Back in the olden days, women with children who didn’t live in big cities or in the countryside were referred to as suburban matrons. The suburban matron lived (obviously) in the suburbs, was married to a man, was middle-aged, had children and drove a Chevy station wagon.
The word matron, while implying a certain frumpiness, also conveyed a meaning of dignity and an established social position. It carried a frisson of classiness and stability. Then came the 1960s and 1970s and the social upheaval of the times rejected the appeal of belonging to a group of middle-aged women of the establishment. The frisson was gone.
The Chevy station wagon was replaced by Volvos, Toyota and Honda mini-vans, and SUVs, including the Chevy Suburban, for the matron-on-the-go. Bras were burned, frequently by those who most needed them, and it took a village – rather than a traditional couple – to raise a child.
Additionally, to the baby boomers, with their fixation of holding on to eternal youth, the notion of belonging to the middle aged is anathema. Never mind that around the world, life expectancy is now around age 65 for men and 70 for women. That means that one qualifies as being middle aged by the tender age of 32 1/2 years or by one’s 35th birthday, depending on one’s gender.
The suburban matron, while continuing to exist, became invisible.
Ever since, social observers have been trying to come up with a term to describe the particular demographic group of middle-aged suburban mothers married to men, much like myself. First came The Stepford Wives movie, which even got remade. More recently, there were the soccer moms. Now we have security moms.
I had to read the WaPo article to find out what they meant by the latter. After all, any five year old will tell you that moms are security-minded. It turns out security moms are suburban matrons that worry about terrorism. A cliche is born.
All cliches considered, I’ve felt for a long time that women have easier lives than men. Being a man in today’s world strikes me as a most difficult position. And men are not free from being typecast, either: there are the NASCAR dads.
At least that sounds more fun than being referred to as the man in the grey flannel suit, a.k.a., organization man.
Update: Lileks reviews the Fifties, the decade when “Adolescents were young grownups, expected to adhere to the same general rules of behavior”.