Ask any young lady today what her idea of the “traditional” American woman is, and she will bring up, twisting her face in disdain, the midcentury suburban housewife.
It’s hard to say whether the woman in our heads was ever even real, let alone representative of some majority. Influentially documented (or perhaps, drawn up) by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique, the American housewife has become a stock character for Hollywood mythmakers: isolated, vain, bored; drowning her resentment of her 2.5 kids and their cheating Don Draper of a father in wine and pills. Whatever the reality, this meme overpowered it.
Every meme doubles as a consumer identity and triples as an easily digestible political motif. The “repressed housewife” became a Girardian scapegoat around which the new liberal feminist order coalesced. By the ’70s, more than half of American women were working alongside men outside of the home. The “housewife” was as passée as the dresses she would have worn, the threat she posed now far more imaginary than real. But still, she was routinely resurrected on television and in movies, the ambivalent icon of women’s history in America for decades to follow—the superficial image of what not to be, of a regressive past always threatening to re-impose itself. She was to be relentlessly guarded against, her image in our world and in our own hearts stamped out, replaced instead by the sexually and economically “liberated” girlboss feminist.
Today women, especially, are sincerely frightened by the idea of becoming “just a wife and mother.” American women willingly run from the home, from the specter of becoming a “prisoner” or a “parasite,” or even worse, a “glorified prostitute,” into the open arms of the corporate employer. Laughably, we call this process “freedom.” Read more…