Monday, 18 August 2008

Time Warp Wives

A New Introduction
Okay, I admit it! I made what my dad would call " a right royal cock-up" with this post! But I'm leaving it up, as it's good to look at your mistakes every now and then, and the discussion in the comments section is worth five minutes of anyone's time. So what was my mistake? Well, I tried to write a post on morality whilst simultaneously ignoring my faith, but my morality is my faith and my faith is my morality. I'm a Christian woman to the very core, so the post ended up as an ill thought through mish-mash, simply because I didn't want to mention the dreaded "wifely submission". So here's the thing, here are my conclusions (many of which dear old Mrs Sarah Blythe prodded out of me). First, we look to the past for an idea of moral "goodness"; self-control, duty, service, honesty, gentleness, simplicity, modesty; we imagine that people in the past held these ideals, as surely as they wrote about them, as surely as they made films about them. However, these are Christian concepts (some of them are indeed the fruits of the spirit) and Western society is built (in a flawed and sinful manner) on the idea of Christian justice and Christian morality. And, in my country at least, there were far more professing Christian writers, filmmakers and journalists in the past than there are now. Also, the "vintage" media were making films for a groups of people who were essentially church go-ers, whether they believed or not, so the norm at the time was one of Christian moral values. Now, the point of this is not to get all angry and rant about secular media, because I'd be a hypocrite if I did. My essential point is that when I look to the vintage media I love so much I am recognising eternal Christian values. These values aren't "vintage" they are simultaneously the ancient past and the far distant future. They are eternal, they are Christian. Now, these good ladies in the programme, are recognising some of the "goodness" in these eternal truths, but aren't women of faith, so they frame their morality (and sometimes it's bit higgledy-piggledy, nods to Mrs Pea) entirely as something which belongs to the past. But it doesn't, it belongs to now, right now, and in the future and forever. Praise be to God on high.
Time Warp Wives is a UK documentary which followed the days of three different women, who had built their lives around their enthusiasm for the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s... their love of vintage far surpassing the buying of the odd flowery pinny and liking swing music: these girls lived and breathed their chosen era. Many of the women admitted to not buying newspapers or watching the television, simply because the media reflection of modern life was depressing and distasteful. Their enthusiasm was also shared by their husbands, whom they met at vintage events, and by their friends, with whom they primarily socialised. If you follow the link you will see that these girls do vintage very, very well. I'm a vintage enthusiast and I can see that the detail they have in their homes is excellent, their clothing is spot on and their make-up is just right.

However, what is most interesting about the piece is not perhaps the spiffy 1950s kitchen or the elegant New Look outfits, but the way the women justify their choices. Not one of them have said "I do this becuase I like the "look" of my era and this is the only reason" not one of them said "this is just an extension of a lifestyle I had as a teenager when I loved swing music", they all justified their, frankly, rather unusual choices by declaring (like Blur) that modern life is rubbish! Moreover, the reasons they gave for being a living reenactment of the early twentieth century were moral rather than cultural/subcultural. Here's what 1950s enthusiast, Debbie, says about the modernity:

"I admit I am in retreat from the 21st century. When I look at the reality of the world today, with all the violence, greed and materialism, I shudder. I don't want to live in that world."

Here's what another Debbie (this time a 1940s girl) has to say about modern fashion:

"When I see a girl walking down the street wearing next to nothing, I think: 'Why don't you have more respect for yourself?' "

"I really believe that women today have lost their way, with bingedrinking ladettes and children as young as 11 going out in tiny tops."

Again, she claims that an "old-fashioned" marriage is a happy marriage:

"I think I have a far happier marriage than many other people I meet, because we have strict demarcations in our roles. I do all the cleaning, ironing, washing and cooking, and Martin puts up shelves and looks after the car. He's the breadwinner and I create a lovely - and loving - environment for him. I met Martin when I was 17 - we lived in the same village - and he has been my only serious boyfriend. It's so much more romantic only ever to have been in love with one man. My obsession with the 1940s really began through Martin, as he was already going to Forties events when we met. "

And, 1930 enthusiast, Diane, also has a few choice words to say about marriage:

"Men and women knew their roles in society and there wasn't all this pressure on women to have to go out to work and try to be equal to men. I do work part-time, but only because we need the money. However, we still have clearly defined roles in the home and I am the one who does most of the cooking and cleaning. "

Again, one of the women (Diane) talks about femininity:

"The pace of life today is so hectic and I think there is so much pressure on women to be like men. It is all wrong."

