Updating Marriage from 1950s Idealism to 1990s Realism

Article excerpt

When four black professional women gather for a birthday party in the movie "Waiting to Exhale," they commiserate about the sorry state of their relationships with men.

"Whatever happened to the good old days..." one says sadly, referring to a supposedly bygone time "...when men asked you for a date?" On another occasion, when a male friend asks one of the four what she wants from a man, she sounds equally wistful as she ticks off a list that seems unattainable: She wants to get married, own a house, have children, and eat out two or three times a week. She adds, "I want to have a family - be happy."

Yet for all their traditional longings, the thoroughly modern women in this foursome might want to choose carefully just which parts of the good old days they seek to preserve or reinstate.

The same week that American women of all races were making "Waiting to Exhale" the top box-office draw, supposedly identifying heavily with the very 1990s problems these fictional characters face with men, the text of a home-economics guide from the 1950s was making the rounds of the Internet, drawing equal parts of laughter and incredulity from those who read it.

Titled "The Fascinating Womanhood Way to Welcome a Man When He Comes Home From Work," the manual serves as a cultural relic, a reminder of just how dramatically roles and expectations have changed for both men and women.

It begins by advising wives to "plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal, on time. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs."

The guide suggests taking 15 minutes to rest "so you will be refreshed when he arrives. This will also make you happy to see him instead of too tired to care. Turn off the worry and be glad to be alive and grateful for the man who is going to walk in." Reminding women to "take care of your appearance," it adds, "Touch up your makeup, put a ribbon in your hair, and be fresh looking."

Then there is the house to clean. "Clear away the clutter," the manual advises. "Make one last trip through the main part of the house just before your husband arrives, gathering up school books, toys, paper, etc. in a bucket or wastebasket and put them in the back bedroom for sorting later."

The manual also suggests that a mother take a few minutes to wash children's hands and faces, comb their hair, and perhaps change their clothes. …