7 Nov 2010

Lessons From A Husband-Obsessed 50s Housewife

Before I begin yammering about the lessons that I learned from the husband-obsessed 50s Housewife Experiment, I want to make it clear that - just like the initial list of 50s housewife lessons - I'm not suggesting that these notes are specifically for wives-only - they're applicable to anyone, regardless of gender, occupation or marital status. Frankly, I'm not even comfortable suggesting that any of this should be considered advice for anyone at all. After all, I'm just some random loudmouth you came across on the Internet. I'm not Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz or any other FrankenGuru spawned in Oprah's Laboratory™.

That said, I took what I consider to be the best ten nuggets of wisdom from the past week and explained them below. Some are really simple and obvious and some will BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Well, probably not. You might, in fact, just find them all to be as pointless and as confusing as the Rogers ringback. That's OK.

1. Know Your Meat
We ate more meat this time around to satisfy Patrick's bloodlust palate. If you eat meat (and you don't have to) it's in your interest to know more about it. There's different ways to marinate, cook, rest and pair different cuts to capture the best flavour and / or texture of this protein. Some cuts are just as wonderful as others when prepared right, but available for way cheap. Don't know what's what? Talk to a butcher! They're fantastic and knowledgeable in their craft and happy to help you out. Do also know that the meat your grandparents ate likely isn't like the meat you're getting at the grocery store today. All this talk about antibiotics in feed and factory farming and effed up crap (of the literal variety) getting in our food supply isn't just for dirty hippies to be concerned about. Do check out the information available if you feel so inclined.[/lecture]
* Only getting the best when getting meat - keeping it.
* Asking the butcher stupid questions - keeping it.
* Eating meat nearly everyday - ditching it.

2. Salads ARE For Lovers
If you love your health, you'll add some more leafy greens to your daily diet. They were part of the "Basic 7" foods every housewife was suggested to serve her family each day - and she was encouraged to eat and serve more of them if she was concerned about her or her husband's weight. Consider this: the average waist size of the American woman in the 1950s was 25". Today, the average is 10" bigger. That sounds like an ExtenZe testimonial gone horribly wrong. In any case, I'm sort of inclined to take the wee-waisteds' advice on this one.
* Having at least one salad a day - keeping it.

***Because I'm so appallingly desperate for attention nice, if you comment in this post, you'll be entered in a draw for a chance to WIN a copy of Good Housekeeping's Book of Salads (here's a lovely picture from within it. Mmm!) Please refer to my other vintage cookbook giveaway regarding the condition of this prize and the fact that you'll need to provide some way that I can track you down if you win. Comment about anything you want - there is no wrong thing to say. There is only Zuul. Deadline for the draw entries is Monday, November 15, 2010 at 6 PM EST.***

3. Maybe We're Addicted To Things That Go "Bing!"
This particular lesson is somewhat of an extension of the observation I picked up the first time I did a 50s Housewife Experiment - that lesson being "Maybe We're a Bit Too Distracted." Like last time, I did my best to avoid technologies not available in the 1950s (except when it came to blogging, obvies) - and man, was it ever hard. We had a rule that there could be no use of cell phones or computers or TV when we were dining or talking with one another (you can't lize and text!) and it got to a point that we literally had to turn everything OFF in order to accomplish this.

Like Pavlov's dogs, at the sound of the little alert (indicating a new e-mail, a text message, or a notice that someone had retweeted one of our *genius* musings), something strange would come over us. We could be in the middle of the deepest conversation of our lives (likely topics: doughnuts, Muppets, gout) and we'd hear a little "bing!" and life would stop. It would take everything in our power not to lunge for the gadget. And then we'd just stare at it - drooling. I'm not kidding, it was like some kind of drug response.

Turning everything off allowed us to concentrate on things-not-digital. It didn't kill us to be disconnected from that which went *bing!* for an hour or two and in fact allowed us to better connect with the other people in the room.
* Going out without cell phones - as if.
* Turning off all electronics for some private time together - keeping it.

4. Get Your Game On For Guests
For the most part, when I go out to parties and get-togethers, the main form of entertainment is drinking. Let me make it clear - I AM NOT COMPLAINING. Drinks are wonderful, wonderful things. Let's never, ever question that. That said, you can have drinks and games, like the amazingly fun night of Name Game.

