Since this is Women’s History Month I began to think back about things having to do with being female. I have been thinking about not only the women who influenced me so much during my growing up and young adult years, but about things that were different for women.
When I was a child women’s roles were clearly marked in our society. They generally applied mostly to white society, things like not working outside of the home unless your husband did not make much money, or being identified by your clothing as to what class you fit into. Many black women worked outside of their homes, some of them in the white women’s homes. Clothing was often a uniform in those service jobs. Of course, the black women made up for it on Sunday mornings by dressing to the hilt.
But being a woman had other requirements besides how you dressed. You were also expected to cook so that every dinner was a gourmet banquet, clean so that you house sparkled, while looking good , of course, and raise intelligent, healthy, cheerful children. Needless to say you were also expected to wait on your husband hand and foot and make sure he had all the comforts of home at all times. After all, he was the breadwinner so he was the most important one. I think back to the commercials of the time and how they portrayed women, particularly wives. Few wives lived up to these standards, of course, but it was clear what was expected even if you fell short of the mark, at least according to television and print media.
Of course, your primary goal in life was to snag a good man, have 2.5 children, a white picket fence and a cocker spaniel. Single women, or spinsters as they were called in those days, were presumed to be lacking in something. Just about the time I was graduating from high school in 1966 society began to change a bit. Now we saw women choosing to have careers. We saw women on television having more options in their careers than just the traditional ones reserved for women. We saw women who (gasp) did not want to get married!
One thing we did not leave behind in the 1950s is the emphasis on women’s appearance. In too many instances, even in 2020, the primary criterion for being considered a true success if you are a female is how you look. Billions of dollars are made off of cosmetics, diet products, wrinkle creams, hair dye, buying hair, creams, nostrums, vitamins, all designed to make you look younger, sexier and more alluring. No matter what her role, politician, businesswoman, professor, entertainer, you will always hear someone offer what I call the “But…” comment. She is smart, but..she needs to do something with that hair, or she is accomplished, but… I wish she would dress better. Comments like that are rarely made about males. When was the last time you heard someone say, “ He is a good doctor, but he always wears the wrong colors for his skin type.”
Another issue is women’s demeanor. Men are assertive, women are aggressive if they state their ideas forcefully. Women are expected to be pleasant at all times or risk being called names that are not complimentary. Having strong opinions and ideas and expressing them clearly and firmly is not something reserved for males.
Womanhood has, in many ways, changed for the better during my life. We have a lot more options now, in careers, roles, behaviors and opportunities. Before I left UNC they had just admitted their first ever majority female medical school class. Even though we still have some barriers to knock down, including how we treat each other, knowing a lot of the women I know, those barriers are toast.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.