Newfound opportunities, both abroad in uniform and domestic, challenged the stereotypes for a woman’s capabilities in a “man’s world.” Kathryn J. Atwood articulated, “Most of these women — the famous and the obscure — had one thing in common: they did not think of themselves as heroes. They followed their consciences, saw something that needed to be done, and they did it.” With the progression of World War II, these women proved far more than their capabilities, instead they overwhelmed the world with their advances in the workforce and their help in their country’s success. In spite of the generous amount of social fluidity throughout the war, the return of men following World War II hindered the progress that American women had made and created new questions about women’s role in society.
Precedently in 1940, the pre-war era, a woman’s role was almost always restricted to a domestic position. A small amount of women held jobs outside the house, but this was never glorified nor promoted. If a woman pursued a profession, it often fell into the category of conventional female labor, which included textile workers, teachers, nurses, and domestic servants. Although, once they became pregnant, this opportunity was taken away. These ambitious women became the beginning of the social movement for women, as they went against social norms concurrent to the ever growing stereotypes of their nature. Often enough, women were “forced to choose between a marriage license and a job… many young women have managed without a license and are living in sin and secrecy with their life partners and a double income” (Milkman, R. 1987).
As the epitome of dedication, these women were willing to break social boundaries because of their intrinsic desire to work. The notable transition into work for war operations from domestic labor followed President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to create the U.S. War Manpower Commission (WMC) to mobilize Americans in various venues for a total war effort. (Oxford) The WMC created new campaigns to recruit women laborers after “the great majority” of some five million new employees in 1943 would have to be women. With the ongoing gender debate, the WMC noted its major challenge would be “to remove social stigma attached to the idea of women working.” This challenge had a strong basis as the transition of women working “was not met with open arms at first, but resentment.
” For the simple, yet belittling notion that many men did not think that “women had the physical strength, mechanical ability, and emotional stability to do high-paying, skilled factory jobs.” (Colman, P. 1995) Nonetheless, women needed to fill the spots men left behind with the impending war.
As war approached and men went abroad, opportunities for women flourished. Labor in the war industries offered salaries much higher than what was found on the homefront, with the best rates in munition plants and the aircraft industry. Although their wages were far from what they were accustomed to, the wage opportunities for men continually surpassed their own.
By 1944, skilled female workers earned an average weekly wage of $31.21. Despite federal regulations that required equal pay for similar work, their male peers who held similar positions earned $54.65 weekly. (Oxford) In account of the smaller wages in comparison to men, many women were still eager to join the workforce because it allowed them to learn new skills previously exclusive for men.
Another section of the women’s population, however, were reluctant to leaving the household they always knew. As a result, the government illustrated, “Rosie the Riveter” a propaganda campaign, with the intent to heavily recruit women workers. Through “Rosie” the patriotic need for women to enter the workforce was accentuated. The war campaign specifically glamorized the war industries, constantly showing how women maintained their femininity and happiness, despite the discrepancies between the wages of their male counterparts. Between 1940 and 1945, the percentage of females in the U.S.
workforce increased from 27 to nearly 37 percent, which made this campaign one of the most successful recruitment operations in American history. (National Archive) With the expansion of women working outside the home, balancing full-time jobs and maternal duties became a heavy burden which the U.S. government did not compensate for. Men were sheltered from assuming this task of dual employment, yet they continually received higher wages concurrent to their criticism of a woman’s capabilities.The women of World War II did not let the criticism