In the 70’s when Dad and I were raising kids, gender stereotyping was rigid to say the least. Of course we were the products of very conservative families. There were strong societal pressures for women to be superb housewives. As you know my mother was a devoted housewife. Her white whites and clean corners were her pride. Dinners were on the table promptly at 5:15 when her husband came home.
I was trying to break away from that life, but the old messages were deeply ingrained. Though Dad and I tried to share household tasks, for a long time I would tell him not to spill the beans to my family. He wasn’t allowed to vacuum whenever Ma or Pa happened to stop by. The first time he ironed his own shirt I closed the drapes. When the truth came out, he was praised for ‘helping’ me around the house. I inwardly seethed.
As you remember Dad’s mother worked all her life, but she too was proud of her housecleaning skills. She often talked of washing walls and ironing the linens for the carefully organized closets. Both grandmas had such high standards of both house cleaning and food preparation, I knew I could not measure up. Consequently family gatherings at our home were always stressful. I tried to spiff things up as well as prepare the meals, making myself half crazed in the process. But failure seemed ever present. The mothers were critical in one-way or another. Food choices not quite right. Or not prepared properly. Tablecloth not well ironed. Oven not sparkling clean. I regret my worry over such trivialities. But those were the pressures I felt.
Today the pressures are different. A new book, All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior, discusses this. She claims now parents have this pressure to provide not only for all the material needs of their children but the psychological ones as well. It’s an impossible standard. But societal pressures are strong.
In the 70’s and 80’s the winds of change brought heightened consciousness of women’s lack of power. I was enough of a feminist to be appalled at Barbie. I bristled at the suggestion that women were only interested in make-up and shopping. Fast forward to the 21st century. I buy my granddaughters Barbies. I take them shopping and am glad to do so. Mostly because it gives me time alone with them. I even take them to stores I would not be caught dead in when I was younger. A tween girls store like Justice would have appalled me. It still sort of does. The sparkled and frilly clothes along with the crazy abundance of make up items encourage young girls to focus too much on personal appearance.
Though I worry about that, time to just hang out with my girls outweighs my feminist concerns. I try to tell them how beautiful they are as they are without all the frills. But again, those societal forces beyond us are powerful.