5 Nov 2010

Results from the Husband-Obsessed 50s Housewife Experiment

(That photo turned out funny. I really do have more than three fingers on my left hand - the thumb and pinky were on the other side of the book.)

As this was just a week-long project and the focus was more on the wife aspect of being a housewife, some of the results (physical, financial) for this particular 50s Housewife Experiment are only going to be briefly touched on (well, it's brief for me, still horribly long-winded in the real world):

Physical Results:
When it came to our bods there was no big difference. Actually, I had lost two pounds after the first few days, but once I lifted the ban on my dishwasher, the loss came back (I have my doubts that Crunch Fitness will be offering a Disco Dishwashing class, but you never know). In short, my weight was basically unchanged. Patrick is up 0.2 lbs, but that's really nothing. Patrick's blood pressure went down a few points, minimal, but in the right direction. Mine stayed the same. That said, I recognize that one week of a different lifestyle doesn't make that much of a difference in these things.

Like last time, I was feeling a bit achy in the feet and legs after the first couple days. My previously atrophied muscles and bones soon adjusted to the sweeping-scrubbing-dusting-washing-bending movements and the cleaning routine became easier and less intense after a few days. My complexion didn't change and remained pretty much acne-free. My hair - washed just once during the week like most 1950s women did - remained pretty soft throughout the experiment, although the last day I was sporting some major greaseage.

Bottom line: No real change. If anything, Patrick's little drop in blood pressure indicates a slight health improvement.

Financial Results:
I didn't spend money on anything beyond groceries and liquor for our home bar. Not a thing! (Unless you count my contributions to The Nag Jar - more on that later.) Honestly, I didn't find I had the time or real inclination to get anything "fun" for myself while I was out doing errands. Plus, according to the rules, one of the ways a wife shows her appreciation and keeps her husband from having to overwork is to make the most of the household income and treat it with reverence. A wife who spends extravagantly is, as pointed out by Mrs. Dale Carnegie, "a millstone around her husband's neck." Geez, Mrs. Carnegie, tell us what you really think.

Patrick, however, went out three times during the week (drinks with a new colleague on Monday, drinks with old colleagues on the Friday, and a pint at the sports pub on Saturday with a friend during the Man-U game). He spent about $45 total during these ventures (on the first night the drinks were on the other guy). As an encouraging, non-nagging wife living by the rules, I understood that these were necessary interest and career-building excursions. What a load of crap.

The food bill this week actually wasn't any cheaper than our food bill from the non-experiment week before. We had better lunches than we normally would have thanks to both planned use of the leftovers and Patrick being home (which meant I had to ensure a full meal was ready). We seemed to get more meat this time around (to appeal to his tastes) and because my bleeding heart had insisted on organic animal products, the prices were not cheap (especially for our dinner party). If I had looked for "bargain meat", this week would have undoubtedly been cheaper than most weeks, probably by about 15 - 20% of the bill.

With all things considered, we probably spent about $100 less during the 50s housewife week than we would have during a normal week, which is pretty good considering we hosted a dinner party for six one evening and had the boys over for cocktails on another night.

Household Results:
The place is so fresh and so clean (... so fresh and so clean, clean - aww, remember Outkast?)! The last time I did the 50s Housewife Experiment was in May and I'm proud to say that we had kept the home in pretty decent order since then. Sure, there had been the odd week or weekend when things exploded in glorious slobbery, but we usually took care of those messes sooner than we would have before. This meant that when I attempted to conquer the manic 1950s cleaning schedule this time around, it wasn't such a shock and the home didn't need it so badly.

Work Results:
Part of this experiment was to help Patrick "get ahead" at work (which then results in more money to buy mink coats with! Just can't get enough of those mink coats). Did my help allow him to do this? Well, no, he didn't get a surprise raise at the end of the week. Imagine that. I will note, however, that unless my Emotional! Antennae! deceived me, he was happier and more calm after spending lunch with me, which means he returned to the office in an improved state. I imagine that likely impacts his work relationships and stress level in a positive way. The gift of brownies he brought to the office on the Friday gave him a chance to make a good impression with people he didn't really know before, and he made a special point of calling me to say so. Plus, we actually had a few genuine conversations about enthusiasm (without his De Niro impression) that indicated Patrick had actually taken the suggestion to heart. So, if I can be so bold, I believe I can say that I did help make his work week better. Yay!

Relationship & Mood Results:
Patrick is a happy, happy guy when he discovers the home is clean and a meal is about to be served. Who wouldn't be (especially if this is a bit of a novelty)? His good mood isn't simply because he likes these things (and he does), it's also because he's actually really good at noticing when I've put extra effort into something (anything - not just house stuff) and he in turn puts effort into showing me that he's grateful / he notices / he likes what I've done. I frankly couldn't imagine putting up with someone who didn't show appreciation. Therefore, the overall mood in the home during the experiment was positive.

