Saturday, February 23, 2013

Respectability

I am reading Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell)'s THE CHILD'S CHILD.. Much of the book looks at the question of respectability across two generations.

I remember my mother and grandmother being very concerned with this in the fifties and sixties. I think my mother was indeed plagued by the responsibility of having a respectable family--one that wasn't gossipped about. I am afraid I gave her some cause for concern in my fourteenth and fifteenth year. (Nothing that today would have even been glanced at though)

When did "respectability" begin to fade as a concern for lower middle-class families? I had a friend who got pregnant circa 1963 and disappeared for six months. I hope she was at some point reunited with her child.
You can also look at those convents in Ireland (The Magdalene Sisters) who took in girls that in any way worried their families.

Other than in extremely religious communities, respectability has faded. (Look at Bristol Palin for example). Where did these convention go and why?

23 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - That's an interesting question! I wonder whether during the major social changes of the late sixties and early seventies, people started worrying less about respectability. That's just a guess...

Walker Martin said...

I would also say the late 1960's and early 1970's. Remember "flower children" and "make love, not war", etc. All of a sudden it was ok to have sex and women were encouraged to flex their sexual powers.

I once was manager of a large office and it seemed that half the young women were single mothers. I saw it as a big error in judgement because it usually ruined their chances of attending college and even made them miserable during their best, younger years. They did not appear to be too happy about what had happened to them.

Anonymous said...

Frankly I'm tired of having everything bad blamed on the Baby Boomer generation. (This probably started with Mr. Respectable, Ronald Reagan. Check out his family history.)

We always had plenty of black sheep in the family to make sure we didn't feel too "respectable" at any time.

At for your friend, we lived through the same period and knew girls going through that too. A friend of my brother rushed into an early marriage because his girlfriend got pregnant.

I think it did start with the wide availability of the pill in the 60's, combined with the free speech and anti-war movements and then the womens' movement but it is only in the past decade or two (the children of the boomers, or even the grandchildren of some) that having children and then (if ever) getting married has become acceptable.

And stay off my lawn!


Jeff M.

Keith Rawson said...

I think the idea of respectability began disappearing when both parents started having to work to keep a family afloat. Who has time to care what the neighbors think when you're working 50 hours a week?

Deb said...

Perhaps a better question would be "when did shame fade?" My kids always gawk at me when I try to explain what shame there was in getting pregnant and/or having a baby out of wedlock. The pill, the ability of women to control when they got pregnant and how many children they had, the expansion of women in the workplace and the ability of women to support themselves--all contributed to a decrease of "shame." and I, for one, am not sorry that shame has been banished--at least when it comes to out of wedlock births. When it comes to politicians and reality tv "celebrities," some of them could use a little more shame!

/Dismounting soapbox now.

Todd Mason said...

Yes, Deb, thank goodness there's less hypocrisy and stigma in human events these days. It's tough enough, say, to be a teen mother, without being shunned for nor tormented about it, and I think the culture might even be getting away from the dynamic that assumes that one should be become a mother while one's parents are young enough to provide the daycare that otherwise isn't available, at least practically. Part of the reason it's fallen by the wayside is because it was bourgeois respectability...a standard the wealthy need not concern themselves with and the underclass were condescended to not be able to maintain (except, as you note, in places like Ireland, where, apparently, predatory priests and others with the collusion of the local and national government were empowered to imprison girls for decades of their lives in the Magdalene Laundries scheme if they struck some local plenipotentiary as Too Pretty for Their Own Good. I wonder if the details of sexual abuse as well as essential slavery in Magdalene are forthcoming.)

And you take the end of such notions as the Ruined Woman as a bad thing, Jeff?

