1950’s Girls Annuals: the Homemaker

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Seventy years on from when the girls annual of the 1950’s were being read in the  pink bedrooms of the post-second world war generation we look back at there content. Where they looking to inspire the girls who would grow up to lead second-wave feminism through the seventies, or were they looking to indoctrinate the next generation of Housewives?

Girls literature of the 1950’s painted a world of domestic bliss. The role of sewing, the adoration of flowers and the wearing of impractical clothing prevailed across the pages of mid-century girls annuals. Poems encourage the practice of cleaning, baking, being house-proud, having the most perfect hair and awaiting the kiss of a man. The role of the party planner is put forward, a caregiver role projected. However, not to be forgotten in Britain, the concept of making tea in a crisis is ever-present.

Pressures on young girls to be lady-like

The continual pressures on young girls to be lady-like. Any matters of rebellion from this notion are lame and akin to stories of naughty schoolgirls. Images of impractical sports clothing, skirts worn for tennis and golf. Dancing is in full costume and skiing is shown to be gentle and relaxing. With sports like rowing, women simple sit back as men take the oars. Similar scenes are shown with motor vehicles, males are strong and take the wheel, steering away from danger and girls watch on. Generally, the women are beautiful, appear to be sunning themselves as the men do all the work. They are gorgeous, pale-skinned, flushed cheeks with bouncy blond hair adorning their slim bodies. Looks of women pleading with men as they carry all the heavy items. Delicate women prevail as they receive kisses on the hand from admiring men. Many of the tales inscribed simply escalate to men saving the day as the women look on in awe.

Boys literature of the period was in starch contrast to that of girls. They masqueraded daring adventures, escapades and the dangers of warfare so prevalent on the minds of those growing up in the years which were the aftermath of World War Two. Presenting depictions of action sports, space exploration and tackling monsters. Many of the tales bore similarities to the ever-popular Westerns of the time, cowboys, Indians and hunting. Cops and Robbers was an ever-present theme. We were also introduced to the world of large, expensive motorcars, Bentley’s of the era. Top athletes, racing and highly competitive sports dominated the pages of the 1950’s annuals. Men were shown to be strong and capable, getting into fights and adventures took place across the globe. Incidentally, many of the representations of black people were tribal in origin. Images of women seem simply to depict a gorgeous girl who sits there as the man wins her with his actions. Cigars are also present, as a male indulgence, not something to be discouraged. Work and logic puzzles were headlined around ‘Shoot’ and ‘Hit’, evoking a strong sense of competition. Practical skills were encouraged through narrative’ around tools and making exercises were played out.

Contemporary girls literature has modified immensely from the 1950’s. Positive, empowering statements ‘I can’ and ‘You can do anything’ embrace our pages. Girls are now dressed as action figures and take on space exploration. Females from ethnic minorities are now included and girls vary greatly in their appearance. We are presented with different faith groups and the idea of unconventional family groups are put forward. Those with disabilities are shown and take on powerful roles.

Becoming a ‘Leader’ is suggested, women are no longer here simply to do as men instruct them.

Inspirational positions and occupations are presented as life choices. Becoming a ‘Leader’ is suggested, women are no longer here simply to do as men instruct them. Positive real-life role models are presented through photography and text. Girls are shown to be practical, using tools and building projects. The former male domains of math’s and science are promoted, the aesthetics of wearing goggles for experiments put in a positive light. Environmentalism is a new agenda, current affairs and politics are embarrassed. Tea parties are now of the fair trade variety and healthy pursuits of foraging for food are encouraged, taking from the male hunter, gatherer role. Making projects develop skills in science, numeracy levels and encouraging activism.

The nostalgia of the fifties is enjoyable to re-collect, the role of the mother and the home-maker not to be discredited, contemporary girls literature id clearly more inspirational. Modern-day girls Annuals promote positive female aspirations, leadership and activism, not being lady-like and waiting for a man to save the day. Female literal sources which will create a more positive power balance for women of the future.

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Gloria Steinem

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The iconic feminist, the writer, the political activist and the author of her later biography, ‘My Life on the Road’.

As a girl, she traveled across the US between Ohio and Florida for most of her informative years. The trailor upbringing came to an end when her parents divorced, she went to live and care for her depression troubled mother, now attending school regularly from
the first time at the age of eleven.

After college she was awarded a fellowship and spent two years in India. During her travels she opted for a termination of pregnancy in London ten years before they were legal.

From this she became a journalism, a groundbreaking article being ‘A Bunny’s Tale’, where she went undercover as a playboy bunny to get the dirt on Hugh Hefner and the Playboy empire. Co-founding New York Magazine and Ms Magazine, which she later became an editor for several decades later. From the late sixties she rubbed shoulders with greats like Betty Friedan as they marched for the liberation of women.

Now, at the age of eighty-five, she is technically in retirement. However, social activism work is not something you retire from, she is still penning the writings which inspire women Globally.

Her latest biography, ‘My Life on the Road’ contains so many awe-inspiring quotes, we give only a few to lay a foundation for Steinemism and the future:

Dick and Jane limitations that school put on girls.’

From her travels in India:

High caste women were sexually restricted and women at the bottom were sexually exploited.’

