This photo by Nina Leen [“Housewife Marjorie McWeeney amid symbolic display of her week’s housework” in “Woman’s Dilemma,” Life, June 16, 1947, p. 105] depicts part of the housewife-y stuff of attention in the course of her 100-long-week. The remarkable part of the photo is that all of this was displayed in a window display at Bloomingdales.
Part of Ms. McWeeney’s average work week included “35 beds to be made, 750 items of glass & china, 400 pieces of silverware to wash, 174 lbs. of food to prepare, some of 250 pieces of laundry.on a line, & a ringer washing machine”–that plus paying attention to her children during the 70+ hours a week in which they are awake. – JF Ptak Science Books Post 1047
From the LIFE magazine issue:
Actually Marjorie’s chores are much lighter than they would have been a few generations ago. She cleans with machinery propelled by electricity, she uses food prepared in canneries, she buys clothes factory-made to fit every member of the family. But her jobs, though relieved of old-time drudgery, have none of the creative satisfactions of home baking, home preserving, home dressmaking. And, because her family unit is small with no aunts or cousins in the household, all the time she saves from housework must go into supervision of her children. Unless she makes special arrangements with a baby-sitter, she has no relief from child care.
Many women in Marjorie’s position feel that this is a life of drudgery, that it is not good for Marjorie, a graduate of a junior college, to stay with small children long, continuous hours. Marjorie herself has no desire to work outside. Because as an individual she likes the job that she does, she has no problem right now. Like most busy young housewives, however, she gives little thought to the future–to satisfactory ways of spending the important years after her children have grown up and left home.
So, what image do we, in the 21st century, present as a ‘symbolic display’ of today’s woman? The most recurrent image is woman as goddess – and not just any goddess, but the multi-armed Hindu victor of good over evil – Goddess Durga, also known as Chamundeshwari or Mahishasura Mardini:
Of course, the many arms of the modern woman represent ‘multi-tasking’ in the conscious mind. But what about the subconscious effect? In Hinduism the many arms of the deities represent their immense power and their magical ability to do several acts at the same time – it is the artist’s attempt to express the deity’s superhuman power. Are today’s women an evolutionary step towards a different kind of society in the future?
The ‘woman’s dilemma’ in Marjorie’s time was to be a stay-at-home-housekeeper or join the outside workforce. The woman’s dilemma of today doesn’t appear to be that simple to define. One observation can be made though – while the roles of women in the world of today are often taken for granted and under-appreciated, a subtle but certain empowerment is taking place. An empowerment many women in Marjorie’s generation only dreamed of – it’s a hard and challenging road, but could this be one that leads to a more promising future?
Only time will tell.