For one week, British writer Anna Maxted, a mother of three boys, exchanged her time at her writing desk for the chores-are-never-done domestic life as a '50s housewife.
Goodbye, Liz Lemon. Hello, Betty Draper and June Cleaver.
In a piece written for the Daily Mail, Maxted write sthat she was inspired by Virginia Nicholson’s book, Perfect Wives in Ideal Homes: The Story of Women in the Fifties.
“From today’s vantage point, the Fifties often seem bathed in a rosy nostalgic glow. It was, after all, an era of stay-at-home mums and strong family values,” she explains.
“Sometimes, in these confused, emancipated times, with the constant blurring of gender roles and domestic squabbles, it’s tempting to hark back to an era that seemed so straight forward.”
Maxted started rising earlier, packing her sons’ lunches, ironing their clothes, making her husband’s breakfast — her poor oatmeal-making skills didn’t win her any points in that area — and launching into a rigorous cleaning schedule: beating the carpets, washing the curtains, “turning out” the rooms, and scrubbing the floors.
She then did the laundry — by hand. (And opted to ignore washing the sheets until the experiment was over. Wise woman.)
And while her homemade jam earned rave reviews with her sons — she admits that the gratefulness expressed by her kids for her doting and domestic efforts “feels strangely powerful” — she writes that “once the euphoria of domestic success wears off, I become brittle with irritability and loneliness.”
Her turn as a housewife doesn’t do much for her marriage, either.
“It’s been depressing, this week, to realize that it’s not my place to chip in with an opinion, and to feel like his servant, rather than his soul mate. The novelty of subservience was briefly amusing, but it wore off fast,” she concludes at the end of the week-long experiment.
“And the truth is, Phil hasn’t enjoyed it either. He says he has felt helpless and useless; a spare part in his own home. He loves looking after his family, cooking us meals. He doesn’t want to be aloof. Playing these roles, far from bringing us together, him-Tarzan, me-Jane style, has made us both feel alone and detached.”
“So it was with glee that I rejoined my 2015. I actually cannot wait for our first argument over the dishwasher.”
Not every woman who has tried this experience has come to the same conclusion.
Last summer, British housewife Mandy Jones, 49, claimed that adopting a back-in-time lifestyle saved her marriage and that adopting traditional gender roles — which include darning your husband’s socks and having dinner ready (in a ’50s diner-style kitchen, of course) when he gets home — was a sure-fire way to keep your man happy.
“1950s marriages definitely work better than marriages these days,” she told the Daily Mail at the time. “The divorce rate is so high at the moment and it never used to be in the past. We should all take advice from our grandparents and start living the '50s way.”
Instead of drinking together, Jones and her husband, Gary, would put on the jukebox and do a quick Lindy Hop. Or they’d drive to local vintage fairs, while decked out in their '50s finest, in their 1949 Chevrolet.
(It should be noted that the couple bonded over their love of rockabilly and vintage fashion when they first met. Not all husbands would be up for wearing wide lapels and slicking back their hair.)
“It may seem strange and we get the odd nasty comment, but this way of life works for us and has saved our marriage,” Jones said.
In 2010, Toronto blogger Jen from Jen But Never Jenn spent two weeks as a '50s housewife — her experiment was a little more moderate, as she still used the washing machine and still spent a few hours a week working — and found that the greatest benefit the experiment gave her relationship with her husband was the time they spent together away from the distraction of technology.
She vowed to continue prioritizing greeting each another when they got home from work, eating dinner at the table without distractions, and reducing TV time once the experiment concluded.
Gabrielle Moss of Bustle also tried her hand at being Betty Draper for a week, dolling up, brushing up on etiquette rules, wearing nice underwear, and cleaning the bathroom — every day.
When the week ended, she was happy to be living in 2014.
“Going through all these ’50s motions, I sometimes felt like nothing had really changed — instead of being expected to have dinner waiting for our man, we’re supposed to somehow lean in, helicopter parent, and go to Pilates nine times a week, which isn’t exactly a huge leap forward,” Moss concluded. “But at least now women get to be who they actually are. The standards of a ‘perfect woman’ are still unrelentingly brutal, and we still beat ourselves up for falling short of them, but by God, at least we have some choice in the matter now. At least we’re not born with our future of pink ruffle panties and making a man feel ‘like a king’ laid out in front of us.”
The idea of a simpler life, without today’s attractions, sounds appealing —eating dinner together as a family is important — but I also like being a wife in 2015: sock-darning is impractical and floor-polishing can wait. (And my husband is way better at making breakfast than I am.)
Could you handle a living-in-the-past experiment? What about living in the '50s appeals to you — or scares you?