Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nirvana Draws Nearer (1959)

I'd like you to imagine a crazy, futuristic dystopia in which women (gasp) work outside the home. And I'm not talking about doing a little gardening on the weekends. I mean full-fledged, testosterone-driven, trouser-wrenching, tell Little Johnny I'll be late for his baseball game, kind of jobs.

What's that you ask, "But if women get jobs outside the home, who will sew on all the buttons?" Good question. Read on.

The August 17, 1959 San Antonio Light (San Antonio, TX) ran a column by Douglass Welch titled, "Nirvana Draws Nearer." The part of Welch's column pertaining to women appears below.
There is an industrial designer in Detroit named Montgomery Ferar (he should have stood in bed), who has taken a long look into the near future and thinks he knows what the American woman is going to be like. If he's right, she is going to be sitting on a silken pillow all day long, curling her hair, buffing her nails and thinking up ways to beguile a husband who won't need her any more.

Mr. Ferar says we are "squandering" our American woman today on "dull repetitive tasks in the home and office," and, although we are tempted to say that a little judicious squandering never hurt any woman, we won't. He says he is going to free the American woman from housework so she can devote her "perseverence, manual dexterity and meticulous attention to detail to creative ends." Mind you, he doesn't say she has brains; He thinks of her only as having certain mechanical skills.

We don't like the kind of woman he visualizes. We would be late almost every night coming home to such a woman. In the future, Mr. Ferar says, the kitchen will disappear. Our woman will be sitting at the family table dressed to the teeth like a sultry adventuress while robot, self-energized utensils whip up the family dinner and serve it. After dinner the dishes "will be loaded," presumably by the husband and children, into a "dining caddy" or combination dishwasher and storage cabinet, which will roll off into another room, washing the dishes on the way.


The cleaning and dusting of a home will be made unnecessary by electronic filters built into the air conditioning system, and beds won't have to be made because there will be no sheets, blankets and pillowcases. Radiant ceiling panels will keep us warm by beddy-bye. And at the supermarket our woman will merely shout her orders into a machine which will collect and pack her purchases and thank her kindly.

Mr. Ferar thinks this will free the American woman for a career. It means no such thing. At best it means that instead of spending half her waking moments chasing her children and attending to them and keeping them out of danger she would only be freed to spend ALL her time doing that.

Come, Mr. Ferar, let's think this thing through. You still haven't found a way to sew on buttons and send suits out to the cleaner and do the family bookkeeping and wipe away tears.

See also:
Max Factor on the Woman of 2009 (1959)
Taller Women by Year 2000 (1949)
Closer Than We Think! Robot Housemaid (1959)
Monsanto House of the Future (1957-1967)
Women and the Year 2000 (1967)
After the War (1944)
Lives of Women to Improve (1923)
Feminine Beauty (New York Times, 1909)


dkeifer said...

Just discovered your blog today. It's absolutely fantastic!

Keydet Piper said...

I'm not a woman, but I'm offended on behalf of women everywhere! I disagree with the implications that women are inferior and good only for sewing buttons, darning socks, and chasing children. I wasn't anywhere near being alive when the original article was written (my dad was only 7), but was that really the attitude towards women?

Not offended by your blog (interesting and entertaining!), but the content of this article is out there.

Anonymous said...

Setting aside the startling sexism... I don't get the "he should have stood in bed" comment. Any clue what that might have meant to someone in 1959?

Kyle Miller said...

Wutzke, if I recall correctly, the phrase was most likely originally uttered by a comedian, jokingly confusing the past tense "stayed" with the improper "stood." I've heard it in a lot of humor from the period, including cartoons and films, leading me to believe it was just one of those phrases that caught on, like "Wassup?" or "Gettin' jiggy with it."

Anonymous said...

OK, sounds like it was the cat's meow. Thanks.

shahn said...

I think the last section is most revealing. Even though women get help with the rest of their chores (with much derision from men), there is no mention of ever helping them out with raising the children.
And men DON'T want to see a woman all dressed up at the table? Geez, why am I spending all this money on clothes then?

Anonymous said...

Keydetpiper, I was 11 then, and yes, this article was par for the course then, believe it or not. But hey, I'm a guy, and at least I learned how to sew buttons on from my father, who learned it in the Army, so it was all right...