In the age of COVID-19, I’m watching classic movies. For one thing, they’re fun. For another thing, they seem upbeat. On the practical side, I’m chalking it up to research.
This week, I watched Adam’s Rib.Released on Christmas Day, 1949, some of the scenes seem like they could have been written for today.
I forget that the grandmothers and great-grandmothers of today were often career women. I’m guilty of generalizing every woman from that era as a June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver) or Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best.) They were mothers. And wives, of course. Not women who held law degrees or performed surgeries or worked in banks or did manual labor.
During WWII, many women took on what was considered “man’s work,” as factories were converted for the war effort. Rosie the Riveter became a symbol of the way women supported the troops. Factory work paid women three times the amount they could get in more traditional jobs.
Even Marilyn Monroe, the icon of 1950s femininity, worked in a Boeing airplane factory. Of course, that was before she was discovered and became a star.
This got me thinking and wondering. How hard was it to leave their jobs and careers and become homemakers? Was it a tough decision? Were they pressured? Were they angry? The answer for most women was a resounding “Yes!” to all of these questions.
How did women cope post-WWII? One thing seems clear, after assuming more responsibility, women were no longer content to meet the pre-war definition of womanhood:
Historian Welter (1966) defines [pre-WWII] womanhood and places women on the verge of perfection when she explains that any sensible woman would follow the four pillars of true womanhood (piety, chastity, domesticity, and subservience).Frontiers in Sociology
Thank you, Women that came before me.
Women returned to what was considered “normal.” Pants and overalls were traded in for skirts and dresses. Women vacated good-paying jobs in favor of giving returning soldiers careers. Still, the empowerment women experienced duringWWII impacted dynamics in the home. Domesticity was forever redefined.
Hmmm…. I wonder how this will impact Lettie and Rita in my Work-in-Progress. Will there be resentment? Will it create conflict between them or between them and their husbands?
Lettie and Rita kept me up last night; whispering in my ear.
They seem conflicted in how they want their story told. I hope I can get them to sit still and tell me what’s on their minds.