For some reason the ‘1950s household fetish’ has been turning up on my radar recently. I don’t know whether it’s becoming more popular, or more people who are into it have been looking at my blogs, or what – but there it is. A fetish for the kinds of styles, culture and domestic and sexual relationships of the 1950s.
People who are into this often go deep into it. They furnish their house in a 1950s style and banish any devices (except possibly their PC) that wouldn’t have been available at that time. Books, magazines and newspapers of the time might be on display.
They dress the part, with full skirts and polka dots, elaborate hairdos and time spent baking things in the kitchen – that’s the women, of course, because the men would wear suits, waistcoats and ties, and smoke a pipe. They may listen to radio broadcasts of that time or watch 1950s TV programmes (for which they would, these days, need internet-ready TV or a DVD player, so technological compromises have to be made).
I can see the attraction. It was a period shortly after one of the most destructive wars humanity had ever waged, and many adults were simply relieved that it was over and they could get on with their lives. It was a period of fast economic growth, the beginning of a consumerist boom, and in the UK, a period in which government had responded to social need by creating the beginnings of the welfare state in order to make people more secure – free health care at the point of need, for example.
But it was also still an era of ‘traditional’ relations between dominant men and subservient women, with strongly defined roles and responsibilities. For many people this both echoes and reinforces the dom/sub roles of BDSM.
It’s an obvious point, but it’s a selective re-invention of the 1950s we’re talking about here. It’s based on middle- or upper-class homes, people who have comfortable lifestyles. We’re not talking about dingy 1950s council flats or the ‘prefabs’, temporary shed-like structures built to house those returning from war or who had lost their homes in wartime bombing raids. We’re not talking about couples where the role of the woman in the home excluded her husband, who spent most of his leisure time in the local pub. And we’re not talking about the era of food rationing, introduced in 1939 at the veginning of the war and not fully lifted until 1954.
Nor are we talking about the kind of society in which women could divorce their husbands for adultery only if it was proved (for example with a private detective and a photograph) or for reasons of drunkenness, insanity or desertion. The law was only changed and made more equal-handed in 1969.
Other negative aspects: the contraceptive pill hadn’t been invented, though the ‘upside’ of this was that a fairly sophisticated set of ‘petting’ activities were well-known so that sex that didn’t need contraception – handjobs, blowjobs and other forms of rubbing and mutual stimulation such as frottage using a range of materials – were widely practiced (and appreciated).
There was also widespread homophobia: the Wolfenden Report in the UK, which recommended a limited decriminalisation of homosexual acts, was published in 1957 and laws not enacted for another decade.
And in political terms, remember the Suez Crisis, the Korean War, the Hungarian Revolution and MAD – Mutual Assured Destruction in the event of a nuclear war? Yes, all in the 1950s and matters of worldwide anxiety at that time.
As best I can gather, those who follow what they think of as a 1950s lifestyle play with the idea of it to a large degree. In some cases it’s based on the fantasy that the husband goes off to work and has an affair with his secretary while the housewife entertains the milkman (remember them?) in the marital bed. I others, the household is female led and female-dominant, with the roles fully or partly reversed. In these latter households, sissification appears to be a strong theme as well.
Contemporary aspects BDSM such as highly technological toys are likely to play little part. Tease, bondage and spanking may be more common, even though the John Willie and Irving Klaw styles of heavier bondage were known in the sexual underground of the day. Oh, and rubber might play a part – rubber underwear was widely sold in the 1950s, ostensibly as an aid to weight loss because it encouraged perspiration. Though how people used it was of course up to them. This was the subject of some ribald comedy routines of the times.
For whose who engage in it, I suspect the value of the 1950s has something to do with the sense of retreat from troubling aspects of postmodern society (which I guess me might all want from time to time) and encapsulation in a more positive worldview. It might also be to do with a more rigid set of standards, values and expectations that some people may find comparatively easy to live inside. And there are aspects of 1950s fashion, design and style that remain alluring, from rocket fins on cars to stockings on women (yes, I know some men look good in stockings too, but it was a sexist era).
Don’t knock it. Just imagine for a second that in 2050, a ‘twenty naughty’ fetish might exist in which all the things we regard as troubling today – for example neoliberalism, economic recession, a struggle for non-discrimination and LGBT rights – is fetishised as being a comforting retreat from whatever world people are living in then…
Some sources for you: