A story posted by The Daily Mail earlier this month tells the tale of Katrina Holte, a Hillsboro, Oregon, woman who quit her job to cosplay a ’50s housewife.
Let me start by saying kudos to Holte for using her 2019 freedoms to follow her 1950s dreams. Everyone should be so lucky as to get to decide what they wear and how they spend their time. That’s the future our foremothers fought for.
But as much fun as I am sure she is having living a vintage life, which literally includes watching shows like “I Love Lucy” and listening to vinyl recordings, I think it’s important to remember that being a ’50s housewife was actually totally awful, and something our grandmothers and mothers fought against.
For example: Once I called my grandma and asked her for her recipe for Cloud Biscuits, these delicious biscuits she used to make that we would smother in butter and homemade raspberry jam on Thanksgiving.
“Why would you want that?” she said. “Go to the store. Go to the freezer section. Buy some premade biscuits and put them in the oven.”
She straight-up refused to give me the recipe, because it was hard and took a long time to make. In her mind, it was a waste of time.
Getting off the phone, it occurred to me that spending every day of your life serving a husband and five children wasn’t fun at all. And then there are the grandchildren who eventually come along demanding Cloud Biscuits, a whole new expanded set of people to feed.
She was basically a captive to those hungry mouths, cooking scratch meals three times a day. When she wasn’t trapped in the kitchen, she had to keep the house clean, make sure she looked good enough to be socially acceptable, and make sure her kids and husband looked good enough to be socially acceptable. And she had no days off.
I know my grandma loves her kids and her grandkids, her husband and the life she led, but man, it must have been a lot of thankless, mindless labor.
No wonder everyone went all-in on processed foods when they came around. Imagine the nice break something like a microwave dinner would give a woman working, unpaid, for her family every single day?
I also had another grandma. She was a scholar who helped found the Center for the Study of Women in Society at University of Oregon. She was a pioneering second-wave feminist who wrote books, gave lectures and traveled the world.
But she did all of that after divorcing my grandpa, when most of her kids were out of the house.
Back then, in the ’50s and the ’60s, there were no illusions about women “having it all.” How could that even possibly happen? If you were taking care of a family, waiting on your husband, you had no time to follow your dreams, unless you made that your dream.
A lot of women took that approach. We call it Stockholm syndrome now.
And of course, these women I am talking about are/were upper-middle-class white women. Romanticizing the 1950s is especially gross when you think about how women of color and poor women were treated back then, and the lack of education and choices available to them.
Because the women in this country demanded something approaching equality, Holte has the chance to live out her fantasy. Not every woman in America is so lucky.
We still don’t have pay equity and in many states, we still don’t have autonomy over our own bodies. Poor women and women of color still lack the opportunities of their wealthy and white peers.
And while it’s getting better, women are still expected to be responsible for the emotional labor of running a household and raising the children.
But at least we can get jobs. At least we don’t have to sew our own clothes, wear a full face of makeup every day and spend hours making Cloud Biscuits some ungrateful kid will gobble up, barely remembering to say thank you.
Commentary by Lizzy Acker of The Oregonian via TNS