If you were a wife and a mother in the 1950s, chances are you considered yourself a homemaker. In 2010, that term is a bit antiquated, yet it was once a job description women used freely and without shame. While certainly not all women were homemakers, it was common for them to embrace the roll once marriage and motherhood entered their lives. Lest we think women of the 1950s didn't work outside the home, many were teachers, nurses, farmers, telephone operators and worked in myriad other occupations.
Brr...The Cold War
Given what we know about American women of the 1950s, it was a bit startling for me to read the article "The Soviet Attack on Women's Minds" in the August 1953 issue of McCall's Magazine. In an ironic twist, this article let American women know how good they had it while their Soviet counterparts in "the teeming hovels of Russia" were out there working at jobs as men would in mines and boiler rooms, yet not allowed to be in positions of authority. The whole article is a cleverly written piece of rhetoric about how Soviet women were taught that American women had awful lives. And, according to the Soviet propaganda machine, American women were compelled to teach their sons to use weapons, while at the same time eradicate from them any peaceful sentiments!
Warfare in the Information Age
We all know what happened to the Soviet Union and, while we can feel a bit of smugness about "winning" the cold war, doesn't it all seem a bit like deja vu? Aren't we both subject to and victims of the very same type of rhetoric regarding the Middle East. Though we aren't likely to read it in the modern women's magazines, which have evolved into more fluff than substance, haven't we heard on TV that "their" children are taught to hate and "their" women are marginalized? Seems like a tactic of warfare taken from a page out of the 1950s to me.
Rhetoric Comes Home to Roost
Sadly, this type of rhetoric isn't reserved for those across the oceans. We have decided to target each other. In the 1950s, we were all on the same side. We all knew who the enemy was and it wasn't the person who voted for the candidate you didn't like. Now, the most damaging propaganda is from the powerful political commentators. When we talk about "us" and "them", we are no longer referring to a far away enemy, but to the liberal or conservative guy next door.
Propaganda in Your Living Room
It's easy to look back at the 1950's McCall's article and see it for what it was - propaganda. But, when we are in it up to our eyeballs - when we hear a 2010 radio show or watch a certain TV news station - are we recognizing it? Do we know that there's a good chance we are being manipulated? And, wherever our beliefs fall, do most of us know that we seek out the media that further supports those beliefs? How often do we ever listen to the other side?
Maybe that's why the 1950s seem so quaint. Maybe it's not how they did laundry or that most women were homemakers, maybe it's that the enemy wasn't us. We weren't attacking each other over politics, or the mommy wars or any number of other causes that tend to make us want to line up on one side or the other. It's quite frightening that the same tactics that were used to convince us the Soviets were no good are being used to convince us that the liberals or conservatives (depending on which side of the fence you're on) are no good. The only difference is, the ones doing the talking aren't as polite as they were in the 1950s.
Things are getting chillier.