Traditional Women’s Roles
After the Second World War, into the 1950’s, and continuing until the beginnings of the feminist movement in the 1960’s, women were strongly encouraged to maintain the functions and tasks that were seen to suit the feminine standards best. For the decade before the war, and centuries previous, North American women were typecast into the role of mother and wife. This role was seen only done properly by women, and should be taken on by women with the greatest of pride. “When a woman marries a man she is all full of high purposes. She actually looks forward with pleasure to the idea of getting his meals and mending his clothes and having her own home and keeping it spick and span.”1 This is the advice written to men, by a man in the late 1930’s on “How to Stay Married.” Upholding and enforcing these household beliefs and ideals pre and postwar are how such strict roles as mothers and wives became such a staple principle of return to normalcy postwar
Many historians have commented throughout time,
housewives.2 When the men
returned from Europe and the
South Pacific after WWII, the fastest way to go back to the “way things
Was to recreate this equation, having the women desert their partially
liberating stints in the workforce, and tend to the houses they were
fill with children. Why? Simply because
this was, what women did best. For
hundreds of years it has been understood that, “Roughly speaking, in
households the husband is the provider or bread-winner. . .”3
By fulfilling this convenient arrangement and having women take on a
role in daily, postwar life, the
balances of customary living were slowly returned.
In the 1950’s women were given clear
positions within the
home. A “homemaker who grew up in the
fifties and early sixties, at the height of women’s indoctrination into
narrow conception of the role of the homemaker”4
learned these prescribed roles from a young age.
These roles and understanding of each sex’s
expected jobs and duties help to reinforce the ‘way it had always been.’ The economy in North America was once again
booming, peace had been returned to overseas, and it was understood
only distraction should be the Cold War threats; not the notion that
might want a change from the systems that society already understood
accepted so well. It was commonly
understood that women found this image of the perfect wife and mother
satisfying. “. . . Women could ‘find fulfillment only in sexual
domination, and nurturing maternal love.’”5
This misconception took hold of North American society, mass media, and
women as well, perpetuating the “feminine mystique” to continue for
decade. “In those years the concept of
“housewife” remained unquestioned, and women’s accepted role was in the
With all the change and fear about to hit North American it was
keep as many of the prewar systems in tact as possible.
By women being inclined to maintain and
exemplify the traditional mothering and nurturing (non-threatening)
helped paved the way the return to normalcy.
|<>There were incidences though, where women went against these traditional views of women. Women who continued to work at “men’s” jobs, or those who did not choose the mothering/ wifely role were seen as against the desperately desired norm, and against North American society itself. The unwed mother was something to be read about in a magazine confession article. It was not something a women would admit to openly though. “Indeed, single pregnancy was so markedly stigmatized in postwar America that most women did what they could to cover their tracks.”7 Going against the grain of postwar society norms was seen as immoral and punishable. Many films of the era make this point evident. “Beyond the Forest” sees a woman, Rosa, who wishes to not keep the home herself or provide a family for her husband come to a tragic end after an abortion. The Film Noir shows the moral standard of the times: Breaking the roles is a punishable offense. Women who presented opposition to postwar normalcy, by not accepting the delicate ideals of a women’s role in the house and family, were threatening to the male driven society, and had to be isolated or removed, so that the customary living standard could be returned after the Second World War.|
|1950's Ideals: What Women Were
Supposed to Know
Cooking Terms and What They Mean
Can a new wife prepare her husband the meal he expects when he gets home? This instructional video will help her prepare the meals just like his mother used to.
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