Gals, your hubby is going back to work! A collective sigh could be heard from suburban housewives across the country when Donald Trump announced in Michigan, “We are getting your husbands back to work!’
Finally, the ladies can tend to their real duty of being both housewife and mother and let the breadwinner do what God intended. No need to worry their pretty little head about how the bills are going to get paid. Hubbies are back to work and back to being the head of the family.
Trump’s out-of-touch, mid-century scenario seems to jive perfectly with life at Amy Coney Barrett’s house, where the man is always in charge, even if the little lady of the house is a Supreme Court justice.
Whose Blissful Nostalgia?
And what gal wouldn’t want to go back to that time.
A time when the ideal wife was someone who could balance a checkbook, get out of a restaurant without losing her gloves, wear a pair of stockings twice without developing a run, and ensure the Chinese laundry doesn’t smash his shirt buttons and spray too much starch.
Once again Donald Trump invokes the Suburban Housewife, that lily-white mythical creature that once roamed America’s subdivisions dressed in heels and pearls. The Americanus Suburban Housewife circa 1947 to 1975 was a Caucasian, carpool driving, Campbell-soup-casserole-cooking, catering-to-everyone’s needs-but-her-own female who has been extinct for over 45 years. If she ever really existed beyond a certain class.
It is a genus I know well because I am descended from one. Though I am a woman who lives in the suburbs of Suffolk County, my lifestyle cleaves drastically from June Cleaver’s in Mayfield. Nor does it bear any resemblance to my own mother who happily lived out that post-war suburban dream that sprouted up in a field of potatoes in Nassau County, NY. The newly built homes were as homogeneous as its residents, where the same meatloaves were cooked in identical Amana wall ovens, and the African-American cleaning girls came on Thursdays.
Like most girls growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was fed a generous serving of sugar-coated media stereotypes of happy homemakers who were as frozen and neatly packaged as the processed foods they served their cold war families in their split-level homes. It’s clear that Donald Trump dined on these same clichés and still feasts on them.
Try Not to Throw Up When You Read This
To believe all the advertisements and articles in the oversize glossy magazines my mother subscribed to, her life was magical. This new American suburban homemaker was the most envied girl in the world. Smart, yet easy-going with never-you-mind freedom; that was the new Mrs. Homemaker!
“The educated American woman,” Newsweek magazine assured their readers in a March 7, 1960 issue, “has her brains, her good looks, her car, her freedom…freedom to choose a dress straight from Paris (original or copy) or to attend a class in ceramics or calculus; freedom to determine the timing of her next baby or who shall be the next President of the U.S. Who could ask for anything more?” Uh, really?
Hers was a carefree world of no scrubbing, no scraping, no polishing, and no diversity. In a consumer culture of unlimited choices, the suburbs offered only one brand of the American family. But no one seemed to notice.
My mom’s favorite magazines drummed the message endlessly. “Yes,” she read in a March 1958 issue of Family Circle, “for today’s homemaker her home is her castle….Snug within it she basks in the warmth of a good man’s love…glories in the laughter of healthy children…glows with pride in every new acquisition that adds color or comfort pleasure or leisure to her family’s life, And, she’s always there! She’s an up to date modern American suburban housewife.”
This is the image that seems to play in an endless loop in Trump’s head when he envisions the suburban woman. His statement about husbands going back to work confirms what many of us always suspected of his “Make America Great Again”—that he believes our greatness as a country is in a past that short-changed way too many in the country.
“Do Not Count Housework”
In 1960, women like my own mother dutifully filled out their census form while sitting at their Formica kitchen tables happily wrote in their husbands as “the head of the household” on the first line, after entering “homemaker” in the blank for wife’s occupation. It was the new modern term for housewife.
One of the questions on the 1960 Census form concerned whether any member of the household other than the husband worked: “Did this person work anytime last week?” the government asked. The respondent was instructed to include “part-time work such as helping without pay in a family business or on a family farm.” However, Uncle Sam stated very clearly: “Do not count housework.”
As if any woman would ever consider that as work.
When Everything Changed—Except Men Like Trump
By the fall of 1960, in the midst of all this supposed happy homemaking, some quiet rumblings among some unhappy housewives across the country began to be heard. Good Housekeeping tapped into this vein of unhappiness with September article: “I Say: Women Are People Too.” A title that is shocking and outrageous in its obviousness.
The author of the article was Betty Friedan, a 39-year-old freelance writer from the New York suburbs. Friedan, as we well know now, had been asked to assemble a booklet for her Smith college class 15th reunion in 1957. She was shocked by the tales of depression and frustration she received in answer to her questionnaire. Her findings led her to publish The Feminine Mystique in 1963.
For many women, “the problem that had no name,” as she called it, was buried as deeply as America’s missiles were underground. But like those war heads would have done if they’d ever been released, the smoldering yearnings and determination exploded once they’d been unearthed.
The mythical suburban housewife died off long ago, but Trump never took note. He was too busy picking up chicks, screwing around on his wives, being disloyal to friends and business associates—and in almost every way defying the wholesome values that the myth was built on in the first place.