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Oh, To Be a '50s Housewife!

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: One fine afternoon, 32-year-old Jen Byck got to wondering what it would be like to be a 1950s housewife -- what her days would actually be like if she lived according to the rules and advice of books and magazines of that era. And so she set out to try it for a week.


Since this is 2010 and not 1954, she blogged about her experience, too. And so began The '50s Housewife Experiment, which she chronicled on her blog, The first experiment centered mainly around food and housekeeping. For the second experiment, which she just wrapped up, she focused more on making her husband happy.

Momlogic called Jen up at her Toronto abode to find out what had inspired this freelance copywriter to relive a bygone era.

momlogic: What were your days like as a '50s housewife?

Jen Byck: A part of the experiment was to do without modern conveniences. I tried to stick with watching the news. I tried to stick with things that she would have watched. When I did watch TV, I watched "I Love Lucy" instead of regular TV. I didn't use my cell phone. I didn't use my credit card.

ml: Was your mom a housewife?

JB: She was for the bulk of my childhood. She thinks it's funny. I think she actually kind of appreciates it in a weird way.

ml: What made you decide to focus on your husband's needs for the second experiment?

JB: I received a few comments that a true '50s housewife would have catered more directly to her husband. [My husband] had just started a new job, and I had found a few books on helping your husband get ahead in business life and social life. I thought it would be interesting to do another experiment where the marriage part would be a focus.

ml: What did he think of it?

JB: He was amused. He finds the entire thing pretty amusing. He loves the fact that he comes home to a clean house and food. That kind of thing makes his tail wag.

ml: What was the weirdest thing you did?

JB: One book suggested you get a fine every time that you nag, and I still think that's so crazy. But it actually made me stop and think, "Is it worth it to bring something up?" It made me realize moments that I was nagging. It made me realize that I don't particularly like nagging and there are better ways of getting your way. But I will not keep the nag jar.

ml: What was your favorite '50s activity?

JB: My husband and I went out bowling for the first experiment, and that was really fun. I can't remember the last time I went bowling. We went to this bowling alley and discovered it was dead and had a total blast.

ml: What was the most absurd thing?

JB: Carved grapefruit -- that one was pretty ridiculous, especially for me. I woke up early to carve a grapefruit for my husband, and he was completely confused.

ml: What's next for the blog?

JB: I was contacted by a TV development company in New York, and what we've come up with is a fairly campy and kitschy '50s-housewife-centered reality show -- the sort of thing I hope John Waters would tune in to. The show is still in the network-pitching stage. So, who knows!

next: Pioneer Woman vs. Bobby Flay!
16 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous November 16, 2010, 11:47 AM

Hilarious since both my great-grandmother and grandmother said there really was no such thing as a “housewife” in the 30s/40s/50s - all the women they knew worked - either in an office as a secretary, a teacher, a nurse or other “traditional” female job or as a babysitter for the women who went to work. This whole new SAHM movement is based on a fallacy of going back to a more stable, “family values” oriented time simply to get women out of the workforce.

Krista November 16, 2010, 3:16 PM

To the 1st commenter. Yes woman did work but they certainly waited until their children were older and not 6 weeks old.

Gina November 16, 2010, 3:19 PM

I would definitely watch THAT reality show! While there are quite a few outdated and ridiculous notions from that era, I think a lot of the principles are good ideas and some should be brought into 2010.

Anonymous, I know of plenty of women from that time who were housewives…once they were married (thus, making them wives.)

Kirin November 17, 2010, 6:22 AM

Love it! What a fun idea!

Mom November 17, 2010, 7:01 AM

Krista,you do know that most women have 6 weeks UNPAID leave after giving birth, right? THAT is why they go back when babies are that age.

N November 17, 2010, 7:57 AM

I agree with “Mom,” in the 1950’s there weren’t as many families relying on a dual income or single parents. It’s not fair to criminalize parents for needing to provide for their children.

