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Growing Up in the 1950'sThe Women's MovementLife

Caught in the Crosshairs

By May 15, 2017January 22nd, 20185 Comments

As Mother’s Day approached this year, I began to recall the long-ago “words to live by” that were oft quoted by my Mom.  I half-listened to her warnings and guidelines because they never quite fit.  I have since realised that she was the product of a post-Victorian upbringing, passing through the “liberation” of the 1920’s and then snagged in the expectations of the stay-at-home wife/mother scenario of the 1940′ and 50’s.  She was bored living the life of mother/housewife and wanted a career.  But she lived in a world where my father had ultimate control.  He told her that the only way she could work would be if she worked at the register in the grocery store he owned. She accepted that but was never fulfilled.  Small wonder.  I still feel saddened that she never got to spread her wings.

In that context;

I grew up believing that “shut up” was a dirty word. I was threatened with having my mouth washed out with soap if dirty words were spoken at home.  I doubted the threat would be carried out, but I got the message.

I first saw the word shit when I was in sixth grade, written on my elementary school playground. I had to ask my mother what it meant.  I was told never, ever, to repeat it.  The word f*#k was not learned until adulthood.

In high school, I asked my Dad what the word shmuck meant.  He paused, got a little smirk on his face, then uttered the word penis.  I’d never heard that word spoken, and fled the scene.

From Yiddish שמאָק (shmok, “penis”), from Old Polish smok (“dragon”) or cognate to German Schmuck(“jewellery”), which subsequently influenced the spelling ..

I called all my parents’ friends Mr. and Mrs.

I was repeatedly told to consider teaching as the only career path open and acceptable for me, in case I didn’t manage to get married right out of college.

The most egregious myth that circulated at that time was nice girls “don’t.”  Jewish boys could get their sex from non-Jewish girls. Jewish girls must remain chaste. Sexuality was never discussed, nevermind acknowledged.

Just as my mother was a victim of the times she lived in, I’ve often thought that my generation of women was caught in the cross hairs of two powerful cultural movements, the conservatism of the first half of the century versus the women’s lib movement and the sexual revolution.  I was already married by the time the women’s movement and the sexual revolution of the 60’s hit full force. Most likely for the best, but every once in a while, I wonder what it must have been like.   For us, fear of an unwanted pregnancy was always present and always a constraint, although I’d stopped believing that sex before marriage was a no-no.

I never shared that radical belief with my Mom.

Dianne Vapnek

In an attempt to slow life's quickening pace, I'm writing to share my personal perspective on the aging process, its dilemmas, the humorous self-deception, the insights and the adventure of it all. I spent the bulk of my time in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA, but manage to get to NYC a few times times a year. I've been a dancer/dance teacher and dance supporter almost all my life. For the past20years, I help create and produce a month-long creative residency in Santa Barbara for contemporary American choreographers and their dancers. It's been incredibly gratifying. This year, I decided it's time to retire! Big change. I also now spend several weeks a year in Kyoto Japan, residing for several weeks in the spring and the fall. I've been magnetically attracted to Japan for many years. Now I live out a dream to live there part-time.


  • devapnek says:

    I think you came to terms earlier with the “issues” we struggled with during our youth. I always thought of you as very brave! You had such early losses. And what a rich life you live now. xo

  • Eleanor MORIARTY says:

    Nice piece D. I fled to the village a lot of my wings grew from being the last of 3 only girl and the early death of my father when i was 19. Things changed radically. Then my mither died when i was 24 but by that time i developed a seperate secret life that i knew would have been hard for her to come to terms with.
    All our journeys have a little of our mothers in us. Love you. Keep writing

  • Sally Terrell says:

    You should be a writer 😉