So, these girls abhor materialism (you'll notice that they're married to men in working-class jobs, yet manage to survive on one income, or on one and half incomes); they're concerned about modesty in dress; they believe that a traditional marriage, with a strong demarcation of roles within the marriage on gender lines, is one which work best; they feel that life is too pressurized and they worry that women feel obliged to behave more like men. These are moral reasons for adopting a counter-cultural stance against the prevailing moral climate, the nice dresses are, if not a smokescreen, simply the icing on the cake. That is to say the vintage "look" is the creamy dessert and the moral choice is the meat and potatoes of their lifestyle.

Now, I have a question for all of my blog-chums. How many of you love Mrs Minniver, or Helen Herriot (from All Creatures Great and Small), or the Andy Hardy movies from the 1930s, or Meet Me in St Louis? Do we love this vintage because it is so very pretty, or do we love it because it offers an alternative moral universe? If I were honest with you I'd say that I am enthralled by the "goodness" of the vintage universe: strong happy families; sit down suppers; adults acting like adults; moral lessons to be learned: and it all sounds really po-faced of me and a trifle airy-fairy. However, my pleasure in "vintage morality" is no longer a vicarious Sunday tea-time treat, but a life-lesson, a how-to instructional DVD, because let's face it, the media has an all-pervasive learning tool, and how am I going to learn to be a good wife and mother by watching Desperate Housewives? Will I learn anti-materialism from Tony Soprano? I love Mrs Minniver more for her gentleness, than for her chintzy, forties, summer dress and I love Helen Herriot more for her womanly practicality than her lovely country kitchen. I can look at the past, in books, in films and on the television and learn from it, learn about relationships and marriage and motherhood from the past, because as a wife and mother these are the things which are of utmost importance to me now.

But am I a time-warp wife? Well, I have deliberately chosen a moral position which is more akin to the 1938 than 2008, and I am a wife. So I suppose I am a time-warp wife without the trappings of vintage phone and red lipstick. However, I know enough about social history to realise that few periods of time should be idealised as moral halcyon days and I am inclined to get a little angry we the "it was oh so lovely then and I'll have no argument about it brigade" grandfather told wonderfully, hair-raising stories about what it was like to live in a mining town in the 1930s and my granny, God bless her, had a hard, hard, life, largely due to the poor moral choices of other people.

We modern women have far more opportunities and freedoms than our grandmothers ever dreamed of and I am idealistic enough to foresee a better time, when we have the comforts and freedoms of the modern age, but have learned that moral relativism spells cultural decline. We can take from the past what is good, and be thankful for the progress that our current age beholds. We don't have to be a time-warp wives to thoughtfully declare a moral alternative, we can be thoroughly of the present and reject materialism, embrace motherhood, enjoy wife-hood. We don't have to be like Mrs Minniver to be gentle, strong and good, we can be plain old Mrs Domum and be all of these things, because modern life doesn't have to be rubbish, modern life can be as good as we make it.

EDIT: Here's the Brocante Home post about the same show. I think her points about it were valid; that the play-acting part is somehow disrespectful to women who are doing it for real, that there is something fundamentally unhealthy with not wanting to engage in the culture into which you were born, that it was more about life-style than about morals (as the 1950s woman's attitude towards children shows us). However, I still maintain that the women used the morality of their chosen eras to justify their counter cultural choices, and this in itself is interesting.


Simone said...

I didn't see the documentary when it was shown on Television so I don't really feel I can comment about it. I do know though that throughout history there has never been a time when life was continually a bed of roses for most people. I too yearn for times past, images of happy families all sat around the table like Ma and Pa Larkin but I suppose for many people the reality is it was never really like that.

Anonymous said...

Lovely. Loved this post.

Do we love this vintage because it is so very pretty, or do we love it because it offers an alternative moral universe? If I were honest with you I'd say that I am enthralled by the "goodness" of the vintage universe: strong happy families; sit down suppers; adults acting like adults; moral lessons to be learned:...

I think this is why I loved Anne of Green Gables and Janette Oke books...even though I know life was hard in those times, it's like stepping out of this awful world into a small slice of heaven.

Loved your to eat now.

Pip, pip.

Mrs Pea said...

That's intersting what you say about their morals, because I read elsewhere that some of them said they didn't want children because it would mess up their lifestyle and at least one said she would kill her unborn child if she got pregnant "accidentally".

Marie N. said...

Oh how I admire your analogy -- the vintage look being the creamy dessert and the moral choices being the meat and potatoes!

Jenny said...