Which brings us to The Nag Jar. As you may recall, I had to throw $2 into it every time I was caught nagging, harping on a sore point or showing irritation. The majority of my fines were collected quite early in the experiment before I was used to eating my feelings instead suppressing the irritation / turning on the lady charms. I'm going to have teenage Seth Green help me out with this one:

  • Referring to him as Mr. Fussypants on the blog. *Ching*
  • A passive aggressive remark about how there would be more water in the pitcher if someone remembered to fill it back up the last time he used it. *Ching*
  • Hollering, "does the TV REALLY need to be that LOUD?" *Ca-Ching*
  • Snapping at him to get off his butt and help me move his golf clubs *Badda-bing!*
  • Giving him a death glare when he showed up to our dinner party late (worth it - and practically a miracle that I didn't max my credit card out on "infractions" in that moment) *CHA-CHING*
The Nag Jar contents at the end of the week? $7 + one subway token valued at $3 (I ran out of change). Total value of $10. I'll speak more about this aspect of the experiment in the "lessons" post, but I will say it made for a few funny moments and lightened things up, especially during what might have otherwise been negative or tense interactions (although it probably wouldn't be so funny if this experiment was going on for months).

My mood was generally good throughout the past week, but perhaps that's because I happen to be married to a modern man who thinks about what I need too and is happy to actively help supply that. Did the regular 1950s man do the same? I hope for the sake of our mothers and grandmothers that he did, but based on the writing of the time, I have my doubts that this was always the case.

The 1950s rules for keeping a husband happy, in my opinion, basically boil down to fulfilling three things:
  • Ego (which is fueled by praise, appreciation, being listened to, catered to, acknowledged)
  • Order (a clean and comfortable home, finances in check, having one's emotions in control, a healthy, functioning body)
  • Appetite (for food, intimacy, knowledge, engaging in personal interests)
Ego, order and appetite - it all sounds rather cold, really. But when you think about it, are today's unwritten needs all that different? Do the needs of men and women, homemakers and career people, married individuals and singles differ all that much? I don't really think so (but I'm happy to be challenged on it - I'm sure there are others out there with more impressive insights and library cards educations than mine). If you were to agree that these are things we all want in life (to varying degrees, of course), the question really becomes how are these needs going to be fulfilled - by yourself, by others or by a combination of the two? And if you're in a partnership (which is what this experiment was all about that), how much should one think about and strive to fulfill the spouse's needs? At what point do they need to be reciprocated before someone starts to feel too selfless (the breeding ground for resentment)?

If we're to take much of the 1950s-era advice seriously, the wife was expected to actively provide the bulk of these needs to her husband as if it was in her job description to do so. It was only if she did a good job of taking care of the man's ego, order and appetite that a husband might reciprocate with a little EOA back her way - but it would apparently be crazy to outright tell him what his spouse wants. A woman had to be subtle and never demanding. Try to find the 50s advice books and articles addressed to men looking to help their wives get ahead, be happy, fulfill their dreams and STAY! ALIVE! Maybe we'll come across those the same time that O.J. finds Nicole's real killer.

Instead, men of the time were basically told to make a good wage, buy a house, eat with their elbows off the table, and to not drink too much. The end.

In Help Your Husband Stay Alive, Hannah Lees says "there is nobody in any household in this country who really needs more care, more understanding and love, and more cherishing than the man of the house."

If you and the members of your household believe that, that's perfectly fine. I'm really all about enjoying the freedom we have to live our own lives, build our own relationships and do what works for our own situations. I have no reason or right to judge what goes on in a home of consenting adults.

But my personal opinion on using the author's advice in my home?

Hannah Lees can go suck a bag of dicks.

Up next .... the key lessons from a husband-obsessed 50s housewife.


purplepretzel,  7:13 pm, November 05, 2010  

Interesting and funny as usual, Jen. I'm looking forward to your lessons - the last ones were really great.

Emily 7:56 pm, November 05, 2010  

I wonder where one would find a bag of dicks....?? Great post as usual! :)

Jen 8:17 pm, November 05, 2010  

Haha, Emily. You'd probably like this Louis C.K. skit about a bag of dicks (in fact, I should link it in the post):


Foxy Renard 9:29 pm, November 05, 2010  

You know, as much as I wouldn't want to be a 50s housewife, I wouldn't want to be a 50s husband either. Being solely responsible for keeping yourself, your wife, and your kids not just with a roof over their heads, but nicely dressed and happily fed (these wacky meals) surely wasn't easy - not just the fact that they were doing it, but the fact that there was NO option to do anything but that and it was deeply shameful to fail at this sole life task. I'd never really thought about how stressful that end would be 'til you posted that paragraph about what was expected of men, though I know you meant it was no big deal! Hah.

Lack of choice stinks. True, indeed!

Jen 11:12 pm, November 05, 2010  

Foxy - no, actually, I totally agree! I had actually thought about writing a paragraph about that pressure THEY faced (how sticking with job you hated didn't matter and how utterly emasculating is as to be out of work). Because, then, it wasn't *just* being unemployed. It wasn't *just* having everyone depend on you. If you didn't have a job, you weren't "a man."

Indeed, thank the great Smurf for choice.

Unknown 7:14 am, November 07, 2010  

This was the best series I have read in quite a while in the land of blogs. In fact, I found my mom's Modern Encyclopedia of Cooking published in 1952. She and I had a few laughs as well as respectful comments. The author, Meta Given, had great insight on some aspects of nutrition such as whole grains and eating lots of fruits and vitamins. However, we were taken aback by the section on cooking organ meats that had the first recipe as featuring cow brains. And the abundance of gelatin molds. And the overall use of bacon and butter in everything. Good job! By the way, my mom purchased this soon before her marriage. I hope the brains and kidneys were good for him!

Unknown 7:15 am, November 07, 2010  

Oops. It's early. Meant fruits and vegetables that contained vitamins.

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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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