Abstract: The World Turned Upside Down: The Public Face of Post-1960s Corporate Wives

Christiane Diehl Taylor


Between 1890 and the late 1950s and early 1960s, harmony reigned between big business America's expectations of corporate wives and popular culture's depictions of these women. Large firms expected the ideal corporate wife to fulfill three business-related functions: the evaluative, the motivational, and the diplomatic. Popular media reinforced these company expectations by creating two antithetical depictions of the wives—the helpmate and the torpedo. Yet with the revitalization of the women's movement, the relationship between corporate expectations and media depictions turned dissonant. What corporations still saw as acceptable roles, the media increasingly portrayed as dysfunctional. As illustrated by Maryanne Vandervelde's self-help book, The Changing Life of the Corporate Wife, Iain Macnab's novel, The 42nd Year of Mrs. Charles Prescott, and the movie, The Stepford Wives, the helpmate became the dysfunctional wife and the torpedo, the self-actualized women. Thus within the popular culture of the late 1960s and early 1970s, corporate wives found themselves in a "world turned upside-down."