1940’s House – Feminist Reality Television

The other night I was at a friend’s house channel surfing when I came upon 1940’s House on PBS. A sequel to 1800 House, the show’s premise is this: a family is chosen to live for a period of time in a house restored to accurately reflect life in the 1940’s in Britain during the war. I didn’t think anything could top 1800 House, until I watched three back to back episodes of 1940’s House. The family dresses, eats, works, as historically accurate as possible, in the 1940’s. And like 1800 House, the focus is mainly on the women’s lives and their personal thoughts on how difficult life was.

This domesticity might sound boring to some who would rather watch people rappelling down buildings and eating earthworms to win thousands of dollars. However we aren’t talking Martha Stewart here, these programs show that “women’s work” is first and foremost WORK! Not only that, the women have the addictional burden of wartime, the Blitz, rations, air raids, black outs, and even nights in the bomb shelter where the sounds of nearby explosions are heard.

Maintaining a family during a time of great crisis becomes heroic. Of course to be as accurate as possible, the women sign up for the Women’s Voluntary Service and are assigned jobs in an aircraft facility. The show even recreates the local grocery with rationed food. At one point during the war when cigarettes were scarce, women were no longer permitted to purchase them. One day when the grocer tells the women he doesn’t have any cigs in stock, they duck behind the counter and steal a package when he’s not looking.

I think what appeals to me the most about the period House programs is that it’s a historical reality show which really does focus itself on women’s lives. Since these are 21st Century women it’s fascinating to see how truly uncomfortable the old roles were. So many women in my generation are afraid to call themselves feminist in part because they don’t really understand what kind of struggles women went through to get us where we are now. They recieve all the benefits of feminist activism, but don’t want to acknowledge how vital it has been for the contemporary woman’s quality of life.

Like any reality show, the women do start to break under all the strain. What’s different is that these women are a part of English history, this stress was a very real thing which a lot of women had to cope with. Add to that the haunting cry of the air raid siren waking the family from sleep. Although this family doesn’t have to worry aboyt any real bombs, they do have to clean up shattered glass and dust from nearby “explosions.” One of the youngest sons notes that he’s learned war is not a game. How timely.

The series ends just as the war has finished, which is unfortunate because it would have been amazing to see how the women responded to attempts to send them back to the kitchen.

This is a truly smart reality show which is feminist in a way no other reality show has touched. We really have come a long way, and yet I can’t help but wonder if in the future there will be a 2000 House and women around the world will wonder how we could stand living day to day under this current regime of white supremacist imperialist hegemony.

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