Welcome to the Impacts of War and Feminism WikiEdit


The purposes of this wiki page is to discuss the impact war has on the gender roles.  World Wars certainly earn their title because of the immense impact they have on the entire world.  This is why for our group project we would like to take a closer look at how wars, such as WWI and WWII, have impacted our world in regards to gender.  We will focus on 20th century women and how WWI, WWII, and the Vietnam War has affected gender roles.  When we are in state of war everything is up grabs.  This provides both women and men access to different avenues to mold different gender identities. When we know that people are depending on us we no longer put ourselves first. This is certainly the case when we think about how both men and women stepped up to the occasion in the event of war.  Men knew that their wives, children, and country were depending on them so they put their fears aside and went off to war to defend their country.  Meanwhile women knew that they had to support their children and house while the men were away at war.  So they began supporting the war effort from the household by conserving food.  Woman then began testing their limits by going to work in factories and participating in economic affairs in order to preserve the patriarchal values of the nation.The shift in the gender roles allowed women to take advantage of new opportunities presented to them while men were away at war. The lack of traditional gender roles that were present in society allowed the creation of different gender roles during times of war.  

Prior to World War I, women worked in factories without protection by the law. When the war started, women entered the workplace in substantial numbers to take the jobs of the men who went off to war. This laid the foundation of feminism. After the war, a propaganda campaign was started by the United States to get women out of the workforce and give men their jobs back. But women already had gotten the idea of a life that was independent from their husband and children. They wanted to have their own interests and to be able to have some sort of financial independence (Conover, Sapiro).  


Women's Lives Prior to World War I

War 1

Stenographers at the turn of the century.

Through out history, women have always played integral parts of the home life and settlements. Towards the end of the eighteen hundreds and beginning of nineteen hundreds, many parts of America were becoming highly industrialized but it was still a predominantly rural country (Hartman). Women during this time, as always in history, had the role of mothers and wives even though the industrialization had brought new opportunities and jobs they could take on. Many women still had their life centered on the house. The labor was divided in a way that men did all the outside work, such as working at their professions and brought home the “bread” for the women to prepare and preserve. As they had before since the eighteenth century, some women still made things like soap, candles, brooms, polish, starch and butter at home in the highly rural parts of the country (Stuber). Other women ran things like bakeries, tailored and often worked with their spouses. Women also took part in medicine where they became nurses and midwives. There were also jobs at factories but women were not seen as equal workers so they were offered the less paying, more dangerous jobs. Towards 1870s, the “modern office” was introduced and women started to find jobs as secretaries and bookkeepers. More women were attending school now and receiving educations (Bea). However, they were mostly sheltered from the working world and chose marriage over professions. Their most important line of duty was nurturing the children, teaching and preserving the morality of the household through religious beliefs. With the arrival of the new technologies, possibilities and the genuine interest women themselves had in change on their lifestyles. As opportunities came up, women start to fill these spots. Prior to the change in gender roles that came with the First World War, women’s roles in society were already starting to shift with the welcoming of new technologies. The war however, changed the way women approached life once the “male” factor was taken out of the “perfect” home life equations.

Women's Lives During World War I

Prior to the United States entering the war women helped by conserving food and other war materials as well as selling war bonds.   

During World War I women worked in factories producing guns and ammunitions for the war effort

During World War I women worked in factories producing guns and ammunitions for the war effort

While men were being publicly celebrated for their heroic actions on the battlefield, women were being praised for their “quiet heroism in keeping the home intact whilst heir men were absent 69.3”(Grayzel).  Despite the fact that women contributed so much during the war effort, both publicly and privately, men viewed it as their duty to stand up and protect the family solely during the duration of the war.  Once the war was over that particular duty was simply terminated and to act as if it never happened.  Since men have priority it it was only natural for men to come back and take over their original roles, pushing women back into the shadows.  Women had a taste for a man’s life now and  for some a newfound sense of fulfillment.  Therefore, they did not want to relinquish these positions or the feelings of accomplishment they felt from being outside of the home. Women served our country internationally, by nursing the wounded back to health overseas, as well as nationally by supporting our factories and producing guns and ammunitions for the war effort while maintaining the economy.   Unlike most European nations, which recognized women’s integral role in the war effort women in the United States women were assumed to go back to their normal private sector of society. Many women felt defeated because they continued to experience incomparably low wages and were forced back into the shadows. However, with the immense number of casualties the war left some households without a man.  This made women’s duty to provide for the family permanent.  Thus proving to society that women had the ability to provide for the family and work.  It also allowed women to take part bigger part in economic affairs.  For the women who found a new sense of excitement from being outside of the home they began to rally for their rights.  Women’s efforts in the war helped them gain support and ultimately lead to the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920- women’s suffrage (Women in World War 1). Even though traditional social laws about family and domestic life barely changed after WWI social interactions between the genders did begin to alter. The divide between men and women’s social interactions lessened.  Women began to embrace this new freedom by  cutting their hair shorter and wearing shorter skirts and even pants.  

Women After WWI and Prior to WWII

Impacts of War and Feminism Wiki

Flappers (image source)

With the end of the war and the 19th amendment being passed in 1920 for women’s suffrage, America had entered the era famously known as the “Roaring 20s.” During this time, a new generation of women were being “born.” They were known as the flappers. They chopped their long hair, lightened and trimmed their clothing to make movement faster. The time period was also known as the Jazz Era, which changed the dancing of women and was targeted for them to dance freely. With the inspiration of Coco Chanel, corsets were ditched and the look “garconne” (“little boy”) took over their closets. “The flapper attitude was characterized by stark truthfulness, fast living, and sexual behavior. Flappers seemed to cling to youth as if it were to leave them any moment. They took risks and were reckless (Rosenberg).” At this time, Henry Ford’s Model T was making automobiles a commodity for people and “the flappers were not only riding them but driving them(Rosenberg).” Women of the 1920s were flaunting their sexuality. During this time, not only were women enjoying life but they were also working. The number of working women increased by twenty-five percent. Divorces were made easier so the rate of divorce doubled. However, most women, still, were housewives and not as free as men (BBC).