The next time you're hosting people, consider encouraging a round of a favourite game, just like a 50s housewife would have. Want to know what's priceless about someone doing a charade version of Michael Keaton? It's the person in the room who was born after 1990 who asks, "Who the hell is Michael Keaton?" It's the fact that for a rare moment in time, NO ONE is looking at their iPhone or Blackberry or Not-Worthy-of-Mentioning-Brand of communication device; they're too busy losing their minds over the person flapping his arms and pouting and pretending to drive a Batmobile in your living room ("Mel Gibson?! Are you Mel Gibson?!"). Those are the moments we cherish, people. Those are the moments. *Tear*
* Forcing guests to participate in organized entertainment - does a clam have body odour? Hells, yes!
* Writing "Pacey Witter" as a name for the Name Game - no, because I was only person who shamefully knew who that was and therefore got yelled at for making an unfair suggestion.

5. Stop And Listen. No, Really, Really Listen
<- Now that's some epic lizing! Have you ever had a conversation with someone where you could tell they weren't really listening and yet you kept on talking? Why do we do that? Do we just like hearing ourselves talk? Or is it because - in our desperation to be heard - we don't give up on the hope that they might suddenly start listening? I know not every conversation we have will thrill us (trust me, I once dated someone who had a passion for trains. Oh, yawn), but putting in just a touch of effort by making eye contact and *trying* to concentrate on what the other person is saying (instead of spending that time formulating our own responses or reliving childhood shames in your head), is an appreciated gesture. It's probably also a good exercise in patience and focus.
* Lize like you mean it - keeping it
* Catching the ol' brain the next time it boots up an 80s TV theme song instead of focusing on the conversation at hand - keeping it

6. Advice Might Be Overrated
*Said the jerk giving pseudo advice* The original idea from my 1950s books - that a husband "doesn't desire" his wife's input, as if it's some kind of blanket statement for every relationship and situation, is a load of sexist bull. However, not constantly butting in with my amazing wisdom wasn't necessarily a bad thing. It let Patrick instead spend that time venting, or answering my questions or coming up with a solution on his own. And sometimes that's what he needs more. Perhaps the lesson is that there's a time and place for advice; a time and place to help people figure things out for themselves; a time and place to encourage; and a time and place to listen. And how do we figure out what's best at that moment? Maybe we simply ask the other person what they need. Go figure.
* Assessing or asking what he's looking for in our conversation - keeping it.
* Never giving advice - heh. So ditched.

7. Asking + Imagining = Consideration + Empathy = Better Everything
According to 1950s advice, a wife should learn all that she can about her spouse's workplace so that she could figure out ways to help him out. I actually don't think that's crap advice - but let's apply it to, well, everyone! Instead of letting stereotypes, misinformation or huffy first impressions influence us in what life is like for [a stay-at-home mom, a woman running her own business, the building janitor, an executive dad, a gay student in high school] - ASK them what goes on in their day - or in the very least, try to really imagine what their reality is like.

Once you have that information, use your imagination to its fullest to put yourself in his or her shoes. Why? Because the sooner you've gained a perspective of how another person lives and feels, the sooner you can (and are motivated to) stop judging and possibly even help them out - because we all could use a considerate gesture. I think a sense of empathy is the best trait a person could ever have - and I say that with utmost sincerity. Using the advice of learning more about Patrick's day and putting some mental energy into coming up with ways I could make things easier or better for him, I was able to truly improve my husband's week, and for all my goofing on the subject during this experiment, that matters to me immensely.

Again, it's not just a tip for wives to use: After having chatted about this very subject together, Patrick acknowledges that if he had stopped and really used his imagination to have thought about what I was likely going through while getting our dinner party in order, it would have resulted in better decisions on his part too.

This is not a 50s resource, but the point above is driven home far better, deeper and absolutely brilliantly in a Harvard commencement speech by J.K. Rowling (who also talks about the value in failing, also fabulous). If you decide to click on anything in this post, click on that - it is probably one of the best modern speeches I have heard (but I warn you, it's not about Muggles or Quidditch or Bertie Botts).
* Putting myself in others' shoes, including my husband's, more often - keeping it.
* Acting on that information more often - keeping it.
* Asking Patrick more questions about his job - keeping it.

