Where was I? Oh, right, the "cult of domesticity."
That construct, as I noted, belied a complicated reality. Middle class and upper class women participating in an ideal, all the while using lower class women to actually do the domestic work. That isn't the end of the 19th century disconnect. Starting in 1860, every successive census shows more women working in wage labor jobs. By 1920, women make up somewhere around 20% of the work force. Long before Rosie the Riveter, women were entering the work force, and increasingly married and older. Women also are increasingly asserting their own autonomy: seeking divorce in higher numbers, choosing to never marry, and even seeking abortions--yep, well before Roe. One study has abortions in the 1920s at a level of one for every 4 or 5 live births. Let's just call that significant.
Mixed in with this is also a facade of sexuality. Those women who embodied the "cult of domesticity" were also expected to embody a certain sexual purity. The "purity movement," as we call it, expected those women to be on a pedestal where sexuality was only for procreation and was not embraced. Literally. Those women were not supposed to enjoy sex and might not be strong enough for it. Women were divided, in essence, between the sexual (whore) and the asexual (Madonna).
How does this relate to the 1950s and Tony's Cindarella Valentine? I think I can connect them. That "cult of domesticity" with all its baggage, I would argue, persisted as our idea of womanhood. The 1950s, in fact, far from being a normative period, was an aberation. All the trends I discussed above were headed the other direction until the 1950s. Those aberations, captured in 1950s television (and not even accurately), solidified in American minds as the model of womanhood. Nevermind that suburban womanhood also included the invention and explosion of tranquilizer use. That ideal of Ozzie and Harriet stuck in American minds.
Flash forward 50 years, and you have a world where women have access and rights unheard of in the past. Women make more than their predecessors; participate in jobs their mothers would not; and are running for President. But all is not clear. All we have to do is witness the coverage of the late Anna Nicole Smith to see the difficulties we have with femininity and sexuality.
Those Valentine cards, and the increasing sexualization of Cindarella speak to that struggle. Do we want women on the pedestal or in charge? Are they sexual or non-sexual beings? In a world where women might rule the free world (assuming Bush leaves anything to rule) or cure cancer, how do we relegate women only to Republican Motherhood?