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World War II

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Women’s Experiences and Gender Ideology during World War

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World War II

  1. 1. Women and Gender Ideology during World War II J. Howard Miller, Westinghouse, 1942
  2. 2. “Rosie the Riveter” While other girls attend their fav’rite cocktail bar Sipping Martinis, munching caviar There’s a girl who’s really putting them to shame Rosie is her name All the day long whether rain or shine She’s a part of the assembly line She’s making history, working for victory Rosie the Riveter Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage Sitting up there on the fuselage That little frail can do more than a male will do Rosie the Riveter Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie Charlie, he’s a Marine Rosie is protecting Charlie Working overtime on the riveting machine When they gave her a production “E” She was as proud as a girl could be There’s something true about Red, white, and blue about Rosie the Riveter Everyone stops to admire the scene Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery Rosie the Riveter What if she’s smeared full of oil and grease Doing her bit for the old Lendlease She keeps the gang around They love to hang around Rosie the Riveter Rosie buys a lot of war bonds That girl really has sense Wishes she could purchase more bonds Putting all her cash into national defense Senator Jones who is “in the know” Shouted these words on the radio Berlin will hear about Moscow will cheer about Rosie the Riveter!
  3. 3. Rosie the Riveter, Saturday Evening Post, Norman Rockwell, May 29, 1943
  4. 4. Michelangelo’s Isaiah
  5. 5. Most popular World War I image of womanhood: “The Greatest Mother in the World” Alonzo Foringer, 1918
  6. 6. Interpreting the impact of WWII • Historians disagree – Some have portrayed WWII as a “watershed” – But most have stressed continuity, even regression • Indications of change – Dramatic rise of women in the workforce – Women serving in the military • Evidence of continuity – At least a short-term retreat into domesticity post-war • Attitudes about women’s place and “feminine fulfillment”
  7. 7. Wartime Homemaker • Majority of women did not hold paying jobs during the war • Importance of patriotic consumption – Price controls – Rationing • “Homefront pledge” – Conservation • Homemaking more difficult – Couldn’t buy or repair labor saving devices – Scarcities; long lines – Many affluent families lost their domestic help
  8. 8. The Homefront Pledge
  9. 9. Produce and Conserve
  10. 10. SF City Hall: Then and now
  11. 11. Don’t Travel Office of Defense Transportation (1944)
  12. 12. I Gave a Man! Treasury Department (1944)
  13. 13. Debate over conscription • Britain and Russia – Policy of conscription; 70% of working-age women in the workforce • Nazi Germany – No conscription; almost no increase in percentage of women in the labor force • US: Austin-Wadsworth Act (1943) – Supported by Eleanor Roosevelt, many progressive women, as well as industrial and military leaders – Opposed by the Women’s Committee to Oppose Conscription • Right-wing patriotic women • Left-wing pacifist organizations
  14. 14. Recruiting women workers • Over the course of the war, 6 million women entered the workforce – Women were 25% of labor force in 1940; 35% by mid- 1944 – Increase esp. notable among married women workers • 75% of new women workers were married – Increase in older women workers • 60% over 35 • Finally began to break the middle-class taboo against working wives/mothers • Government-funded child care centers in “war impacted” areas
  15. 15. Recap: Prior to the war • 75% of working-age women did not labor outside the home • “Working girl” model still prominent • Depression strengthened hostility toward working wives – 1940: Only 15% of married women held jobs • Idea of “women’s work” – 90% of all women filled just 10 job categories – Sexual and racial segregation of the labor force
  16. 16. Calls for “womanpower” • By 1942, severe labor shortage • Reclassifying jobs • Dramatic swing in public opinion – 1942: surveys showed only 13% of men still objected to wives working • What kinds of new jobs did women take? – 2 million women took clerical jobs – 2 million went to work in defense plants
  17. 17. Poster recruiting women for civil service jobs
  18. 18. How was industrial work made acceptable for women? • Industrial jobs were “domesticated” – Tasks compared to other jobs women were more familiar with • Downplayed women’s economic motives • Women’s patriotism portrayed as an extension of their personal relations • Emphasis on men’s approval of their labor outside the home • Emphasis on the temporary nature of women’s war work
  19. 19. War Manpower Commission Poster, 1944
  20. 20. War Manpower Commission, 1944
  21. 21. Quick retreat • Women gave up and/or were pushed out of good- paying jobs – By 1946, 2 million women had left the labor force – By 1947, percentage of women in the labor force had plummeted to 28% • Black and Mexican-American women hardest hit • Gallup poll: 86% of all Americans opposed the idea of women working – Higher than during the Depression • But how should we gauge the impact of war work on individual women? – Greater self-confidence; many later re-entered workforce
  22. 22. Social freedom and conflict • Ethnic groups mixing – Especially in LA, other industrial centers • Mexican-Americans, Blacks, Asians • “Victory girls” – Concerns of “juvenile delinquency” – Venereal disease • Homosexuality – “Coming out under Fire”
  23. 23. International Sweethearts of Rhythm
  24. 24. “You can’t beat the Axis if you get VD”
  25. 25. Women and military service • 350,000 women joined the military in WWII • Opportunity for a major challenge to traditional gender roles largely unrealized – Women were never more than 2% of the military during World War II – General public never accepted women in uniform • Whispering campaign – Image of “camp follower” and prostitute – Charges of lesbianism • Resentment from GIs, since WACs freed them up to fight at the front
  26. 26. Women’s service branches • WAAC (May 1942); WAC (1943) – Opposed by some conservatives – Supported by most military leaders • Other branches followed suit – WAVES (Navy) – WASPs (not formally part of the Air Force) • Made 75% of all airplane deliveries throughout the US and Canada • Disbanded in Dec. 1944; did not receive military benefits as veterans
  27. 27. Soviet pilots
  28. 28. Women’s Army Corps
  29. 29. WAVES
  30. 30. Restrictions on women’s military service • Women never assigned combat positions • No mothers accepted • Not in positions of authority over men • Not educated about venereal disease – Yet still had to go through monthly pelvic exams • Dismissed/penalized for sexual encounters • Higher age limit than men (had to be 20) • No dependency allotments granted • Segregated units
  31. 31. First contingent of African-American WAC members assigned overseas
  32. 32. Japanese- American WACs en route to Japan after World War II
  33. 33. Ideal of the “American woman” • Constructed in opposition to the oppressed women of Nazi Germany, Japan • Emphasized women’s relative freedom • Material affluence • Women and labor-saving consumer goods as symbols of “the American way of life”
  34. 34. Lipstick matters!
  35. 35. Betty Grable
  36. 36. V-J Day Alfred Eisenstadt, Life Magazine
  37. 37. Did World War II change gender roles? • Postwar domesticity – Stronger commitment to family/children than ever – 95% of young Americans in postwar era married; most by their mid-20s – Trend toward early marriage/baby boom actually began during the war • Why? – Long delayed dreams of stability • As late as 1941, 40% of American families still lived in poverty
  38. 38. Leisa Meyer • How were WACs viewed and portrayed within the broader culture? • How did leaders respond to the whispering campaign? • How did the WAC attempt to regulate enlisted women’s sexuality? • What was the status of black women in the WAC?

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