Friday, June 27, 2014

How Culture Formed Female Gender Roles

During the mid-20th century to now, culture has influenced women greatly. The role of women had changed
drastically during the years in the 20th century. Before the war, women had opportunities in the workforce while their husbands were off to fight in the war. America expected the women to help in the country’s efforts by occupying defense jobs. Soon after the war ended, women were pushed into their homes as men took their places in the workforce. Although many women had been pushed into their homes after the war, some of them had kept their jobs because their job was generally considered in their culture as a job for a woman. Although they still had jobs, they were left with “the low-paying and unglamorous work no returning veteran would want to snatch.”[1]
             In America at the time, women were expected to dress and act a particular way. This was due to the changing culture. The way women dressed was constantly changed throughout many years of the constant change in culture, especially in the 20th century. Women were expected to wear, “Their full skirts came to midcalf and were held out with stiff petticoats made of taffeta or some equally itchy fabric. Or they wore equally long formfitting sheathes that constrained the wearer to take only tiny steps as she tottered along in her 4-inch stiletto-heeled shoes.”[2] Women in this time were going to great lengths in order to fit into their culture.

            Women were even expected to act a certain way around men as well. Women were influenced by culture to act helpless and not as smart as the men. “They dropped out of college, married early, and read women’s magazines that urged them to hold on to their husband’s love by pretending to be dumb and helpless”[3] This expectation in their gender role had made it seem that females were not as superior as men and that they needed to rely on their husband to take care of them. Women had been portrayed in culture as dependent and dumb. This made it difficult when women were fighting to gain equal rights.
 Although culture was changing a lot during this time, the economy also had a significant effect on women. “Americans spent a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on appliances in the 1950s—everybody wanted the biggest and best.”[4] Appliances that came on the market, made it easier for women to complete their household duties. Although many households were buying new products, certain minority groups were excluded from many of the nicer homes and high paying jobs.[5] Also this boom in household appliances had an effect on the changing culture in America. For example, the “television was the single greatest cultural influence of the postwar era, and it invaded the country almost overnight.”[6]

Following the broad adoption of the television within American households, there were particular shows that significantly changed the culture. In the show Leave It to Beaver, the wife was portrayed as a highly-dressed woman that was happy with her duty as a mother.[7] This influenced Americans on what they should think a typically female role should entail. Another famous show and actor that influenced the culture of what women were portrayed as was Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy. “Lucy was virtually the only TV wife who didn’t seem entirely content at home. But her attempts at working always led to disaster, and by the final curtain she had learned her lesson, at least until next week.”[8] This characterized women as not smart and incapable of duties outside the household. When Lucille Ball became pregnant in real life, scriptwriters wrote her condition as ‘expectant’, since the word pregnant was barred from the air. The culture at the time wanted to reject want any suggestion that the actors had sex even in a TV show.[9]

            During the time when Rosa Parks was arrested for denying sitting in the back of the bus, there were many protests. The black community had been outraged by this incident and boycotted the city bus system for more than a year.[10] This protest had made a significant impact in the black community, including the black women who were treated the worst. The event was so important that Martin Luther King Jr. probably wouldn’t have been so famous if Rosa Parks had not refused to give the white man the seat.[11]

[1] Gail Collins, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009., 378.
[2] Gail Collins, Ibid., 377.
[3] Gail Collins, Ibid., 378.
[4] Gail Collins, Ibid., 383.
[5] Gail Collins, Ibid., 379-380.
[6] Gail Collins, Ibid., 390.
[7] Gail Collins, Ibid., 390.
[8] Gail Collins, Ibid., 390.
[9] Gail Collins, Ibid., 390.
[10] Gail Collins, Ibid., 397-398.
[11] Gail Collins, Ibid., 397.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Society’s False Belief

            Stephanie Coontz is the author of A Strange Stirring, who references the 1960’s book, The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, in order to remind the readers of how important the book was at the time. Although she mentions that she knew the book from her younger years, she had not actually read it before. The book when it first came out had a more significant effect on the women in society than it does today. One reason is that it seems to be outdated at times and that it was directed at women during this time. When Coontz is given the task to write a book on The Feminine Mystique, she researches a lot of content and interviews many women from this time period. The most impacting to her was the interviews she performed with the women that had been affected by this book.
            During World War II, women had their own jobs in factories, which gave them this sense of freedom. After the war, women were put in the homes while the men took their jobs. There was a lost “’sense of possibility’ that women felt in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.”[1] At this point, it seemed that women were less concerned about equal rights than they did in the earlier years. Women were taught to grow up as housewives to take care of their children and husband. Many women during the 1960s had their mind set on marrying someone and fulfilling society’s definition of the role of a female. At that point they were locked into a marriage, which was always to be the women’s job to take care of family and home.
            There were many prejudices towards women, which gave few options for them to independently live. Society geared these people to find a spouse, who would take care of the family financially. Women were not allowed to even do the simplest activities. “Prejudice and discrimination were pervasive in small things as well as big. Elementary schools did not allow girls to be crossing guards or to raise and lower the American flag each day, nor could girls play in Little League sports”[2] This is because people believed that, “girls should be channeled into activities that would prepare them for homemaking and motherhood.”[3]