I agree that as women in the 21st century living in free western societies we have a great opportunity to live lives our grandmothers never dreamed of.It is so important not to idolise the past but learn all we can from it and use the best of it to make our homes and lives civilised and nurturing.
I haven't seen the show but someone sent me an email telling me about it and I have been following the discussion on Brocante Home Chronicles.I'm sure much of what the women had to say was very sensible although I think the playacting element of their lives can only last just so long. None of the women had children did they.
I agree that the part of the attraction of those old films is seeing grown ups acting like grown ups, not by having sex or shooting people but by living in a responsible cheerful way. I also love that mature men are not treated as buffoons or simpletons but as people you could have a really good conversation with and trust in a crisis, a good life partner.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Simone
I think we modern women can use these portrayals as inspiration though, and I think this is more important than we give credit too.

Hi Sarah
I have never read the Janet Oke books, but I'd bet I'd lap them up! Yes, blogs are important, but you must eat!

Hi Mrs Pea
I think the woman in question said that she didn't want to bring a child into such a dreadful world, I can't remember her saying that children would mess up her lifestyle or that she would have an abortion, but I could've just popped out for a cuppa at that moment!

Besides, it was never my intention to portray these women as moral paragons of virtue, but only to use their vintage morals as an illustration of why I too loved vintage. That it was the morality of the past, rather than the "look" of the past, which attracts me to vintage.

However, your point about them not having children is a very interesting one. Having children makes you face up and deal with morality and culture and forces you to think about these things. Perhaps these women have no children because the "make believe" *is* more important than the morality, that it is not worth fully engaging with a culture they dislike, which they would have to do if they had a child.

Hi Marie
I'm glad you liked the analogy.

Hi Jenny
I've not seen the discussion on Brocante Home, but I bet it's a good one! I think the play acting is pure escapism, just like all of the Jane Austen stuff you find in the internet, somehow it's difficult for some folks to engage with modern culture. I can understand that, as modern culture does seem more threatening and violent. I love your point about the portrayal of adults in old movies being grown-up...yes, seeing grown-ups behaving like grown-ups is very attractive.

Anonymous said...

I've watched it now on Youtube and loved it. I love the 50s fashions anyway - I used to love the old films. They are living the day dream life aren't they.

There is a selfishness though, they mostly don't want children because it would 'spoil it' [you must have missed that bit chuck] but then how many people have children and then treat them badly because they 'spoil' their parent's lives? Better not to have the children and be honest rather than have children and treat them badly.

Thinking of what Mrs Pea said, I totally agree it's awful to hear a woman say that she'd 'get rid' of a pregnancy. But that is our Christian morals, if someone isn't a Christian then we can't expect them to hold to the same values as us. We need to (as it says in Philippians) as Christians 'shine like stars' in this crooked and depraved world so that the life of Christ is shown and draws more (by the love of God). Many don't know what sin really is because they've never allowed the light of Christ to show it in all it's ugliness. Sometimes, I think, we put the cart before the horse (i.e. wanting the world to hold Christian morals before they have found Christ).

Just some thoughts.

Loved the show, and there is a yearning in all of us for a more moral, lovely world. I believe that emptiness is a yearning for the Kingdom of Heaven - yet many try to find fulfillment in all kinds of ways.

Off to put red lippy on and a big belt ;) Only kidding, red lipstick was never me! :)

Hugs chuck

BTW finally started reading the book you sent, really enjoying it. Wished I could have met some of the women in it.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Sarah
I was trying to keep my faith out of this post as I didn't want to get into any arguments about "wives submit"! he, he, he. But I can't keep my faith out of any moral view I have because my morality is my faith and vice versa. You have put your very clever finger on the whole nub of the thing. I look at vintage "media"...films, books, magazines and I like what I see because they reflect a society built on Christian morality, this is why I see a simpler, older lifestyle to be attainable, I am a Christian.

But you're dead right, these women have not found the love of Christ, we can't judge them by the standards of faith , when they themselves have none (am I sounding sanctimonious, I don't mean to). I like what you said here:

"Sometimes, I think, we put the cart before the horse (i.e. wanting the world to hold Christian morals before they have found Christ)."

Did you have a kipper for your breakie this morning? You must have been on the brain food!!!

Anonymous said...

Hmm, no, buttered toast :) No fish today. :)

Lol I did wonder if I sounded sanctimonious myself in my point about shining like stars...but then that is what we are commanded to do...and what we must aim to, I can't say I shine like a star, but I press on.

I enjoy old 'stuff' Anne of Green Gables, and other vintage films/books because as you say their lives were built on morals that lives today are no longer built on. We all know life then was not perfect, it was harder to keep house and raise children because of the lack of automated appliances (lol I think of the 1930's woman who had a microwave in her cupboard which she 'couldn't manage without') and medical care. But, as Christians we all yearn for the beautiful and a life based on the life of you said That it was the morality of the past, rather than the "look" of the past, which attracts me to vintage.

