Until depressingly recently, modern culture still considered women little more than cattle that bizarrely insisted on acting like people. That kind of attitude brought us a whole lot of bad things, but sometimes people screwed up and -- in the course of their mission to keep the cows from getting all high and mighty and thinking they had rights -- they accidentally brought us things that are really nice to have. Such as ...
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In the early 20th century, people started wondering if working people to death for whatever coal residue they could scrape off the mines might not be in line with American values. Starting with Massachusetts in 1912, more and more states began enacting laws that established exactly how many pennies employers would have to allow workers to pry from their cold, monocled hands -- but only for women and children. Why? Because "woman has always been dependent upon man," and just like children, they need "special care" ... or they'll turn to hooking.
And this was before giants went extinct, so life for hookers was pretty rough.
See, before that, labor laws were thought wholly unconstitutional, as they interfered with the free market and all that. People started to accept them only after a bunch of paternalistic buttwads argued that we needed to protect all these feeble, lost women who had somehow stumbled into the workforce. Many started to worry about what would become of the poor dears who were fleeing the nest with no idea how incompetent they were. What if they couldn't compete with the boys and resorted to becoming, as Frank Reynolds calls them, who-ers? They couldn't make up for low wages with long hours because, as one judge argued in a 1908 case, women were simply too weak to work more than 10 hours a day. (Of course, after working 10 hours a day for table scraps, everyone would start to consider prostitution.)
So when these labor laws were struck down in 1924, it was actually regarded as a win for women's equality. A few years later, though, a little thing called the Great Depression happened, and people started to wonder if they might have taken this whole thing in the wrong direction. In 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (spearheaded by Frances Perkins, the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet and a feminist icon if there ever was one) established the minimum wage as it exists today -- for people with all types of genitals, this time.
U.S. Dept. of Labor
"You're welcome, dicks."
When car manufacturers started producing automatic transmissions in the 1950s, a generation that wasn't entirely sure giving up the horse-and-buggy thing was the best decision breathed a sigh of relief. As much as some people might brag about it, no one likes driving a stick, for the same reason no one rents pornos anymore when the Internet is right there. Even better, it wasn't just transmissions -- every power button on your car was developed during this time. In the era of microwaves and washing machines, it just made sense to hop on the bandwagon and automate as much as possible.
There was only one problem: Those kinds of labor-saving technologies were "for women," and women didn't buy cars.
Really? Wonder why?
Nobody knew how to sell these cars to men without insulting their masculinity, because this was a time when you couldn't sell dudes a razor by touting the advanced technology of sticking 12 blades on it. They didn't want to imply that men needed an "easier" car. They had no problem flat-out declaring that women did, though.
What they figured out was that they could convince men to buy these smooth new rides and protect their fragile egos by advertising it as a nice thing to buy for the wife. "This effortless, expensive toy isn't for you," they winked. "Of course not; no self-respecting, hard-working, rational man would indulge so frivolously. Get it for the little woman, who is dazzled by shiny things and can't be trusted to crank all those shafts without running over an orphanage."
From simple morons.
Even if they did secretly want it for themselves, they could explain it to their buddies over an eye-roll and a martini as "keeping the missus happy," and now none of us has to bother with the stupid clutch.
Although largely obsolete in recent times thanks to the super-computers in everyone's pockets, a fine Rolex is still the go-to fashion accessory when a man wants to broadcast "I am a successful provider; please meet my exquisitely tailored pants area." As such, this century-old New York Times article brings two baffling discoveries: 1) Wristwatches were at one time thought of as a "silly-ass fad," and 2) people were saying "[adjective]-ass [noun]" 100 years ago, including the New York Goddamn Times.
The New York Times
"Say, George, shall I go with 'silly ass' or 'whack as fuck'?"
Wristwatches were considered silly and/or assy for pretty much the same reason selfies, pumpkin spice lattes, and yoga pants are today: They were girly. (Although in the case of yoga pants, at least there is some descriptive merit to claims of assiness.) Since they were worn on the wrist, which is a body part only women have, they were likened to bracelets and shunned with an adamant "no homo." They were mocked in silent movies, and no man would have been caught dead wearing one, preferring instead the rugged pocket watch, i.e. a tinkly little charm dangling by a dainty chain.
That is, until World War I.
Waltham Watch Co.
"We can now guarantee with 73 percent certainty that your penis won't fall off."
WWI was the first major war after the widespread adoption of telephone service and other remote communication tools, allowing soldiers to coordinate across long distances. It was kind of important, though, if you get instructions to do something at 16:00, that you actually know when 16:00 is. Pocket watches weren't ideal for this environment: You have to spend precious seconds rooting around in your pockets, they could be dropped, that hand could be better occupied with a rifle, etc. Military leaders started to realize that those silly-ass ladies might be onto something after all, and soon every soldier was required to wear the conveniently hands-free devices. Once civilians saw the manliest of the manly walking around with goofy bracelet clocks strapped to their wrists, they started wearing them too. We all learned our lesson and never, ever made fun of women for wearing comfortable, versatile, universally flattering pants.
