Gender Studies

Kino goes back to the classroom with 'How to Be a Man' and 'How to Be a Woman'

Gender Studies

Presumably, the hyperproductive parents of the baby boom generation knew what they were doing under the covers – separate beds be damned. But if they passed on that know-how to the next generation, it's not apparent from watching Kino's newly released two-disc series of educational films from the Fifties and Sixties, called How to Be a Man and How to Be a Woman and curated by the A/V Geeks' Skip Elsheimer. Frankly, if these films were all the kids had to go on, it's a wonder the boom didn't go bust in a generation's time. Of course, sex – or more significantly, avoiding sex – isn't all the youth of America had to worry about. There was also school, puberty, personal appearance, manners, ethics, and the age-old issue of how to properly assemble a sandwich. – James Renovitch (Man) & Kimberley Jones (Woman)

'There are sandwiches, and there are sandwiches' – 'Let's Make a Sandwich' (1950)

Woman: Technically, what happens in "Let's Make a Sandwich" is a tutorial on how to make a sandwich, but not any sandwich you've seen before or wish to ever see again: boiled tuna, milk, melted cheese, and Tabasco served on rye.

Man: The biggest slap in the face being it's an open-faced sandwich.

Woman: Oh! Hey, James.

Man: Hey Kimmie. What else did you learn from the How to Be a Woman DVD? My disc was too preoccupied with sports and juvenile delinquency to bother with cooking.

Woman: Well, I learned that if boys are left to their own devices, they're happy to subsist on hamburgers and hot dogs, but it's the woman's responsibility to create something special in the kitchen, like the aforementioned Tuna Rarebit.

Actually, there were some worthy lessons in "Why Study Home Economics?" (1955) about the importance of food nutrition and that there's more to home economics than just food preparation. There's also food buying, food storing, food handling, and food presentation.

Man: And food competition: Let's not forget that Iron Chef-style beat-down two high school girls gave their love interests in "You're the Judge." After clearly besting the boys at cooking biscuits, fried chicken, and an apple pie (brought to you by Crisco!), the girls threw the game.

Woman: Well, false ego inflation is one of the few tools we women have at landing a man. Speaking of "man," that's only nine letters short of "manipulation." Which segues nicely, don't you think?

'It will probably continue to be a man's world when ordering for a long, long time. You might as well learn this in junior high.' – 'As Others See Us' (1953)

Man: "Yes, I'll have the hamburger/hot dog combo plate, and she'll have the Tuna Rarebit." Ironic, isn't it, that you're the food expert, but I'm the one making the decisions in public?

Woman: Yeah, you only think you're making the decisions. Turns out another handy trick in the lady toolbox is manipulation. Check out this frankly chilling piece of advice from "Improve Your Personality" (1951) on how to get your way: "Find out how to satisfy the other person's motives."

Man: The makers of that little gem of a film equate a person's ability to get what they want with "personality." The advice to "concentrate on the other person" is certainly valid, but when a teenager uses that concentration to Jedi-mind-trick his mother into lending him a car for the spring hop, you're heading into Children of the Corn territory.

Woman: You know, "personality" is just eight letters short of "personality disorder." Which reminds me ....

Man: We get it. You can count.

Woman: Yeah, that comes standard with the toolbox. One of our "secret weapons."

Man: Are we gonna "air quote" this whole conversation?

Woman: Moving on.

'All your warped emotional needs seem small against the possibility of going to prison.' – 'Moment of Decision' (1961)

Your Body During Adolescence
"Your Body During Adolescence"

Man: Whereas How to Be a Woman is busy instructing girls how not to catch a chill while on their monthly bleed ....

Woman: Delicate creatures, we. Although I kind of loved it when "Growing Girls" (1949) said we should wrap our "soiled pads" in newspaper and torch them.I guess the bra burners had to start somewhere.

Man: Plus, you can warm yourself over the soothing embers of your flaming sanitary napkins.

Woman: Multitask!

