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Valdez, Samantha

World War I was a man’s war. Dominated by trench warfare and the invention of the machine gun, World War I was fundamentally different from World War II in many ways. Some would argue that genocide or the atomic bomb highlighted World War II, but for the United States, World War II was about American women. As the Allied and Axis powers stood toe to toe on the world stage, more and more manpower was required overseas. American men were forced to put their careers and families on hold as they were drafted for the military. The absence of men in America’s patriarchal society soon left a huge void to be filled by women both in the military and the workforce.
Even as men were drafted, the U.S. army was left with a dire need of recruits. Taking notes from their British counterparts, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspired women to take up arms and join the fight to protect democracy around the globe. An estimated 350,000 American women served in the military during World War II, both at home and abroad. Women auxiliary corps were quickly created and were soon given full military status. The Allies were quick to utilize all of their assets which may have given them an edge over the Axis powers who were slow to employ women in their wartime industries. Women rapidly gained a larger status both on the front lines and back on U.S. soil.
As widespread male enlistment left gaping holes in the labor force, American women began adopting the widespread role of the “lady laborer.” Female participation in the workforce jumped from 27% to 37%. Positions that were once off-limits to women became open to those who chose to pursue them. And as Rosie the Riveter recruited young women into filling in for the men, many women began to enjoy the freedom and options that World War II had offered them.
And though many women wanted to hold onto the status they had gained during the war, most were forced out by the men that returned home from the war. Nurses and other female military members faced difficulties collecting veterans’ benefits. A majority of women found themselves in the home again, just as they had been before World War II. American society had been eager to ask for women’s help during a crisis but seemed unable to deal with the greater social change that occurred when the war had ended. And even though women were expected to return to their former roles as housewives, a significant portion had been given a taste of a man’s privilege. This brief period of freedom for women during World War II later sparked a second wave of feminism during the 1960s marked by a desire for the social equality of men and women that is still influential to the feminist movement that is characteristic to our modern day.

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