“women are here to stay” or, we ain’t neva left

I spend a lot of time hanging out in my university library between classes. Usually I’m busy looking over materials for class, or checking in with my internet world, but sometimes I let my eyes wander over the shelves wherever I’ve settled, just to see what catches my eye. Recently, a tall book caught my eye, its title visible over the tops of all the other books: Women are Here to Stay. “Of course we are!” I said to myself, “Where else could we go? Who could manage without us?” I pulled the book off the shelf and read the subtitle: “The Durable Sex in its Infinite Variety Through Half a Century of American Life.”

Intrigued by this strange title, I opened the book, and realized it was a book of pictures. Often, hilarious pictures.

This lovely lady wore this cat hat as a costume at the Vanderbilt Ball.

clearly badasses.

But it turns out, published in the 1940s, this book had a feminist mission. One which is sadly still necessary today. Check out the introduction and see if you can relate:

The American woman today must be an expert housekeeper…She must be a wise, conscientious, and loving mother, always there when her children need her, but standing aside when her presence might threaten the full development of their individuality. She must be a delightful, helpful, thrifty wife, ready to administer comfort or to share in gay adventure. She must be a useful member of the community, informed on broad political trends as well as possible danger spots in the local school boards. She is also a citizen of the world and should be able to name the current President of France, have constructive ideas on what to do with the atom bomb, and say what’s wrong with our foreign policy.

That isn’t all. She is expected to read, look at, listen to the important new books, pictures, music, for women are the traditional guardians of culture. If she’s young, she should be cultivating some interest against the time when the children don’t need her. If she’s old, she should be happily occupied in some moderately useful, unspectacular fashion, keeping herself decently to herself, and not interfering with her juniors and betters.

And at all times, and at all ages, she should be, if not actually beautiful, as good-looking as perfect grooming, a disciplined figure, and good clothes can make her. (This part is very easy. The advertisements tell you how.)

It would not be surprising if women gave up entirely, crushed by the barrage of abuse and advice, and paralyzed by the impossible goals set for them. They don’t though. They keep on living–longer than men, as a matter of fact. It is indeed a durable sex.

Now, in nearly all books about women, the authors assume that women think and act first of all as women, not as individuals, and this assumption leads into the habit of thinking that they’re all pretty much alike. It is my intention to demonstrate that there are a great many different kinds of women (just as there are a great many different kinds of men) and that it is impossible to generalize about them– tempting though this may be, and very good fun as a pastime. (1)

On the one hand, this is laughable– of COURSE women are all special snowflakes, individuals, whose allegiance is first to ourselves and then to our sex. But is this not still our struggle? To be our individual selves, despite the monolithic mold that seems determined to bend us into some sort of ideal woman?

This gorgeous lady would be at home on a red carpet today.

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