The Impact of Nana’s Media Restrictions

I decided to interview my grandmother Nana, from my father’s side of the family. She is 73 years old and was born and raised in Northern California. She grew up in a family with 5 sisters and a stay at home mother. Her father was a well-known and respected doctor who provided his family with a pleasant lifestyle. My grandma attended a private all-girls high school and was not around boys on a regular basis.

During her teenage years, Nana’s family did not own a television, listen to the radio, or consume much media at all. It wasn’t until she was eighteen years old, when they finally acquired a small television as a gift. It was “placed in the back sewing room and not utilized very often”.  When her family did watch television it was mostly westerns, because that is what “father always preferred or permitted” and not much else.  Occasionally though, she and her sisters would watch something else when their father wasn’t home. Nana’s favorites included Anastasia, 7 Brides for 7 Brothers,  and The King and I. When I asked her about idols or celebrities she enjoyed, she mentioned many of the same ones as from the readings, (John Wayne and other cowboys, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, etc) but could not recall a single female actress or celebrity. “They just weren’t as prominent back then, or memorable”.  Some of this might have to do in part to the lack of  emphasis placed on the value of watching television in her family. .  Going to the movies was another restriction, because her mother was scared that “ my sisters and I would catch some bugs at the theatres and come home with them and die”.  Similar to many of the girls in the Hains et al study,  she “much preferred to read, or play outside” than watch something on television or even go to the movies.

Nana did love to read and consume books but preferred classics such as Caddie Woodlawn, Robison Crusoe, and  “anything by Charles Dickens”.  Another important part of her teenage years included music, just like many of the girls from the Hains et al Study. However, Nana’s interest in music was a little different. Her mother was a chamber choir instructor for some of the best choirs in the country and would travel in competitions with them. Naturally, Nana was a classically trained singer but that did not stop her from enjoying pop music as well.  With her strict parents, it was difficult to find a time and place for listening to music but she and her best friend managed to sneak out and buy a record of Elvis Presley, “whom we both adored but only admitted to each other” . Like Leslie and Elizabeth from the study, Nana and her friend enjoyed his music and his “looks” but did not appreciate how other girls Lusted over him”. Interestingly, although she was a classically trained musician,  Nana “loved rock”  and Elvis, but again, was almost confused when I asked her about female musicians and vocalists and said “there were none that I recall listening to with my girl-friends”.

Overall, Nana experienced the teenage years with relatively little interactions with media. When she did consume it, it was either with her sisters or her schoolmate girl-friends. She spoke about how she doesn’t regret any of media experiences or lack thereof and looks at the time of her life “rather fondly”.  When I asked her how she felt about the general gender roles and representations in media around that time, she keenly noted that since she did not “indulge in media often, it was easy to see that everything in it was just a perception and nothing more”. When I asked her to elaborate she explained how although it bugged her that women were  “unfairly, unrealistically, and under-represented” in media, it didn’t particularly anger her because she knew that the media world, existed apart from “her world”, which she viewed more positively. She also mentioned that “boys on television and film were nothing like the boys I had met and knew in my life” as proof that the media world and her world  were clearly different. Nana recognized the male and female discrepancies in media but remained a passive acceptor  or consumer of it none the less. Today she still only watches westerns and films from the 50’s and 60’s, reads classic novels, and listens to music from the 60’s, mostly performed by men.

After talking to my grandma, I recognized the many similarities between her and other women in the Hains et al study. The most startling and perhaps disturbing trend I noticed was the passive acceptance of male dominated media. They seemed to be dimly aware that there was something not quite right and fair about it, but found ways to enjoy it none-the-less.  I surprised to learn this from my grandmother who I had previously perceived or guessed would have been more actively or fiercely passionate about her gender having more opportunities and roles in the media world. Yet maybe she was still a competent and non- dainty woman because  she didn’t consume very much media. In this way, she was able to clearly differentiate from the media world and her own and thus not be as influenced by media as other women were. Perhaps because of her upbringing, she was not as susceptible  or accepting of passive,  and traditional roles for women in society that media mostly re-enforced. After all, she did go to Cal Berkeley and eventually become a veterinarian. My conclusions are that, overall, media from the 1950’s significantly impacted gender roles and identity in society.


4 thoughts on “The Impact of Nana’s Media Restrictions

  1. I found your grandmother’s comments on media being apart from her world interesting. My grandmother (who is about the same age) made similar comments saying that the families portrayed on TV were a very sanitized version of the ideal white, middle class family that didn’t really fit into her experiences in the real world. They saw these discrepancies, but because their were no alternatives to the traditional depictions of women, they didn’t actively question it.

  2. I was struck as well by similar feelings with your grandma and my mother. Even with the decade difference in age, my mom expressed feelings of dissatisfaction with most of the media (mainly TV) that she encountered. And I agree upbringing probably has a huge impact on one’s relation with different media sources. My mom had somewhat liberal parents and she commented in her interview of having liberal professors as well in college. Because of her background she had the knowledge and awareness to notice the idealized families expressed above and see the disconnect sometimes between tv and real life.

  3. I really want to unpack your grandma’s relationship with her father and TV, the whole “we watch what dad says we watch” thing, as well as sneaking in extra programs when dad wasn’t home really echoes the intranet age today. The new media, embraced by one generation and rejected by the previous. The types of media consumed were very connected to what father approved of, and what was rebellious. I would think that subconsciously, the westerns that dad approved of became a representation of the expected norms that your parents liked, (if you bring home a John Wayne type for a date, that is good) these sorts of programs, and t he messages they contained, probably became consistent with the messages their parents approved of. Conversely, if dad didn’t approve, that translated to a forbidden fruit in the real world. If we look at this today, we can probably detect some similar scenarios concerning music and the Internet, what do our parents let us see? And how does that change our view of the product?

  4. Andy’s comment is such a good one — and I find your Grandmother’s upbringing at once so singular and unique….and yet it also seems like thousands of girls probably experienced something so similar, even if with slightly different parameters…? All-girls schools in general are always fascinating to me, if only because they are at once incubators for regressiveness (cattiness, shaming, typical mean girls stuff) AND feminism, progressivism, supportive female systems, etc. Excellent interview, Tabor.

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