A witty, acerbic, and, for those women who grew up in the mid-20th century, painful review of the social and marketplace pressures that reduced women to “soft, delicate, nurturing beings made of ‘sugar and spice and everything nice.’ ”
First-time author Peril (editor of the online ’zine Mystery Date) is devoted to collecting what she calls “femorabilia”: books, magazines, board games, and other products that reflect attitudes about women and their roles in the decades following WWII through the 1970s. Pink was the color of the truly feminine girl, she reminds us, and it showed up not only in the wardrobes of Jayne Mansfield and Barbie, but in such unlikely products as a pink Lady Lionel toy locomotive. Other examples Peril offers of how the powers-that-be “helped” women enhance their femininity include advice on menstruation from a Catholic priest. A truly feminine woman, said the cultural authorities, was well-groomed, attractive, interesting (but not more interesting than the man at her side), and above all “charming,” all in the service of netting a husband. Those pitiable souls unable to land a man were living in “an abnormal state,” according to some experts, and were steered to such female-appropriate careers as home economics and telephone operator. Peril also devotes a chapter to “blue think,” the counsel offered to boys and young men, who carried the heavy burden of being the “symbol of family continuity, high success, and national security.” The plethora of tips on keeping that hard-won husband ranged from a 1948 ad promoting feminine hygiene products for “continual marital congeniality” to Marabel Morgan's 1975 paean to submissiveness, The Total Woman. By then, of course, feminism's second wave was well-launched, and Morgan’s book was merely a holding action. Or was it? The recent spate of women-as-doormat books—The Rules, for instance—and the incidence of anorexia suggest otherwise.
Both amusing and dismaying. (8 pages color, 45 b&w illustrations, some not seen)