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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Past vs. Present (Unit 3)

Many people look back at the 1950s and think that it was an ideal time period. When you look more closely at the 1950s it is clear that women were not treated fairly at all. Women basically had to be married to have a life. They had to depend on their husbands to be the breadwinner while they stayed home and took care of the family and the home. Many of these ideas are still present in today’s society but at the same time many women have broken the mold and become independent.

In some cases women are marrying men for financial stability and becoming less independent. I come from a family where my mother is the breadwinner and my parents are separated. My entire life my mother has told me to go to college and get educated. She has instilled in me the values of being an independent woman and never having to be with a man because he can financially support me. I use her as an example because she has always been financially independent and has never had to depend on a man. Sadly this is not the case for many women. There is a link between the life of women in 1950s and women today. Work, family and marriage dependency and issues are and were present today and in the 1950s.

Marriage was a status symbol for women in the 1950s. In Stephanie Coontz’s article “What we really miss about the 1950s,” she discusses demographic issues such as the rising birth rate after the war and the lower educational rate as issues that led women to become dependent on marriage. The gender roles of the time period were that “nearly 60 percent of kids were born into male breadwinner-female homemaker families” (Coontz 7). Even today women are staying with men because they can support them financially. In “What do low income mothers say about marriage?” by Kathryn Edin, many women believe “the total earnings a father can generate is clearly the most important dimension for mothers” (Edin 357). Money is a huge factor for most marriages. Women are willing to let men be the breadwinners, which leaves themselves with very few options. This choice mirrors the lives of women in the 1950s. They got married because of financial stability that marriage offers to most women.

Not only is it finances that make women stay in a marriage but respect. Today many women believe “that respectability is greatly enhanced by a marriage tie a routinely employed partner” (Edin 359). Women are willing to stay in an unhappy marriage because of money and respect. This just doesn’t seem right when they can earn respect for themselves elsewhere and be financially independent. Without a husband in the 1950s “women were unable to take out loans or even credit cards in their own name and… they were excluded from juries in many states” (Coontz 15). Husbands were the key to many “luxuries” of the time. Today taking out loans and getting personal credit cards seem normal to women but back then it was not going to happen unless you were married. Women did not have options outside of marriage and they were stuck because they had to raise the family and did not receive education beyond high school.

In contrast to the 1950s more and more women are going to college and graduating today. This is completely opposite of women in the 1950s. The education rates of women in the 1950s decreased while a man’s increased (Coontz 6). Today women “have closed the college education gap and their graduation rate now eclipses men’s” (Stone 324). Women are high achieving and want to work to support themselves. In short they want it all. That includes a family and children. Compared to today very few children “had mothers who worked in the paid work force” in the 1950s (Coontz, 7). Women did not work as much or at all compared to women today. Now women are combining work and motherhood “in greater proportions than ever before: 77 percent in 2004. Over all, these trends show little sign of women reverting to 1950s stereotypes” (Stone 327). Women are showing that they do not need a man to support them and thus they can get married because they want to and not because they feel they have to. An example of the working mother is Miranda from “Sex and the City.” Miranda is a very successful lawyer in New York City and at the same time she is also a mother. She shows how women can have it all and make it work. Women deserve to be able to be mothers and have a job. It comes down to choice for these women.

Independence in all aspects of the word is what I have been taught by mother and what I will teach my future daughter. My mother does not have to depend on anyone and she wants the same for me. Women should want to be successful and independent. They need to know that they can change their lives if they have the want to do so. We can have it all if we work for it. It is sad to think that even today some women are living the life of women in the 1950s. That time period may look ideal but when you look under the surface you see how unfairly women were treated and how they were trapped. It seems that the actions and steps women are taking today show how they do not want to go back in time. They do not want the “cookie cutter” life like many of their parents had. Women have worked hard to gain independence and why should we give it up?

-Campbell Meister

Coontz, Stephanie. "What We Really Miss about the 1950s." (1997).

Edin, Kathryn. "What Low-Income Single Mothers Say about Marriage?" Social Problems 47.1 (2000).

Stone, Pamela. "Getting to Equal: Progress, Pitfalls, and Policy Solutions on the Road to Gender Parity in the Workplace." Pathways Magazine. Spring 2009.


  1. Great post, Campbell! I loved how you used an example from your own life. I can partially relate, as my mom married my dad when she was 38. From the time she moved away from home, she supported herself completely. She dropped out of college, worked, then went back to finish it. It took her six years to earn a bachelor's degree but she did it because she knew it would mean ultimate financial independence from anyone. A key to women's independence is financial independence and this must not be forgotten. When we choose to earn a college education, we take a major step in the right direction. I am in college in large part because of my mom's example - I never want to have to depend on a man for money. The 1950s may seem ideal, but in reality all this decade represents is vapid idealism. Being trapped in an unhappy marriage simply because of a lack of financial means appears to me the definition of unhappiness, and I think most women would agree.

