I’ve been thinking about the traditional roles women take. It is a familiar train of thought. This new round of consideration was triggered by a book and a show, but quickly drew me to re-examine other books and shows which address the same topic.
I saw a Netflix ad for Mad Men, which is a tv show about advertising executives in 1960’s era New York City. I watched some episodes. They were a beautifully rendered and stylish portrait of how traditional roles, when combined with selfishness, can make everyone miserable. The show may go other places in the remainder of it’s seasons, but I doubt it. In contrast is the movie The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio, where a woman embraces her traditional roles and turns them into a source of power and joy despite the fact that her marriage is far from ideal. I never want her life, but admire her courage and grace in putting up with some things so that she could have others which mattered more to her. The movie Mona Lisa Smile addresses the question of women’s roles directly. Asking the characters and the audience to witness the various possible choices. In the book How to Be An American Housewife, the primary character’s Japanese background sheds new light on why relationships are formed, what formats they should take, and how traditions should be expressed. All of these stories take place at least in part, during the post-war era of the 50s and 60s. I guess that is the go-to era for examining “traditional roles,” probably because most of what became considered traditional was popularized and drummed into social memory by the advent of media advertising. Advertising tells everyone who they should be and what they should want. We all succumb to it at least somewhat.
I am fascinated by these shows and book, because I can endlessly compare aspects of my life to them. Where I mirror the choices of a character, I have to decide whether that makes me pathetic or noble. Am I giving myself away, negating myself for the benefit of others, or am I laying the necessary ground work for all of us to build something beautiful? When I step forward and chase one of my own dreams, am I being a positive role model or merely being selfish? I come up with different answers on different days. Largely my actions are not dictated by these ruminations. I make my choices based on logic and inspiration. However I believe that the ruminations inform my choices. No one should be forced into a life-path through ignorance of other options. I try to make my choices eyes open. I am trapped by the social nets in which I live, just like everyone else. I have obligations which I dislike. I can cut the offending sections of net, but I run the risk of weakening the whole unless I am also willing to make new connections in other places. These new connections may be just as limiting to me, but I chose them and that makes all the difference.