How American Christians Were Influenced by 1950s American Secular Propaganda to Idolize Marriage and Children and Against Singles and the Childless -and how over-emphasis on “family” and lack of respect for singleness started a backlash against both (excerpts from ‘Pornland’ book)
Excerpts from Pages 2- 5 of Pornland: How Porn Has Hijacked Our Sexuality by Gail Dines – read it for free on “Google Books.”
(Below this long excerpt are a few observations by me):
- For a magazine [Playboy] to clearly state that it was not “a family magazine” in the 1950s was close to heresy.
According to social historian Stephanie Coontz, it was during this period that there was an unprecendented rise in the marriage rate, the age for marriage and motherhood fell, fertility increased, and divorce rates declined.
From family restaurants to the family car, “the family was everywhere hailed as the most basic institution in society.”
The mass media played a pivotal role in legitimizing and celebrating this “pro-family” ideology by selling idealized images of family life in sitcoms and women’s magazines, while demonizing those who chose to stay single as either homosexual or pathological.
The most celebrated sitcoms of the period were Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. The ideal family was white and upper middle class, with a male breadwinner whose salary supported a wife and children as well as a large home in the suburbs.
The primary roles for men and women were seen as spouses and as parents, and the result was a well-run household populated by smart, well-adjusted kids.
The print media also got in on the act, carrying stories about the supposed awfulness of being single. Reader’s Digest ran a story entitled “You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are to Be Marred,” which focused on the “harrowing situation of single life.”
One writer went so far as to suggest that “except for the sick, the badly crippled, the deformed, the emotionally warped and the mentally defective, almost everyone has an opportunity to marry.”
In the 1950s, “emotionally warped” was a coded way of saying homosexual, and indeed many single people were investigated as potential homosexuals and by extension Communists, since the two were often linked during the McCarthy years.
This pressure on men to conform not only to the dictates of domestic life but also to the growing demands of corporate America had its critics in the popular media. Some writers pointed to the conformist male as a “mechanized, robotized caricature of humanity… a slave in mind and body.”
According to Barbara Ehrenreich, magazines like Life, Look, and Reader’s Digest carried stories suggesting that “Gary Gray” (the conformist in the gray flannel suit) was robbing men of their masculinity, freedom, and sense of individuality.
While pop psychologists criticized the corporate world for reducing American males to “little men,” it was women in their roles of wives and mothers who were essentially singled out as the cripplers of American masculinity. As Ehrenreich has argued, “the corporate captains were out of the bounds of legitimate criticism in Cold War America,” women were the more acceptable and accessible villains.
Described as greedy, manipulative, and lazy, American women were accused of emasculating men by overdomesticating them.
Probably one of the most woman-hating books of the time was Philip Wylie’s Generation of Vipers, first published in 1942 and reprinted after World War II.
For Wylie, wives were the cause of men’s problems because they controlled the home with an iron fist and worked their spouses to death in order to enjoy a life of leisure.
As Wylie so eloquently put it, “It is her man who worries about where to acquire the money while she worries about how to spend it, so he has the ulcers and she has the guts of a bear.”
It was during these woman-hating, pro-family years that Playboy hit the newsstands. Picking up the themes of the 1950s, Playboy editors, from the very first issue, defined single women as menaces to the Playboy reader since they were out to trap him in marriage and bleed him financially.
Indeed, the first major article in the first issue of Playboy was called “Miss Gold-Digger of 1953.” Bemoaning the good old days when alimony was reserved for “little floosies,” Playboy editors wrote, “When a modern day marriage ends, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame – it’s always the guy who pays and pays and pays and pays.”
Echoing Wylie’s assertion that women has taken over America, the article continued, “A couple of generations ago, this was a man’s world, nothing could be further from the truth in 1953.”
This was a theme that Playboy was to express repeatedly in its early years. Burt Zollo, writing in the June 1954 issue, told Playboy readers to “take a good look at the sorry, regimented husbands trudging down every woman-dominated street in this woman-dominated land. Check what they’re doing when you’re out on the town with a different dish every night.”
For those men who had been lucky enough to escape marriage, Zollo warned them to beware June, the marriage month, since “woman becomes more heated, more desperate, more dangerous.”
Dangerous women were also the focus of Wylie’s article “The Womanization of America,” published in Playboy Septemeber 1958.
