Reminder, You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!

December 12, 2011

in Women's Rights

In 1962 Norah wonders about the choices Melanie will have as she grows up. Norah reflects on her own limited choices: having a career that dead-ends as the steno pool supervisor, or a wife and mother. Norah chooses the wife and mother life, viewing the choice of steno pool supervisor as no choice at all.

She ponders why Flossie, a college-educated African-American, chooses to work as a housekeeper. In 1962 career choices for black women were even fewer, limited to teaching or nursing in racially segregated, often substandard facilities. Not that working for a white family would be preferable, but there just weren’t that many choices for any female.

Norah, Melanie and Flossie couldn’t know that the world was about to open up for them and generations of women to come. While the Civil Rights movement had a dynamic leader in Martin Luther King and was making inroads toward real change, the women’s movement coalesced from several different events.

By 1962 1.2 million American women were using The Pill. Women now had a good option in their reproductive choices, which allowed them to breathe a bit and examine other possibilities.

Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, gave voice to the common phenomenon Norah muses on throughout Bombshells. The “I have a husband and family, but I’m not really happy” syndrome. By 1963, Norah may have borrowed this book from the library when she took the girls to get their summer reading. I think Friedan’s work would have resonated with Norah, though I doubt Norah would have made any drastic changes in her life. Her heart is in being a wife and mother.

Helen Gurley Brown publishes Sex and Single Girl in 1962 and it quickly hits the best-seller lists. While Norah would have frowned at this book, her sister Lola probably snatched it up as soon as it hit the shelf. Brown’s advice on how to enjoy being single would have resonated with Lola.

In the same way that Norah and Lola are siblings, Friedan and Brown could be considered sisters of the upcoming women’s movement. Friedan and Brown, like all true sisters, disagreed about how to solve the issues facing the female half of the population. While more strident feminists would later eschew Brown’s theories, history shows that both perspectives were important to bring about the changes and the freedom women enjoy today.

Like I said, this just a little reminder. Things could be better, but things could be a lot worse, too, sisters.

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