I Could Have Stayed Home and Made Cookies: American Women Affirming an Denying Gender Stereotypes

A recent New York times Article  discussed Hillary Clinton’s past. No. Not the emails.

The article cited, rather, a controversial statement made by Clinton in 1992, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas,” said Hillary during her husband’s presidential campaign, “but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”

The comment was widely circulated in media outlets and, according to the Times, “The blowback was intense and [Hillary Clinton] spent weeks apologizing.” She had offended women who chose to stay home and raise children. Some believe that in order to gain public support, Hillary Clinton spent a lot of time after making the statement trying to play the role of a domestic, motherly housewife – downplaying her career and achievements in the public square. Recently, however, this controversial quote resurfaced in a most unexpected place: a Clinton Campaign.

A silver screen next to Beyoncé in a pantsuit flashed the quote bright and proud for all to see. How is it that this statement, once perceived as detrimental to Clinton’s image has now been used to shed favorable light on her potential presidency?

While a definitive answer to this question may be difficult to find, there is one thing we can be sure of: Things have changed.

It used to be that political campaign managers discouraged female politicians from flaunting their lives as professionals. It used to be that female politicians were shamed out of expressing their distaste for dogged domesticity. The mother as a child-bearer, nurturer, and home maker was the “ideal.” Degler’s analysis of the “traditional family” and its emergence in the early 19th century gives us a good backdrop as to where the opinion (that seemed to prevail in 1992) that a woman ought to be focused on providing emotionally for the child came from. But many historians that followed Degler have had questions about just how constant the emotional attachment of women to their families has stayed.

Historian Stephanie Coontz’s most famous work, for example, The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap addresses issues of domesticity, family, and strict gender roles for men and women. These prescribed gender roles (often categorized as conservative) about the proper role of man and wife in marriage and parenthood became very entrenched in 1950s American thought.

A lot of baby boomers, argues Coontz, have become nostalgic for the 1950s “ideal American family” and have looked back on the period through rose colored glasses. They view it as the golden age for American family life. They assume that if we could just somehow “get back to how it used to be” and embrace “traditional” constructs of family life, we would solve the social ills that surround us.

One of the main points of Coontz arguments relates to the role of women in the home. She discusses the self-sacrificing, loving, nurturing mother. She discusses the fact that, in reality, a large sample women’s experiences in 1950s America that may have seemed ideal were actually traps of misery for these women. She also argues that we have, in many ways, chosen to look back on the 1950s nuclear family as the way “it always ways”

Coontz’ analysis of the American family, and the way we “look back” on the way it “used to be” is engaging and relevant to today’s political discussion. Opinions about how “domestic” a woman ought to be have changed in America.

Those who see this trend often express anxiety about the United States losing an important part of its identity. They look upon the United States in the 1950s as an

According to Coontz, however, the nuclear 1950s family was

 

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2 thoughts on “I Could Have Stayed Home and Made Cookies: American Women Affirming an Denying Gender Stereotypes

  1. I agree that a lot of baby-boomers (especially those who are conservative) look back on the 1950s as ideal and what we should strive for again today. However, family life was only ideal for the fathers and children in those families–while some women did enjoy the role they played as mother, women were significantly repressed and also coerced meeting the intense expectations placed before them.

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  2. I think that society has changed it feelings surrounding domesticity to become more accepting of career women, but I do think if Hillary said anything like the “stay home and make cookies” quote she would still experience enormous pushback. And I do think that although people tend to look at the past with “rose colored glasses,” the nuclear family is still the effective way to go.

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