1950s: ‘the great american dream’ myth


Ah, the 1950s. A time of perfectly hedged bushes in front yards of perfectly painted houses in suburbia. Women always had perfectly coiffed hair while they cooked, cleaned and raised (perfect) children and men brought home the bacon. The black and white photos show perfectly white teeth, perfectly ironed dresses and the belief that everyone could achieve the American dream. Right? Lots of people have a fixation with the 50s and I would be lying if I said it never crossed my mind before. Most of my clothes are retro inspired and for as long as I can remember, I have gazed dreamily at classic movie stars on my small television screen, remarking on their great beauty and longing for a time such as that one. I was born in the wrong time! I thought, just as many of us have thought from time to time.

But the 50s are also plagued with darkness that tends to be overshadowed by Hollywood glamour and the suburb’s homemade apple pie. Segregation was fully realized and approved of back then. The FHA openly discriminated and refused to give home loans to people of color. White people fled major cities to live in the suburbs, leaving poor and often unemployed people of color behind in dilapidated buildings and worsening living conditions. You had valid concern for your safety if you were a person of color. Violence against POC was rampant. The very judicial system that was set up to protect white people was biased against POC. White people literally got away with murder.

Those yearning for a time when women were treated “like queens” might need to remember that it was during the 1950s that women were fiercely oppressed (that eventually led to the second-wave feminists of the 60s and 70s). A woman’s place was primarily seen in the house doing household chores and raising the children, with the exception of a few jobs allocated to women, such as secretarial work. Girls were raised to keep their mouths shut and that a man’s word was valued over their own. A husband could have sex with his wife without her consent and this wasn’t considered rape. He could also commit domestic abuse, step outside of the marriage, and micromanage every little thing his wife did without consequence. Raping your wife wasn’t against the law back then and a blind eye was turned away from domestic abuse. Charming, isn’t it? People point to low divorce rates but women were frightened to leave abusive marriages. If you have no money and the law is not on your side, where are you going to go?

Let’s stop romanticizing such a dark time in America’s history. There’s no better time in the history of the USA to be a woman or a POC than right now, right this moment. We have more rights than ever and while we still have quite a long ways to go, this is the best time for us to make leaps in progress. I will still idolize Elizabeth Taylor and turn pea green with envy at Audrey Hepburn’s brilliant clothes in Funny Face but you can keep your blatant racism, sexism, and homophobia back in the 1950s, thankyouverymuch.


2 responses to “1950s: ‘the great american dream’ myth

  • rlcarterrn

    Damn right. Thank you for this post. I couldn’t agree more. I grew up hearing my pastor romanticize the 1950’s but over the years I slowly learned that there was a really dark side to that time period & as a woman I cannot possibly ignore that.

    • thefemininefeministe

      You’re exactly right. People talk about many of the positives, like affordable mortgages and a booming economy and all of these things were great… If you were a straight white man. Any other groups (women, POC, gay people,etc) were completely oppressed.
      Thanks for your comment! =]

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