during the war years for many men hoped thatmarriage would defer conscription to the war. Thisalone suggests that women’s roles as wives andmothers were still dominant during the war becausethe nation witnessed a 25 percent rise in thepopulation aged five and under. The popularity ofmarriage and the traditional gender roles thatmarriage carried, was exploited during the war.For example, the Office of War Information,established in the summer of 1942, worked closelywith the media. President Roosevelt soon deniedthe OWI was being used for propaganda , yet onlymonths after the OWI was formed, wartimepropaganda began to likened women’s war work todomestic chores. These trends serve to reinforcethe view that the government’s immediate role forwomen was to serve their country by, in the wordsof one media campaign “doing a man’s job so thathe may fight to help finish this war sooner.” Oneof the most significant departures fromtraditional gender roles was the enlistment ofwomen in the armed services.
From 1941 onwards,military minds in Washington stonewalled anyonewho had the temerity to suggest that women shouldbe in the military. Politicians in typicalgerrymandering fashion, made flimsy promises ofconsidering an auxiliary of sorts while secretlytrying to figure out how to stop American women’spotential influence in the military .Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced abill on May 28th , 1941 to establish a Women’sArmy Auxiliary Corps, and the bill eventuallysucceeded because there was no hint of full statusfor women.
The actions taken by the governmentreflected their reluctance to create long-termtrends for female participation in the militaryafter the war. When WAAC was formed in 1942, womenfaced difficulties with their male superiors, foras General George Marshall later reflected, womenin the military encountered: ” a great reluctanceof army officers generally, particularly those inhigh control, to the interjection of a femaleorganization.” The recruitment of women in themilitary was based more on the general wartimestrategy of ” maximum utilization of manpower,technology and industrial capacity” , rather thanany genuine attempts to advance women’s rights inAmerican society. Neither did military reformundermine the ongoing racism that black womenfaced, for black nurses served in segregatedmilitary camps during the war. Conflict surfacedas to the exact role that women were to undertakein the military.
Women’s corps underminedconventional wisdom about a woman’s “natural”role. Thus, propaganda played a large role inlimiting the significance of women in the militaryfor war films emphasised that the army neededwomen’s “delicate hands” and required women inhospital work because ” there is a need in a manfor comfort and attention that only a woman canfill.” After World War II returning servicewomendid not recieve a hero’s welcome in the way thatmen did, and unlike men, women were deniedveterans preference after the war. This evidencewould seem to give credence to the contention thatthe government was responsive to women’s demandsduring the war because every citizen was perceivedas valuable in the war effort, but that once thewar ended and men returned, traditional genderviews were re-established. One group of Americanwomen used the change in attitudes towards womenfor their own social and personal gain, namelylesbian women. At a time when women were portrayedby media and government advertisements as vital tothe functioning of America, ” love between womenwere understood and undisturbed and evenprotected.” Military service became an socialnetwork for lesbians – rarely were lesbiansdischarged on the grounds of engaging in same-sexrelationships.
To support this argument , onelesbian woman states that the appeal of life inWAAC was due to the indifference that militaryofficers expressed towards lesbianism, for: “There were no problems and we wanted to keep itthat way.We all knew that if we were discreet wewouldn’t get caught.” Indeed , lesbians werevalued by the military for their perceived”strength” in service. After the war, thereoccurred a less formal transition for lesbians inthe military, i.
e. from the ranks, but this wascoupled with the persecution of lesbian women. Thepublic perception of the lesbian as sick and athreat to “innocent” women in the years after thewar, confirmed the need for secrecy.
Ironicallyhowever, the military contributed to theestablishment of a larger lesbian subculture whenit became less lenient in its policy towardshomosexuals once the war was over. Thousands oflesbians were loaded on “queer ships” and sentwith “undesirable” discharges to the nearest USport.Therefore, unlike most American women,lesbians consolidated the social advances theygained during the war by creating lesbiansubcultures in areas like New York, or by staying”in the closet” and remaining in military service.Black women often experienced continuity with thepast during the war because racism was just asprevalent during the years 1941-1945 as it hadbeen in earlier decades. Jobs in wartime offices,stores and factories proved elusive to blackwomen, even after the creation of the FairEmployment Practices Commission (1941). This newfederal agency , was designed to reverse the yearsof racial discrimination that black Americans hadendured since emancipation in 1865 – theimplications for black women were thereforepromising.
The results of the Commission were fairat best, for although the government hired blackfemale clerical workers, these women were confinedto segregated offices and were promoted six timesfewer than whites with similar efficiency ratings.Even when black women proved discrimination theFECP could only recommend withdrawal of warcontracts for the offending employer, an unlikelymeasure because maximum, uninterrupted warproductivity was top priority. These findings arenot surprising considering that The War Departmentdid not extend its relaxed attitude towards femaleemployment to black women either.