K8 November 17, 2010, 8:07 AM

How degrading.

tysmom November 17, 2010, 8:25 AM

I love it! I have been doing a version of this since the job market is so dreary($13 an hour with an MBA? Please! I’d rather stay home and make my family happy). Needless to say, my husband is happier than I’ve ever seen him and my son is NO longer having behavioral problems at school. I only wish more people could afford to make these choices, many simply cannot and are far from rebuke for this. I have a theory, albeit a controversial one, on why a household requires two incomes these days: more people in the workforce (e.g. women who in the past would’ve stayed at home)= lower wages for all. It’s simple economics, as supply increases, prices decrease. In this case, labor pool increases, thus wages decrease. Now women in the workforce aren’t entirely to blame for this phenomenon, certainly technology, globalization, and immigration are additional, IMPORTANT factors. I am hardly the traditionalist, since I did pursue and complete an advanced degree; HOWEVER, I wonder sometimes if feminism has done more harm than good…certainly in my situation it has. Needless to say I know many women that are successful in the workplace AND at home but they tend to have flexible or kid-friendly hours: teachers, nurses, and entrepreneurs to name a few. It’s a tough decision to make for many, it was VERY difficult for me. I haven’t hung up my work booties yet though, I’m pursuing a teaching credential that will put my financial and business knowledge to work (hopefully) while still being home in time to help my son with his homework and cook a healthy meal for my family. I’m hoping it can be done.

???? November 17, 2010, 12:52 PM

Who do you think you are, June Cleaver?

michelle November 17, 2010, 1:27 PM

Um, tysmom, as I read your post it became clearer to me why you have an MBA and yet make $13/hr. You need to go back and retake those economics courses.

Lisa R. November 17, 2010, 3:13 PM

Ooo, ouch! Here again, women are sniping at each other for the choices they make. No one actually said women should stay home, or women should stay home longer than six weeks, salary be damned. Women were just commenting on the differences between the 1950s and today, yet you all ended up attacking each other up there. For the record, 6 weeks is far to young to throw a baby into daycare. Yes, “Mom,” I know that’s all the paid leave employers give. It’s just not enough. There should be other options, so women can make other choices.

KS November 17, 2010, 7:02 PM

I would caution anyone to look at a few magazine snippets and television programs and assume that was the reality for most families with a stay at home mother in the 1950’s. The media has a cruel way of distorting reality and they didn’t start this trend yesterday.

Stay at home mothers can absolutely be happy with the contribution they are giving to their family. Working mothers can absolutely be happy with the contribution they are giving to their family All wives should expect equality and respect as well as give it in their marriage.

tysmom November 18, 2010, 7:44 AM

Um Michelle, do you have a better explanation on why wages have remained static over the last two generations? You insult my knowledge of economics and supply and demand, yet offer none of your own. As for $13 dollar an hour that again is simple supply and demand, high unemployment, increased demand for jobs, and again wages go down. Perhaps you should go back and retake your economics class and possible debate as well since your comment offers no intellectual insights nor adds anything of worth to the conversation.

michelle November 18, 2010, 10:40 AM

Okay, then:

1) You base your “theory” on the starting assumption that wages have remained static over the last 2 generations. This is not true. Yes, real (inflation-adjusted) median wages were stagnant during the last growth period (roughly 2003-7) and have been falling during this most recent recession. Prior to this most recent cycle, wages rose materially with boom periods and fell slightly during recessions. Overall, according to the BLS, real wages rose during the past 2 generations, and they rose most significantly just as women were entering the workforce in significant numbers. There is plenty of research showing that female economic participation is a key driver of economic growth (i.e. higher wages and living standards). There is also evidence that the most recent declines are due to structural changes in the economy — productivity gains coupled with permanent changes in the kinds of jobs our economy creates (i.e. the disappearance of well-paying manufacturing jobs for high school graduates). In short, your understanding of “supply and demand” is incomplete because it assumes supply and demand curves are fixed. You say “labor pool increases, thus wages decrease.” Nope, not if the supply of jobs has also expanded (and often outpaced the supply of workers).

2) You make the common mistake of treating your one data point (your own inability to realize a return on your educational investment) as evidence of larger structural trends within the economy. If you went to a program within the top 75, you should earn back your investment within 5 years, even in this market, although the payback period has gotten slightly worse during the recession. I’m sorry you have struggled to find a salaried position that pays at least a middle class wage, but I must say this seems so outlandish and unlikely to happen unless you went to a really poorly rated MBA program or some other unusual factors are making it hard for you personally to find a good job. Certainly this did not happen to you because of women in the workforce.

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