Dream on, women

I recently discovered an article in the March 1961 issue of Cosmopolitan titled, “What Awaits Her in the Years Ahead.” The article, by Phyllis Battelle, predicts what life will be like for women (specifically white, middle-class women) in 2001. Battelle’s 30-year-old vision reveals where we were, where we are and—most importantly—where we aren’t.

Battelle’s futuristic prototype is Mrs. Marilyn Everwell, who looks, at age 40, as if she were younger than 20. This may still sound optimistic, but Battelle is alarmingly accurate with her ideas about how women might capture the youthful ideal.

“Pills and injections make her chassis the shape she wants it,” Battelle writes. “Plastic surgery, in a whisk for the cost of only a pittance, makes it possible for Marilyn and all her friends to be as pretty or striking as they choose.”

Battelle neglects to mention that anorexia and bulimia would be options for women in 2001.

Marilyn can focus on her appearance because her life is “virtually effortless.” Dinner makes itself. The house cleans itself. Marilyn can monitor the kiddies via inter-room TV. Apparently, child and home care are still main concerns of the women in Battelle’s vision. Perhaps in 1961, it would have taken a great amount of imagination to hypothesize otherwise.

Like most women in Battelle’s version of 2001, Marilyn has an advanced college degree. You see, in Battelle’s vision, all barriers against women had been broken by 1970: “By the year 2001, we’ll have stopped worrying about feminist rights altogether.”

As I listen to my students confidently assure me that the sexes are equal, the statement is chillingly accurate in a way it was never intended to be.

The good news is that 2001 is “the era of ‘THINK.'” Battelle claims that everyone in America will be trained to be “keenly intelligent, mentally curious.” She never predicted (and who would want to) an age of anti-intellectualism that would allow Dubya to assume the presidency, while Americans are engrossed in reality TV and football.

A 1961 doctor interviewed by Battelle proclaims, “There will be so many medications to make us happy, I only hope we aren’t all turned into happy automatons.” The same doctor declares that cancer will be cured and new diseases will have emerged, which is OK, because drugs will make us happy and numb. Isn’t that what we need to survive in 2001? Happiness and numbness?

Perhaps Battelle doesn’t understand the glory of antidepressants, because she finishes her piece asking: “Will she be happy? Or will she worry, as do women of 1961?”

It is only natural to envision a world that offers more happiness and ease than the present one does. If not, why go on? Ursula LeGuin once wrote: “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty—not knowing what comes next.”

It’s 2001. Women still earn less than men, still age, and yes, Phyllis Battelle, we still worry about the world we have yet to create.