Performing Femininity, LLC
Published on February 19, 1963, The Feminine Mystique is widely credited for second-wave feminism in America. In the book, Betty Friedan describes “the problem that has no name” as the unhappiness felt by suburban housewives on account of their inability to live up to the feminine ideal. This problem was amplified by advertising. Ads depicted beautiful, smiling women in the kitchen, happy to be the domestic caregiver. Mid-century food trends are inherently linked to femininity.
Perfection Salad is named after an actual aspic recipe. The appeal of Jell-O salad was that it is a salad completely in control of itself. Taste was unimportant as long as it looked beautiful. The ubiquity of instant Jello-O should have meant less domestic labor, but society pressured women to add more work into the cooking process, so as not to be perceived as a lazy wife or uncaring mother. Elaborate Jello-O dishes were a physical representation of the pressure to perform femininity.
Jello-O salads have mostly fallen out of favor, but performing femininity has not. One means of performing femininity is wearing nail polish. From a young age, my mother stressed the importance of having “presentable” hands and unchipped nail polish. Nail polish names are amusing and absurd, but they reflect society’s impossible expectations of women. Women should be hyper-sexual yet innocent. Perfect yet carefree. Independent yet desirable to men.