Starting from now-familiar themes, Wylie accused American women of taking over the business world, the arts, and, of course, the home. It was the home, according to Wylie, where men especially ceased to be men: the “American home, in short, is becoming a boudoir- kitchen – nursery, dreamed up for women by women, and as if males did not exist as males.” According to Playboy, the position of American men continued to deteriorate; by 1963, an article in the magazine claimed that the American man was being worked so hard by his wife that he was “day after day, week after week… invited to attend his own funeral.” This state of affairs could not continue, according to the writer, William Iversen, because “neither double eyelashes nor the blindness of night or day can obscure the glaring fact that American marriage can no longer be accepted as an estate in which the sexes shall live half-slave and half-free.”
While the anti-woman ideology of Playboy was not new, what was new was the way it was tied into an anti-marriage position; American wives were beyond salvation, they had been given too much power and the only solution was to rescue to conform to the ideal of domesticity.
However, simply telling men not to conform by staying single would not have been enough in the 1950s, since nonconformity was taken as a sign of either homosexuality or pathology.
What was needed was an alternative to “Gary Gray,” an image of a man who refused to conform but was still considered a man.
This man worked hard, but for himself, not for his family; he was actively heterosexual, but with lots of young, beautiful women (just like the ones that populated the magazine), not with a wife.
Such a man, Zollo informed readers in the June 1954 issue of Playboy, did indeed exist and he was the “true playboy”: the well-dressed, sophisticated guy who could “enjoy the pleasures the female has to offer without becoming emotionally involved.”
Playboy was to become the manual for men who aspired to be playboys, and these men, born and raised in a time of material deprivation (the Great Depression and then the Second World War) and sexual conservatism, needed all the help they could get to learn how to become a big-spending, upmarket consumer of goods and women.
Part of Playboy’s overnight success can be explained by the lack of competition, since the men’s magazine industry was dominated by magazines the specialized in what was referred to as “blood, guts, and fighting.” After the war, this industry enjoyed record-breaking profits, with sales increasing 62 percent from 1942 to 1952.
At the time there was some concern over the increasingly violent content of these magazines. Naomi Barko, for example, writing in 1953, complained that men’s magazines were dominated by “war, big-game hunting, women, speed sports and crime,” a world in which “jobs, families, careers, education and civic problems are never mentioned.” What these magazines offered, Weyr argues, was an escape from suburban life, but one based on danger and adventure, rather than sex.
One of the things I take away from this is that the more Christians (or secular society) build marriage and parenting up as the “norm” and as they further and further debase, criticize, or ostracize people who do not marry or have a child, the more of a backlash against marriage and kids some segments of society engage in.
If secular society and Christians stopped holding marriage up as the ultimate success a person can achieve in life, and just accept people as they are (whether they are widowed, never married, divorced, childless, whatever), ironically, there might be more support for marriage and having kids. There might be more marriage and baby making going on.
Constantly shaming people for not marrying (or for not having children), or ignoring them, or insulting them, or pressuring them to get married or having kids… or harping over and over about how marriage is so dreamy and great, that everyone should marry, and Christians saying that preachers should preach on ‘How Great Marriage Is’ every three sermons – actually is contributing to an “anti marriage” culture. How very funny.
I touched on these very things about a year ago in a post:
(Lin): Candice Watters and Boundless Blog Gets It Wrong / Christian prolonged singlehood singleness singles ignored
Constantly preaching about marriage (and having children) is what is in part creating the huge number of people unable to marry, or who shy away from marriage (and away from parenting).
If Christians would S.T.F.U. ((Link): google it) about marriage and having kids (they tend to prattle on about both issues ad nauseam), maybe it would make getting married a bit easier for the singles who want to, you know, get married.
I also take away from this long excerpt that no matter how much a Christian says they take away all their views from “the Bible alone,” often times, they have been influenced about gender roles, sex, and marriage FROM SECULAR CULTURE.
The Bible did not elevate the concept of stay at home mommy-wifey who bakes cookies all day. It was 1950s American Non Christian culture that did that.
Some of the men in the Bible had 20 or more wives a piece, and the wives of those men were out all day watering camels and such; they were not vacuuming carpeting in a two story suburban home while wearing pearls.
You also see a form of “Virgin Shaming” in our Christian culture today, where I’d say about 99% of Christians assume every Christian adult past age 25 who has never married is NOT a virgin.
No consideration is given by preachers, church communities, or Christian media on how to help those Christians who are virgins post age 30, because such individuals are thought not to even exist. It is just ASSUMED that all adults are non-virgins.
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