The American education system sure has changed a lot over the decades. Today, girls and boys are essentially treated as equals, meaning that they're taught that they can aspire to be whatever they want. This is obviously not the way that it was back in the fifties and sixties and even into the seventies, when it was pretty much a given that most girls were going to get married, pop out some kids, and settle into their designed roles as wives and homemakers. Kino Video, in conjunction with the AV Geeks film archive, have compiled a collection of educational films from decades past that show just how the system, such as it was, prepared young women of the era to prepare for an exciting life full of cooking, cleaning, sewing and keeping up appearances.
Here's a look at this disc's curriculum in the order it plays:
Things quick off nicely with 1955's You're Growing Up, a color short from Bailey Films that runs just shy of ten minutes. This informative picture explains to us the various phases of human growth and what we can expect to encounter as we evolve from infants to adults. The highlight of this one is a girl trying to dance. The narrator explains to us that she has big feet for her age, but don't worry, she'll grow into them.
The Wonders of Reproduction is a Moody Institute piece from 1958. This eleven minute color short follows two boys and a girl who head to the local 'Mr. Fixit' shop where the kindly shopkeeper lets them into the backroom to check out his aquariums. Here he explains the mating processes of the fish he keeps, some of which is shown on camera. When it's all finished up, the kids decide to go down to the creek and get some fish of their own.
Growing Girls, a twelve minute black and white piece from the Film Producers Guild made in 1949, has a rather stoic sounding female British narrator explain to us how girls change into women. We see girls run around and play, go swimming, and then through the wonders of primitive animation, we learn about their reproductive organs and about how baby's grow inside the womb. We also learn that the best way to dispose of used maxi-pads is to wrap them in paper and burn them!
The four minute Let s Make a Sandwich was made by the American Gas Association in 1950. It's a full color quickie in which a young lady named Sally Gasco is shown by her mouth how quick and easy it is to cook for the boys using their new gas stove. Not only does this blatant commercial explain to us the wonder's of gas cooking, but it provides a lovely, if rather vague, recipe for tuna treats as well!
1955's Why Study Home Economics?, a ten minute black and white film from Centron, follows two girls, Janice and Carol, who speak to their home economics teacher, Miss Jenkins, about why they'd want to study home economics in the first place. Miss Jenkins explains very matter-of-factly about all of the opportunities this will open up for them and how much better their lives will be if they take these classes. This is basically a short, educational film about shortchanging your education, encouraging these girls to get married and be homemakers.
Up next is As Others See Us, a Social Science Films production from 1953. This ten minute color picture follows the teenagers of Missouri's Webster Groves High School as they demonstrate to us the importance of social etiquette. Sponsored by the Dairy Council of St. Louis, we learn why manners and good graces are important, and why you'll want to wear clean, well presented clothes. Ever see The Stepford Wives? Their offspring appeared to be alive and well in the Missouri of the fifties...
1951's Improve Your Personality is a ten minute black and white Coronet production that begins by explaining just what exactly personality is before moving on and explaining why it's important to have a good, effective personality and what you can do to improve it to avoid things like social alienation and loneliness. Lots of quirky flow charts are used to illustrate various points while stagey bad acting provides some interesting reenactments to compliment the male narrator's various points.
Pattern for Smartness is a Hartley Productions color film from 1948 Color that runs for a lengthy eighteen minutes. Here we learn about how you can make your own clothes which will be just as fashionable as those bought at a store by using patterns. It's all structured around two teenagers (who look to be much older than they're supposed to be), Johnny and Betty, who are hanging out in Betty's house working on her dress when all of a sudden models appear. It all winds up with the girls giving a fashion show to benefit the school basketball team.
1967's Girls Are Better Than Ever is a thirteen minute color pictures from Chicago's Douglas Film Industries that's presented in part by the American Dairy Association and the Lifetime Sports Foundation! The narrator points out a girl that isn't particularly beautiful and explains that she's great because she's got vitality! From there we see all the great things that girls can do, like jump rope, make toast, and play tennis to have a fuller and richer life. Later we learn about the importance of diet as we see a girl slather relish on a hotdog. Later on, a girl plays with a puppy. Weird.
You're The Judge is an eighteen minute color film made sometimes in the early sixties by Cascade Pictures sponsored by Crisco. Here Sally and her friend decide to hold in a party in hopes of getting Bill and Sam to come over and hang out. Sadly, Bill and Sam want to go bowling instead. At any rate, they decide to cook in hopes of wooing the guys away from the lanes like the culinary black widows that they are! Sally, with her big beehive hair, wanders around for much of the film holding a big cake in her hand. Later that day, mom helps them cook, using lots of Crisco in each and every recipe. Yum!