            Society during this time insisted that the women should marry then become a housewife and mother. People would think of a woman as a horrible wife to their husband if they were not completing their wifely duties. Housewives were portrayed as some who was only concerned of taking care of her children home, and husband.Most Americans believed that the “normal” life for a modern mother was to become a homemaker in a male-breadwinner family and live according to the cultural stereotypes about womanhood that Friedan described as the feminine mystique.”[4] Women were convinced that their only goal was to be a good mother, until The Feminine Mystique came out. The Feminine Mystique explained that women were not only put on this earth to be a good housewife, but allowed women to express their potential as human beings. “The source of ‘the problem with no name,’ she insisted, was that modern culture did not allow women, as it allowed men, to gratify a need that was just as important as sex— the ‘need to grow and fulfill their potentialities as human beings.’”[5]

As Coontz interviews the women from the 1960s, she realizes how much this book had impacted their lives. “Women who told me over and over that The Feminine Mystique transformed their lives, even that it actually ‘saved’ their lives, or at least their sanity.”[6] Some housewives were having feelings of discontent, boredom, and even depression during their housewife roles. They thought these feelings were caused by their own mental issues instead of society, since society believed that women were meant to have the role of a housewife. Specifically in society, it was considered that, “A normal woman found complete satisfaction in her role as homemaker, mother, and sexual companion to her husband.”[7] It was a relief to many women after reading The Feminine Mystique because it explains that they did not need psychiatric treatment for these rough feelings during their role as a housewife.[8] Although this book did not start the feminist movement in the 1960s, it sped up the inevitable action taken by these readers. The book put a whole new perceptive that women were not accustomed to, which drove them to believe that societies belief of them was not true.

[1] Stephanie Coontz, A Strange Stirring: The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s, 2011. Basic Books. Kindle Edition. (p. 36).
[2] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 14).
[3] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 70).
[4] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 64).
[5] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 25).
[6] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 200).
[7] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 69).
[8] Stephanie Coontz, Ibid., (p. 87).

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Transformation of the Mexican American Community

Mexican Americans within the United States were in some type of grey area within society. They were not completely white skinned, but they were not black either. Since at this time black women were generally considered as the least tolerant minority, Mexican American women were the other minorities that were favored above them. During this time race was a significant factor when determining social status. Typically the lighter skinned communities were favored above the darker skinned. Mexican Americans were not either white or black, but in the middle. There were disputes as to what race was Mexican Americans were considered as. It was concluded, legally, Mexican Americans were “white”. Although Mexican American women were favored above African American women, most of them had low paying jobs.
            In From Coveralls to Zoot Suits, The experiences of the Mexican American community were described by Elizabeth Escobedo. Escobedo talks about areas in Los Angeles during World War II because that city was racially diverse and had a drastic industrial growth. As America goes into World War II, many soldiers are shipped out to fight leaving mostly women at home. It is important to understand that the Mexican American women significantly helped out the United States in supplying war materials. During the time of war, war supplies were in very high demand. America needed more workers in defense jobs in order to fulfill this heavy demand.  Because of this high demand, the defense jobs were giving much higher pay then Mexican American women were used to making.
            The campaign, started by the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, was called “America All”.
“Although advocates of the federal “Americans All” campaign believed strongly in an Americanism that prioritized nation over race, as supporters of racial liberalism, they also advocated for cultural tolerance and understanding , recognizing diversity as an integral part of the American people.”[1]
Often racial and cultural background was a significant factor of the pay that people had when getting jobs within the United States. “In the face of federal pressure to diversify shop floors, wartime employers appear to have practiced similar racial stratification, at times preferring ‘racially ambiguous’ Mexican employees to their black counterparts.”[2] This campaign was to encourage communities from all backgrounds to help support the war efforts for World War II. This campaign helped the Mexican Americans more than any other race. This campaign sparked the transformation within this community.
            Since Mexican women were getting higher pay, they gained this sense of independence. These workers also allowed more time to go out and socialize. They even were getting paid well enough that people became, “self-sufficient without the assistance of the federal government.”[3] This new gained freedom influenced the way a lot of Mexican Americans communities formed. “Most Mexican American young women simply adopted aspects of the pachuca persona in a spirit of adventure and independence, not delinquency.”[4] Pachuca typically wore zoot suits or “drapes” that was adopted by Mexican American men.[5] This included, “a fingertip jacket; trousers with wide knees that tapered at the ankle; heavy, thick -soled shoes; and hair in a duck-tail cut.”[6] Although Pachucas generally represented liberation, some considered them as delinquents, especially against the teenager group. Pachuca women were portrayed negatively in the Los Angeles newspapers and at times were falsely accused of crimes because they seemed like trouble makers. 


