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American Women During Wwii History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

During World War II men left for the battle fields and the women and children stayed home to take care of our great nation. At the time America was leading the industrial revolution therefore, American factories were called upon to produce supplies for the war for not only themselves but for many of our allies. With the men off at war their jobs at the factors were unoccupied. As a result women were needed to replace the men in the factories to keep the nation running smoothly. From this point on ideas about the American woman would be changed forever, as they stepped up and took on the industry during this time of great hardship for our nation.

During the war the amount of women in the work force doubled. Women took on roles such as gun makers, plumbers, nurses, and ship makers. [1] Through this time period women gained their own wages, and in return were able to feel even more important and patriotic than ever before. [2] However after the war ended in 1945 the men returned home and went back into the workforce. Additionally, because the war ended, production slowed in the factories and there was no longer a need for such a huge work force. Therefore, the women were the first to be cut. After gaining so much from their work experience, the women were not happy about this. “These prospective postwar women workers did not, for the most part, contemplate out-migration from their areas of wartime employment. Over 90 percent of them, in most areas, looked forward to continued employment after the war in the same areas where they had worked during the war period.” [3] 

Rosie the Riveter, an iconic image for women in the 1930’s and 40’s, encouraged women to step up and take on male roles in the work place. Her slogan “We Can Do It!” along with the image of her muscular arms shows us that the roles of women in the United States had changed drastically since that of the early 1900’s and it was needed in order to support the war. It showed women that they are just as capable of doing the things that men did every day. During World War II, roles and ideas of women changed in many ways that affected more than just the women, but also the entire nation and how women would be seen for generations to come.

Naturally, these changes greatly affected women as a whole and there is little doubt that the roles women took on in society change the outlook of what women could do and their place in the workforce. By gaining power and respect at home during the war they had become the primary support of the American family, a role the male usually played. Women had been fighting for the right to work since the early 1900’s and now were finally getting their shot, even though they really didn’t have a choice. Now, due in large part to this new found appreciation of women, they were able to fight back against discrimination helping ease women into the roles they have in society today thanks to World War II.

The women within the work force during World War II enjoyed working outside the home. Augusta Clawson, a housewife turned ship builder, writes about her excitement on her first day of work. She writes about overcoming fears and becoming educated in welding. She explains, “I, who hate heights, climbed stairs after stairs after stairs till I thought I must be close to the sun…I, who hate confined spaces, went thorough narrow corridors…” [4] Here you see firsthand the growth of one individual, Augusta. Augusta gained respect and confidence for herself through her opportunity to work in the shipyards, and there is no doubt in my mind that the people around her didn’t take notice of this and begin to change their opinions about female roles in the work place.

Even though the labor was hard, many find it worth it due to the financial rewards. Glenn Martin tells his 4,000 women employees that, “You’ll do a man’s job and you’ll get a man’s paycheck.” [5] For the first time women were getting paid, and this gave them an enormous sense of empowerment to bring back to their families. No longer was it just the man’s job to provide for the family, a woman could do the same. For those women who stayed in the work force after the war, alongside their husbands, were able to bring home an amount of money not seen before in the middle class. However, some women no matter how badly they wanted to stay in the work forces were able to.

After the war, many women were laid off and some voluntarily left. However, these female losses in the work force were offset by the tremendous gain in women who wanted to stay. Due to the severe segregation by gender, after the war the economic life for women plummeted. American life after the war became organized around marriage and family. As men came back from the war they immersed themselves back into their old job, taking them back away from women and sending them back into the home. With Rosie gone, came new role models whose ideas and beliefs were focused around the home and not the workplace. This was due to the fact that during the war many writers were female and supported involvement in the labor force and after the war many of these women’s jobs were taken by men with the desire of the old way of life before the war. Almost overnight, television became the largest mass medium, carrying imaging and ideas of American culture into the home as it still does today.

Television shows displayed the personification of what a husband thought a wife should be. An example of this was the show “Ozzie and Harriet” which showed a warm-hearted, attractive, submissive woman who was only competent within the confines of her own home. [6] Children who grew up seeing this behavior in their own home as well as on television tended to use that lifestyle as a model. Without any external reinforcement and the continual repetition, the children learned that men and women had different roles in society. It was this learned behavior that carried the ideas of gender from generation to generation. As many have said before “history repeats itself” with World War II as well as World War I, the return of peace meant that women faced layoffs, renewed wage discrimination, and segregation into female-only jobs.

As women continued to fight to stay in the work force the media of the 50’s and 60’s continued to portray women as housewives and mothers. The media has always influenced people’s ideas and values, whether it was a wartime poster of Rosie or a magazine article depicting sweet, submissive housewives, or a TV show with June Cleaver taking care of the boys and her home.

Through this historical shaping of the female gender, it’s clear that World War II got women’s foot in the door in the industrial world and changed the idea of gender roles in American Society. In the end I believe that the ideas of women changes dramatically during and after World War II. The simple fact that men had to use television to attempt to continue to suppress women shows you that the ideas of women were changing and gaining power throughout this time frame.

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