How gender roles should be handled in postwar US
How gender roles should be handled in postwar US. What about modern marriage? What is proper parenting and how is it achieved?
After the disruption, alienation, and insecurity of the Great Depression and the Second World War, the family, more so than ever before, became the center of American life. Couples wed early (in the late 1950s, the average age of American women at marriage was 20) and in proportions that surpassed those of all previous eras and have not been equaled since. They raised large families. Many moved to sprawling, affordable tract housing developments in the suburbs, bought modern conveniences ranging from cars to dishwashers, and enjoyed more leisure time.
Postwar prosperity made the banalities of housework less taxing, but often came at a cost to women who gave up careers to maintain the domestic sphere. This lifestyle stressed the importance of a one-income household, with the husband working and the wife staying at home to raise the children. Historian Elaine Tyler May called it a kind of “domestic containment”: In seeking to nurture their families in the suburbs of the 1950s, housewives and mothers often gave up their aspirations for fulfillment outside the home.3 For instance, the decline in the proportion of women who sought higher education degrees can be attributed in large part to marital and familial priorities. In 1920 47 percent of college students were women; by 1958 that figure stood at 38 percent despite the availability of more federal aid to pay for university education.4
Social expectations for what constituted a woman’s proper role outside the home constrained women Members of Congress as well. When asked if women were handicapped in the rough-and-tumble of political campaigns because society held them to different standards than men, Maurine Neuberger, who served for years in the Oregon legislature before succeeding her late husband in the U.S. Senate, replied, “Definitely. . . . A woman enters into a man’s world of politics, into back-fighting and grubbing.
Before she puts her name on the ballot, she encounters prejudice and people saying, ‘A woman’s place is in the home.’ She has to walk a very tight wire in conducting her campaign. She can’t be too pussyfooting or mousy. Also, she can’t go to the other extreme: belligerent, coarse, nasty.”5 Congresswoman Gracie Pfost of Idaho observed that a woman seeking political office “must be willing to have her every motive challenged, her every move criticized,” and added that she “must submit to having her private life scrutinized under a microscope . . . and [being] the subject of devastating rumors every day.”6