The Departmentopenly stated that they needed “competent, whitefemale help” at all levels whereas emphasising thefact that “we do not employ colored” at the sametime.The Fair Employment Commission also failedin tackling companies’ discrimination. Forinstance , in Detroit , Sears Roebuck loweredbarriers enough to hire black women in the stockdepartments, but would not hire blacks in sales,where they would be seen in public. Therefore,owing to the reality of job discrimination, blackwomen often took the lowest-paid and mosthazardous jobs during the war , or werere-employed in the domestic service jobs that theyhad lost during the Depression. However, thehostility that black women encountered at work ledto the politicisation of many black women duringthe war.
in 1943 Mary McLeod Bethune of theNational Youth Administration won a promise fromdefence plants to hire black women united in othercampaigns such as the NWTUL’s campaign to endlynching and racial harassment in the workplace ,and in 1942 nationwide protests amongst blackwomen’s groups forced many employers to reconsidertheir employment practices. It is relevant to addthat for many black women, the conversion fromdomestic service to factory work marked a welcomeshift in job prospects, for black women wereentering a white dominated employment field.Ultimately however, such challenges to racialinjustice did little to alter racial attitudesduring the war.Cities across the US continued todevalue black women’s work in a way as to suggestthat black women’s concerns were of littleimportance to policy makers. For example , a blackwoman at the Edgewood Arsenal earned $18 per weekwhereas her white counterparts earned on averagetwice this amount despite working fewer hours. Itwas only after the war that black women’sprospects improved because the momentum for socialchange was gaining strength.
In the late forties,black women had finally begun to gain access tobetter jobs, since in the late forties the numberof black women in low-paying jobs had fell by 15percent by 1950. The end of the war furtherrefutes the view that women made substantive gainsfrom the Second World War. When war productionended , many women quit their jobs.
Women’s netgains during the war were negligible for althoughthe shift to clerical jobs continued after thewar, very few women occupied skilled craft jobs.The Women’s Bureau concluded that: ” Only a fewwomen have been allowed to continue in the newerfields of employment, and thus continue to useskills learned during the war.” It is true thatwomen’s employment underwent visible change duringthe war and the absence of men allowed women toexpand their influence in a variety of educationaland civic ways. However, underscoring thispotential long-term change were government backedmedia campaigns which sought to restrict women’spublic activities and possible long-term goals.Mobilisation propaganda as well as the attractionsof jobs induced young women to give priority toimmediate employment, so that despite the greatereducational opportunities created by the absenceof men, women’s college enrollments actuallydeclined during the war. Social welfare andchild-care experts called upon women to pay closerattention to their maternal responsibility, andthis demonstrated the government’s eventual desireto see women return to the domestic sphere oncethe war was over.
Post-war purges of women from”men’s jobs” was strengthened by male workers andunionists, who colluded in the expulsion of womenfrom the auto and electrical industries.Therefore, similar to American politicians,unionists’ loyalties ultimately resided with men.By April 1947 the prewar employment pattern hadbeen re-established and most employed women wereclerical workers, operatives, domestics, andservice workers .
A sad truth powerfully emergedafter the war: there had been no revolution inattitudes, women faced the reality that the seriesof measures introduced during the war were done sogrudgingly in the face of national emergency.Bibliography: BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rosalind Rosenberg ,Divided Lives : American Women In The TwentiethCentury , Hill & Wang , New York , 1992. Susan M.Hartmann , The Home Front And Beyond – AmericanWomen In The 1940s , Twayne Publishers , Boston ,1982.
Alice Kessler-Harris , Out To Work: AHistory of Wage Earning Women in the United States, New York , Oxford University Press , 1982. D’AnnCampbell , Women at War with America: PatrioticLives in a Patriotic Era , Cambridge , HarvardUniversity Press , 1984 . Karen Anderson , WartimeWomen : Sex Roles , Family Relations , And theStatus of Women During World War II , GreenwoodPress , Connecticut , 1981. Leila J. Rupp ,Mobilizing Women for War : German and AmericanPropaganda , Princeton , Princeton UniversityPress , 1978. Lillian Faderman , Odd Girls andTwilight Lovers – A History of Lesbian Life inTwentieth Century America , New York , Penguin ,1991.
Sherna Berger Gluck , Rosie the RivieterRevisited: Women , The War , and Social Change ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Ruth Milkman , Gender at Work: TheDynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during WorldWar II , Urbana , University of Illinois Press ,1987. Maureen Honey , Creating Rosie the Riveter :Class, Gender, and Propaganda during World War II, Amherst , The University of Massachusetts Press, 1984. Mary Beth Norton Ed. , Major Problems inAmerican Women’s History , Lexington MA, D.C.Heath & Company , 1989..