Postwar Effects on Women
The "feminine mystique" that American culture promotes is entirely dependent upon its ideas, beliefs, and needs of the time. American culture has always tended to influence women into doing what the day and age required. After men went to war there was a gap in the work force that needed to be filled. During World War II women were the most available to join the work force. Due to the discouragement to raise families during the Great Depression and the fact that most men of age had entered the war, many women were left without families to look after and men to take to take care of them. "Most women toiled at unskilled jobs; most were young, single, and without children" (307). This lack of family and funds left women with no other place to go besides the factories. Women's need for work was nursed along by the media as well as the public.
"A rapidly expanding war economy absorbed most of the reserve labor force," (307) yet it still was not enough, the economy demanded a larger work force. This demand worked in cooperation with the availability of the women of the time. "'Commando Mary' and 'Rosie the Riveter' became symbols of women who heeded their country's call" (307). There were many enticements luring women to join the work force. These enticements included higher war wages, more available time and opportunity to work, and wartime restrictions on leisure activities.
"Despite the general expectation that women would return to their home after the war, female laborers did not simply drop their wrenches and pick up frying pans" (310). After the war many women continued to work outside the home primarily to help support their families. After the war 28% of the labor force was female compared to the 24% prior to the war. When the war was over nearly one million women were laid off and another 2.25 million voluntarily left. These female losses in the work force were offset by the gain of 2.75 million women into the work force. "When women who had been laid off managed to return to work, they often lost their seniority and had to accept reduced pay in lower job categories" (310). Due to the severe segregation by gender, the postwar economic life for women was appalling.
Postwar American life became organized around marriage and family. As men came back from the war they merged with the peacetime economy, taking jobs away from women and sending them back to the home. With the demise of Mary and Rosie 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 a "cozy domestic life" (312).
"Almost overnight, television became the preeminent mass medium, carrying imaging--feminine or otherwise-of American culture into the home" (313). 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. 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 only by repetition the children learned that men and women had different roles in society. It was this learned behavior which carried the new "feminine mystique" from generation to generation."
As many have said before "history repeats itself" with WWII as well as WWI, the return of peace meant that "women faced layoffs, renewed wage discrimination, and segregation into female-only jobs" (307). 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.