ing the war years for many men hoped that marriage would defer conscription to the war. This alone suggests that women’s roles as wives and mothers were still dominant during the war because the nation witnessed a 25 percent rise in the population aged five and under. The popularity of marriage and the traditional gender roles that marriage carried, was exploited during the war. For example, the Office of War Information, established in the summer of 1942, worked closely with the media. President Roosevelt soon denied the OWI was being used for propaganda , yet only months after the OWI was formed, wartime propaganda began to likened women’s war work to domestic chores. These trends serve to reinforce the view that the government’s immediate role for women was to serve their country by, in the words of one media campaign doing a man’s job so that he may fight to help finish this war sooner.
One of the most significant departures from traditional gender roles was the enlistment of women in the armed services. From 1941 onwards, military minds in Washington stonewalled anyone who had the temerity to suggest that women should be in the military. Politicians in typical gerrymandering fashion, made flimsy promises of considering an auxiliary of sorts while secretly trying to figure out how to stop American women’s potential influence in the military . Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced a bill on May 28th , 1941 to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and the bill eventually succeeded because there was no hint of full status for women. The actions taken by the government reflected their reluctance to create long-term trends for female participation in the military after the war.
When WAAC was formed in 1942, women faced difficulties with their male superiors, for as General George Marshall later reflected, women in the military encountered: a great reluctance of army officers generally, particularly those in high control, to the interjection of a female organization. The recruitment of women in the military was based more on the general wartime strategy of maximum utilization of manpower, technology and industrial capacity , rather than any genuine attempts to advance women’s rights in American society. Neither did military reform undermine the ongoing racism that black women faced, for black nurses served in segregated military camps during the war. Conflict surfaced as to the exact role that women were to undertake in the military. Women’s corps undermined conventional wisdom about a woman’s natural role.
Thus, propaganda played a large role in limiting the significance of women in the military for war films emphasised that the army needed women’s delicate hands and required women in hospital work because there is a need in a man for comfort and attention that only a woman can fill. After World War II returning servicewomen did not recieve a hero’s welcome in the way that men did, and unlike men, women were denied veterans preference after the war. This evidence would seem to give credence to the contention that the government was responsive to women’s demands during the war because every citizen was perceived as valuable in the war effort, but that once the war ended and men returned, traditional gender views were re-established. One group of American women used the change in attitudes towards women for their own social and personal gain, namely lesbian women. At a time when women were portrayed by media and government advertisements as vital to the functioning of America, love between women were understood and undisturbed and even protected. Military service became an social network for lesbians – rarely were lesbians discharged on the grounds of engaging in same-sex relationships.
To support this argument , one lesbian woman states that the appeal of life in WAAC was due to the indifference that military officers expressed towards lesbianism, for: There were no problems and we wanted to keep it that way. We all knew that if we were discreet we wouldn’t get caught. Indeed , lesbians were valued by the military for their perceived strength in service. After the war, there occurred a less formal transition for lesbians in the military, i.e. from the ranks, but this was coupled with the persecution of lesbian women. The public perception of the lesbian as sick and a threat to innocent women in the years after the war, confirmed the need for secrecy.
Ironically however, the military contributed to the establishment of a larger lesbian subculture when it became less lenient in its policy towards homosexuals once the war was over. Thousands of lesbians were loaded on queer ships and sent with undesirable discharges to the nearest US port. Therefore, unlike most American women, lesbians consolidated the social advances they gained during the war by creating lesbian subcultures in areas like New York, or by staying in the closet and remaining in military service. Black women often experienced continuity with the past during the war because racism was just as prevalent during the years 1941-1945 as it had been in earlier decades. Jobs in wartime offices, stores and factories proved elusive to black women, even after the creation of the Fair Employment Practices Commission (1941).
This new federal agency , was designed to reverse the years of racial discrimination that black Americans had endured since emancipation in 1865 – the implications for black women were therefore promising. The results of the Commission were fair at best, for although the government hired black female clerical workers, these women were confined to segregated offices and were promoted six times fewer than whites with similar efficiency ratings. Even when black women proved discrimination the FECP could only recommend withdrawal of war contracts for the offending employer, an unlikely measure because maximum, uninterrupted war productivity was top priority. These findings are not surprising considering that The War Department did not extend its relaxed attitude towards female employment to black women either.