The moment the Stock Crash of 1929 took place on Black Tuesday, America entered the Great Depression. “The typical woman in the 1930s had a husband who was still employed, although he had probably taken a pay cut to keep his job; if the man lost his job, the family often had enough resources to survive without going on relief or losing all its possessions (Ware).”  The women’s role in the house was to “make do” with things in their hands by giving up their small luxuries and “practicing petty economies like buying day-old bread or warming several dishes in the oven to save gas(Ware).” The depression caused men to lose their jobs and feel as if they were failures because they could not hold up their deal of the patriarchal values of the family. In this struggle, the women’s load was doubled as they tried to save money and complete their daily tasks. “The men, cut adrift from their usual routine, lost much of their sense of time and dawdled helplessly and dully about the streets; while in the homes the women’s world remained largely intact and the round of cooking, house cleaning, and mending became if anything more absorbing.” To put it another way, no housewife lost her job in the Depression(Ware).”

While the United States was still in the depression, WWII was taking over Europe and with the joining of the United States into the war, the roles in the families once again shifted for both men and women.


Women in the Work Force

Women’s Roles in WWII

Like stated earlier during times of war traditions and normalcy slowly diminish which allows people to challenge those traditions.  Women have taken this opportunity to explore the public sector of society.  During WWII 350,000 women enlisted in the war effort (History). Between 1940-1945 one out of every four women worked outside of the home.  Women’s role was especially present in the air force, accounting for 65% of its entire workforce.  Compared to less than 1% in previous wars this shows a lot of advancement for women.  A lot of propaganda  took place during World War II, such as the infamous Rosie the Riveter campaign. The Rosie the Riveter campaign in particular stressed the importance of women’s involvement on a patriotic level. Although women’s efforts in the war were very public and appreciated, it was not shown through women’s pay.  Women often did not even make fifty percent of the men’s wages.

Societal expectations for women began to change as well.  There were many quick marriages of teenage girls to men that were going off to seas (National WWII Museum).  Women’s role became to be appreciated in the public sector.  Even General Eisenhower “felt that he could not win the war without the aid of women in uniform.” Unfortunately, when the war was over many women again lost their jobs to the men returning home. Some women experienced difficulties trying to reap the benefits of being a veteran.  Once again, advancements for the women's movement took a few steps backward when the men returned home.  Although women were happy to see the return of their husbands and sons, women couldn't help but miss the sense of independence that they experienced while the men were overseas.  Threfore many women had a desire to keep their jobs (Willis).  Media started to push for women to return to their familial work just like men were returning home to their families.  As many as four million women lost their factory jobs.  

American society started to transition into suburban culture.  This lead to a new ideal for many women.  Media started to portray women as the typical suburban wife with a nuclear family and a white picket fence.  The idea of women became that of “housework, childcare, and bordem” (Willis). Media also became to campagin the notion that if women were to work in the public sector their family would suffer.  Women became to struggle with their image of a perfect “suburban wife” because women had difficulty related to this ideal.  

Vietnam nurses

Vietnam Nurses

Women After WWII and Prior to the Vietnam War

Women in the 1950s were being pressured into getting married and starting a family. Young women were going to college to find a husband and were being pushed down the aisle at 19. Even though women were making their move to the working industry, the focus was still their roles at home. They weren’t going to college for a job, they were going to find a husband. If a woman wasn’t married by her 20s, she risked becoming an “old maid.” Even worse than being single was being a single mother. If a women had a child and no husband, she was sent away and shunned during pregnancy. If a woman’s family was financially stable, she was expected to be a stay at home mom. Women who worked when it wasn’t necessary were considered selfish. Women who did work, worked for long hours and low wages. More than half of employed women worked for more than 50 hours a week and more than one fifth worked more than 55 hours a week. Women’s average annual pay was around $500 compared to men who earned double that, according to the Social Security Administration. (Source)

Women During the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was very different than both World War I and II.  During the previous wars men were often celebrated as heroes for our country.  However, the Vietnam War did not gain much support.  Normally, times of war increase rates of nationalism this was not the case. The Vietnam War is the only war- or policing action- that the United States is perceived to have lost.  “By the time the United States realized that the war was utterly unwinnable, it was already too late. In 1973, when President Nixon withdrew the last U.S. ground troops, nearly 60,000 Americans were dead, thousands more suffered from the physical and psychological repercussions of the brutal warfare in the jungles of Vietnam, and the American people had learned to distrust their leaders and to question their nation's essential values” (Shmoop).  Men are never taught to recede from a fight.  They are taught to fight until they win, or else they are less of a man.  Therefore, the Vietnam war threatened men's masculinity for the first time.

The Vietnam War not only changed our society’s view on the relationship between war and masculinity but also on gender roles. Not only women were protesting their stances and changing their opinions in politics but were also actively involved with the war.  Nearly 11,000 women did participate in the war.  Their major role was nurses (History).  Even though women were making significant strides in society the Vietnam War also reinforced certain gender roles. The primary one being that women are nurses which further feminized the nursing profession.  Apart from nurses there were only nine Navy women, all of which held officer positions.  “the U.S. Marine Corps had a more limited female presence in Vietnam, as until 1966 only 60 female marines were permitted to serve overseas, with most of those stationed in Hawaii(History).”


Works Cited