The Secret Life of Melanie O.
Saturday, February 11, 2006
A fifties housewife in a millenial world
I think I finally have figured out from where my median level of discontent is originating. I am actually a 'fifties housewife, working in a technical field in the new millenium. You see, I grew up in middle class suburbia in the 60's and 70's, when housewives were the "norm." Our neighborhood was mainly blue collar, and most of the moms stayed at home, kept house, cooked dinner and looked after the kids. My mother is one of the few moms that actually worked outside the home, but only part time, as a teacher.

In the summer, people piled into their Dodge or Ford station wagons, and went camping or visited the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls. Kids fought in the back seat and threw up on each other. The Fourth of July was always a big affair with people having cook-outs, town parades, flag flying, and three footed races in the park. Kids hunted crayfish in the creek and caught fireflies in a jar. Adults sat out at night in the summer, in their lawn chairs, sharing a beer with the neighbors. Winters were long and cold, but my mom always had a hot meal at the end of the day to come home to.

Of course, when you grow up in Baby Boomer haven, you expect that you will follow in your parents' footsteps. You expect that one day, you too will go off to college and get married, buy a house, have a couple of kids, and you too will head off to see Mount Rushmore in the trusty family wagon with the family dog lapping up the scents of the highway with its head and tongue hanging out the window.

So much for idyllic dreams of what life was supposed to be like. Some time in the late 60's and early 70's, frustrated career women and young women at university campuses all over America, decided that they didn't care for suburbia, OR housewifery, OR station wagons. They wanted to run corporations, learn how to shoot a rifle in the army, and if they didn't ever get married or have kids, that was their choice and no one should judge them badly for it. In short - they wanted to be more like men. Some burned their bras in protest of what they perceived as the shackles of a male-dominated world. Thankfully, they put them back on again when they learned about gravity.

By the time I graduated high school, there were still plenty of us who believed we would live our parents' lives as adults - and some of us did. I grew up with a girl who married, had kids and bought a house with her husband in the same neighborhood as her parents. Something strange was happening to me, however.

I was soon learning that there was no middle ground. Men, having born the brunt of the women's revolution, began to expect that their wives would hold down a job, too. The economy changed to adapt to these attitudes. With more money in the hands of the populace, prices skyrocketed. President Nixon issued several wage and price freezes in the early 70's to try to curb this, but it was like trying to stop a tidal wave with a few sand bags. Homes were no longer affordable on single incomes. A mortgage, car payment, holidays AND saving for kids' educations became near impossible on one income. If a woman stayed at home with the kids and looked after the house, it was because she was content to have nothing, (like my sister who always requires financial assistance from family, but who still manages to have her own car and some of the family antiques,) or because her husband earned more money than God and she had a nanny and housekeeper to help her out. In the meantime, I've worked my butt off. I don't know who is smarter - me, or my sister? I'm thinking it's not me.

So, I wound up having to shift gears and expectations once the 80's rolled around. I took all kinds of low paying jobs to help makes ends meet, which meant I didn't have 100% to give to anything. I was raising kids, taking care of the house, and working for a wage all at the same time. Of course, I was married to a man, who, while he enjoyed the extra income, didn't understand that having a working wife meant he had to do 50% of the housework. He was slower to catch on to these changes in society.

Twenty years later, I've put myself through school, have a good job in a technical field, my kids are grown (I feel like I missed half their childhood), and I have a mortgage jointly with my husband Dan, for a house we don't live in because we couldn't afford to buy anything close to
where we work in the city. Wow! Things have really become so totally removed from what I knew as a kid. And do I like it? Sometimes I tolerate it. What happened to a Happy Medium? Not only do we "have it all" as women, we're expected to "do it all." I often feel spread as thin as a scrape of Vegemite on toast. Even Gloria Steinham stopped thinking of men OPPRESSED WORKING WOMENas "the enemy," and got married.

So, I'm rushing around, trying to make up for lost time, and collecting things that remind me of the Boomer Era: garter belts and stockings, girdles, bullet bras, turquoise appliances, art deco Heywood Wakefield furniture, and one day, I hope, a '56 Nomad. I want to refinish my Heywood Wakefield furniture, but I never have the time. I sense it's time for another Revolution.
posted by Melanie O. at 2:00 PM -
  • At 7:27 AM, Anonymous Don said…

    Times have changed haven't they. We have super disrespectful kids in our grade school now. People don't take the time to read the paper. Every one is in a rush.
    I put on a suit Wednesday to impress a singer friend of mine but who are we kidding, we've all changed.

  • At 12:51 PM, Blogger LivinginOz said…

    Don, agree (and I probably sound like an old fogey.) But, sometimes I think we've lost as much as we've gained with all of the "progress" we've made. Maybe that's what progress is - a double-edged sword.

  • At 12:31 AM, Blogger gardenbug said…

    three footed races? caught fireflies in a jar? I don't remember that. I thought that working part time was the perfect solution...balancing family and adding money to the bank account. I was home summers and holidays when you were home...went to work while you were at school. The thing that was missing from this experience was the emotional support of your Dad. He took us all for granted..came and went as He wanted to....did not parent and was not my best friend. This missing piece of the puzzle was the keystone for the family. Sorry it was missing, but there was nothing I could do about it.

  • At 12:33 AM, Blogger gardenbug said…

    Your blog won't allow me to add a comment about the panty hose situaiton. Same thing happened to me. My skirt was chiffon and my whole ass was exposed...fortunately caught the situation while still home.

  • At 2:41 PM, Blogger LivinginOz said…

    Too funny about the pantyhose! I'm going to try going back to old-fashioned stockings - that is until I get sick of them.

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About Me
Name: Melanie O.
Home: Durham, North Carolina, United States
About Me: Female, American health and beauty-conscious professional who has rekindled a childhood love of dolls.
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