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Perfect Wives

English Women in 1950's

Virginia Nicholson

People camping out in the Mall waiting for Elizabeth's coronation procession. About 3am they were woken by newspaper sellers crying "Everest is climbed!" A 73 yo widow camped out from 8am Sunday to Tuesday with just a packet of egg sandwiches and a bag of fruit.

In Westminster Abbey temporary scaffolding erected for extra guests, but had to get there very early, and toilets became an issue. They were labelled 'Peeresses' 'Ladies' and 'Bishops' but soon ignored; "the bishops themselves became unruly".

Strong cultural bias against married women paid work. Austerity Britain early 1950's still rationing of food and fuel. Future did not look hopeful so natural for many to look back at past and romanticize the ideal family. And although women were paid less for doing the same work, they accepted that that was the natural order of things.

Prescriptive social rules - you always washed clothes on Mondays, and you had to get them on the line by noon. Washing on any other day was just not 'done'. Front steps had to be 'donkey-stoned' with cream powder which came off as soon as someone stepped on it, or it rained. But only shabby women didn't do it.

"Why should you be depressed? You have a good husband and children, and enough food on the table. What is there to be depressed about?

How To Get Your Man

Let him win. Men don't take kindly to be being beaten. Never talk about yourself. Be childlike and feminine at all times. Don't talk 'cleverly'. men are terrified of smart women. Feed him, sympathise with him, admire him.

And above all, the conviction that a woman without a husband and child has failed. An empty vessel, a vacant room. Only men can confer meaning on their non-existence.

Detailed handbooks on how to look good, including "slap yourself under the jaw every day with a flannel to prevent a double chin."

"There was an awful lot of 'petting into climax'. No risk of getting pregnant. All you needed was a man with a big handkerchief. And you'd do that nearly every night of the week, and not always with the same bloke. I learnt quite a lot that way."

The fifties teenager dressed same outfits as her mother wore. basically passed from 14 yo school girl to matron with no intermediate stage.

Debutants' mothers with acronyms - NSIT Not safe In Taxis, MTF Must Touch Flesh, and VVSITPQ Very Very Safe In Taxis, Probably Queer.

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