When I first got married, my mother was the first to give us advice on how I should act: “A good wife always knows her place”. If I look back on what I was told and compare it to the attitude nowadays, it’s a bit strange.
Women are much more independent and brave in the face of an abusive or unkind husband. They don’t feel like they need to answer to their husband’s every demand and they expect respect and love in return.
My mother meant well but her advice to me as a 21-year-old newlywed was quite absurd when I think about it by today’s standards. Why wouldn’t she have told me those things? She was a 1940s housewife and had ideals passed down to her. She isn’t alive now but I wish I could ask her what she thought of the advice we have today. I thought I might compare back then and now…
In my research I saw excerpts from a 1953 column in the Ladies’ Home Journal, titled ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ — I bet you can imagine what follows!
The counsellor answering the questions would always blame the wife: they were childish, immature and frigid if they weren’t obliging their husband. We have definitely come a long way from the sexism of the ’50s, but here are some of these terrible pieces of advice in the column:
– A woman’s personality is to blame for marital problems: yes, it was all her fault. If your husband was cheating or not interested, it was you who needed to change. You were given no sympathy by your husband or family — you simply needed to stop being so frigid and give into his needs. Nevermind his drinking problems or blatant disregard for your feelings!
– The longer you’ve been married, the more you should let domestic violence slide: nowadays, that is just an abhorrent statement, but believe you me, that happened in the ’50s, and even when I was married in the ’70s. If you were at your wit’s end and desperate to leave your husband, you were considered stupid — he provided for you and gave you gifts and you turn around and want to leave him? The counsellor’s advice was that a long marriage meant they were solid and it would be silly to break that bond, despite the abuse.
– Your own career and life is less important than your husband’s: forget about your dreams, your man was your sole purpose for living in the ’50s. If you wanted to have a job that exceeded your husband’s income or perceived level of importance, you were being selfish. Wives needed to stay home and keep the house tidy and be a good mother. Because apparently you couldn’t do both!
Another book I found called The Wives’ Book: For the Wife Who’s Best at Everything by Alison Maloney had some vintage pearls of wisdom:
Ten Commandments for Wives
1. Don’t bother your husband with petty troubles and complaints when he comes home from work.
2. Be a good listener. Let him tell you his troubles; yours will seem trivial in comparison.
3. Remember your most important job is to build up and maintain his ego (which gets bruised plenty in business). Morale is woman’s business.
4. Let him relax before dinner and discuss family problems after the ‘inner man’ has been satisfied.
5. Always remember he’s a male and marital relations promote harmony. Have sane views about sex.
6. No man likes a wife who is always tired out. Conserve your energy so you can give him the companionship he craves.
7. Never hold up your husband to ridicule in the presence of others. If you must criticise, do so privately and without anger.
8. Remember a man is only a grown-up boy. He needs mothering and enjoys it if it isn’t piled on too thick.
9. Don’t live beyond your means or add to your husband’s financial burdens.
10. Don’t try to boss him around. Let him think he wears the pants.
Wow! Talk about putting your ‘petty troubles’ down the list of priorities! It’s still shocking to read this and remember that my mum gave this advice to me as if it was gospel.
She and my father were a lovely couple and I rarely saw them fight. But I got the sense their marriage was not always happy. I have found some advice for housewives today — the differences are stark:
Communicate… share your dreams… never let the sun set on an argument… respect each other… work as a team… date nights… have fun together… say ‘I Love You’ three times a day… always say goodbye with a kiss!
I much prefer this advice for my marriage, and I think it has ensured my husband and I continue to be happy and loving with one another even after 40 years together.