Newspaper Clipping from Old Gardening Book

As I was perusing the old gardening book that I recently acquired, I made another interesting discovery.

I found this old newspaper clipping which—judging by the author’s thumbnail picture—is probably from the 1950s. Although, Ruth Millett was a popular columnist from the ’30s through the ’60s, so it could be from the ’40s. The article is titled, “Follow Six Rules, and Homework is Happy Job.”

Some of the ideas that are postulated would be a bit disturbing to many women today (even though Ruth Millett was actually seen as a feminist of the time!).  While there is no disputing that this article was written by a woman, I have read about articles and books of a similar nature, meant for women, that were written by men. So, I sometimes wonder when I come across articles and books that supposedly were written by women, how many were actually authored by or re-written by men. That is a completely separate topic, so I’ll save it for another time.

Most of the article doesn’t seem very problematic to me (though it is obviously designed to keep women from seeking a job outside of the home). However, there’s one line that I was particularly bothered by: “think of marriage as your job, and look on the job of housework as the time you put in earning the right to be a married woman.” The part that stuck out to me was, “earning the right to be a married woman.” Is that a right that should need to be earned? To me, that statement is akin to saying “earning the right to your husband’s love.”

I used to wish I had been born in an earlier time, simply because I have always been drawn to all things vintage and antique. But then I come across little hints of what life was like for women at the time, and find myself thankful that I don’t have to endure the mistreatment that resulted from the pervasive undercurrent of chauvinism in society. Although many women still face similar societal attitudes today, it is nowhere near as pervasive.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this topic? Perhaps I read too much into that line? I think not, given the countless other articles and advertisements of that time period (in everything from good housekeeping, to local newspapers) that I have come across. Have you come across similar articles? Does anyone know more about Ruth Millett that they would like to share? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  1. Korey

    June 29, 2011 at 11:19 pm

    I do find that the quote has a certain transactional quality I find a little unsettling. I realize in a marriage jobs and responsibilities have to be delegated (my husband and I solve this quandary by being equally lazy about housework ;P), and it is natural that if one partner doesn’t work they will do more housework than the one who does, but I think the splitting of shared domestic tasks based on aptitude or interest is different than the kind of rigid gender roles and quid pro quo (man provides financial stability, woman keeps house and provides children) that typified many pre-second wave feminist marriages.

    In short, I don’t envy the women of yesteryear because of their lack of choice. My grandmother was an incredibly brilliant, talented woman who was wordly and well educated, before she succumbed to societal and religious pressure to give up any career aspirations and become a housewife. After she bore 9 children in 11 years her husband died when she was still in her thirties and had to scratch together a living when women were still subject to intense workplace discrimination. She wrestled with a lot of sadness in her later years over the potential she felt she wasted because of the doors closed to her because she was a woman.

    In 2011 there is nothing stopping a man and woman from having a very traditional marriage except the potential fiscal difficulties of subsisting on one income (something that in my neck of the woods where the cost of living is very high is difficult). I don’t see anything wrong with the choice to stay home, tend to home and hearth, and greet your husband at the door with his slippers. However, I would not want this to be the culturally preferred option, as it was in the past, with all the discrimination it entailed.

    Sorry if that was kind of long and rambling. I love reading old articles like this though. I actually wrote my first academic conference paper as a grad student on the Quiverfull movement, which is pretty patriarchical and thinks women should not work outside the home, submit to their husbands in all matters and bear as many children as possible. My mother collects old marriage/parenting/general advice columns for me when she can (she has access to lots of old magazines through her work) and I also know several online caches if you’re interested.

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