  2. Thanks Amy! I totally agree with you. I came to college as well because I wanted to expand my education and thus gain financial freedom and independence. I think is crucial for women to realize that they are worth more than the man they marry. Any women who chooses to live the life of a 1950s housewife is basically letting a life of independence and happiness slip right through their fingers. Happiness is achieved by gaining independence and this is what all women should strive for in their lives.

  3. I completely agree with both of you. My mom was the primary "bread winner" in my household and continues to be financially dependent. I'm glad you pointed out that more women are going to college today in order to gain financial independence in the future, because that is a great step in achieving this independence young women arguably need. That being said, though, I don't necessarily agree that happiness is achieved by gaining independence. Some people don't want that independence, they are in happy marriages having their husband provide for them. For many women, this is the norm, and I don't feel comfortable saying that's wrong. My aunt is a great example of this. She doesn't work, her husband provides for her, and they are sincerely the happiest couple I know because she has time to raise the kids and be the homemaker she always wanted to be. She isn't fiscally independent, and really if anything happened to her husband, she wouldn't have anything. Yet, I do believe she is a completely content person. All people are different and while complete independence is important for us, for many women that isn't the case.

  4. I think every woman should strive for financial independence in the long run, even if they are being provided for by their husband. If this is the case, they are even in a better financial position to take out loans and go to college. This will give them the freedom to be independent even if their marriage takes a turn for the worse. That is why so many women stay with their husbands through abuse, because they are dependent on them and have no where else to turn. That's not to say that all men are doing what they can to be independent either, as people from both sexes are moving back home with their parents after graduating from college or dropping out. In many cases, men are in the same boat as women. But I think that more women are willing to stay in an abusive relationship than men, but I am not sure of this and it would require a little more research.

  5. I agree with you, Campbell, about how women should strive to have the ability to be independent and financially stable on their own. They shouldn't need to have a husband in order to be happy or in order to go buy the groceries or go to a movie. However, I don't think that should mean they shouldn't have husbands who "bring home the bacon" all together. I'm not sure if that was what you were implying in your blog, but I think some in some cases, when the man is the main supporter in a relationship it's okay. It really depends on the relationship. Some relationships work well when there's only one person in charge. That being said, if the woman is the main supporter, that doesn't mean that the man is unhappy either. I think you need to know what's right for you, and work from there.

  6. Coming from a house hold of two working parents it's interesting to view a single parent family. Both my father and mother have college education requiring jobs so they are quite nice in the aspects of stability and pay. Before when I was younger my mother didn't work or worked as a cashier so that she could care for me and my younger sister. Having said this I feel that independence is something important for women and since the 50's women have strived and pushed well past the requirements of marriage. I felt you did a great job with describing the changes from then till now and pointing out the flaws and inequalities of the "good old times".

  7. Alexis: I totally see where you are coming from with your example of your aunt. Some women choose to have that life. It was their choice to be the homemaker but some cases women do not have that choice and they do not have a happy marriage and they are stuck. I just wish more women strived for some independence so then they would not be stuck.

    Conner: Like I just said to Alexis many women stay in abusive or unhappy marriages because they no choice. Women deserve the kind of freedom as men have financially. I never thought of men being in the same boat as women in the case of dropping out or moving back home. After going to the Smart Salary workshop I just realized how much easier it is for men to get the better paying jobs or get the promotions over the women. The men do not have the same obstacles as women in the workforce such as families and pregnancy.

    Madeline: I didn’t mean to imply that men shouldn’t work and leave the bread winning to the women. I just meant that women should not have to be dependent on a man and they should be in the relationship because they want to and because they are happy.

    Ethan: Thanks. I think some people just look at the glossy side of the 1950s and don’t realize that women did not have necessarily the perfect life. Yes they seemed to have a great life but when you really analyze their situation you see how some women were treated quite unfairly.

  8. Campbell, I really liked your article and thought you did a very nice job. Like you my parents have taught me to be independent and not have to rely on anyone. They always stressed the importance of going to college and getting my education so that I do not have to rely on others. I think that it is devastating that women stay in marriages not because they are in love and happy but for financial stability. I never want to have to rely on a man to financially support me. I think it's sad that so many women are living the lives of the women in the 50's not because they choose to but because they are stuck. However I do think that a women always has the choice to leave a relationship. I realize that it may be scary to leave and leave the financial security, but I think that women have to be strong enough to leave if they are not happy. Most of the time there are other options.

  9. I love how you preach for the strength and independence of women. Yes, the 1950's was a very limited time period for women. One simply couldn't dream of having more than a pink-collar job because men weren't accepting of it. Would you agree when I say that it's mainly because of the veterans returning from overseas combat that almost push the women's rights movement back a decade or so? What if the returning war veterans hadn't demanded their jobs back (which had been given to women once the war began) and women had been allowed to stay in their working class, blue-collar jobs? Do you think that anything would be different in today's culture and society?