Hey! Little Girl
Comb your hair, fix your makeup
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try anymore
For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you…
Burt Bacharach & Hal David, recorded by Jack Jones 1964
When I see Mitt Romney , his hair slicked like Robert Young’s in Father Knows Best, I’m reminded of the late 1950s. It’s an era for which Republicans seem to feel nostalgia. A family with a father who goes off to work every morning, a wife who greets him in the evening wearing high heels and makeup. And who has dinner waiting. Back then our society had order—or appeared to.
Back then most white people were still unaware of African Americans organizing for equal opportunities and the right to vote. Men were unaware that women were searching for opportunities to use their gifts for the benefit of society. Straights were unaware that gays and lesbians were running our banks, teaching in our schools, playing on our professional sports teams.
During the fifties my mother had the skills to run a corporation. Her job title was secretary, though she did the hiring, firing, and book-keeping for a chain of three drugstores. Once, when she complained that her workload was too big, her boss handed her a ten-dollar bill and said, “Here, go buy a hat.” Eventually he hired a book-keeper, a man of course, who made twice her salary.
With women on TV either for decorative purposes or as the recipients of men’s scornful humor, we girls had only the role model of teacher, nurse, social worker. I settled for teacher but soon discovered I didn’t really like kids—at least not thirty at a time. So I wasn’t disappointed when school district policy dictated that I quit my teaching job when I was four months pregnant. Women, you see, couldn’t reveal in any way that we were sexual beings.
Of course girls couldn’t either. While “boys will be boys” permitted all sorts of male behavior, girls had to pretend that our hormones were dormant. A few were called loose; occasionally one disappeared for a semester. Among girls the word “contraception” was seldom spoken above a whisper, if at all. In 1965 the Supreme Court ruled a Connecticut law banning contraception unconstitutional. Not until 1972 did the court rule that unmarried couples have the right to possess contraception.
Unless a second income was necessary for survival, husbands went out into the world and carried the burdens of government, church, and community. Women had little say over our lives; men made important decisions.
Now the Romney-Ryan ticket, along with other Republican men, would have us return to the 1950s. Before he changed his stance in the foreign-policy debate, Romney cited Russia as our biggest geopolitical threat. It was. During the fifties. Republicans want to return to the order—or at least the illusion of it—they remember: African-Americans in their place, women and their sexuality under the close supervision of men; gays and lesbians back in the closet.
But you can’t stuff toothpaste back in the tube. Today cultures live side by side and demand equal rights and prosperity in our country. Young people are growing up in settings that bring together races, ethnic groups, male and female, gay and straight. I admit I’m not comfortable with all the changes in my lifetime.
But who in their right minds would want our society to return to the way it really was in the fifties?