I was delighted to be asked to launch this exhibition, Modern Wife, Modern Life, curated by Ciara Meehan senior lecturer in history at the University of Hertfordshire, which explores the representation of women in Ireland through the prism of women’s magazines in the 1960s.
This is such an interesting concept for me and a unique way of documenting a period of Irish history where woman’s lives were almost exclusively restricted to the private domain, where “traditional values” prevailed, women were legally obliged to leave their public sector employment upon marriage, were prohibited from sitting on a jury and for whom many were too young to know or remember the one and only female Minister (Countess Markievicz 1919-1922).
Yet, in parallel, we see magazines such as Woman’s Way, Woman’s Choice and Woman’s View promoting new expectations alongside traditional moral norms, challenging women to negotiate competing demands on minds and bodies in their everyday lives.
It is fascinating to learn that in the 1960s, the media trend was to sell women the idea that the “ideal wife” was synonymous with the “modern wife” and that in order to achieve this coveted title she must have and use the latest gismos and gadgets in her home, particularly in the kitchen.
We have an example of one of these then “New Technologies” on exhibit, Rita MacCready’s sewing machine, which she bought from a door-to-door salesman and, like many mothers in the 1960s, used to make her children’s clothes. Rita’s daughter Audrey is here with us this evening and it would be interesting to know if her mother’s love of haberdashery or sewing rubbed off on her?!!
Despite the “traditional view” of the woman’s place being in the home and ideally married still being enshrined in the Irish Constitution, the majority recognises the view as outdated and sexist.
It did get me thinking about whether this stereotyping of 1960s women as domestic goddesses or wannabe goddesses is any more offensive than the contemporary media obsession about how women of all ages look and perform.
I had a look through the shelves in Easons yesterday evening to get a flavour of the messages Irish women are receiving from magazines in 2015:
“Fifty, fit and flirty”, “How to shift that stubborn baby weight”, “Science validates correlation between hair length and relationship length”, “bikini ready in 7 days”, and enough instructive material that I could re-write the Karma Sutra!!!
Have we really moved on or has the focussed just shifted from the kitchen to the bedroom and incessant talk of weight loss and the quest for eternal youth?!!
Are Irish women destined to be subjected to some form or other of commercial pressure forever?
The exhibition comprises 8 themes:
Inspiration, Print Culture, Advice for the Newly Married Wife, Beauty and Presentation, Housewife of the Year, New Technologies, Women Behind the Wheel and Wives who Work.
Mum and Dads Wedding:
I was drawn to the Advice for the Newly Married section of the exhibition. Admittedly because my own Mum and Dad’s wedding picture is on display.
My mum, Jenny (nee Coleman) who is here this evening married my father, Michael Hassett in the chapel of the Ursuline Convent in Blackrock, Cork in September 1962.
My dad was very involved with the Scouts in Cork and it was expected by mum’s friends from the Red Cross that the Scouts would provide the guard of honour at the wedding.
Just in case, mum’s friends had brought their Red Cross uniforms and left them in a friend’s house close to the church.
It soon transpired at the wedding that dad’s Scout friends hadn’t thought about the guard of honour and the women discreetly left the church and returned in time and in full uniform to provide the guard of honour after the ceremony.
Eileen Crawley’s wedding dress:
Not to sound too biased, but I must say how stylish I think my mum looked on her wedding day. I love her hooped mid-knee vintage style dress that was so popular in the late 50s and early 60s.
There is another splendid example of 1960s wedding dress style in the exhibition with Eileen Crawley’s wedding dress on display.
Joseph and Margaret Teeling’s Wedding:
I also love the images from Margaret (nee Thompson) and Joe Teeling’s wedding in 1965. They had met 5 years earlier as teenagers after Joe, in a remarkably romantic move for a 17 year old, quit his job in a pub to work in the Casino Cinema, where he had discovered his soon-to-be sweetheart Margaret worked.
Not even being stood up on their first date, although Margaret insists she did go the meeting spot, could dampen Joe’s interest. A second date was arranged and the rest, as they say is history!!!
Margaret and Joe just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 17 February this year. A true love story and I wish them another 50 years of marital bliss.
Are you an ideal wife quiz:
Finally, I have to admit to the laugh I got reading the questions and answers of the Are you an Ideal Wife? quiz.
Question 7 asks: When he comes home from work do you (a) listen to him sympathetically or (b) tell him the troubles of your day?
Answer: You should (a) listen to him sympathetically because you have by now the diplomatic art of TIMING. Let him grouse first. Then he’ll listen to you with more sympathy.
Question 15 asks: You are both going to the movies. You want to see (a) and he wants to see (b). What is the solution?
Answer: Take alternative weekends. If you go to the Western with him (and pretend to enjoy it) one Saturday, the following week he should drive you to a thriller.
That’s some pretty important advice about the art of TIMING and compromise in marriage!
My favourite part of the quiz is that there are 17 questions and answers but no marking scheme. Somehow you have to work out if you are in the 100%-50% range that is “learning how to be the ideal wife” or in the less than 50% bracket that needs to “watch it”!!
Thank you Ciara for this opportunity to launch Modern Wife, Modern Life: An Exhibition of Women’s Magazines from 1960s Ireland.
I now declare the exhibition officially open and invite everyone to enjoy this important snapshot of women’s history in Ireland.