The 1950s in America is classically characterized by its rigid gender roles known as “separate spheres.” Men and women had very different expectations, goals, and practices. For women, this entailed maintaining a household with a steady marriage, good food, and well-behaved children.
Over and over women heard in voices of tradition and of Freudian sophistication that they could desire no greater destiny than to glory in their own femininity…They learned that truly feminine women do not want careers, higher education, political rights…All they had to do was devote their lives from earliest girlhood to finding a husband and bearing children.[i]
This common depiction of the 1950s housewife shows through in the cultural media of the time. A quintessential example of this is advertisements. Advertisements from the 1950s explicitly enforce these generalized and strict expectations placed on all women in the decade.
Women were expected to keep their attractive womanly figures even after they have had children. This is part of the larger expectation for women to keep their marriage and sex life exciting and happy.[ii]
Young women were saturated in the ideals associated with the perfect image of a housewife. From an early age, girls were being taught how to dress and look to attract a husband and become a respectable mother.[iii]
The societal mindset of the 1950s assumed that every woman would want and use kitchen appliances. This is very different from the societal mindset of today, where such an assumption could not be made so easily.[iv]
Women were also expected to have the latest hairstyles and fashions to keep up with the times and compete with their friends. Appearances were one of a woman’s main priorities.[v]
All of these advertisements were run in the Winter Park Herald in 1950. The Herald merged with the Winter Park Sun in 1959. The new newspaper, called the Winter Park Sun-Herald was published on Park Avenue in the building that is now the Briarpatch Restaurant.[vi]
These examples show how advertisements in particular, and cultural media in general, reflected the societal norms of the decade. This is especially true in the case of gender roles. These advertisements clearly portray the rigid guidelines associated with the role of the woman and her femininity. There was no room for deviation in these guidelines. Every woman was expected to aspire to the goals of the ideal 1950s housewife: find a respectable husband, raise his children, and run an orderly household.
[i] Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, reprint edition, (New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001), 58.
[ii] Winter Park Herald, Nov. 16, 1950, 8.
[iv] Ibid, Dec. 7, 1950, 5.
[v] Ibid, Nov. 23, 1950, 2.
[vi] Daire Jansson, Briarpatch Restaurant, Winter Park, FL, Photgraph, April 11, 2013.