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

The great Indian middle class is obsessed with "respectability" and in spite of the times we live in, a majority of parents have little trouble with their children, kids or teens. I guess Indians are still conservative by nature and that has helped keep the young-uns in check.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Prashant raises an interesting point here. That what has disappeared in some cultures still exists in others. I doubt a pregnant girl in many countries would be treated any more kindly today.
THE MAGDALENE SISTERS is still the scariest movie I have ever seen and it thrived due to the prevalence of the notion of respectability.
I do think the sixties ended a lot of it for us--but maybe only temporarily.

Todd Mason said...

Well, the middle classes in India have been influenced by the English system, but also exist in the remnants of the deeply retrograde notion of caste, as well...so India will have to grow richer as well as further away from rigid enforcement of caste fore that kind of terror of Sliding Back Down subsides.

Patti, are you really such a pessimist? Magdalene also thrived because of notions of women not being fully human, but instead these lesser creatures that tempt men into doing bad things, or trigger the Poor Dears into doing things they just can't help (surely she was asking for it, look at that skirt)...the same sort of dynamic that leads to the Koranic command to Dress Modestly to be interpreted in practice as Men wear hats, Women as much as possible. It's bullshit, but deeply prized bullshit for many. Happily for me, I don't see a trend against women as fully human of late, though of course the trend against the non-ridiculously wealthy as subhuman continues as it always has in the corridors of power.

Todd Mason said...

The bizarre and widely discussed bus-rape/assault/murder case in India in December, wherein a gang of young men managed to get a bus and use it to lure unsuspecting commuters on, then proceeded to beat a young couple, and rape her as well, would be the kind of thing that Respectability, of course, wouldn't stop so much as keep from being widely discussed...much as the open secret of clergy molesting (and doing worse) to children, and not solely RC clergy, was not discussed, since to do so would be Improper, until fairly recently...is also indicative of the peeling back of the veneer of Respectability...or the Penn State football coaches' crimes. (It's also notable that too many seem to focus on the attacks on boys to the exclusion of the quite common attacks on girls...because they have been Too common? Because they are More Understandable?) Pennsylvania also provided its own Magdalene equivalent recently in the counties in the more Santorum-friendly part of the state, wherein the children who could be were railroaded by the juvenile courts into a private, state-funded juvie prison for doing such things as making fun of their school's
administrators...and even to this day, the local residents seem more angry that the judges were taking kickbacks from the private prison corporation than that they were messing over the kids' lives for mutual profit and powerlust. THE GOOD WIFE couldn't resist incorporating that Real Life Horror into an early script.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I think the religious right in this country would like to return to strict notions of respectability for women. I can't see much difference between them and the men who demand a woman cover everything but their eyes. The rhetoric in the election certainly pointed out how they view subjects like rape.

Ron Scheer said...

I'd say that shame floats. There is just as much of it today, but it attaches to different things. (I'm remembering how my grandmother would close the windows if anyone raised their voice in her house. What would the neighbors think?)

As for the demise of respectability, I'd say that the erosion of community has had a lot to do with it. At a time when so many of us don't know our neighbors, there is less reason to care what they think of us.

Todd Mason said...

Well, I note the GOP in the House would still like to pretend that non-het women Deserve sexual violence and that Native American women should remain relatively easy targets, but that's them clinging to their last straws before folding, I suspect...in a bizarre attempt to appease the assumed Pro-Rape demographic. You'll notice the idiots who were willing to claim that abortion is only the choice of Very Evil Women (good women have rape-anti-conception systems naturally in place) managed to lose big in their races.

And, no, there isn't much difference between the George W. Bushes and the Mahmoud Ahmadinejads (and the even worse who stand behind them), but there never was.

Todd Mason said...

I think Ron has something there, too...redefinitions of community (or important community) play into this, as well.

Shame still attaches to poverty, of course, because if you don't have money it must be your fault, you lazy, shiftless, person who perhaps had to pay a ridiculous medical bill after the insurance ran out or was cancelled...

