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The Working World

Women in the job force of the 1950's


In the late 1940s and through to the 1960s women's roles in the work place changed dramatically.  During WWII, women were needed to work in factories, doing jobs traditionally assigned to men.  As men began to return from their posts in Europe and the South Pacific, as stated previously, it was anticipated that women would return to the home to run that sector of normal life, as traditions from the past would dictate.  Some women did stay in the work place though, and were accepted for doing this.  This was not in anyway a change in ideals of North American society, the jobs in which women were allowed to work were few and again, very stereotypical.  By creating this structure of women's work roles following the same misconceptions of the “weaker sex” and her abilities, women in the workforce continued to rebuild the normalcy so desired after the war, and at eh onset of the Cold War in the fifties and sixties.


In the 1950s, housework was viewed as the woman's job. “Housework . . . is done mostly by one sex and is socialized primarily in one sex, yet both psychologically and economically it supports both sexes.”8 This support was seen as the contribution every woman made to the home.  As the man went off to work daily, the women stayed home and did whet she did best, cared for the home and nurtured the children.  “At the war's end, government propaganda which had stressed patriotic duty in getting women out to work, now did the same to get them back into the home.”9Women were accepted into the workplace in some capacity though, but maintaining the sex roles and stereotypes was a primary objective.  “Work, particularly for married women and mothers, was stressed as exceptional and in the war and postwar years ‘the suburban ideal of companiate, child centered marriages with little scope of careerism’ became the dominant stereotype.”10 Women did not hold the tough factory jobs they had in the war, they were no longer needed, and to see a feminine figure taking in part in such action would have only shattered the normalcy society was rapidly attempting to rebuild.  Women held jobs that were best suited for them (in the minds of men); jobs like teaching, nursing, and office secretaries.  “Even women in paid jobs that are not obviously related to housework often are relegated to the housework role while on the job.”11 This was a secretary's role fulfillment in the 1950s, cleaning the office, ordering files, and getting coffee for the male supervisor.  Women at work were viewed as that: women. Who just happened to be in the male boss’ office: “working.”  “The unspoken message is that the secretary's job includes personal services for others in the office.  This is housework- “women's work”- in another guise.”12

Women who wished to work had two acceptable choices, stay at home and do her idealized role, or go to a feminized position that would not be “challenging” to that of the dainty woman.  “. . . Prevailing cultural attitudes left working-class wives with two jobs; worker and homemaker.  Household appliances to store and prepare food, to clean clothes and houses, or to divert children's attention all became necessities, not as labor-saving devices but as a means of getting women to do two jobs for the pay of less than one.”13 Many young, unmarried women sought jobs because they had no family to take care of yet.  Work was seen as “bidding time” until that dream husband came along and she cold rightfully take up the role of wife. “Marriages where the wife continues to work for any length of time are much more liable to end in disaster than those where a normal course is followed.”14 Is the advice offered to men to ensure their new marriage being a lasting and happy one.

 

“The question was not whether women would have jobs, but what kind. Women lost high paying skilled jobs in the monopolistic sector of the economy [after the war], but they swelled the ranks of those employed in clerical, service, and competitive sector industries,”15 Again, the choices of which jobs was how the stereotypical roles were maintained so that North American society could return to a state of normal during the Cold War.


As with all other enforced roles in North American society, there were women who refused to fit this role of “dainty office worker” or a mother who worked as a school teacher.  As with all those who go against the social norms, these women were viewed as outsiders who posed a threat to the routines North America was trying to re-establish during the postwar era.   “All the persuasive powers of society were used to send women back to the home, to convince them that only the most abnormal or ‘masculine’ of women would want a life which was not devoted to home and family.”16 The women who insisted on staying in the workforce, at men's positions, were seen as a threat to the ideals of the nuclear family.  Ideals that were accepted continent wide as how thing should be.  “Discrimination against women in high paying skilled jobs lessened the fears of unemployment among men.”17 These fears were of unemployment, and the disenfranchisement of the male role within society.  By allowing women to work, but to stay within the roles and stereotypes applied to women in the home, the balance of the sexes was slowly returned to after World War Two, and continued to prevail through the Cold War era.



1950's Ideals: How Women Were Supposed to Work
The Bright Young Newcomer
Women workers have to learn to adjust from "typical" women's jealousy, to work together in an office.
I Want to be a Secretary
Young girls must learn what it take to be a secretary.
Supervising Women Workers
Helping managers deal with the added trouble that women workers present.

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Rachel Leslie
History and Film 200
Fall 2004