The Department openly stated that they needed competent, white female help at all levels whereas emphasising the fact that we do not employ colored at the same time. The Fair Employment Commission also failed in tackling companies’ discrimination. For instance , in Detroit , Sears Roebuck lowered barriers enough to hire black women in the stock departments, but would not hire blacks in sales, where they would be seen in public. Therefore, owing to the reality of job discrimination, black women often took the lowest-paid and most hazardous jobs during the war , or were re-employed in the domestic service jobs that they had lost during the Depression. However, the hostility that black women encountered at work led to the politicisation of many black women during the war.
in 1943 Mary McLeod Bethune of the National Youth Administration won a promise from defence plants to hire black women united in other campaigns such as the NWTUL’s campaign to end lynching and racial harassment in the workplace , and in 1942 nationwide protests amongst black women’s groups forced many employers to reconsider their employment practices. It is relevant to add that for many black women, the conversion from domestic service to factory work marked a welcome shift in job prospects, for black women were entering a white dominated employment field. Ultimately however, such challenges to racial injustice did little to alter racial attitudes during the war. Cities across the US continued to devalue black women’s work in a way as to suggest that black women’s concerns were of little importance to policy makers. For example , a black woman at the Edgewood Arsenal earned $18 per week whereas her white counterparts earned on average twice this amount despite working fewer hours.
It was only after the war that black women’s prospects improved because the momentum for social change was gaining strength. In the late forties, black women had finally begun to gain access to better jobs, since in the late forties the number of black women in low-paying jobs had fell by 15 percent by 1950. The end of the war further refutes the view that women made substantive gains from the Second World War. When war production ended , many women quit their jobs. Women’s net gains during the war were negligible for although the shift to clerical jobs continued after the war, very few women occupied skilled craft jobs.
The Women’s Bureau concluded that: Only a few women have been allowed to continue in the newer fields of employment, and thus continue to use skills learned during the war. It is true that women’s employment underwent visible change during the war and the absence of men allowed women to expand their influence in a variety of educational and civic ways. However, underscoring this potential long-term change were government backed media campaigns which sought to restrict women’s public activities and possible long-term goals. Mobilisation propaganda as well as the attractions of jobs induced young women to give priority to immediate employment, so that despite the greater educational opportunities created by the absence of men, women’s college enrollments actually declined during the war. Social welfare and child-care experts called upon women to pay closer attention to their maternal responsibility, and this demonstrated the government’s eventual desire to see women return to the domestic sphere once the war was over.
Post-war purges of women from men’s jobs was strengthened by male workers and unionists, who colluded in the expulsion of women from the auto and electrical industries. Therefore, similar to American politicians, unionists’ loyalties ultimately resided with men. By April 1947 the prewar employment pattern had been re-established and most employed women were clerical workers, operatives, domestics, and service workers . A sad truth powerfully emerged after the war: there had been no revolution in attitudes, women faced the reality that the series of measures introduced during the war were done so grudgingly in the face of national emergency. Bibliography BIBLIOGRAPHY: Rosalind Rosenberg , Divided Lives : American Women In The Twentieth Century , Hill & Wang , New York , 1992.
Susan M. Hartmann , The Home Front And Beyond – American Women In The 1940s , Twayne Publishers , Boston , 1982. Alice Kessler-Harris , Out To Work: A History of Wage Earning Women in the United States , New York , Oxford University Press , 1982. D’Ann Campbell , Women at War with America: Patriotic Lives in a Patriotic Era , Cambridge , Harvard University Press , 1984. Karen Anderson , Wartime Women : Sex Roles , Family Relations , And the Status of Women During World War II , Greenwood Press , Connecticut , 1981.
Leila J. Rupp , Mobilizing Women for War : German and American Propaganda , Princeton , Princeton University Press , 1978. Lillian Faderman , Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers – A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America , New York , Penguin , 1991. Sherna Berger Gluck , Rosie the Rivieter Revisited: Women , The War , and Social Change , ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, Ruth Milkman , Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War 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 in American Women’s History , Lexington MA, D.C. Heath & Company , 1989.