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Interesting views, Patti and Todd. I think India of the 21st century is grappling with two extreme cultures with the moderates caught in between. On one hand, we still have caste-based societies bound by tradition and orthodoxy, where the elders in the community decide just about everything, and, on the other, we have extremely liberal and forward-thinking families and societies in urban and semi-urban areas which refuse to be bound or cowed down by anything even remotely associated with past baggage. It is the latter that came out on to the streets to protest against the brutal gangrape and murder of the 24-year old woman in a bus in Delhi. However, the way things are the former seem to be ahead of the race, thanks to a narrow-minded and opportunistic political class playing to the gallery of voters.

Patti mentioned different cultures in different places. In this regard, the one notable change is that India has been steadily moving away from joint families to nuclear families with sons now moving into their own homes after marriage. This is because of a growing economy and greater education that is putting higher dosposable incomes and benefits in the hands of the young who have also taken to migrating to big cities and immigrating outside the country at a very young age. Of course, in many cases the eldest son continues to live with his parents long after his marriage. It's not uncommon to see a family of six — parents and their son and his family — living in a 600 sq. ft apartment. The parents help look after the kids while the son and his wife go to work. Thus, in many ways the quintessential Indian family is still in tact.

In response to what Ron said, next to one's parents and maid servants and creches (day-care centres), neighbours play the most important role in the life of a nuclear family, going so far as keeping the kids at home and feeding them and looking after them till their parents return home in the evening.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Air Conditioning may have a part to play. No shutting windows as Ron mentioned with AC. It kept your inside inside.
So glad we have Prashant to steer us away from our hegemonic view of the world.
If more cultures mixes on the Interne, maybe they wouldn't clash in real life. I never read/hear a story about India now without thinking of Prashant. We need more of that.

Todd Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Mason said...

Whose hegemonic view? Hell, I'm just trying to survive and hoping my friends and family can too, here on the City on the Hill...

I guess I've been privileged enough to be in cosmopolitan centers for most of my life...and never have retreated to just the company of an echo chamber, a situation that has apparently become quite common...it's even easier than it used to be to offend people by disagreeing with them.

Todd Mason said...

What you describe, Prashant, in terms of family interconnection, isn't too uncommon in the US, as well...though the Village raising the kids is somewhat less in effect than it once was, the extended family pitching in is, if anything, more common than it was at midcentury.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Many thanks for that, Patti. I'd love to narrate real-life stories about India and the Indian way of life except I wouldn't know where to start. To give you just one example: life unfolds in all its myriad colours and contours on a 45-minute one-way train journey from my suburban home in northwest Mumbai to my office downtown in south Mumbai. I travel with some 4,000 people in a 12-coach "local" train, with people who hail from all parts of the subcontinental mass and speak more than a hundred languages and dialects. There's a train like that living every three to four minutes from most stations on the three major suburban rail networks of Mumbai. Now imagine what it's like inside those compartments. A cauldron of cultures on wheels.

Todd, this is not the way I know it to be, but a lot of people out here think that American kids leave their homes and their folks once they turn 18 or so and are left to fend for themselves — stand on their own feet so to say. Indians are proud of their family values and cultures and so it's easy for us to look down upon (and even run down) western (or any other) culture and its so-called polluting effects on our own. It's not uncommon to hear people say that we are aping the West more and more and that it isn't healthy for our kids. And yet, America is the first choice of immigration for Indian students.

RkR said...

I'm inclined to think this became less of a concern during World War II. There were so much bigger and more affecting things to be concerned with, women were working or carrying the whole load and the country was still divided to some degree between families with a military member and those not. Then the guys came home and getting ahead and getting better and more stuff than the neighbors trumped caring what else they might criticize.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am sure there was some diminishment (Word?) during the forties but in the fifties and sixties it was a BIG thing in my house. Perhaps we were more straight-laced in Philadelphia.

Todd Mason said...

Well, you have noted that your parents were very nervous about much of life. And certainly hidebound is a word that I wouldn't think unfair to apply to Philadelphia.