When you think about it, it's kind of weird that the barbecue is considered a man's territory. As Smithsonian Magazine points out, it's a uniquely American idea -- in most other cultures, cooking is considered women's work, regardless of whether there's a metal grate involved. Well, like most arbitrary gender constructs, this one comes down to marketing.
In the '50s, there was a perfect storm of factors that led to the invention of grilling as a manly activity. Like wristwatches, it was popularized by returning soldiers who hadn't had many ovens or women to feed them in the field. There was also a growing focus in the culture on family togetherness. Men were encouraged to spend more time at their suburban mansions with their children, but, like, what were they supposed to do with them?
"Wow, this is exciting. Hey, I'm going for cigarettes; be right back."
The cookware industry had an answer. They were having a problem, too -- they wanted to capitalize on this grill thing, but they didn't think women would spend the money when they already had perfectly good stoves. Make up your minds, marketers: Are women purse-string-clutching Scrooges or idiot children who will trade their mothers for a novelty pen in the checkout aisle? Regardless, they decided to advertise their new lines of grills as a way for men to spend time with the family in their giant new backyards.
Even the family butler would be delighted.
The outdoors factor was the clincher. See, there's one exception to the "cooking is women's work" rule: getting paid for it. In the U.S., around 83 percent of head chefs are men. This is a subtle indication of a further-reaching attitude regarding a woman's place in the home. Grilling could be for men because women are for inside, while men are for outside ... even just a few feet outside.
Air-conditioning is a godsend for people who live in the less fashionable parts of the country and everyone in July, but does it seem like the women in your workplace are always complaining about the thermostat? Well, they might not be making shit up. There's a reason why women are always colder in the office, and it's not (just) their dead, icy hearts -- it's the fact that modern air-conditioning was originally designed to keep men, and only men, comfortable.
"Women can go f ... reeze themselves."
For a concept as seemingly simple as "blowing cold air in your face," public AC is actually governed by a complex set of formulas. Standard 55, the guideline for determining the optimal temperature for a given environment, takes into account how much heat is produced by people's bodies during the tasks they're most likely to perform in that environment and what kinds of clothes they're likely to wear. That seems sensible, if a little overcomplicated (it seems like you could just set it to 75 and be done with it), but keep in mind that these guidelines were developed in 1966. Think back to Season 5 of Mad Men and ask yourself exactly whose bodies and clothes these engineers probably had in mind.
Obviously, it was men. And not only do men's clothes tend to be quite a bit cozier than women's, but female bodies actually produce less heat than men's during the same activities, resulting in a whole lot of shivering secretaries. This theory was confirmed when a couple of scientists asked women to put on socks, underwear, T-shirts, and sweatpants and sit at a computer desk, in what was definitely a legitimate scientific study and not a bizarre fetish. Then they blasted the women with different temperatures and measured the temperatures of their skin, which were indeed cooler than men's in the same conditions. Earlier studies indicated that women generally preferred temperatures about 5 degrees cooler than men (72 versus 77), and now we know why. It sounds like the solution is to just split the difference at 75. That, or start allowing women to wear sweatpants to work.
Christa Brunt/iStock/Getty Images
It doesn't matter how cool you are -- if someone puts a little stick in your hand and a windmill in front of you, you will be down for some putt-putt. Sure, it's a silly game that even toddlers can play, but the same could be said for many video games, and if you can't bring yourself to enjoy either of those things, you have no soul. Also like video games, it has a long history involving keeping women out of things.
The first miniature golf course, opened in Scotland in 1867, looked very different from today's putt-putt courses. There were no pirates, no ice cream, no maddening pendulums for you to insist must be rigged and swear a blood vengeance against. They just kind of looked like golf courses that had been shrunk down to a fraction of their normal size.
Millar & Lang, Glascow & London
If you wanted a windmill on a hole, you had to ask a gentleman to kindly whip out his natural one.
What was this, a golf course for ants? Close! Since women were considered "too delicate or too modest to swing a club past their shoulders," as The Washington Post describes it, the St. Andrews' Ladies Putting Club was created so that the wives of golfers could get in on the fun too (i.e., get off the dudes' asses) without disgracing themselves with all that vulgar swinging. You know, kind of like how you let your dog pretend to drive the car.
The delicious tackiness associated with mini-golf today was a complete coincidence. It started with Frieda Carter, whose husband owned various properties, including a golf course and a whimsical Tennessee hotel called the Fairyland Inn. When they installed a mini-golf course at the Fairyland, Freida decorated it basically with shit she had lying around: random tiles, broken pipes, hollow logs, and, of course, gnomes:
Garnet Carter Chapin
"Wait, gnome? We never put a gnome ..."
This was simply, The New York Times says, "a way of reinforcing the Never Never Land atmosphere the inn strove to create," something a little more fun for the "golf widows." As women have been doing throughout history, she was just making the best of a stupid situation. But the Fairyland course became popular with people of all ages and genital configurations, other courses copied her design, and now we can punch infuriating clowns to our hearts' content.
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