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Happy Women's History Month

By Elizabeth Gracen:



"National Women’s History Month honors the successes and sacrifices of U.S. women. It dates to March 8, 1857, when hundreds of women from New York City garment and textile factories rallied to protest harsh working conditions. In 1909, New York City became the site of the nation’s first Women’s Day celebration, a year after 15,000 women there marched to demand shorter working hours, better pay, an end to child labor and the right to vote. More than seven decades later in 1981, Congress set aside the second week of March as National Women’s History Week. Six years later, Congress expanded the week to a month. As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we reflect upon the advances women have made, including increased earnings, educational attainment and job opportunities." "Women's History Month: March 2024," census.gov

As Women’s History Month of 2024 comes to an end, I thought I would share a project that I worked on recently with Hilary Thomas and the Lineage Performing Arts Center. Hilary and I are long-time collaborators, so when she asked me to participate in an immersive theatre experience she was producing that would eventually become the production Matter of Time, I could tell immediately that it was going to be a big project and that I wouldn't have the time to do it. I was packed and ready to hit the road to continue principal photography on Natural State of Drag— a new documentary feature film produced by Flapper Films about the history of drag in Arkansas. I always hate to decline Hilary’s creative offers, but it was regretfully not going to be in the cards this time.


A couple days later, Hilary reached out again and asked if I would consider making a short film that would be projected on a wall in the show’s room dedicated to the 1950s. The source material came from an actual article in McCall’s magazine in 1958. I had recalled seeing something about the article, “129 Ways to Get a Husband,” when it made a viral circuit on several platforms a couple years ago, but when Hil sent the article, a literal flash of inspiration hit me. I could immediately see the path of how to create the complete project. I’d never had that happen before, so I had to respect the vision and took it as a challenge to see how fast I could make it happen. 



With Betty White as was my guiding star, I started the experiment. One Amazon order for a “Rizzo” wig, a quick trip to a local thrift shop, some red lipstick, a ring light, and my iPhone15 and I was ready to go. From there, it was just a matter of riffing on some of the most ridiculous suggestions I have ever read. I mean, really? Have you read the 1958 article where a sixteen-member panel of men and women were asked to spit-ball suggestions to unmarried women in the United States?


“In the United States today there are sixteen million women over the age of seventeen who are still waiting for a marriage proposal. Presumably the vast majority of them would like to be.”  — “129 Ways to Get a Husband,” McCall's, 1958


You can find the complete list of suggestions on how to snag a husband here to discover all 129 enlightening tidbits, such as:


No. 2: Have your car break down at strategic places.
No. 30: Learn to paint. Set up [an] easel outside [an] engineering school.
No. 33: Carry a hatbox.
No. 61: When you are with him, order your steak rare.

It is more than possible that the ludicrous suggestions in the article were made tongue in cheek at the time. It's also highly likely that more than a few cocktails were imbibed during their session. However, one cannot dismiss the fact that when Herbert Mayes assumed editorship in 1958, McCall's magazine was rebranded as "The First Magazine for Women," with a readership that peaked at 8.4 million by the early 1960s. That's a lot of women reading this crazy stuff!


As funny as some of the bullet-point ideas sound to us now, the truth is that after World War II women in the 1950s were expected to marry, stay at home, and raise their children. These rigid gender roles were designed to bring back "normalcy" to American culture after the hard years of the Depression were followed by another global conflict for which women stepped up to take jobs in munition factories and other industries designed to support the war effort. When men returned from service, women were expected to return to the role of homemaker. In the 1950s, getting and keeping a man was tantamount to success as a woman.


Since that time, women have found their own success outside the home and the traditional roles assigned to them. The stifling gender roles of the 1950s have loosened and become much more fluid. Nowadays we don’t have to get married if we don’t want to. We don’t even have to love a man, and we can choose whether or not to have children.


Yet, according the Pew Research Institute, even today (over 60 years since that McCall's article) women are still paid 82 cents for every dollar earned by men. And an even more frustrating reality is that in the United States, women's reproductive rights continue to be threatened, with our right to govern our own bodies in very real jeopardy since the overturn of Roe v. Wade, threatening to pull us backward to the time when we did not have the right to choose.


"Reproductive rights are essential for women to enjoy their human rights. These rights are centered on women’s ability to make the best choices for their lives, including around the number of children they have, if any, and the spacing between their children’s births. Reproductive rights include prenatal services, safe childbirth, and access to contraception. They also include access to legal and safe abortion. Abortion bans violate the rights to be free from violence, to privacy, to family, to health, and even the right to life. And bans are most devastating for people of color, young people, and marginalized communities, who already have trouble accessing health care and other needed services. Governments should trust women to know what is best for their bodies, their physical and mental health, and their lives." "Reproductive Rights and Abortion," Human Rights Watch

It is more important than ever that our voices be heard. If you have not registered to vote, here is a link for more information on vote.org.


Come November, please vote!


There is nothing nostalgic about reversing course on the timeline when it comes to rights, whether for equal pay or reproduction. After all, women's rights are human rights. To go backward is a concept as ridiculous as being told "129 Ways to Get a Husband."


Enjoy the film!




 

Elizabeth Gracen is the owner of Flapper Press & Flapper Films.

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