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Jacquelyn Sparks

History 566

Dr. Lerner

4/27/01

Were the 1950s the best decade ever?

Since the 1950s, many have gazed nostalgically at the decade as a period of prosperity, comfort, and widespread happiness among the American people—essentially, the best decade ever. Looking at the popular culture of the age—the television shows, the magazine ads, the music—the 50s were portrayed as a fun-loving, All-American time in which everyone could joyously pursue the "American Dream" in tidy, suburban homes across the nation.

This idealistic picture of the decade only displays the surface of society—more specifically, the affluent class—in the 1950s. The decade, in fact, was not utopian. In an effort to create a conformity of the masses, the oppression of many individuals resulted. One such group of oppressed individuals were women. Women, who had made some gains during the war years, were pushed out of relatively high-paying jobs back to the home (or low-paying, menial labor).

Popular culture was used to re-create the image of the ideal female. Advertisements during the war years portrayed women as strong, capable individuals who could make a difference by heading to the workplace in the absence of men. The 50s brought a new ideal woman to popular culture. She returned to her home in the suburbs, did her daily housework, cared for her children and her husband—all the while wearing heels, pearls, and a smile. Many women felt as if they were personal failure if they did not conform (or have the desire to conform) to these images of femininity.

The societal pressure placed on women during this decade, and their resulting feelings of failure and discontent as housewives, certainly does not support the sentimental feelings that many hold for the 1950s as the best decade ever. The amount of individual liberty that one could possess was largely dictated by the views of society. In that respect, women took a step backward during the 50s with regard to their expression of personal individuality and fulfillment.