On Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and other changes

While watching the newly-released Season 5 of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” I recalled the very first episode of the series, when Midge began as a happy housewife of the 1950s.

In that first episode, you see her waiting until her husband falls asleep to tie her hair up in curlers and smear cold cream all over her face.  Then she goes back to bed.  In the morning, she rises early to wipe off her face and fix her hair, thus being all dolled up before he awakens.  She also makes pot roast for club owners who give her husband a stab at doing stand-up comedy (poorly).

Judy Bradford

She is much better at comedy than he is, and once she gets a public chance, she proves it.  Thus begins her new career as a comedienne and, by default, her transformation into a feminist.

While I scoffed at this overnight change when I first saw the episode in 2017, I now believe that it could have happened.  That’s because I have either observed evidence of similar phenomena, or realized that I have experienced it first hand.

Here’s an example: I was going through old records of a local organization for which I am historian, and saw something that stunned me:  In 1969, women referred to each other in personal messages and other correspondence as “Mrs. John Smith.” 

One day, a year later, they switched to “Anne” or “Mary” Smith. The women’s movement had finally reached these women.

They remained married, and still raised their kids, and tended to hearth and home.  But something else was burning within them.

A few years later, when their children were older, records show some officers or board members resigning because they’d found paying jobs outside the home. And those who stayed on the board became more vocal in the community, representing the organization. 

Here’s another example from my high school days:

My freshman year, 1969 to 1970, saw me wearing skirts, with hosiery or knee socks.  But the winds of change came that summer when the school system dropped many of its dress-code restrictions.  By that fall, we were wearing long blue jeans which became raggedier and raggedier, which was the fashion. We also covered our jeans with embroidery, from flowers to flags.

My mother was ecstatic. She didn’t have to buy us new skirts, tops, or dresses for school every year.  

The point of all this is, social change seems to happen overnight, but none of it really does. What happened to Mrs. Maisel, organization board members, and my high school dress code was the result of things that had been brewing for a long time.

This gives me some hope that changes I would like to see – such as banning the sale of automatic, rapid-fire, military-style weapons and ammunition in Indiana and the nation — might come one day.  The change is long overdue.

Is it too much to ask that we take our kids or grandkids to school or church or a movie theater with a fairly reasonable assurance that they won’t get shot? 

These ideas we have had about guns – that everyone needs a big one or we’ll all have to become communists – are wrong, just as it was wrong 50 years ago for women to have to identify themselves based on their husbands’ names or for teen-age girls to wear skirts.

Women like the early Midge Maisel shouldn’t have to live in fear that their husbands will be horrified by curlers or cold cream.

We’re over that, and most of us feel done with those dumb guns too.