‘Most of us, I love graduations. They are individual and communal, an end and a beginning, more permanent than weddings, more inclusive than religions, and possibly the most moving ceremonies on earth.’

‘Needing approval is a female cultural disease, and often a sign of doing the wrong thing.’

‘I was angry about the human talent that was lost just because it was born into a female body, and the mediocrity that was awarded because it was born into a male one.’

‘A journey -whether it’s to the corner grocery or through life-is supposed to have a beginning, middle and end, right? Well the road is not like that at all. It’s the very illogical and the juxtaposed differences of the road-combined with our search for meaning-that make travel so addictive.

‘My Life on the Road’ is available from Amazon

More about Gloria Steinem

 

 

Virginia Woolf and the Hours

Hours

The Hours

Three Women, One day.

Michael Cunningham’ novel, The Hours and the movie version, Directed by Stephen Daldry, gives a very accurate portrayal of Virginia Woolf beginning with her final act: suicide. The narrative intertwines the lives of three women: Virginia Woolf, Laura Brown an unhappy housewife in 1950’s Loss Angeles and Clarissa Vaughan a bisexual woman living at the end of the twentieth century in New York City. In this, we explore mortality, social roles, lesbianism and artistic endeavour throughout both the novel and the film.

The prologue begins with Virginia Woolf walking, almost marching towards the River Ouse to ultimately drown herself. On her way she stops to pick up a large stone, admiring its form as she does so. She then proceeds to enter the water, the actual death scene in the film echoing the great painting Ophelia by John Everett Millais of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Virginia takes in every detail of everything around her until the life has gone from her. We then switch back to 1923 when she is not so unwell, a happier time, the day when she begins to write one of her most successful novels ‘Mrs Dalloway’. Throughout the day she adds details to the novel from events which occur. After the embrace with her sister, she decides that Mrs Dalloway will have been in love with another woman when she was younger. After observing a dying bird she decides that Mrs Dalloway will commit suicide over something very trivial, a domestic choir. She later changes her mind, lets the character live but replaces the act with the suicide of a soldier. After handling her servant, Nelly badly she decides that Mrs Dalloway will be remarkably good at handling servants and writes this into the dialogue. Her sister is in fact very good with servants and her presence in the novel provides a contrast to Virginia. The production also gives a strong insight into her mental health the penultimate climax of her narrative being her journey to the train station where Leonard her devoted husband finds her and takes her home to keep her from harm’s way.

Laura Brown is living in Los Angela’s in mid-twentieth Century America. In this she is living the American Dream, she has a beautiful house, a loving husband, a war hero, a son and is expecting a second baby. However, ultimately, she is deeply unhappy with her life and the domestic role which she has been handed. This is symbolised by the Cake which she bakes for her husbands Birthday: Although the cake is perfectly adequate she wants it to be a work of art to reflect how perfect she is at domestic life, so she throws it out and starts again. Later in the novel, she becomes enraged when Dan, her husband, spits slightly when he blows out the candles. Her neighbour, Kitty, presents a contrasting character to Laura. She is loud, glamorous and was very popular at High School, where she was more interested in reading. Kitty character introduces the theme of fertility to the hours, Woolf never having children herself. Laura and Kitty embrace in a similar way the sisters earlier in the novel. Laura’ activities link to Virginia Woolf through the reading of Mrs Dalloway, taking time to ensure she reads more of the works. Her narrative climax’ in a hotel room where she seriously contemplates committing suicide. Outside of the context of the book, she fails in an attempt to commit suicide in recovery she leaves her family and moves to Canada.

Clarissa Vaughan is a bisexual woman living at the end of the twentieth century in New York City. Her character embodies the character of Mrs Dalloway in the Woolf’ novel. Her close friend and former lover, Richard is in-fact the grown-up child of Laura Brown who she abandoned. He calls Clarissa ‘Mrs Dalloway’ or ‘Mrs D’ for short. Clarissa has some doubts over her domestic set up, she is living with Sally her lover, however, it is not an exciting relationship it is mundane. Clarissa is pre-occupied with morality throughout the novel, in glimpsing a movie star she ponders over when they have died they will live on through screenings of the film. The climax of Clarissa’ narrative is the suicide of Richard, in losing his battle with Aids he decides to jump from the window of his apartment saying good buy to Clarissa before the ultimate plunge. After Richards death Laura Brown, now an elderly lady comes to meet Clarissa in New York. Clarissa does not blame Laura for leaving her family, although she witnessed Richards torture from this act she shows understanding of her actions as a mother.

This Novel and film created over half a century after Virginia Woolf’ death explore her and the writings in the greatest artist sense. Many themes are embrace throughout the three different days of three different women. On a surface level through Clarissa we see how attitudes towards sexuality have changed, acceptance being shown through her rather unremarkable same-sex relationship.

However, the suicide of Richard shows how times have not changed since Virginia’s generation. Again we have a frustrated writer, unhappy with his work mental health problems brought on by Aids who takes his own life. Could Virginia Woolf been happy in a modern climate, would she have escaped her demon’s, or would the same fate be waiting? Who knows but we certainly have a stunning novel and film which is a tribute to the Virginia Woolf we have presented here.

Alison Little