The longest and preachiest film in this collection is the twenty-seven minute Worth Waiting For, a full color production from 1962 made by the fine folks at Brigham Young University. Here, though some very warbled sound, we learn about why it's important to wait to have sex. See, Julie and Joe have been going steady for two years and they're thinking about taking their relationship to the next level. Various know it all types talk to Julie and Joe about their aspirations to start a family and how it'll totally screw up their lives. The highlight of the film is when the football coach wisely talks Joe out of taking a job that pays a whole sixty dollars a week.
The most recent film in the set is 1982's Saying No: A Few Words to Young Women About Sex, a sixteen minute color production from Crommie & Crommie. When the film begins, a dude and a girl are making out on the couch. He goes too far and makes her uncomfortable but he won't stop pressuring her to put out. These people appear to be in their late thirties, early forties maybe, and are probably old enough to do whatever they want but their situation leads into a narrated bit about how girls who have sex too early will probably get gonorrhea or get knocked up. Good times!
The last film is 1966's Attack, a fourteen minute production by the Taft Broadcasting group presented in glorious black and white. This completely freaky short talks about how women are routinely raped, attacked and murdered in the most sudden and brutal ways, much to the dismay of the cops, who appear to be powerless to stop much of this activity. From here, we learn a few simple ways for women to defend themselves from would be rapists and thugs. A guy with a big moustache who kind of looks like a rapist himself explores the various options women have to use violence to their advantage and avoid becoming a 'victim of injury or death.' Various methods demonstrated are whacking dudes in the head with your purse, kicking a guy in the shin with your heeled shoe, elbowing your attacker in the stomach, scratching your attackers eyes out with your fingernails, biting your attacker, or even stabbing your attacker with whatever may be in your purse - a comb, a tube of lipstick, or a pencil. It's also a good idea to kick your attacker in the balls and to scream as loudly as you possibly can.
Regardless of your gender, if you've got any interest in the evolution of American society you'll probably find this bizarre cinematic time capsule as fascinating as you will unintentionally hilarious. Saying that this material hasn't aged well is a bit of an understatement but as a reflection of where the country was at and how it generally viewed the role of women it's rather invaluable. Not only do we get to take a trip back in time to see how women were prepared for domestic duties but we also learn how they were meant to be groomed socially, how they were taught to behave in a certain way and how they were expected to take certain steps to make themselves more attractive to others.
Like the Fantoma collections of educational shorts that came out on DVD years ago, Kino's disc provides plenty of entertainment value even if its educational worth at this point in the game is pretty debatable. Not only is it all rather amusing in a cute and antiquated way, however, it's also quite interesting in that it does manage to give us a peek into a long gone educational system. If nothing else, it shows us just how far we've come, even if we've still got a long ways to go.
The various films collected on How To Be A Woman are all presented in their original 1.33.1 fullframe aspect ratios. As you'd probably expect from a collection like this, quality varies from one short to the next. None of them appear to have undergone any extensive restoration but that's not necessarily a bad thing as the skips and scratches give you the look and feel of how these would have been projected. Anyone old enough to remember watching 8mm and 16mm films in school will get a nostalgia rush from this stuff, and as creepy as it might be at times (these films essentially infer that all women should act as robots) seeing them with a bit of a roughness to them somehow seems appropriate. Expect some color fading and mild to medium print damage throughout, but hey, everything's watchable enough and there's really not much to complain about.
Likewise, the English language Dolby Digital Mono tracks fluctuate a bit from one movie to the next but you never have to strain to understand what's being said. There's hiss here and there and you'll probably notice some pops on the soundtrack but again, it sort of replicates that low-fi classroom feel and it works in the context of the presentation.
In the extra features section you'll find two goofy bonus films, the first of which is a nine minute piece from 1977 entitled Redbook... Eighteen To Thirty-Four! which is an interesting, if incredibly dated, look at the marketing of the semi-famous woman's interest magazine which is still going strong today both in print and online! The second bonus film is a thirteen minute piece from the early sixties entitled The Joy of Living With Fragrance. Produced by Avon, this short explains to would be perfumed ladies just where those aromatic scents come from and why they'll want to wear them. Both of these are a kick and absolutely worth checking out if you have an interest in incredibly out of date propaganda.
Kino has also supplied a lengthy on camera video interview with A/V Geeks founder, Skip Elsheimer, who talks about his esoteric collection of old educational films, how he came to start collecting these types of movies and why he has an interest in the material. What's amazing about this piece is the footage of Skip's house where he's literally got reels of film stashed all over the place.
In the context of the material it's easy to let the less than perfect presentation slide as Kino and the AV Geeks guys have assembled a pretty impressive collection of material here. It's simultaneously eerie, informative and hilarious, making it perfect viewing for anyone with an interest in societal evolution or the America of the fifties and sixties. Here's hoping for future installments! Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.