8. The Nag Jar Isn't All Evil
Just writing that title makes me feel like I've walked into Chief Feministo's office, slapped my vagina on the desk and said, "Here! You want it? Well, there you go! I'm off the force!" and then strutted out of the office, my mullet flowing behind me, prompting Danny Glover to mutter, "I'm too old for this!"

And that's the second Mel Gibson reference in one post. Yikes.

But please hear me out on why the "fines" for nagging actually had some value (and not just to Patrick who spent his Nag Jar "winnings" on a Mustachio chicken and eggplant sandwich. "Mmm ... hot nagging goodness," he said as he bit into it.): It made me catch myself. It forced me to stop and think, "is this worth it?" - the 'this' being my squawking about something and the 'it' being $2. It made me actually think about picking my battles and the nature of nagging, something I sort of viewed as being an activity I was "forced" into by my partner ("if you just did what I wanted you to do in the first place, I wouldn't have to nag."). The fact is, no one is forcing you. If you don't like nagging, if it isn't very effective anyway (or it causes more drama than the original issue) recognize that there are other ways of getting things accomplished that will actually make you feel better.

The thing I can't co-sign about The Nag Jar is the bit about being penalized for "showing irritation." Shutting off a part of your healthy emotional range can't be good and can't lead to good things. You have to be honest in a relationship and to yourself and that includes moments of irritation. The only thing I'll nod about is that fully giving into feelings of irritation as if it were a part-time job is not how I personally want to go through life. I have an acquaintance who is bothered by everything. No one can do anything right. The world is against her. Every minor so-called grievance is worth harping about. Her Facebook statuses make Angela's Ashes seem cheery. If she had been keeping a Nag Jar in all the time I've known her, it could probably pay off my mortgage.
* Picking my battles - keeping it
* Stopping to realize he (and everyone else) is not a mind reader. What I'd like to see done at that very moment is my own deal, not necessarily his - keeping it
* Having a nag jar in our home - no, that thing is going off a cliff, Goofy style

9. Figure Out The Ends, Experiment With The Means
As I was researching and doing my best to stick with the husband-obsessed journey, I was reminded of The Taming of the Shrew - which is probably one of my favourite works of Shakespeare's. And no, I did not just compare this very silly blog with a masterpiece by Britain's most famous playwright. This blog is far more like Jesus's teachings - duh.

If you're not super familiar with the The Taming of the Shrew, you can watch a couple versions online like the popular Franco Zeffirelli version, a modern, updated one from the BBC series, ShakespeaRe-Told (featuring a very fetching Rufus Sewell!), even a claymation (squeee!) version. The movie 10 Things I Hate About You is also based in part on the story.

Anyway, super quickly, here's the main jist: Kate is a very headstrong and hot-tempered woman. In some ways she's awesome, in some ways she's a bit of an asshole. For reasons not initially motivated by love, Petruchio, who's a bit of scoundrel and a misfit like Kate, decides to woo her (quite amusingly) and marry her. Once married, he goes about various methods to "tame" her. There's much more to it than that (hijinks, reverse psychology, a battle of wits, a very silly wedding - you really must watch it to get it). Kate eventually catches onto his act. Regardless, it turns out that the two are actually quite well matched for one another.

There's a lot of controversy over this story when it comes to its ending. Kate, now a much happier woman, espouses to her female companions about the virtues of being 'tamed' and how a wife must obey her husband. This is *not* the Kate we knew. What's up for debate is Kate's sincerity in her statement. Some people take it at face value and are pretty much horrified by the sentiment. Others suspect that Kate has clued in that by acting like she 'obeys', she actually really gets what she wants in the end, that she is in fact the puppet master, and it's she who has the last laugh. And then there are some who think Kate is saying this completely ironically, and that she's actually using air quotes throughout her speech. Personally, I tend to go with theory number two.

Here's where I finally get around to connecting this all to my husband-obsessed 50s housewife experiment. The reason I like the The Taming of the Shrew is because it demonstrates that sometimes we're too focused on controlling how we're going to get what we want rather than knowing what our true goals are. The play also dives into understanding the psyche of the people around us and figuring out their true needs (sorta that ego, order and appetite thing I was mentioning the other day) as a way to fulfill your own. Much of the advice in my books are counter-intuitive, and appear at times rather selfless, and yet, some of the tips kinda sorta brought more happiness (the ultimate goal) to my own day and to our home. Would that still be the case if I did this all long-term? Not for everything, but for some things ... perhaps!
* Letting go of some stubbornness - keeping it.
* Trying out a different road map once in a while - keeping it.
* Keeping the main goal in mind - keeping it.