However, we do still have to live in this world as it is right now. But horray for as Jesus said we are not taken out of the world, but we are not of the world, and the Kingdom of Heaven is within...we have Jesus living IN us and we carry that wherever we go. We don't really live in the present...we live in eternity already.

Lol, I realise, as you said, your post wasn't intended to focus on the faith aspect, but I've enjoyed this little discussion.

BTW I do so love the red-haired 50s girl's look! And the younger girl who dresses like 1940s, she had some interesting ideas about how women kept things going during the war while the men were away, how they had to care for the children and work at home. Slightly idealised of course, but her thoughts were less 'selfish' I think. I was very sad at her comments about her parent's divorce, how if it was the 1940s they'd have worked harder to stay together because of the stigma. It's a shame.


Anonymous said...

Love the new intro chuck...

'old Mrs Sarah Blythe' hehehehe I sound about 80...but it makes me sound wise too ;)

I love seeing my old blogging pen-surname 'Blythe' written out (a nod to Mrs Green Gables dontcha know) real (but secret) surname is a lot more 'grim oop North' sounding. ;)

Laura A said...

Sometimes I think that the hard life may be in part what makes these times eventually take on a nostalgic patina. Nothing like a good hardship to sharpen one's priorities. On a personal level, the period of my own life which I am most inclined to romanticize is one in which my husband was unemployed for seven months and we could buy almost nothing. I still remember the awful financial pressure, but there was a lot of simplicity and love in our home, and very little temptation to do silly things with money or rely on it too much to smooth things over. And it may not be a coincidence that these were my only child's toddler days.

I am not inclined to fashion nostalgia, but I do confess I like Mrs. Herriot! I think it's partly the community feeling that appeals. But I agree that it points to Christ. And I also agree about the meat and potatoes vs. dessert analogy.

I've liked reading your blog for a while, and in fact also enjoyed it during its old incarnation with all the green links. Glad you're back!

Anonymous said...

However, I still maintain that the women used the morality of their chosen eras to justify their counter cultural choices, and this in itself is interesting. I totally agree.

We all, in one way or another, try to escape the reality of real life. If it's not by nostalgia, it's by dreaming of emigrating to sunnier climes, or by spending money on 'lifestyle' items, or even by reading lots of celebrity magazines...for me (and no doubt all Christians) the only way to where the grass is greener is through Christ...though of course I do too often make the mistake of forgetting my Lord and seeking joy and peace elsewhere.

Loved this discussion and the different thoughts. Thanks chuck.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Laura
I think you're quite right about hardships bringing about a sense of togetherness, as families, as communities. My FIL remembers WW2 as the best time in his life, so did my grandparents, they loved the sense of purpose it gave them. Thank you for visiting my blog and directing me to yours. I've visited New York only once, but really loved it.

Hi Sarah
I wouldn't call your real surname grim, I like it's traditional, regional ring!

I think your comment about people seeking joy and peace in escapism rather than in Christ to be very pertinent. It is easier to be escapist, but there is little accountability in escapism. However, when we take our problems to God, we often do so knowing that we may not necessarily like His solutions. We're essentially quite childish in this respect, it's a jolly good job we've got such an understanding Father!

Gumbo Lily said...

I never thought of myself as living in a time warp, but some might think so when they see me canning pickle relish in an apron, embroidering, and hanging out the laundry on the line. I don't think a thing of it. It's the way I've done things for many years. Now my daughter, who once told me she'd NEVER put up preserves, is bringing her friend out to can peaches and pears. Why do they want to do this when they can buy them well-preserved from the grocery store? Perhaps there are still a few who wish for the simple, old-fashioned skills and ways that we cherish. Not all of modern life is rubbish. Here I am sipping coffee, typing an instant message to you in England, while my pickle relish soaks in its brine in an enamelware bowl awaiting the pint jar plunge. (and I don't have to go chop wood for the fire!) How good is that?


Anonymous said...

I think I remember you saying to me or in your blog, I can't remember, it's about taking the good from the past and mixing it in with the good from today. Don't reject the past with it's wisdom, don't reject the present with it's helpful medical and convenient advances (lol, I would never go back to scrubbing my clothes on a wash board down the river...although at the rate gas and leccy are going up I may well just!!).

However, when we take our problems to God, we often do so knowing that we may not necessarily like His solutions.

Amen, at least we get a real solution, not a sticking plaster remedy.

Dulce Domum said...

Hi Jody
Those are wise words indeed, it IS cool to blog whilst you're busy making preserves! I do like my technological conveniences, especially if they are convivial!

Hi Sarah
I would be most upset if I couldn't have a washing machine at my disposal. I can do without most things but not a washing machine...God's gift to womankind!