Cathryn Beeson-Lynch

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Scene from “Leave it to Beaver” (source)

World War II allowed women to leave the domestic sphere and enter into the workforce; for a brief moment, society was able ignore the binary gender ideologies that functioned to maintain the white, heterosexual, middle-class family structure. However, at end of World War II and subsequent beginning of the Cold War, women began to be pushed out of the work force and higher learning environments. Thereby marking the Cold War as an era in which society reverted back to traditional gender norms.

The tense political climate and rapid technological advances during the Cold War perpetuated people’s fears of an impending nuclear attack. Similarly, the decision to rein women back into the domestic sphere was largely based upon the fear that working women posed a threat to national security; they believed that if women went into the workforce they would not have children, which would then lead to a decrease in the population. Furthermore, many believed that it was every woman’s duty to bear children to ensure that there would be a large enough population to defend the nation from its enemies. The scientific community spread this idea; a particular scientific magazine published by the American Medical Association wrote that although women were “just as capable as men in the sciences,” they should not pursue careers if they wish to contribute to the continuation of the American race. Therefore, when the time came for women to choose between having careers or families, many opted to become wives rather than workers.

During the Cold War it appeared that women had come full circle. World War II allowed women the opportunity to consider creating their own lives within the workforce. However, society’s brief reluctance was short lived. The Cold War era pulled women back into their roles as housewives, and forced them to give up on their career goals. Women’s patriotic duty in World War II included factory and military work. Conversely, during the Cold War, a woman’s primary function was to raise patriotic children. Thus, women’s role within the Cold War reflected society’s regression back towards traditional gender roles in which women’s primary place was inside of their homes.

Reference:

  • Maclean, Eliza. “Why Women Went Home Again: The Feminine Mystique and Cold War Gender Roles.”US History Scene. N.p., 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 08 Nov. 2014.
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