Mystique ensured women that they were not alone in suffering “the problem that has no name.”  During the 1950s and 1960s, society had deemed women’s role as wife and mother, insular and alone.  Society said that they should have been happy and content as housewives, eager and delighted to wash yet another load of laundry and cook yet another meal for her family.  This was not the case and many women sought psychiatric help to find a cure for whatever this problem was that they were feeling, but could not put their finger on.

          Some doctors blamed education as the source of female unrest.  Women were going to college, but their ultimate goal was to find a husband during their years of study to go on to what was considered the ultimate career: housewife and mother.  Unhappiness, through this theory, came from women becoming educated and then having no outlet for their intellectual thoughts.  They sat at home reading the newspaper and staying up-to-date on the world around them, but it made little difference as they had no forum in which to discuss current issues.

            Other psychiatrists and physicians were certain that the problem women were facing must be a sexual one.  When husbands came home from a long day of work to his wife who had worked hard within the household, both partners were too tired to keep up a healthy sex life.  This caused in some women a “sexual hunger” that doctors felt was the root of their problem.  It seems more likely, though, that a woman who sits at home all day in her quaintly furnished prison with no one but her children to talk to is starved for attention of any sort, not necessarily sexual.  When her husband comes home in the evening, she is probably likely to have a chance to spend time with someone her own age and discuss world events; yet, if he is too tired to give her the attention she craves, she is left feeling more empty and alone than before.

            How were women supposed to cope with such anxieties?  By the mid-sixties, Women’s rights groups such as the New York Radical Women (NYRW), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWC) began taking a stand so that female voices could be heard on important women’s issues and the portrayal and demands of women in American society.  During this time, women’s history, or “gender studies” courses and programs sprang up across the country despite hesitation from educational institutions who felt that history education should only address patriarchal issues that exclude women from the record.  Some believed that women’s issues were limited to sex and the home and should not be intermingled with politics and economics.  What they neglected to realize was the fact that women were, and still are, the country’s biggest consumers who would have the most knowledge on marketing trends.  Through the efforts of these groups, women facing “the problem that has no name” were able to get out of their houses and into the public sphere where they could voice their opinions and share their intelligence, finding their personal identities that were locked up in a broom closet for so many years.  

2 thoughts on “Desperate Housewives of the 1950s and 1960s

  1. The Feminist Movement was widely criticized by women of color for being a middle class movement of white women for white women. Feminist author Audre Lorde wrote

    “As white women ignore their built in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of color become ‘other,’ the outsider whose experience and tradition is too ‘alien’ to comprehend.”

    Many women of color felt excluded from the movement and believed it did little to understand the integral relationships between race, gender, and class. Women of color advocated their own kind of feminism through groups such as The Third World Women’s Alliance (1969). The organization was inclusive of women of color and poor women, and believed liberation could only be achieved by confronting issues of race and class.

  2. I am glad there are such articles as this one on the web. it’s hard to find the right keywords to find articles on women’s living in the 1960’s. this is the first article I have found in two days

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