I just turned in a draft of a feature to Culture11.com that compares the December 2008 Good Housekeeping with the December 1958 Good Housekeeping. I love combing through old magazines; these monthly missives show exactly how our society has changed on a day to day, personal level.
I'll post the piece once it's published of course, but in the meantime, I wanted to point out the most striking difference between 2008 and 1958. In 2008, we are obsessed with time. All the recipes discuss exactly how much "active time" is involved (a bit of information not deemed relevant, apparently, in 1958). Even the craft section talks about how "fast" these activities are. In 1958? It sounds like housekeeping was a full-on occupation -- one which could easily fill a whole 35-40 hours per week. My favorite instruction is for the proper care of an electric blanket. This is just for the drying stage: “Spread blanket over two parallel clotheslines to dry. When it’s almost dry, brush lightly to lift nap. Press binding with iron set at ‘synthetic’ or ‘rayon.’"
Heaven forbid our naps be unlifted!
I keep details like this in mind when people talk about how children have suffered from the march of mothers into the workforce. Perhaps in some cases they have. But on the whole, the reality is that women are spending just as much time interacting with their children now as they did in the 1950s and 1960s, not just per capita (we have smaller families now) but on an absolute scale. How have moms managed to pull this off? It's simple, really. Work did not take time away from kids. Instead, mothers on the whole have stopped thinking that lifting the nap on our electric blankets is a useful way to spend our time.
I think we can live with this trade off.