The Iconic Woman: Pearl-Wearing Housewife or Briefcase-Carrying CEO?
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Politics and Activism

The Iconic Woman: Pearl-Wearing Housewife or Briefcase-Carrying CEO?

Times are changing, my friends.

The Iconic Woman: Pearl-Wearing Housewife or Briefcase-Carrying CEO?

In "Life So Far: A Memoir" by Betty Friedan, she discusses how the feminism movement has changed since the 1950’s. "What used to be the feminist agenda is now an everyday reality. The way women look at themselves, the way other people look at women, is completely different...than it was thirty years ago...Our daughters grow up with the same possibilities as our sons." Friedan claims that the movement has accomplished many achievements for the equality of women. Simply the physical appearance has shifted drastically. The stereotypical picture of the ideal 1950's to 1960’s silent or baby boomer generation woman: a casual yet elegant A-lined dress with three quarter sleeves that fell just below the knee, a classic strand of salt water pearls residing on her neck, and a checkered apron resting of the waist of a slender figure with a short curly bob has been transformed into the 21st century Generation Y woman in a position of power like a CEO of a business, head held high, confidence emulating from her. Since these portraits are very contrasting, this essay will analyze how news media and culture influenced and transformed the identity of the iconic woman. Women's abilities in the 1960's was marred by popular cultures representation of them; in order for women to be able to change into the empowered women they are today they first needed to change societal's limited perception.

The popular culture of the 1950's and 1960's played an important role as to how late Silent Generation and early Baby Boomer females were represented. Betty Friedan states, “Television, radio, and magazines bombarded them with the assurance that the kitchen was their realm and that loving food preparation for their families was the way to fulfillment” (in "The Feminine Mystique"). The current media of the time including TV and magazines created a new suburban ideal. With the television show "Leave it to Beaver," the white, nuclear family with specific gender roles. Television's idea of a perfect family was a briefcase-toting professional father, and a nurturing housewife who raised their mischievous boys and obedient girls. With rules of conduct, respect for authority and following directions instilled in the silent generation, women had little say in how they would act. Nineteenth-century, middle-class American women saw their behavior regulated by a social system known today as the cult of domesticity, which was designed to limit their sphere of influence to home and family. Nevertheless, many young women left college once they married and many were satisfied with their life as wife and mother. They were real housewives, and happened to mirror June Cleaver in any number of ways.

As the years and generations have changed, the ideology of the woman has evolved. Now, in the 21st century, women have gone from housewives to career oriented females. Cam Marston, president of Generational Insights, describes the new women as “known for being highly ambitious, educated, optimistic and dedicated and are attempting to thrive in a well-rounded lifestyle” (Marston). Women are more educated, more employed and more financially independent. A perfect example is Forbes No. 18 most powerful women, Marissa Mayer, who has been in the media lately; Mayer is the current CEO of Yahoo!. Not only is she a top chief in business, but also she assumed the role when she was pregnant. Mayer with her slim cut suit, paten leather shoes, and baby bump personifies that now women can achieve it all (Noveck). The millennial generation woman has been driven to accomplish individuality, prominence, and successfulness. Millennial Marketing states, “Gen Y’s many iconic models include Sex and the City super-shoppers, Metrosexuals, American Idol stars, and EBay. The overriding themes are of empowerment and self-expression.”

With this newfound empowerment and independence, many female stars have emerged as role models. In and out of the recording studios, Beyoncé is an advocated for strong and confident women who will not rely on a man for physical and economical support. In an interview with CNN, Beyoncé states “Never make excuses; never expect anyone else to provide for me things that I know I can provide for myself. I have dreams, and I feel like I have a power to actually make those dreams become a reality" (Hare). This view is extremely perpendicular to the traditions of the silent and baby boomer generations who admired Jackie Kennedy. Beyoncé's success offers many reasons for feminists to cheer including the push for equality and individuality within the current generation. In an interview with GQ magazine, Beyoncé admits, “Women should be financially independent from their men. And let's face it, money gives men the power to run the show” (Wallace). The performer has enjoyed record-breaking career success and has taken control of a multimillion-dollar empire in a male-run industry, while being frank about gender inequities and the sacrifices required of women.

Women's role in society has changed drastically from the 1950's to 21st century, not because of changes in their education but rather changes in societal pressures on what it means to be the "ideal woman." The iconic figures vary immensely, with the perfect housewife of the 1950’s and the career focused woman who can achieve all her dreams. The repressive apron placed on women by mainstream media was not at all representative of their intelligence or ability to work, it wasn't until women were able to change popular culture that societal views shifted from repressive apron to empowering suit.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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