Baby boomers: 76 million people who were born between 1946 and 1964. During this time, the pop culture stereotype for baby-boomer women (“women”) was blank-eyed blondes in shirtwaist dresses and crinolines. They never knew as much as Dad or Mr. Ed (the talking horse); but they had thighs the size of Tweety Pie and chests the size of medicine balls. They could be domestic like June Cleaver (vacuuming in her heels and pearls), buxom and dumb like Ellie May Clampett (in her tight jeans and shirts), or as removed from politics as Lily Munster. Later, they evolved into miniskirts and hip huggers. Later still, they faced messages such “shut up, get a facelift, and stop eating.” They learned to despise their curves, bulges, stretch marks, and wrinkles which are proof of working hard in and out of the home, having fabulous children, enjoying a good meal or two, tossing back a few drinks, laughing, crying, getting sunburned more than once, enduring indignities, and leading full and varied lives.
Though we are born with DNA imbedded, we are not born complete. Our parents added to us, as did, (since the 1950s in America) movies, television, ads, magazines, and popular music. They filled in the gaps such as “What does it mean to be a girl/woman?” “What does it mean to be American?” “What is happiness?” Along with our parents, mass media raised us, disciplined us, comforted us, deceived us, entertained us, socialized us, and told us what we could and couldn’t do and what we could and couldn’t be.
Throughout our lives, we’ve been getting contradictory messages about what it means to be an American woman. We are supposed to be independent, rugged individuals who are achievement-minded. We are supposed to be competitive, active, shrewd, and assertive go-getters. And, we are also supposed to be dependent, passive, and nurturing women who conform to the wishes of the men in our lives without worrying about personal achievement or success. With messages such as these, women had to create a compromised live appropriate to her class, race, and interpersonal relations with her family, friends, co-workers, and lovers.
Everyone woman has her own story. Some of us were smiling baton twirlers, or domestic members of the Junior Homemakers of America, or gum-popping, leather-clad hair hoppers who hung out at the Laundromat. Some of us were shy and quiet and not a members of any of those groups. But, we were all culturally united by Walt Disney, Mary Tyler Moore, Cyndi Lauper, and the nightly news. Though our personal histories were different, we had these shared histories.
Women are also at the intersection of another contradiction. We were raised as what academics call “producers.” Producers, those with the work ethos, have an emphasis on industriousness, thrift, deferred gratification, and self-denial. However, there needed to be someone to buy, to “consume” all those products we produced. So advertisers started convincing us to reverse our value systems, to spend, to be self-indulgent, to gratify ourselves immediately, and to feel entitled to plenty of leisure time. Consumerism is seductive, but the producing work ethos also holds us in an unforgiving, guilt-laden grip. So we oscillate between the two.
The American woman has emerged as a bundle of contradictions. We are to be passive and active, outspoken and quiet, selfish and selfless, thrifty and profligate, and daring and scared. And we are supposed to be smart enough to figure out who we should be when.
If you have conflicted relationships with yourself and mass media, you are not alone. You are not the only one who hates Vogue, but still read it and flip through the pictures. You are not the only one to be conflicted about whether to be assertive or diplomatic, gentle or rough. Most importantly, you are not alone feeling conflicted about who you are versus who you should be.
[Blogger Note: Everything written above is my compilation of just the introduction of the book listed below. I absorbed this book like oxygen. If you are a baby-boomer woman and the above spoke to your shared history, the information for the book is below. Enjoy!]
Reference: Douglas, S. (1995) Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press