Women’s 1950’s Roles

Throughout history, the extent of authority that rightfully belongs to women has served a controversial topic among Americans from coast to coast. Just when America began feeling the stabilization of the economy after recovering from the depression, it soon endured another significant change.

With the World War II draft in progress, thousands of men would soon leave the workplace and with the nation at war, millions of dollars would now become part of the war effort. During World War II, women were employed in large numbers in factory jobs to replace men in the military.The intent, however, was for women to return to traditional pursuits after the war ended and men returned home. When it finally did end, there was a significant drop in female workforce participation and the roles of women became strained for most of the 1950s.

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Women’s’ positions in post war America were being propelled out of the workplace and domesticated as attributable to the influence of pop culture and propaganda, the economic change within the post war society, and the ever-increasing baby boom. Nevertheless the growing reality that the idyllic nuclear family was virtually unattainable had surfaced.During World War II, women transitioned from the traditional role of simply the caregiver of the home to both the caregiver and provider. All women were encouraged by organized propaganda campaigns to become more economical during the war, urged to take everyday cutbacks that would ultimately help contribute to war bonds and raise both money and morale for the war effort through sacrifice.

Sacrifice was stressed during World War II, and with the birth of “Rosie the Riveter,” many women felt the need to make that sacrifice.Rosie the Riveter wasn’t just an average women, she was able to accomplish and invent things the average housewife could not while still remaining glamorous. She symbolized change in America and the patriotic duty to work. Even if women did not get paid for their labor, it was understood that working was a necessary cost to winning the war.

From 1910 until about 1940, women’s employment rate was as low as 13%. By June of 1942, females held 55% of all jobs, as many as 19 million women were employed by 1945. ( They worked in fields that seemed only suitable for men prior to the war.Such positions included all from manufacturers of heavy machinery to welders in shipyards.

During World War II, the numbers continued to grow with the help of propaganda posters pressuring more and more women to join the war effort; however, towards the end of the war, fear continued to grow within America of post war unemployment (Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II ). Men were quick to snag jobs back from women upon their return from war. All of the progress women made and help they contributed was soon forgotten, and almost all women were laid off and replaced by men.It has been reported that “Studies of postwar culture found that government propaganda, popular magazines, and films reinforced traditional concepts of femininity and instructed women to subordinate their interests to those of returning male veterans” (Meyerowitz 1994).

This led to the creation of the “ideal housewife” and nuclear family. After years of gaining acceptance in the workforce, being told it was a women’s duty to return home was extremely difficult. World War II and the introduction of Rosie the Riveter provided an opportunity for women to participate.When the war ended and employers began to reestablish gender roles and discrimination in the workplace, the development of the 1950’s nuclear family was viewed as a justification to emphasize the “proper role” for women.

Soon stereotypes of the idealistic “Good Wife,” were portrayed through popular television programs such as Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver. Every man strived to find the “all American wife,” in a woman. Popular Culture coerced people into thinking that the American dream lifestyle was always attainable.Hollywood introduced these television shows in order to portray what a good family should consist of: a mother and father parenting children while living in suburbia.

These fictional families provided positive role models for parents as well as their children. The newfound idea of waiting on the husband hand and foot trapped the “all-American” women within the home. The only This made the situation seem that much more oppressive and restrained woman from gaining any form of individualism whatsoever. (The Good Wife’s Guide).

Returning home from war, the economic view was not promising.Many Americans feared that the end of the war and sudden drop of military spending would again evoke the pitiable misfortunes of the Great Depression. However, with much surprise, consumer demand fueled extreme economic growth and post World War II triggered an economic boom. The nation’s gross national product rose from about $200,000 million in 1940 to $300,000 million in 1950.

(Post War Economy: 1945-1960). With the new national wealth, the suburban lifestyle became attainable by the middle class and became surrounded by conformity.Suddenly, a women’s role in life became nothing more than mothering children, taking care of the home, and caring for her husband. Stereotyped mainly by three ideas, a women’s place is in the home, women are dependent on their husband, and they do not have the authority to make important decisions.

Stereotyping and marking in a general sense only continued to hurt these women internally, forcing them to deal with their issues with a fake smile because they were expected to portray a happy home, family, and life. It was not until the early 1960’s that people finally began to realize the toll that this took on many women.In the classic study, “The Feminine Mystique,” Betty Friedan took on the “ideal woman” stereotype “Held that women could find fulfillment only in sexual passivity, male domination, and nurturing maternal love. It denied women a career or any commitment outside the home and narrowed women’s world down to the home; cut her role back to housewife (Friedan 1963).

Friedan took into account the issues faced by housewives. These women were forced to undergo extreme change whether they wanted to or not. Conforming was vital if one hoped for acceptance by the 1950s’ society.The feelings of leading a purposeless life led many housewives into depression and even drug abuse.

The dramatic change from independent women in the workplace to a mere housewife brought down thousands of women; those who resisted the change were either ostracized or interrogated. As a woman in the 1950s, working meant nothing more than being a businessman’s secretary; work meant very little pay and very little respect. With the sudden rise in spirit and the economy, many Americans started families. With American soldiers returning home, women became known for breeding.

With birth rates sky rocketing, the post-war era became known as the baby boom. Interestingly, so many children were born between the years 1946 and 1960 that today, a baby boomer turns 50 every 7 seconds. ( United States History – The Postwar Economy: 1945-1960). For many wives, this was just a further handicap on dreams and aspirations.

Although, they dreamed of families, this was only furthered the reality that they would never amount to anything other than a mother and housewife. The baby boom was a time of social growth and expansion however it only ambushed the housewife and magnified their submissive role.Post-war America was characterized by the loss of reputability for women nationwide. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, and consequently America’s intervention into the war, women finally began to see rightful treatment in the work force.

With fathers, husbands, and sons overseas serving the country, women had the responsibility of stepping in to take over. But to their discontent, female positions were thrust aside once men returned home. Women had been given a taste of impartiality, therein lying the inception of the ever continuing struggle for gender equality.

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