In the 1920s, feminist movements were characterized by the suffrage movement, which led to women attaining the right to vote. In the 1890s, the women’s movement was majorly focused on general inequalities in the society such as poor housing and working conditions as well as social injustices such as prostitution and alcoholism. For instance, black women in the Southwest of the U.S. joined labor unions during the 1930s to protest poor working environments and wages. Before the World War II, women’s life were perceived to center around family and farm (Jeansonne 10). During this period, a perfect American family had a father who went for work daily and was the breadwinner, and a mother who remained at home to perform domestic chores as well as take care of children. However, there were women who worked outside the house, but their efforts were not glorified as much. This is because their male counterparts believed that they could best suit their jobs, thus did not have the best attitude toward them. It is important to discuss how World War II influenced the increase of the feminist movements.
It is argued that World War II triggered the second wave of feminist movement in the United States, which occurred after the war. In the 1940s, as men left for overseas to fight in the war, women gained increasing employment opportunities. It is noteworthy that throughout the period of war, women labor unions that had grown in the 1930s gained much popularity and strength as women became increasingly employed, especially in the manufacturing sector, which supported the war. Furthermore, there were unprecedented opportunities for women to move into occupations that were previously thought to be exceptional for men, particularly the aircraft industry, where many workers were women by 1943. However, during World War II, most women did not work in the defense industry, but took over other office and factory jobs that were previously occupied by men (Jeansonne 10). Women earned more money than ever before from these jobs, which was still far less that what men previously received doing the same jobs. Nonetheless, many women achieved the much-desired financial degree.
One of the most influential writers during World War II was Betty Freidan, who after conducting a survey on her classmates; she noticed that many of them were unhappy in their marriages since their lives revolved around housework and childcare. To try to address the dual role of women as mothers and workers, Franklin Roosevelt was urged by her wife, Eleanor Roosevelt to approve the first American government childcare facility under the Community Facilities Act of 1942 (Friedan 16). This led to the building of seven centers that accommodated over 100,000 children. To reduce the cultural resistance that women faced while working in male-dominated environments, the government created a propaganda campaign on a figure referred to as Rosie the Riveter to reassure men that women would not become masculine during the war.
In the 1960s and 1970s, second wave feminism increasingly diverged into two separate ideological movements: Radical feminism and equal rights feminism. Within radical feminism, the focus was much more on the radical change of the society that was fundamentally perceived as patriarchal, therefore, needed to be altered if women were to eliminate oppression (Friedan 16). On the other hand, equal rights feminism wanted equality with men in social and political spheres, where legislation and laws such as legalization of abortion as well as efforts to establish a workforce that would create equal opportunities were the main objectives. Eventually, through the second wave feminist movement, women gained the opportunity to start conversations regarding social inequalities as well as think about identity, gender, race, sexuality, and class.
- Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. , 2013.
- Jeansonne, Glen. Women of the Far Right: The Mothers’ Movement and World War II. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 2016.