Stuck in the Suburbs

Ah, Suburbia, USA. With picket fences, swing sets, and manicured backyards to boot, suburban communities enticed many Americans following the Second World War and continued to draw families from cities and towns well into the later decades. These neighborhoods were designed to capture the idyllic essence of the American Dream, but for those who chose to pack up the sedan and chase after it, this dream was often, if not immediately, replaced with a chilling reality.

In theory, suburbia was an oasis. The cookie-cutter Dutch colonials and shuttered starter homes combined affordability and spacious accommodation (by comparison,) with the opportunity for land and property ownership. Coupled with assistance from the government through programs like the G.I. Bill, this dream was tangible, and only at a slight cost; you had to leave the cultured, vibrant city behind. But many Americans, seeking a retreat to a simpler, more wholesome time in the wake of the progressive social movements of the day, welcomed this tradeoff with little regret. Thanks to major developments in the Interstate Highway System, newlyweds like Don and Betty quickly adjusted to the classic suburban routine. While the men of the household often held onto aspects of their old lives working in the cities and merely tacking on a relatively short road or rail commute, their brides faced a greater predicament. Out of their element in pop-up communities with sparse surroundings outside of their developments, these women were truly earning the title of housewife. They were slowly, but surely realizing that they were trapped in their own homes, confined to the trophy-wife, domestic lifestyle that many claim already existed. But this time, they had nowhere to go. By definition, the suburb is, “an outlying part.” The wives of suburbia had become the outliers, the outsiders trapped within. Living in a homogenous society, they unknowingly began to sacrifice the cultured, forward-thinking mentality of the city in favor of close-minded, rigidly defined gender roles and limited expectations. 

Image credit: http://www.capitalcentury.com/levittown.jpg

In picturesque Ossining, sheltered women like Betty and Francine are, at least initially, blissfully unaware of their entrapment. It takes an infusion of liberal, revolutionary thinking on Helen Bishop’s part to awaken the independent, ambitious spirits of the housewives, or at least within one of them. Helen’s seemingly aimless walks may have served another purpose all together- an attempt to break free from the confinements of suburbia.

The suburban USA encased many women beneath a glass ceiling, often unbeknownst to them. But as with most lifestyles, these women adjusted to it, acclimated themselves, and raised their children with this mentality.  A few exceptions surfaced, though, offering a glimmer of hope on the otherwise gray cement driveways of the ‘burbs. Women like Helen, and later Betty, proved to this new society that women could continue to lead cultured, well-rounded, educated lives outside of the city just as well as the men they lived with, and even without them. Gender roles were being rewritten, even in light of the hiccup in feminism produced by suburbanization in the United States. 

Links Referenced:

Freeman, Tyson. "The 1950s: Post-war America Hitches Up and Heads for the 'Burbs." National Real
     Estate Investor. N.p., 30 Sept. 1999. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.

"The 1950s." History Channel. N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.


1 comment:

  1. I found this to be an interesting article. Though suburbs are seen as part of the American dream, its odd to realize that a dream could limit your reality. I like how the characters from Mad Men were analyzed in relation to suburbia, especially with the description of Helen. I feel like it would have been interesting to talk about more of the statistics of the 60s in terms of how many people tended to live in neighborhoods like that. Overall it was great!