Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Politically Correct Halloween Costume

Last night I had a party in which Halloween costumes were optional. You could either dress up, come as you are, or come as you are and wear a nametag with the costume/disguise you would have donned if you had been so inclined to dress up.

Among the abstract disguises were Fred Thompson, Spider Woman, and Regret (my personal favorite of the night). Among the actual costumes were people in crazy wigs, the 5th Bee Gee brother (who knew there were even 4???), Bloody Mary (the cocktail), and then me, a 50's Housewife.

It dawns on me that perhaps going as a 50's Housewife is not the most politically correct thing to do. After all, women in the 50's who stayed at home weren't, in many cases, given other options--and it isn't as if all of them were miserable robots who slaved away in a domestic arena without agency or access to pleasure, or the ability to have independent thoughts and actions. And yet, as I parodied a 50's housewife, those qualities were the ones I played up, acting as the consummate host to my guests.

I suppose you could say I'm overthinking it--it's not as if I went dressed as a Chinese coolie, a geisha, or a dragonlady--all actual costumes I had seen at one time or another at parties I've attended. And yet, it does strike me as judgmental to say that a 50's housewife can be a source of parody. Or is it that women have achieved to a degree unprecedented since that time that we can look back on that era and say thank goodness we have choices--that women who stay at home can choose to do so without social restrictions that tell them otherwise.

Of course, that's just my circle of friends, who really knows what is going on in the rest of America outside my ivory tower.


Unknown said...

I think it is absolutely wonderful to dress up as a 50's housewife. It was a much better era then, children were supervised not left with babysitters who dont teach the same morals as you would or to run the streets. The families sat down at a dinner table all together, who does that anymore. Children were read bedtime stories, bathed every night and tucked in. Nowadays, children eat fast food, run the streets and wield guns at school, with no one to give them boundries or example of how their life should be molded or give them a good foundation of morals and beliefs to grow from. I think those days were days of responsibility and love, true unselfish love for our children and family. The clothes were washed, house was clean, meals were prepared and much less divorces and children gone astray. Also, may I add that children were disciplined then with a good swat on the butt to teach that "sin" or wrong doing will hurt and to steer them away from such things. I would love that kind of life, I loved hearing my grandma and great grandma telling me of their lives growing up, yes they had to sacrifice and yes it was hard work, but children were more important than having a huge fancy house and two cars and all the material stuff families work so hard for nowadays. If you budget right, you can make it on one income. The exclusion are the poor women who are trying to raise their kids alone. I have been in ALL these situations, and now I stay at home and care for my home and my beloved man, my children are grown and off to college and I know they have a good foundation in life because I CHOSE to stay home and raise my OWN kids and not leave it for someone else or no supervision at all. Hooray to the 50's housewife!

Jennifer said...


Thank you for feeling compelled to leave a comment on my blog.

I'm going to give a little push-back to your comment since you seem to want a conversation with me, and I set up this blog to engage in exactly these kinds of conversations--to show our differences and to try to see a different perspective.

I do appreciate the things you are sharing regarding a concern for a stable family and intimacy that the image of a 50s household projects. And I certainly think that we don't give enough credit to the hard labor and sacrifice that women who elect to stay at home and who have the choice to stay at home make. So I applaud you and your spouse for being able to make those decisions and to feel like they are the right ones for you.

Now, I also have to say that what you write about seems fairly ideal/idyllic--and that the 50s in your configuration, would be available for women who are well-off and white for the most part. In other words, the 50s housewife in your idealization was probably not black--and if she was, she was not quite the happy homemaker that you describe, because at the very least, even if she was well off, the racism of the 50s combined with the sexism and the inability to talk about these things as such (which we are free to do in the 21st century) would have really foreclosed possibilities for her than for her white counterpart. And this would also be largely true for a lot of white immigrant working class women and for Asian American, Latina, and American Indian women as well.

I bring up race because it's never just about gender--and I should also mention that lesbian women in this time period would certainly have been DEEPLY unhappy/tense/anxious because many would not have been free to be out and may have been living in unhappy marriages leading unhappy lives.

I also think that there are many families that I know of who do sit down for dinner at night, where the children are clean, read to at bedtime, have two parents (although they may be of the same sex) and who are fine and happy with both parents working but who have good child care options. In other words, there are many different ways to raise a family--it's not a binary, as your post seems to suggest (perhaps you didn't mean to suggest a binary, but it seemed either-or in my interpretation) where you either stay at home and your kids get fed and are not in a gang, or you work and your kids instantly become at-risk.

I'm being a bit polemic, I know, but I just want to say that there are many ways to raise children, and I think the most important thing, in my opinion, is to be less judgemental of parents and the choices they make because parents face SO MUCH JUDGMENT and I think each family makes choices that they think are the best ones for them within their given constraints of geography, economics, and family structure.