Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Servy-Etta Mystique

Ah, the napkin lady, she is a stern mistress, is she not?

I bought this Servy-Etta Napkin Holder at a flea market in Brooklyn many years ago because I thought it was cute and it came with the original box. But in all that time, I have never managed to weave "luncheon-sized napkins" through the slats in her very severe columnar skirt. What a time suck! This is the sort of thing that should remind everyone who in any way idealizes/venerates/reveres the idea of the Midcentury Hausfrau that, despite all the cute dresses and graphics, it was not all that—time and brainpower were frittered away on nonsensical tasks like this one, and is it any wonder that Betty Draper is such a seething head case? Who wouldn't have been? How did our mothers survive it?

As a collector of vintage Betty Crocker cookbooks and cute midcentury whatnots, I sometimes feel compelled to remind myself of this point, and it seems only right to make it on the much-ballyhooed 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique. This napkin lady was a weapon of oppression—just like irons and this thing women feel compelled to do called "folding the laundry." But I'll save my anti-ironing and laundry-folding diatribe for another day. Today it's all about the tyranny of the napkin lady. Who I still think is very cute, even if her skirt isn't as voluminous as it's supposed to be—the sleek silhouette becomes her.

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