I’m reading a novel at the moment about a housewife in the 1950’s and I’m struck by the quiet and the sheer boredom that hits me on every page as she tries to keep busy in her empty apartment, thinking up new household chores just to pass the hours until her husband and kids come home from work and school. As I turn the pages I feel quite happy that I’m not her; that I don’t have to deal with the insecurity of not being independent, and the lack of confidence that comes from having nothing that’s my own.
I’ve been told that I sometimes make it sound like I think things have taken a turn for the worse, that they were better in the good old days, especially for mothers. Well, some things are worse than back in the day – global warming for one. But a lot of things are better, and I would certainly not want to go back in time. As a woman, I really like being able to vote, having a career, and being able to autonomously make decisions about my life. I like that my husband and I share household chores.
And things aren’t only better for women. Modern medicine and inventions like the vaccine have increased life expectancy; people live longer and living standards are higher. No, I certainly wouldn’t want to go back in time. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be critical of life as we know it today.
In the Nordic countries at least, the past few years have witnessed some sort of retro-housewife trend, where the 50’s housewife is romanticized. I’ll paint you a picture: the perfect house, the perfect wife, pretty cupcakes… I’ve been told it has become a question of status to be able to pick one’s kids up early from daycare (although it’s of course mothers who do this, not fathers.). This is certainly not what feminists had in mind when they struggled for decades to give women the same rights and opportunities as men to pursue a career and to have a life beyond the private sphere of the home.
And I do love cupcakes, don’t get me wrong. But this trend is a bit ironic, because I don’t think any of us, if we think about, really want to go back to the 1950’s. However, I do think a lot of people experience a longing for something else – for a simpler life. There is something about contemporary society that is completely different from anything we have ever experienced before. Yes, we have had globalization and travel since ancient times. We have had media and consumption. But it is the sheer speed and intensity of life and work today that makes living in the 21st century different. Way of life in contemporary society has a deep effect on us, on our identities, and on how we make sense of everything.
According to David Boyle, author of Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life, there is a longing for the authentic and the “unspun”. Downshifting trends and the increased demand for natural, organic, simple, and sustainable products suggest exactly this: that we are simply getting sick of “the fake, the virtual, the spun and the mass-produced.” Now that I can certainly relate to.
Speaking of feminism, one of my favorite quotes of all time is one by Caitlin Moran from her book How to Be a Woman:
“We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? Or were you just DRUNK AT THE TIME OF THE SURVEY?”