10. It's Clearly Not for Everyone (And That's OK)
We all knew that one already. Lesson Number 9? Totally not for everyone. Working in an office? Totally not for everyone. Being a homemaker? Totally not for everyone. That last point was becoming more and more a reality in the 1950s. Take a look at that article to the left (click to expand it). It was written by Judith Chase Churchill for her "About People" column in the July 1959 issue of Woman's Day. In it, she describes a trend among American teen girls: they wanted to get married, but they didn't want to be homemakers; only 3% "have any idea of doing housework." Talk about a shift! The article goes on to explain that the girls of 1959 were developing different aspirations: to work outside the home (which makes the article's title rather odd). Perhaps girls had watched their mothers toil in the home and saw it as a thankless, ongoing job that stunted their mothers' full potentials and interests. Perhaps it was because all these new career options seemed much more exciting and empowering. Perhaps it was because they presumed that the grass was greener on the other side.

In the 1940s and 1950s, North America had reached a point in history where working outside the home was a more and more realistic option for women and that - gasp! - men were also starting to pitch in with the running of the home. We all know what happened next. Domestic disaster The pendulum swung and the opportunities and pressure for women to earn an income became the norm. Is another pendulum swing on the way? Who knows.

I'm all about choice, something afforded to us by an evolving society - including the work of feminists both male and female. What you want to do in life may be different than what I want to do - and hopefully we're both lucky enough to be able to follow our own paths (because even with options available, circumstances can make it tough for us to do what we really want).

I'm not into absolutes, though. I don't think everything from the 1950s housewife life was dandy, nor do I think everything from that time was foolish. The same goes for the options and expectations set today.

The next big wave in feminism (and you might disagree with me that this is even a feminist goal at all) is one I think we're pretty far from achieving: the removal of judgment concerning the life choices of others. One tiny spin on the Interwebs will net you a never-ending pool of snark and opinion:

"Someone needs to tell Michelle Duggar that her womb is not a clown car."

"My sister just bought a BMW. Who does she think she's impressing?"

"I'm not voting for someone who can't even run her own home properly."

"I guess she thinks she's too busy and important to have kids. I feel sorry for her - she'll never know true happiness."

"She went to university, got a masters degree and now spends her day making crafts and cooking meals for her husband. What a waste."

"I can't imagine anyone actually wanting to go back to work when their baby is just a month old."

"He 'works from home.' Must be nice to have Sugar Momma."

"If you really have your child's best interests at heart, you would try harder to make breast feeding work."
I'm not innocent in this discussion either. But I'm trying. Maybe I need to create The Judgey Jar. What an experiment that would be.

So that's the big mind dump from this round of 50s housewifing. Now, comment below and enter in a chance to win that vintage salad cookbook! There's a whole section in it devoted to molded concoctions. Let it be said: IT IS AMAZING.

Image Sources: Practical Housewifery; Esquire Cook Book; Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book; Woman's Day Magazine, November 1956, "Mrs. Dunbar Dyes Her Hair."; Slope of Hope; Second-hand Swag; ; John Bull Magazine, March 1950; MoviePosterDB.com


Katie 8:26 pm, November 07, 2010  

Another funny and superb post. I love the way you think and write.

Foxy Renard 8:56 pm, November 07, 2010  

"Maybe I need to create The Judgey Jar. What an experiment that would be."


Julianne Ward Lawrence 10:41 pm, November 07, 2010  

1. You're very funny and clever and I'm glad that I know you.

2. Matt has advised me that trying to talk to him when there's a commercial on TV for a new hunt-and-kill-people video game is pointless. I recently chattered on for 30 seconds before I noticed the glazed look and sagging jaw. I think I've just accepted distractions as a given, and instead have learned to anticipate them - I love how my last thought would be to, I don't know, maybe turn off the TV (the horror).

3. I want that salad book only if you promise jellied wonders.

Pattie - Chicagoland, IL 9:51 am, November 08, 2010  

Happily I have just recently discovered this terrific blog. It is now a part of my daily read. Well done!

