New television shows highlight the glory days of the 1960s, but the reality for working women then might be better left in the past. In this issue of Working Mom 3.0, writer Stephanie Taylor Christensen looks at how far we working moms have come.
I’ve been a fan of the show Mad Men from day one. I’m not the only one interested in its nostalgic vibe. This week, ABC debuted Pan Am, also set in the swinging ’60s, to 11 million viewers; 5 million people tuned into NBC’s rival drama The Playboy Club.
While I love pencil skirts and round toe shoes as much as the next girl, the renewed media interest in the 1960s reminds me of what my own mother (whose age I will respectfully not reveal) must have been forced to consider in her decision between work and family. Despite the challenging role we stay-at-home working moms have, there’s a lot to be thankful for.
The way we were
While depicting the challenges that 1960s women faced in the workforce, Mad Men also often touches on the plight of the era’s stay-at-home mom. When seeking a diagnosis to feelings of emptiness, psychologists would often label so-called “homemakers” as suffering from boredom. By stark contrast, the New York Times reports that in the year 2000 (the peak year for the number of working women), 77 percent of women 25 to 54 were in the work force.
Women have also shaped domestic destiny, waiting longer to marry and have kids, often with the objective to pursue a life that includes significant career accomplishments, as well as have a family. By 2004, about 37 percent of women ages 33 to 37 had children under the age of six. In 1979, that figure was 28 percent. While spending more time in a career that you’ve nourished as “your baby” before the real one arrives can lead to a demanding professional life, the fact that working moms have a choice in the matter proves how far we’ve come (despite that nagging and inexplicable gender gap in both salary and executive leadership).
Whether you work in the home or in an office, all working moms have “those” days. You know — the ones where the kids miss the bus, you’re late to an important meeting, your boss lets you have it and the deadlines keep piling up. In times of adversity, trading in our working mom reality for the life of the 1960s housewife is tempting, But while the stress that working moms today face is undeniably real, remember that just half a century ago, it wasn’t even a choice we had the luxury to make. America might be enamored with television that takes us back, but when I think about how far all working moms have come, I’m thankful that the the plight of the 1960s woman is safely left in “TV Land.”