‘You made your bed’: Marriage, silence and making do
Values from the 1950s still seep into the relationships today
Harry was perfect. He paid the bills, he had a good job, he provided Jane with a good home. The marriage was also loveless, cold, cruel and violent. Divorce was out of the question.
Divorce was- and still is, to an extent- seen as a failure. You must have let yourself go, nagged him too much, made him look else where. It was disgraceful. Only lewd filmstars and lewder singers got divorced. The thought of a respectable, professional middle class couple getting divorced was scandalous. You were unhappy? You should have made a better choice. It is done. You walked up the aisle. That’s where your fairystory closed.
Lonely? Suck it up. Suddenly finding yourself alone in the kitchen after having a job, career and work friends could be a shock. But that didn’t matter, you had to keep up appearances. Smile, busy yourself with dusting and learning how to make a decent scone. Your mother managed. You have to, now.
In love with someone else? Tough. Marriage is for life. You don’t get a second pick here. If divorce is bad, leaving for another man is practically reserved for prostitutes. You are responsible for making your husband love you again, be affectionate, be the man you want. Impossible? Well, ask yourself what you are doing wrong. Maybe you’ve put on weight. That’s why he ignores you.
He hits you? Well, make sure you know how to hide the bruises. Wear a high neckline or maybe stay in bed with a cold for a few days. Some powder should make it better. Maybe you fell down the stairs. Silly you. You think it was wrong for him to hit you? Well, did you provoke him? You were probably out of your place. Just make sure no one knows and be a better wife.
He bullies and intimidates you? Well, what are you doing wrong? You are probably to messy, masculine or talk back too much. He just needs to feel more like a man. Learn to be quiet, obedient, a better housewife. He’s still cruel? Well, just tell the neighbours you were crying because you miss your mother.
He is cheating on you with another woman? Well, you must be neglecting him in the bedroom. You must not be pulling your weight in the cosmetic section. At least he’s being discreet, that’s kind of him. He’s still with you, that’s generous of him. At least Mrs Harris at 29 has no idea. That’s what matters. You need to work on your marriage.
Then, spend the next 60 years lonely, unhappy, unloved and undersexed.
Does this upset you?
Well, don’t worry, because in 2017, you’ll be able to sit smugly with your snoring Harry and tell your daughter that you’ve been married for 60 years, and you made your bed and laid in it, like the little soldier you are. Because in your age, women were made of stronger stuff. She needs to overlook the cruelty, unhappiness and isolation in her life and have a long successful marriage.
Because what matters is what the neighbours might think.