2019 - 2020 Modern Volume 10

The US Women in World War Two and Beyond: Rights, Struggles and Contradictions

By Rachel Yu Cheng Chan

The United States of America has a very long and complex relationship with the Feminism movements from the 1940s to the current period. It is contradictory that the nation promotes freedom and equal opportunities for all and yet there are situations where females are given less power and rights than their male counterparts. According to Business Insider official website, the United States was placed 6th in the poll of the “Top Ten Countries with Gender Pay Gap 2018” with differences of 18.2% when comes to earning wages. However, in the US Equal Pay Act of 1963, it is implemented that men and women are required to be paid equally in the same job. Additionally, according to the National Geographic/Ipsos, which has surveyed 1000 women and more, only 29% of respondents identified as feminists, while another 69% did not. But, many women (40%) believe they have been suffered from discrimination and mistreatment. For a country that has been vocal on human rights, it is contradictory to note that they are still facing discrimination on female through many factors. In the United States history, was there a period when women were treated equally to men?

Interestingly enough, there was a time in American history that women could be (almost) equal to men. The tumultuous era of World War 2 contributed to this shift in gender treatment in public. The fact that men were enlisted for the war in Europe had caused the United States a lack of manpower for production. To combat this instability, Congress decided to get the women, who were mostly housewives, to get a job outside from their private space. In which, they are a temporary replacement to the men that went to war. To further promote this change, the US government paid artists to make advertisements, like war posters and magazine ads, to encourage women to be active in the front line. Paul McNutt, the director of the War Manpower Commission in 1943, stated that women worked in labour industries like building aeroplanes in factories, or working as civil servants as nurses and even as pilots helped boost the sales proposition businesses. Thus, the era of World War 2 allowed women to contribute to nation-building and maintaining the economy when there was a severe lack of men in the country. Furthermore, there were other women of different races participating in this action as well. In Ebony magazine, the editor proclaimed in “Goodbye Mammy, Hello Mom” that many black women were sent to the industries when previously they had worked in private homes as maids to white families. It is vital to point out that they too assisted in the US economy. Hence, all working women have become “Rosie the Riveter”.

The Second World War set the motion of gender roles being played equally. However, in the 1950s, women were forced back to their former duties as private homemakers. This was a huge shame as had the government allowed women to continue their position, the activism of women rights would have flourished. Alas, it was not fated to be for the government aimed to boost its population after the war. Moreover, the main factor of this regression was to accommodate the male soldiers back to society with available spots in the working industries. To promote their goals of integrating the soldiers back to society, the government again used magazines, news, shows and advertisements to stereotypically portray men as the sole breadwinner and the women as home-makers. Which goes back to square one with the gender situation being that of the pre-war time. Unfortunately, after the war, when women wanted to continue to contribute to society, they would usually be discriminated against. In More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan claimed that women, who wished to continue to work, were referred to as “unlovely women”. These, furthermore, created discontentment on the women side. 

In conclusion, the manipulation of media had allowed women to take the centre stage in the production of American’s industries in the early 1940s. While men can be commendable in their war efforts in Europe, women should be praised for theirs. It is upsetting to know that the women in the frontlines are not well respected by the society that pushed them to take those jobs. The women workers not just replaced the men’s position in the industries but also did not brag about it. Women of the greatest generation should be celebrated as they fulfil the demands of their leaders with distinction.


American Experience. Women and Work After World War II, PBS (20 March 2020), https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/tupperware-work/

Delfino, D. “12 countries where men earn significantly more than women”, Business Insider (17 August 2018), https://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-the-gender-pay-gap-2018-8?r=DE&IR=T

Elaine, T. M. “Ambivalent Dreams: Women and the Home After World War II.” Journal of Women’s History, vol. 13, no. 3, 2001, pp. 151-152. ProQuest, https://search-proquest-com.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/docview/203246127?accountid=13828, doi: http://dx.doi.org.sheffield.idm.oclc.org/10.1353/jowh.2001.0070.

McEuen, M. A. “Epilogue”, Making War, Making Women: Femininity and Duty on the American Home Front, 1941-1945, University of Georgia Press, 2011. Pg 214-217.

Morris, C. “Less than a third of American women identify as feminists”, Ipsos (25 November 2019), https://www.ipsos.com/en-us/american-women-and-feminism

Santana, M.C. “From Empowerment to Domesticity: The Case of Rosie the Riveter and the WWII Campaign”, Frontiers in Sociology (23 December 2016), https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsoc.2016.00016/full