May,  12:23 pm, November 08, 2010  

Do I love your blog? To quote you: "Does a clam have body odor? Hells yes!"

This has kept me in stitches, Jen (but never Jenn), but also made me think. So great.

For the contest entry, I'm mighty dot may at gmail.

ThatDarnKat 12:53 pm, November 08, 2010  

I read your last experiment and, just like with that one, plan on putting some of the 50s housewife deeds/chores/etc, to practice in my own home. I'm a stay at home mom, with 2 children, who is always trying to figure out a way to get the rest of my family to eat more salads(I love salad and eat it multiple times a day). This book would be heaven sent in my house!

hippychic 5:32 pm, November 08, 2010  

A friend shared this on Facebook, and I am officially smitten with you and your writing.

Jen 9:59 am, November 10, 2010  

Aw, thanks dudes. :)

Unknown 1:41 pm, November 10, 2010  

I found your blog about a week or so ago. I've already read through both housewife experiments and I LOVE your blog! :) DEFINITELY adding to my daily read list.

For the contest, I'm arkansasgirl430 at gmail.

Have an awesome day!

Anton 1:15 pm, November 11, 2010  

I should probably make a judging jar. I am terrible about that, even when I complain about being judged by others. Hah!

TeenyGozer 12:47 pm, November 12, 2010  

FYI, I just posted the JK Rowling talk on my own LJ. I really think more people need to hear that. She was amazing.

I was born in 1958 so I got to see both a mother who was a 1950's homemaker, plus the conversion to a woman who, once her youngest (me) went to high school in the mid-70s, went out and got a job. I look at my own life and miss the "having friends over to play wacky games and entertain" thing that they did so well on the weekends!

Much love for all your hilarious posts! Also: SALAD BOOK!

Anonymous,  1:38 am, November 14, 2010  

A friend posted your first experiment on facebook 2 days ago, and I've been making my way through to this post ever since. It took so long because somehow you kept inspiring me to clean things! Taking breaks to laugh (with!) you make it all fun. Thanks so much for sharing your experiment!

T., SAHM with a college degree who likes crafts... uhyeahthat'sme...

And for the salad... tkelly75 at gmail dot com. :)

Marilyn aka HotSauceChick 2:53 pm, November 14, 2010  

The Good Housekeeping Book of Salads would look great next to my red-and-white checked Better Homes cookbook! And my tip for a good marriage? Treat it like a bank account - compliments and positive actions are deposits, snarky negative words and actions are withdrawals...never let the account be overdrawn!

Kristen,  5:20 pm, November 15, 2010  

I wanted to comment that reading your blog has been so much fun - and not just the 50s housewife experiment (although that's what brought me here).

For the salad cookbook draw, my e-mail is kj1976 at hotmail. I would love to win it!

jennifermpappas@yahoo.com,  11:31 am, December 06, 2011  

Just so awesome!! I know I'm late to this game, but what excellent writing! Purely enjoyable, but leaves me thinking about how I act in my everyday life... Why can't everything I read be like this?! So, so, so good!! :)

Anonymous,  2:26 am, February 20, 2012  

what a great read! Thanks!!!

Aerogaby 11:20 pm, August 01, 2012  

Hi, I read some of your 50 housewife experiment post. I really enjoyed and even if it was written a couple of years ago, I wanted to tell you this.

I almost imagine myself doing something similar (dunno if I will, probably not but just maybe...)... Well, I am sure being a 50 housewife in Venezuela would have been slightly different (i write to you from this country... hello), but the feel of the mom-boss-of-the-house is alike.
Thanks for the hour of so most intersting of my day today :D

laure,  8:00 am, June 05, 2013  

bonjour, je viens de "dévorer" votre blog sur la femme des années 50. C'est une expérience formidable et le plus important, ce sont les conclusions. Ces femmes-là étaient aux petits soins pour leur mari, leurs enfants et leur maison. L'économie ménagère n'était pas un vain mot..Je connais en France,mon pays, beaucoup de couples qui ont fait ce choix, la femme travaillant à temps partiel et qui sont très heureux ainsi : un peu d'argent et du temps pour les siens...Chouchouter son mari,Préparer des repas, tenir une maison, élever ses enfants et prendre soin de soi permet une vie heureuse, à mon avis de femme des années 2000

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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