Man: Dudes can multitask, too. Take for instance little Paul in "Fears of Children" (1951), who manages to piss off his dad, encourage his mom's coddling, look like a wuss in front of his friends, and be the creepiest kid on the block. Drowning your teddy bear in the sink and brandishing scissors with a dazed look in your eye will give you that kind of rep.

Woman: More like "Fears of Parents That Little Paulie Will Grow Up to Be an Axe Murderer." Did I mention this one was sponsored by the National Association for Mental Health?

Man: The classroom films on How to Be a Man are mostly about boys acting out and the psychological underpinnings of their deviant behavior. Bobby's like the baby monster that grows up into the teenage hoods in "Moment of Decision" and "Car Theft," the two – count 'em, two – educational films devoted to what was apparently an epidemic of car thieving among American teens.

Woman: The best way to keep your car from getting stolen? Taking the keys out of the ignition.

Man: Turns out delinquents have a hard time keeping their keys out of the proverbial ignition in general.

Woman: Ah, you refer to "Dance, Little Children" (1961), or as I like to think of it, CSI: Syphilis, in which a tough-talking gumshoe tries to hunt down every VD-riddled kid in a 100-mile radius.

Man: I'll go ahead and take the heat for that one. After all, the male species is a charming beast. Case in point:

'Do you know how much I spent tonight? If you love me, you'll prove it.' – 'Saying No: A Few Words to Young Women About Sex' (1982)

Scenes from Attack
Scenes from "Attack"

Woman: "Saying No" – which is about exactly what you think it is – is one of the rare films on How to Be a Woman to really explicitly talk about sex. No surprise there, considering it was produced two to three decades after all the other films. The other, earlier films are far more coy, and they pretty much divide into two camps: the ones about how to be alluring to the opposite sex, and the ones that caution you about what to do once the opposite sex is, well, good and sexed.

Man: It wouldn't be a problem if all women stayed the before in the before-and-after short "Pattern for Smartness" (1948), which gives ladies step-by-step instruction in the "know-how look" via dressmaking and poise. The girl with no know-how is doomed to a life of "grimy shoes, her slip showing, and a sweater big enough for Babe Ruth."

Woman: Shit. Is my slip showing again? Oh wait, I'm not wearing a slip.

Man: And don't think I didn't notice. Now the women with the "know-how look," on the other hand, they have to know how to fend us off. Which is why "Attack" (1966) is so helpful.

Woman: Right. This instructional on what to do if little Paulie has graduated to lurking in dark alleys has some pretty standard advice about the elbow jab and the instep stomp (it helps if you're in stilettos; sensible flats will get you nowhere), but the real surprise is what an arsenal a woman holds in her handbag. Beyond the obvious nail file and ballpoint pen, you should also be packing an envelope of cayenne pepper and several tubes of lipstick. The lipstick only works, though, if you're cornered by the world's slowest would-be rapist: It's gonna take some time for you to uncap, twist, then jab the tube into your attacker's eye, as instructed.

Man: And don't forget the narrator's advice to scream all holy hell.

Woman: Good point, Jamesy. In these educational films, women aren't always encouraged to use their voices. But occasionally some surprisingly progressive ideas will rise to the surface, like this little nugget of wisdom from "Saying No":"Over history women have had to say yes to lots of things they didn't want to." The point being, welcome to the age of empowerment, the era of the almighty "No." I'm a big fan myself. Go on, try me.

Man: How about cooking me a Tuna Rarebit while you help me jack this car, and afterward I can share one of my STDs with you?

Woman: No.

Man: Yeah, I saw that coming.

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educational films, classroom films, How to Be a Man, How to Be a Woman, A / V Geeks, Skip Elsheimer, "Saying No: A Few Words to Young Women About Sex", "Let's Make a Sandwich", "Why Study Home Economics?", "Improve Your Personality", "Pattern for Smartness", "Fears of Children", "Dance, Little Children", "Moment of Decision", "Car Theft"

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