Friday, December 9, 2016

We've Come a Long Way, or Have We?


We’ve Come a Long Way, or Have We? by Debra H. Goldstein
When you checked out the Happy Thanksgiving listing of the Stiletto Gang’s books (http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/2016/11/happy-thanksgiving.html), did you notice the one thing they all have in common?

The books and poems are written by strong women and whether dramatic or comedic, they feature women capable of finding solutions. The women writing these books and appearing on the pages can often be characterized as steel magnolias. Their independence, career choices, relationships, ultimately are of their own choosing.

What a change in society our style of writing reflects. Historically, women writers often tended to use initials or male names rather than their own names because they felt books by men would sell better. Think P.L. Travers, S.E. Hinton, P.D. James, J.D. Robb, or V.K. Andrews, to name a few. They also had to conform their writing to certain norms.

In Little Women, Jo could be a tomboy, but in the end, she still had to wear dresses and bonnets.
Books written in the 1940’s by Janet Lambert and others depicted women in supportive home roles or confined to becoming teachers, stewardesses, or nurses. Even young adult mysteries like Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames limited the roles and interaction of their main characters. While they might step outside their norms because of curiosity or needed action to solve a crime, they usually ended the books with a jovial attitude statement looking forward to their next adventures.

Recently, I read Silver Wings for Vicki, the first in the Vicki Barr stewardess series by Helen Wells. I was struck by the contrast between the eagerness of the young women wanting to fly for adventure and their understanding of the responsibilities their job entailed. More than being a waitress in the sky, stewardesses had to be “able to handle all sorts of people, tactfully, in any sort of situation.” (page 18) They needed to know health, hygiene, psychology of dealing with people, nutrition and cooking to prepare and serve meals, languages, and geography. They also had to be
pleasant rather than aggressive, resourceful, able to wear a uniform with poise, and capable of representing the airline as window dressing when necessary.

What really caught my attention was when during her interview, Vicki asks if a stewardess must really be beautiful and is told: “Real beauty isn’t necessary, but you have to be nice to look at: well-groomed, pleasant, and not too tall or heavy. After all, a plane must carry the biggest payload possible, and the heavier the crew the less paying weight we can carry.” The interviewer then explains why a five foot eight woman whose weight is proportionate to her height would be unacceptable, “But the airlines do recognize that American girls are growing taller, and we’re gradually raising the height and weight limits. Besides, …bigger, roomier planes are coming into use, and with bigger cabins there’ll be space for taller girls.”

Reading this book made me appreciate, as the Virginia Slims slogan went, “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” Or, have we?

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting post. Recently I've also been thinking about how different things are compared to my mother's and grandmother's generations. I think we do have a lot more freedom, but we'll always be subject to the pitfalls of being human (Gee, you look great in those heels, or, Wow, isn't he something!). It will take a while for our consciousness to no longer have those thoughts first, but perhaps we really are on our way. I love the list of books, old and new. Thanks for adding to my TBR pile.

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  2. Glad I added to your TBR file. There is a question to be considered if it is the pitfalls of being human or acquired behaviors? Looking forward to receiving your blog for It's Not Always a Mystery

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