Beginning in the 1950s, society began to pressure women to move away from the image of “Rosie the Riveter”, to a more domestic image represented by such celebrities as Debbie Reynolds and Doris Day. The “perfect woman” demonstrated a new blend of sexuality, ignorance, and naivete, which was all over the media. Society pushed to persuade the American woman to a more domestic lifestyle and away from a professional life. In turn, fashions reflected the new feminine image, going away from the military look of dress suits and shoulder pads to small waistlines, petticoats and full skirts.
Women of the 50s were blamed for creating the ills of society by leaving their husbands and children to go to work. Alcoholic abuse of men in the home and a bad marriage was supposed to be the fault of the working mother. Juvenile delinquency leading to crime and neurosis was link to the mother absence in the home also. Critics of the working woman maintained the view that if women were to ignore their deepest needs of domesticity and motherhood, it would lead to emotional instability. Women began to drop out of college and give up their career dreams that were once supported and encouraged in the 40s.
Men held the vast majority of the executive and managing jobs. Sadly, women held less than 40% of the professional positions in the U.S. Job opportunities to women were mostly in the clerical and service related fields. If a woman did earn a college degree, when she applied for a full time job, she would most likely be passed over in favor for a male applicant. If she was lucky enough, she would be offered a part time job or seasonal work and then would be the first employee to be laid off. The female worker would also be expected to accept a much lower salary than a man who performed the exact same duties. Women did not deny that they had biological needs and that they would like to oversee the up bringing of their children, however, agreed that housekeeping was an unrewarding job.
Professional women of the 60s, attempting to hold down the few full-time positions, were unhappy with inequality in the workplace and were the first speak out. Their cry was often “equal pay for equal work”. They even risked their jobs to attack their employers on grounds of sex discrimination. Lawsuits were filed and the women were winning their claims. By 1971, the courts had awarded over 30 million dollars in pay back for the woman who had proved they had been sexually discriminated against. Women were beginning to return to colleges, their intellectual pursuits, and also decided to claim personal liberation.
Eleanor Roosevelt successfully put pressure on President John Kennedy. When she saw that only 9 of his 240 appointees to office were women, Roosevelt sent Kennedy a three-page list of woman’s names that were qualified for governmental service. President Kennedy then appointed Roosevelt to be the chairperson of the Commission of Woman, which he created in 1960. Roosevelt’s report also included a call for equal job opportunities and equal pay for women, for an end to laws discriminating against women, and for expansion of child care facilities outside the home.
Feminists began to see progress when Congress passed the Equal Pay Act in 1963. The following year, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Right Act prohibited all discrimination on the basis of sex as well as on the basis of race. On a less positive note, the 60’s showed that most alimony payments were either small or not paid at all and the average child support payment was $12 per week by 1970. Most banks at the time refused to lend money to women and women were also discriminated against in pension plans, insurance policies, and social security payments.
Woman scholars also drew attention to the fact that in children stories and readers, women wee unilaterally portrayed in dependent roles as wives and mothers, that powerful woman were generally evil, and that women’s achievements which should have been added to textbooks were missing in academics altogether. Whereas the male was portrayed as venturesome and strong, professional and inventive, women were found lacking in these traits.
Since the ground work had already been laid for women’s right in the 60’s, women in the 70’s and 80’s were inspired to continue to move forward. The most significant events of the 70’s were the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and the declaration by the Supreme Court that abortion was a private issue; for the doctor and the patient to decide. In the spring of 1973, the House and the Senate had finally passed the Equal Rights Amendment after 55 years of women’s efforts to persuade Congress to adopt the ERA.
Also in 1973, the abortion issue and personal reproductive freedom was granted by a Texas Judge, Harry A. Blackman, who said: “The right to privacy is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.” Feminists saw legalized abortion as lives being saved and not being lost. Many felt that women were now the ones making choices for themselves, instead of by men in the government.
The idea of abortion brewed all sorts of opposition. Some feminists believed that abortion was not a liberation act of choice for women, but rather a violent act that kills an unborn child and hurts both the mother and the child. This act of violence, they went on to say, was given to them by a society that treats both of them like property because they didn't value them. They felt that the society had failed to even try to find a 100% effective, safe, voluntary method of pregnancy prevention. Their male partners, they believe, should be encouraged more to share equally in the responsibilities of sex and parenting. Schools, pro-life feminists believed, should "support rather than undermine the needs of mothers and children before and after birth". Religious groups, such as the Christian Coalition, believe that no one had the right to take the life of an unborn child, no matter what the age of the mother. They felt that there was no need for abortion because sexual intercourse should only occur between married couples that wanted children, not for pleasure. They also believed that any type of protection was a sin.
With the beginning of the sexual revolution and oral contraception, women welcomed all these changes as necessary tools and attitudes, which would finally allow them more control over their lives. In particular, women were to benefit by adopting the current method of “planned parenthood” where they were not the “victims” of an unplanned pregnancy, but could now have more control in choosing when they would become a mother. Sexuality also changed during the 70s. Self-examination became popular to determine if there were any personal medical needs. Also in the 70s, the public became aware for the first time that rape should not be linked with sex, but rather considered a violent act.
Through all the successes of women’s studies in the 70’s and 80’s, women began to dream big dreams. Yes, many women did begin to think in terms of becoming the first woman President of the United States. We had already begun to see more and more women as doctors, lawyers, scientists, major athletes, and even astronauts.
Finally and most important of all, the women of today are giving back to the work and not simply taking. Knowing that they are privileged, these women use their money and power to better the lives of the less fortunate. As women have fought a constant up hill battle toward equality and opportunity, the world has benefited by their accomplishments.