            Although this “American All” campaign had an unexpected result, it was an important historical period for Mexican Americans. This community found their place within the vastly diverse country, America. Many students took advantage of this opportunity to earn higher pay while in school. “Recognizing a unique opportunity to earn money while attending school, Rose Echeverría became one of many students of Mexican descent who made the decision to volunteer for Avion’s program.”[7] Federal agencies intended to attract women of color into defense jobs by encouraging unity within all races and cultures. The women that were recruited, especially Mexican Americans, grew as a community with their feeling of independence and freedom. These feelings were shown by the group’s developed styles, like the zoot style, and other social transformations. This influenced a lot of the Americans with Mexican descent into following different aspects of the Pachuca persona, which were ultimately misunderstood as delinquents.  

[1] Elizabeth R Escobedo, From Coveralls to Zoot Suits: The Lives of Mexican American Women on the World War II Home Front, 2013. The University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition. (Kindle Locations 982-983).
[2] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 1990-1992).
[3] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 1630).
[4] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 662-663).
[5] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 490).
[6] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 491-492).
[7] Elizabeth R Escobedo, Ibid., (Kindle Locations 1508-1510).

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Distinct Changes of Women in 30 Years

During the time period of the 1910s, the Great Depression and World War II, women of America have been influenced dramatically mainly because of the current economy. During the 1920s there was a new trend of the Flappers. Flappers were women that typically had short hair, short skirts, wore makeup, and socially energetic. Flappers were basically the result of the transition between their tradition methods to a new modernized one. Although not every woman was considered as a Flapper, most of them changed dramatically as well. The average woman did not wear corsets anymore and went out on social events with their husband. Ever since these women became able to vote, they were experiencing the freedom that they had.

            Leading up to the stock market crash in 1929, women had more free time and most families had electricity. Women had newly developed appliances to help complete a lot of the required duties around the house. “By 1927 nearly two-thirds of American homes had electricity, and women were using it to power vacuum cleaners, ranges, refrigerators, toasters and irons”.[1] Due to the economy, families were able to purchase many products that helped women around the household. A woman’s live was quite different of one during the Great Depression.
Once the stock market crashed, people were scared of what their future would be. Not a lot of people died from starvation, but most had a greater stress and anxiety to make ends meet. The Great Depression was so drastic that, “The average family income dropped 40 percent between 1929 and 1933, and while men took second jobs or searched for better-paying employment in an oversaturated market, most of their wives stayed home”.[2] Nearly every American was financially impacted, which resulted in women staying home and had to forgo many luxuries. Even the rich had to give up their servants, which resulted in them doing all the tasks around the house.
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of Franklin Roosevelt, took a big role in the Depression era. Although she was a part of America’s great families, she came from an extremely rough childhood. Eleanor was considered the most liberated women of their time because she frequently decides to do things on her own, wears what she wants, and does what a woman does not usually do. Eleanor helped Franklin carry out almost all the tasks that involved traveling to different parts of the country after Franklin got polio. Franklin had been paralyzed from the waist-down because of the polio that occurred in 1921.
The use of contraceptives was also an ongoing issue among America that lasted up until the mid-1930s. Margaret Higgins was a major role in the movement of preventing unplanned pregnancy. Margaret tried to spread the word and provide women with birth control which lead to their arrest. Due to the lack of birth control, the birthrates were really high. Having an excessive amount of family members was an issue, due to the economy, during the Great Depression. Birthrates dropped so dramatically once birth control became legal that there were 3 million less babies a year than before the Crash.[3] This influenced women because of their ability to control their pregnancy, so that a family does not have more members than it can support. Although birth control gave more power to the women’s body, it was not always available to the lower-class due to the economy.
             When World War II began in 1939, there was a significant amount propaganda posted. Some propaganda posters influenced the women to work in defense jobs. This expectation was so the women can support the men at war. At this time a great deal of efforts was not towards helping consumers, but towards the effort on the war. After the World War II ended, the style of the average women changed slightly. Women desired to be seen in calf length short skirts with lifted and pointy breasts.

