Essay About Life in the 1950s, Perfection or Facade?
In the 1950s, things were easier. Life was leisurely, the economy was booming, children were safer, and most importantly, the family values were concrete and perfect… Or were they? Shows like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It To Beaver were showing what the quintessential American family was to the whole nation, but not the whole nation had a classic, ideal family. Ideas such as these can create a barrier between people, namely whites and non-whites, which can lead to alienation between these groups. Also shown was how women were essentially an attachment to their husbands and families. These shows portray families in a light that might not have been feasible for many non-white families in the 1950s.
The 1950s always had this facade; it was perfect. Whether it be with television shows, advertisements, or stories, it typically presents the 1950s as a wonderfully happy, peaceful time. Shows like The Donna Reed Show and Leave It To Beaver were excellent representations of that ‘facade.’ In The Donna Reed Show, Donna and her family were the stereotypical white, middle class, “all American” family living their lives to the fullest extent. There were lessons to be learned, but mostly it showed how the “average” everyday family lived and survived in the 1950s. In The Donna Reed Show, there is an episode that talks about Donna’s daughter Mary getting her driver’s license.
Mary originally had ideas for a boy to pick her up after school, so Donna and her friend Alice had made plans to hang out and have a girl’s day with no worry of the children. Before Mary leaves for school, she informs Donna and Alice that she will need Donna to pick her up. When Donna questions Mary about what happened to the boy who was supposed to bring her home, Mary says they’re no longer together. This saddens Donna, yet she reluctantly agrees to pick Mary up from school after suggesting that maybe some other friends to bring her home. Donna suggests that Mary gets her driver’s license, so this kind of thing wouldn’t take place repeatedly. One would think Mary would be thrilled and willing to get her license, but she exclaims, “Mother if I knew how to drive a car, how could I ask boys to take me places?” A laugh track is played and Mary takes off for school, leaving Donna looking crushed.
This representation of Donna’s motherly responsibilities given above is a prime example of how women were treated in the 1950s. While Mary was thankful her mother would pick her up from school, this was expected of mothers and women in the 1950s. And true, these things are “required” of parents today, but today we have both mothers and fathers doing these so-called motherly responsibilities. In the 1950s, because the mothers were at home and not working, these duties fell upon them rather than the father. They were the backbone of the household and in some sense, were taken advantage of.
While they weren't working and making the household income like their husband, they had more than enough on their plate to deal with. They were constantly compelled to say yes to everything, because if they didn’t, who would? They cleaned the house, cooked the food, watched over the children, stayed home all day (father was the breadwinner), and just made sure everyone was happy. They were constantly there to pick up the pieces, no matter how often it ruined their plans. This was blatantly displayed in the scene of Donna saying yes to Mary’s request to pick her up from school. Donna was disheartened, eventually saying yes, because if she didn’t… Who would have made sure her daughter arrived home safely?
In the show Leave It To Beaver, similarly like The Donna Reed Show, it portrayed life as a beautiful paradise. In Gary Soto’s article, “Looking For Work”, he describes what an ordinary dinner on the television show was like. “The father looks on in his suit. The mother, decked out in earrings and a pearl necklace, cuts into her steak and blushes. Their conversation is politely clipped.” (Soto, 23.)This is what Gary wants for his family. He wants the politeness and the financial stability, as this is pointed out plainly as Gary describes the father’s suit and the mother’s jewelry.
He goes on to describe his family’s dinners as “...full of belly laughs and marked with pointing our forks at each other. The subjects were commonplace.” (Soto, 23.) While the dinner on Leave It To Beaver was orderly and polite, as Gary puts it, the dinner at the Soto’s household was more appealing. It was more entertaining and spontaneous, and while it wasn’t the ideal 1950s dinner, it shows that family values were there and valued highly in their own way. This is an example of how not everything in the 1950s was clean and sparkly, like the television shows depicted. Every family is unique and even minor details, such as the way they eat dinner, can show us how different people are.
In Naomi Gerstel and Natalia Sarkisian’s article “The Color Of Family Ties: Race, Class, Gender, and Extended Family Involvement” they dive into the racist and quite harmful idea of the nuclear family. The reason the concept of this is harmful goes back to the concept that every family is different, especially between whites and non-whites. This view continues to maintain the myth that white families are more organized while non-white families are more disorganized. (Gerstel and Sarkisian, 44.) The belief that non-white families are more disorganized comes from the perpetuated thought all minority families are single parents and aren’t in marriages like you see with white families. (Gerstel and Sarkisian, 44)
While this may be accurate to some degree, this is risky because when people say family, most groups think of a mother, father, and children… But extended families exist and typically, minority families tend to spend a lot more time with them than white families do. According to Gerstel and Sarkisian, “Minority individuals are more likely to live in extended family homes than whites.” (Gerstel and Sarkisian, 44) My father’s side of the family is Mexican and I get to experience firsthand these ideas playing out in everyday life. For instance, my aunt and uncle lived in the same household as their son, daughter-in-law, and their three children.
My aunt and uncle provided rides for the children to and from school, aided with the household tasks, and much more. In return for all the help they received, my cousins would help with taking my aunt and uncle to their doctor’s appointments and run daily errands, such as going to the store with them. It was a beneficial agreement that they had, but that wasn’t the primary reason they did it. They did it because it was nice to have that family around and the living environment was considerably more exciting just because of this.
As you can see, there is no typical, American family. Minority families differ greatly from white families in many respects. Ignoring the extended family creates a disconnect from the minorities in our culture and alienates them to some degree. White people can be very harsh, racist, and judgemental on people who don’t have the same families as them or the same values as them. You can see this in everyday life just by watching the news or looking at your own surroundings. Everyday immigrants who reside in America are being shouted at to go back to their ‘home country’.
Even individuals who were born here, if they’re not white, have a greater chance of being reduced to how they look. This is very dangerous because when we reduce an individual down to how they look or their race, it creates a barrier between groups. These kinds of barriers can lead to hate crimes, such as the KKK lynching, murdering, and terrorizing black people or even a war, an example being World War II. Society needs to stop treating women as if they’re inferior to men. If we continue to think this way, women of the world will be belittled, raped, and even murdered. Viewing women as their own person and not as an attachment to their husband can open up so many opportunities for them and the future of children. When we open our minds up to new ideas, new cultures, and think about how other races and ethnicities differ from white families, it can make a significant impact on our culture.