The 1950s housewife and The Age of Hope

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The 1950s and 1960s changed the way women were perceived in society. The "happy housewife" stereotype emerged and was followed by the women's liberation movement -- both of which are themes in The Age of Hope by David Bergen. The book follows the life of protagonist Hope Koop, born in 1930, and her seemingly ordinary life in rural Manitoba as a homemaker. While her husband Roy works as a car salesman during the day, Hope stays at home raising their four children.

The stay-at-home lifestyle became symbolic after World War II as women were encouraged to be domestic and consume household products. The image many associate homemaker with is June Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver. In the TV sitcom, Mrs. Cleaver cooked and cleaned while wearing pearls and heels. She portrayed what became known as the ideal wife and mother.

In 2011, CBC's The Age of Persuasion aired a series called Happy Homemaker: How Advertising Invented the Housewife. It explores the glamorization of housekeeping thanks to smart marketing strategies. At the turn of the 20th century, women were depicted in advertisements wearing frilly aprons and maintaining spotless homes. They tried to influence real housewives to pick up consumer products and do the same. However, the homemaker mentality paved the way for the feminist movement of the 1970s as more women entered the workforce. We pulled the Happy Homemaker episodes for you to listen to in the audio player below:

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Hope Koop in The Age of Hope seems to lead the life of a simple housewife -- a good and steady marriage, children, and a home full of modern appliances. But beneath the surface, she's trying to find purpose and meaning in her life.

Ron MacLean is defending The Age of Hope during the Canada Reads debates February 11-14.

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