Sometimes people like to post old print ads on Facebook, or sometimes compile a whole lot and share them with friends by email. They are often quite humorous, especially if you are old enough to remember what they are talking about. Recently I saw one that must have been from the 1950s. It showed a wife in a floral print dress and apron, hair nicely coiffed, wearing high heels, duster in hand. Her husband, apparently just back from work, meets her with open arms.
The headline goes: So the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks!
A dialogue at the bottom says:
Hubby: Gosh honey, you seem to thrive in cooking, cleaning, and dusting _ and I'm all tuckered out by closing time. What's the answer?
Wife: Vitamins, darling! I always get my vitamins.
It is exactly the kind of image that gets feminists up in arms, a glorification of the Stepford Wives who thrive on cooking and cleaning and caring for husbands and children and maintaining impeccable homes with polished dining tables and white picket fences, and still look gorgeous all day long.
It's an idealistic but unrealistic image of women that was probably invented by men to indulge in a fantasy. They ended up believing it to be true, and putting pressure on women who then believed they had to live up to those standards to be considered a perfect wife and mother.
And we all know that such women don't exist, except for in Desperate Housewives. Who can wake up before 6am, make breakfast, do the school run, drop by the supermarket, rush back to do the laundry, clean the floors, make the beds, iron the clothes, grab a bite to eat before driving off to pick up the kids and getting back in time to prepare dinner?
You'd be lucky if you have time to put on some lipstick or brush your hair. High heels? Forget it! Yet if you can't do all that, you're made to think you're not an adequate wife and mother.
And if you are a working mum, you have to do all that, plus your job!
Admittedly, we have housekeepers in Thailand who help lighten the load, so at least we don't need to do the cleaning and laundry. And if you're lucky enough, you might even have a modern husband who shares the housework with you, fair and square.
So you would imagine that the image of the Stepford Wives from the print ad mentioned earlier is now obsolete, wouldn't you?
Well, you'd better think again.
Just a few days ago, I was listening to a public service radio commercial for what must have been the electricity generating authorities or an electrical equipment company. I wasn't concentrating, so it wasn't until the dialogue began than I began to take notice.
It went something like this:
Husband: Darling, isn't this great! Our electricity bill has come way down this month!
Wife: Well, I've been trying to help, and it's not that difficult really. The weather's getting cooler now, so I try not to turn on the air-conditioning. If you open all the doors and windows, it's quite cool in the daytime.
Husband: Great! And at night we can turn on the fan instead!
Wife: And instead of doing the ironing every day, I keep it for a few days and do it all in one batch.
Husband: No wonder I always see you with a mountain of clothes! You're so smart!
That's as far as I got before I went into shock. I wished I could have pushed the "rewind" button to make sure I heard it right, but that was it. I'm not sure whether they withdrew it from the airwaves, but I never heard it again.
I wasn't dreaming, I swear! The Stepford Wives still exist in Thailand today. I look around at my friends and colleagues, and very rarely do I see a woman who is a full-time wife and mother. The women I see are all earning a living, and also fulfilling their roles as wife and mother at the same time. It's not easy, I can tell you. Ready-made food bought from the office canteen or the Wednesday market helps a lot. Who has time to go home and prepare dinner from scratch? And if you're lucky enough to have a housekeeper who cooks, then you are indeed lucky.
I'm lucky enough to have someone at home who can do my washing and ironing for me. But if I didn't, I would probably go to the corner laundromat and pay to get the laundry done, rather than ironing a mountain of clothes in one go so I can save on electricity bills for my husband.
Plus, if I had a husband, he'd better help wash the dishes after dinner too!
Usnisa Sukhsvasti is the Features Editor of the Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Usnisa Sukhsvasti
Position: Features Editor