The Whole Picture: The 50’s weren’t “romantic” for everyone

Elisabeth Smith, Resident Blogger (’14, University of Washington School of Law)

Over Christmas my cousins and I were watching television and we just kept flipping channels until we got to TLC and saw some women dressed up in 1950s garb turn from black and white to full color. Heard of Wives with Beehives? The show is basically a Real Housewives variant, but all the women live a “vintage lifestyle”. Other people have talked about the show, but I want to highlight something besides its antiquated notions of gender roles.

All of the women go on and on about the magic of the 1950s.  Dollie calls the 50s “a very romantic period. It’s romantic to have a husband [who] you love, and beautiful children [who] you take care of and a beautiful home you take pride in.”  Here’s where I take issue with this show. Traditional gender roles aren’t my cup of tea, but a show about 4 white women mooning over the romance of the 50s without any recognition that the decade wasn’t all moonbeams and starbursts for everyone is gross.

Let’s start in reverse order. The home.  After World War II, “FHA underwriters warned that the presence of even one or two non-white families could undermine real estate values in the new suburbs. These government guidelines were widely adopted by private industry.” [Click here @ 1:30:55]  So if you were a white GI you could take advance of the GI Bill and get a home in the new suburbs. A GI of color had far fewer options. As Dalton Conley, a sociologist, a points out “basically, the whites moving to the suburbs were being subsidized in the accumulation of wealth, while blacks were being divested.” If a beautiful home is one component of the magical 50s, it was out of reach for many people.

Okay, two: beautiful children with whom you spend your time. In the 1950s, African American women worked outside the home in large numbers so they if they spent their day with children, those children probably weren’t their own.   Another statement made by one the “Wives with Beehives” underscores this reality. When the women discuss whether any of them have dishwashers, one replies “I don’t need a dishwasher, I have Maria.”  Wow. So living a vintage lifestyle also includes vintage racism!

Yikes, people, yikes. I get that these women have chosen to make the 50s their thing, but seriously, what we say on tv does have effects.