Our parents, survivors of the Great Depression and World War II, were determined that their children (us) were to be more secure and more carefree. Because there were so many of us, we became a special market in America. Advertisers called us special and blessed. We would live in a world of prosperity and progress. We would be better-educated, healthier, more affluent, and more sophisticated than any generation before…if we bought the right products.
Baby boomer women (“we”) were told our destinies were more open than our parents. But at the same time, we were told we couldn’t expect more than to end up like our mothers. Who were we supposed to be? – Individualistic? Competitive? Aggressive? Achievement oriented? Tough? Independent? Or were we supposed to be Nurturing? Self-Abnegating? Passive? Dependent? Primarily concerned with the well-being of others and completely indifferent to personal success?
We were the first generation raised by the television and its messages – Be American – strong and bold; No, be a woman – soft and passive. We were taught that in front of others we were to be self-abnegating just like Cinderella or Snow White. But in private, we were supposed to stand in front of the mirror as a narcissist and masochist while examining every pore of our skin, every stray eyebrow hair, and every gesture while never, ever letting anyone see us do this. The message to us was “be passive, be dumb, keep your mouth shut, and learn how to make Spam and Velveeta croquettes.” The message behind the message was “To really have it all, you must be a martyr.”
[Blogger’s note: When television began, nightly news was only 15 minutes….now we know why they call it the good old days.]
From Disney we learned that the only good women, besides the princesses, were the chubby, postmenopausal fairy godmothers, asexual grandmas well beyond the age of successfully competing in the contest over “who’s the fairest of them all.” Except for them, all the females were in competition, over who was the prettiest, who was most appealing to men, who the birds and dogs liked most, and who had the smallest feet.
[Blogger’s note: In the original Cinderella, the step-sisters cut off their toes trying to fit into the glass slipper brought around by the prince. Disney, wisely, deleted those pages. But think about it, what does it say about women that the story would be written that way? Can you think of others ways women mutilated themselves or changed themselves trying to be the perfect woman for her man? What about you? Have you changed your hair color? Lost weight? Gained weight? Pierced your ears? Gotten a tattoo? What else?]
In the middle of all of this, we were rescued; not by a prince but by Jacqueline Kennedy. With her, the television audience met a real life woman and loved her. At 31, she was a one-woman revolution. Her feet were not small, they were size 10s. She wore slim skirts and smooth bouffant hairstyles ushering in a relaxed attitude for us. She had worked outside the home, and she was a wife and mother. She loved history but was forward thinking. She deferred to her husband, but often outshone him. She was a blend of tradition and modernity, the old feminine and the new womanhood.
She was young, beautiful, slim, stylish, and rich. She was smart, “a certified egghead.” She read voraciously; painted; and spoke Italian, French, and Spanish. She loved art, classical music, the opera, and sports. She went to Vassar, George Washington University, and the Sorbonne. She was America’s princess, and she was on the cover of all the important magazines. The week of President Kennedy’s inauguration, Jackie Kennedy, not the President, was on the cover of Time.
She brought her “eggheaded approach” to redecorating the White House by adding significance to “The People’s House” through historical furnishings. Before her, the White House was a hodgepodge of odds and ends. Because of Jaqueline Kennedy, Americans have a home to be proud of when they tour it. She was smart, loved intellectual pursuits, wore pants, and had big feet – and was still uniquely feminine. She knew how to take charge, and she knew how to be gracious and ornamental. For those of us growing up during the 1960s, she was better than Cinderella or Snow White.
[Blogger’s note: I have often wondered why Jaqueline Kennedy had such staying power with us. Her husband only served three years, yet she was always special to American women. This book clarified thoughts I didn’t know I had beautifully.]
Reference: Douglas, S. (1995) Where the Girls Are: Growing Up Female with the Mass Media. New York: Three Rivers Press