Housewife Role Models & Defeated Aspirations

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My mother was born in 1956 as the youngest of four girls. She was born in Seattle and she went to Bellevue High School, which today is a high school that many Seattleites would say carries the stereotypical teenage girl. First and foremost, I’d like to touch on the “lack of racial diversity” that Hains, Thiel-Stern, and Mazzarella point out in their study by recognizing that in my mother’s exposure to media, the only diversity she was exposed to was the news on the Vietnam war, which she says is what she remembers most about media in her time. I realize that my mother and the authors of this article are referring to diversity in different places, but I get the feeling that because there was no diversity in media at the time, the attracted audience was far less diverse. My mother went to a high school that, like most others at the time, started in 10th grade. So the transition of becoming a “teenager” started at a much later time for her generation than it does for ours—which I would estimate at about 14 years old. This is particularly interesting when considered with Mazzarella’s comment that “how Americans think about young people is a construction of a particular set of social, political, economic, and cultural changes that occurred during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the U.S” (114 Mazzarella). Despite the time constraint put on this statement, I believe that it would be almost more accurate to say that the way Americans think about young people is a construction of a particular set of social, political, economic, and cultural changes that occur over a generation’s lifetime. The way that my mother reflects on the young people of her generation, and of the generations in between mine and hers, is far different than how she thinks of young people in my generation. This judgment is made by contrasting my own experiences to hers, and no doubt the differences that arise are a product of the changes that have occured in society, politics, and culture since then. When I asked my mom if there was any aspect of media that she found particularly distasteful or just generally disliked, she replied with sass that, no there were not, “although there are plenty today that come to mind”.

            In terms of what mattered, I asked my mom if celebrities were discussed at all, and her simple answer was no. The life of other people was not at all interesting to her or her sisters—which is part of the reason she is so baffled by TV shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians and Jersey Shore. When I asked if they were idolized, she, like many of the women in the article, cited men—primarily the Beatles—as the only “idol” like figures. When I asked her what characterized a teenage girl of her time she pointed to the role of the diehard fan—“the teenage girls were totally gaga head over hells for the Beatles…like literally fainting at their concerts”.

When I asked my mother about dances/dancing in general, she gave me two quite different scenarios—one at organized dances, and the other unorganized musical gatherings. When she was in high school, she said, there was a lot of swing dancing at the school dances, and until you knew how to swing dance, it was horribly awkward. She said that dancing was influenced by Grease, but that the influences took time, so it wasn’t normal for trends to come and go quite as quickly as they do now—whether it be in behavior, dress, or media taste.  Outside of school dances, as in at ‘parties’, there were things that my mom referred to as “jam sessions. Where musician friends would get together and just jam-out” (lol).

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 My mother was also quite similar to the women being interviewed in the article as she too referenced the cowboys as her favorite characters. She said, “Bonanza was my absolute favorite and I LOVED Hoss, one of the main characters.” Image

When I asked why she said simply, “because he was a cowboy, he was nice and just seemed sweet. I also liked “Little Joe” though, he was also a cowboy. I really liked the western type shows.” I tried to prod into why she liked these shows and she said that she wasn’t sure, but that it might have something to do with the fact that she really liked horse camp and the adventurous aspect of the western shows. This is particularly interesting as Gauntlett illustrated that men in the media at this time were portrayed as aggressive, adventurous, and active (47 Gauntlett)—which could perhaps provide an explanation for my own mother and the women in Mazzarella’s article having male “idols”, as they could relate to Hoss more than the women of Bonanza…who are listed in the character list as “blonde saloon girl” and “brunette saloon girl”.

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All this being said, it is important to note that my mother may not have been the typical teenage girl—although I really don’t know. She said that she was too hyper to sit in front of a radio or even a TV. As a college student, my mom was a D1 athlete and said she read the newspaper every morning and read TIME magazine—but watched no TV at all. There was very little “mainstream media”, she said, “and accessibility was also a factor.”

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When I asked my mom what she had wanted to do when she grew up, she said that in high school she wanted to be a lab/research scientist, but that she had neither the aptitude nor the mindset. I was pretty struck by this and it made me a little sad to hear my mother say that. When I asked about the mindset, she said “all we [she and her 3 older sisters] were encouraged to do was find a good husband”. This says something not only about the culture, but also about the role models. As was pointed out in class, a little girl will rarely say she wants to grow up to be president, but primarily because isn’t a female president. I suspect this principle may be applied to my mother’s dampened aspirations. My mother said that she was never expressly told to find a husband, but that’s what her sisters were told, and that’s what everybody else was doing. By the time my mom graduated high school, two of her sisters were married, one had a baby, and one was engaged. These women were her role models, and there were very few women to suggest that, if she so chose, she could be a research scientist.

 

 

 

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One thought on “Housewife Role Models & Defeated Aspirations

  1. Wonderful interview, Helena — and really illuminating. I think each of these interviews speaks so much to the various contradictions facing women during this time, and the fact that your mother didn’t consume a significant amount of media as a college student (and most likely wasn’t “influenced,” per se, but its representations) didn’t change what options she saw open to her post-grad. And beautiful opening picture, too…..

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