            Women in this period seemed to really come out and participate more in America. The women of the 1920s evolved into a more independent and louder group. Flappers broke free of their traditional style and roles which started their movement. Wives were constantly relied on to support the husband during difficult times like the Great Depression and World War II. Control on birth was more effective, which allowed women to restrict what they do not want to handle. Women during this time period have shown their strength and independence.

[1] Gail Collins, America’s Women: 400 Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines. New York: Harper Perennial, 2009., 318.
[2] Gail Collins, Ibid., 335.
[3] Gail Collins, Ibid., 336.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Onward West

            In the late 19th and early 20th century, the America was expanding westward. The government tried to encourage travel to this new west region with the Homestead Act of 1862. A lot of people lived on the East side of America and did not want to move out of what was comfortable to them. In the book Nothing Daunted, Two society girls, Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood, lived in Auburn, New York to study at Smith College. Dorothy and Ros were poor examples of the average women in America at this time. Dorothy and Ros were a part of rich families and were best friends early in their childhood. They also were a part of the same sorority, Phi Kappa, Psi. Since their families were in the upper class of society, they got most of their things paid for them. One of the ways they were different from other women, is that they had uncommon expectations. Others hoped for a M.A. or getting Ph.D.’s, Dorothy and Ros were looking forward to their M.A.N. and getting M-r-s in front of their name.[1] Dorothy and Ros spent a lot of their time on charity work and planning parties. At this time, they were expected to look for a husband and make a family.
Dorothy Woodruff (left) and Rosamond Underwood at Smith College

The two women went to Europe and were very interested in their travels. They got back to Auburn feeling bored of the typical routines. Dorothy and Ros were getting older that some would consider them not able to get married. The women were, “bothered by the idea of settling into a staid life of marriage and motherhood without having contributed anything to people who could benefit from the few talents and experiences they had to offer”.[2] These two clearly had a different outlook than the typical women at this time. Women at this time would get work until they were married, but Dorothy and Ros wanted something else. Dorothy later heard about a job in Colorado who needed two school teachers. “No young lady in our town,” she later recalled, “had ever been hired by anybody.” Oddly enough, she wanted to go to Colorado to teach and convinced Ros to come with her as well. They both applied and later got the job. In their town, young ladies have never even been hired before, but they applied for a teaching job when they had a chance.[3] This is an example of how they were not the typical rich lady. The job requirements were low and were not expecting much in the position. “We knew not the slightest thing about teaching, absolutely nothing”.[4] This is another example of uniqueness because of their drive to do something that they were not training to do, unlike other women. Although they did not know anything about teacher, they said that they would do their best. It was unusual that an upper class society girl would decide to travel west, but it was known to be the best year of their live.
            Nearing their date of departure, they got word that the War with Mexico was getting close. Dorothy and Ros had to deny the position because the war that was about to start. The war was later prevented and they wanted to get their job back. The next school year was coming around, when they telegrammed them asking if the position is still open. The got a response that the position was still open. Later they left the comfort of their home to depart to Elkhead Mountains to teach for a school year.
            Dorothy and Ros mostly traveled to the place by train. Both of them were amazed by many things during their travel. They were much different then what the locals were used to seeing when arrived at the place. Ferry Carpenter, who gave them their jobs, had staked a claim of 160 acres by the Homestead Act of 1862. Dorothy and Ros taught at a schoolhouse on top of a mountain. Elkhead was a place that snowed half the year and often could have hard conditions to live in. Sometimes the snow got so high that it would be difficult to ride a horse through it.
            During their trip, they saw a lot of American history in the making. Both of the women taught students that travelled miles in tough condition to be there. The students adored the women as they were taught. The students often did not have some basic necessities like shoes and sweaters. The women were involved more than just teaching students at a schoolhouse. Involvement like them completing chores, attending schoolhouse parties and all-night dances. Coming from wealthy families, they did not do chores because they had people to do it for them. They were then taught how to do many things that they never learned. Significant events like the expulsion of the Ute Indians, the building of the railroad, and visiting large coal mines that the men worked at. Dorothy and Ros were a part of the great westward expansion and America’s growth.
Dorothy and Rosamond with their students at Elkhead

Bob Perry managed the largest coal mine that was relatively near where the women stayed. The workers working the mine were under harsh conditions. A lot of these workers were Greek and when some of them were not happy with their job at the mine, they kidnapped Perry. The two men that kidnapped Perry demanded that he write a ransom note to his father, who was the owner of the mines. Perry wrote the ransom, but later shot one of the captors as he escaped. As Dorothy and Ros end their trip, they head back to New York. Both of them got married after they got back.