World War II provided unprecedented opportunities for women in many countries to join the workforce. Since it involved global conflicts on what can be termed as an unprecedented scale; an urgency of mobilizing all people to join in the war made the evolution of women’s role inevitable. As a result, women were able to acquire jobs that had never been open to women especially in the defense industry in countries such as; but not limited to, the US, Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union (Summerfield, Penny, 88).
Due to the new found freedoms as well as opportunities in the war, it was almost, “like being let out of a cage,” for many women. In most countries; before the war, some of the “women’s work,” include, being homemakers, clerical work, teaching, as well as nursing (Goldin, Claudia, & Claudia Olivetti, 258). However, the World War II provided women a chance to overcome not only cultural stereotypes; that to a great extent worked against them, but also dislocation and discrimination which they had endured for decades in the society and the labor force industry (American women and World War II).
Employment of Women during the World War II
During the World War II men were essentially the only ones involved in the war, however, as more men died in the war, there was need to recruit more soldiers to fill the labor vacuum created. By 1941, the war production industries were forced to overcome the significant social obstacles that surrounded women’s ability as well as capacity to engage in “Men’s Work” in the labor market (Goldin, Claudia, & Claudia Olivetti, 258). Women were called out to participate in the war in large numbers with most campaigns stressing on the patriotic need for all women to join the workforce.
As a result in the US, more than 350,000 women volunteered to join the military service while twenty times that number stepped into civilian jobs which had been regarded as “men’s work. More than 7 million women who had not been employed, hence, earning wages joined approximately 11 million others in the American labor market. Other women later joined the workforce in an attempt to take advantage of the opportunities brought about by wartime (Summerfield, Penny, 88). However, some women in Great Britain, as well as the US, choose to remain in their hometowns in an effort to organize home front initiatives that were aimed at building morale, conserving the available resources, and raising funds for the war.
After engaging in in-depth training programs prepared by major industries, women began working in major factories building ships and airplanes, producing ammunitions as chemical analysts, mechanics, and engineers. They also worked in the auxiliary services as air-raid wardens, fire engine drivers, conductors, and as evacuation and fire officers (Summerfield, Penny, 92). On the other hand, others joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the Army, Marine Corps, Navy Nurse Corps, and the Navy-Coast Guard.
Problems Faced by Women
The entry of women into occupations previously male dominated, renewed debates concerning the issue of equal pay. During this period, women’s’ salaries were much lower as compared to those of men. In the US on average women earned approximately $ 31.21 while men earned $ 54.65 on a weekly basis. After several negotiations, limited agreements were made for all the women that performed similar jobs to men. However, in the US, most of the employers to a great extent managed to circumvent the issue, and as a result, women’s pay remained approximately 53% of the salary that had been acquired by the men replaced (Goldin, Claudia, & Claudia Olivetti, 260).
During the World War, women particularly mothers were faced with the challenge of addressing their dual role as both mothers and workers. It was almost impossible for such mothers to provide care for their children. For example in the US, to solve this problem, Eleanor Roosevelt sought help from Franklin Roosevelt to establish government childcare facilities which were created in 1942 under the Community Facilities Act. Eventually, more than seven centers with the capacity of approximately 105,000 children were created (McEuen). Eleanor Roosevelt also urged all the industries to establish model childcare facilities for their women workers. Despite such massive efforts, they failed to meet the full child care needs for working mothers (McEuen).
Another prevalent problem faced by women was cultural resistance to women occupying and working in male dominated environments. To eliminate this problem, the US government created propaganda Campaigns which centered on a popular figure “Rosie the Riveter”; a fictitious female character that was portrayed as feminine yet very strong. Rosie the Riveter became the most iconic image representing the working women (Knaff, 120). In an effort to give reassurance to men; that demands of war would not make working women more masculine, most of the factories provided lessons to all the women such as on how to apply makeup; moreover, cosmetics were never rationed in workplaces throughout the World War II (Knaff, 120). For the Americans, keeping women looking attractive and at their best was believed to be vital for morale.
Employment of Women after the World War II
After the world, all men returned home and eventually assumed their pre-war occupations that were being occupied by women. As a result, women were driven out of various manufacturing as well as industrial trades they held, even though approximately 75% of women had voiced their wish to continue working. Also, the period after the world war was also marked by the rise of baby boomers where women became full-time housewives and homemakers.
After being forcefully laid off from previous wartime occupations and into the world of domesticity most of the women felt extremely disenfranchised. Moreover, the 1950s are in most instances identified as the pinnacle of gender inequality because women were not only denigrated but also portrayed as “submissive, stupid as well as purely domestic creatures” (kgeorge). Despite this, the World War II had already solidified the notion that most of the women were in the labor force market to stay.
Consequently, many organizations were established such as the Woman’s Club of Winter Park, which rose as an important venue for feminists. Such groups aimed at advancing the civic, social, moral and educational welfare of women (kgeorge). They also sought to seek corporation with similar organizations to promote knowledge as well as interest in employment. Although the years immediately after the World War II inclusive of the 1950s did not encompass as many feminist movements as those established in the 1960s and 70s, it is quite clear that the concept of feminism began to percolate immediately after the World War II.
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