When men departed for World War 2, women were forced to join the labor force by working in industries and plants. From then on, women have done all manner of jobs to the point of equally competing with men in the job market. During the war, women were conscripted into the military while others worked as engineers, code breakers, pilots, mechanics and farmers among other duties that were considered the preserve of men.
After the war, the American and Canadian governments asked the women to leave work to create space for men, but, unfortunately, women had tasted employment and they knew that they could work just like men (Sangster, 1995). Women did not accept this, and they fought back with some securing employment, and from then on women have demonstrated that they are equally gifted as men. Currently women are heads of corporations, lawyers, doctors and scientists.
The Second World War played a vital role in removing women from home to the work place, and many aspects regarding employment of women have changed since the war. Some of these are the changes in policies regarding women’s work and their right to employment, establishment of their right to work after the war, and recognition of their contribution during the war.
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Despite the entry of women into the labor market, there was the continuous stereotyping within the society. One of them is that the male should be the sole bread winner while the woman should stay at home, and take care of the children. Motivated by government propaganda such as “Rosie Riveter” and psychological reports such as one by J. Bowlby that reported on the impacts of maternal deprivation on the child women left the labor force, but this was not to stay for long (Colman, 2008). Societal changes altered this notion, and it has continued to be weakened over time.
Before and during the war, the society frowned upon a woman raising kids alone (single parenting), but after the war and the years that had followed, single parenting had become more common mainly due to divorce. Women could no longer rely on men as they became the sole bread winners; therefore, they had to return to employment and this has remained a trend since then.
Before and during the war, some jobs were predominantly considered male oriented, while others were for the female gender. However, after the war and the years that followed, this stereotypical belief has changed drastically. Before, careers such as engineering and manual work were reserved for men, while nursing and primary school teaching were reserved for women (Hoberek, 2005). Competition in the job market and the positive demonstration by women during the war changed such believes and women have successfully taken male dominated careers, and, on the other hand, men have also ventured into careers that were considered the preserve of women. Although men still dominate such careers, the war gave women the experience that could not be ignored because it amounted to discrimination or ingrained the notion that women could be used and dumped at will.
During the war, the need to ensure a constant food supply saw many women entering the agricultural sector, but after the war women preferred moving to cities and taking employment that did no remove them from their families. This led to women being employed in offices as secretaries and traditional jobs such as teaching.
One way that women have fought discrimination in the work place after the war is by supporting the principle of ‘equal pay for equal work’ (Sangster, 1995). This principle defends women from being paid less as compared with men for the same amount of work. In order to achieve this, women had to join labor movements and unions, and then use their influence to ensure this principle is exercised. A number of union contracts stick to this principle as one individual said, “you cannot have a democracy by discriminating against 52 percent of the population” (Colman, 2008).
Another crucial factor, which ensured women gained employment after the war, was the economic prosperity of the 1950s. During this period, many Americans and Canadians were becoming economically prosperous, and young men and women attended college in large numbers (Colman, 2008). This gave women the opportunity to be educated as men and, therefore, compete in the labor market. The American government provided assistance in the payment of college tuition fees, job training and loans for war veterans who included women. This gave women more say in employment matters than before the war.
The civil rights women presented women with an opportunity to further their rights in terms of employment, especially for women from racially segregated groups such as African Americans. The movement led to enactment of the civil right acts that prohibited any form of discrimination including sex based discrimination. Women could access the same employment as men and earn the same wages since this right was enshrined in the laws of the land.
Although the ‘Equal pay for equal work’ did not fully harmonize the wages of women and men, there was an increase in social benefits after the war, which furthered social welfare. This is an area where women had an advantage over their male counterparts. These social benefits include a generous maternity leave, public childcare and more provisions for children welfare. With these, women have the option to pursue careers of their choice or stay at home. Social benefits have fundamentally changed the way women work, and more countries are increasing social benefits especially those geared towards child welfare (Hoberek, 2005).
The era after the Second World War saw increased participation of women in politics. After the war, several laws that ensured inequality and prohibited discrimination were introduced. These laws have significantly impacted on the employment opportunities available to women. They are no longer regarded as second class citizens whose services are only required in times of emergencies (Hoberek, 2005). The freedom arising from these laws has widened the working options for women as they are no longer locked out from certain careers. The idea of having a woman minister leave alone the head of a state was inconceivable in the 1950s and 60s, but by 1980s, the entry of Margaret Thatcher into British politics changed this belief. She became a role model for women, and from then on women have participated in the political life of their countries and internationally (Hoberek, 2005). Therefore, the working status of women has changed significantly due to the increasing number of female politicians.
There are two developments, which had a far reaching impact on the employment of women after the Second World War and still have far reaching effects even at the moment. The introduction of the contraceptive pill and legalization of abortion empowered women in several ways. Pregnancy and child bearing could no longer be obstacles to employment and career progression. Women had the power to determine when to be pregnant and the size of their families. Smaller families freed more time, which gave women more freedom in the labor market.
The relaxation of attitudes towards sexual behavior and divorce favored women in many ways. The introduction of the pop culture in the post war years led the society to view divorce and some sexual behaviors leniently. Marriage was no longer seen a necessity and these single women got an opportunity to enter the labor market because they were no longer constrained by family demands like child rearing (Colman, 2008).
The economic boom of the 1950s led to the rise of the middle class. The demands of middle class families to meet their needs and wants driven by the rise of American consumerism led to demand for an extra source of income. This pressure forced middle class women to seek employment in order to supplement family income and enable them afford the lifestyle they desired. Although they sought employment that did not take them for longer periods from their families, this shift changed how women worked in the post World War Two.
Technological advancement changed how women worked in the post war periods. The development of electronic appliances such as the electric and gas stoves, washing machines and vacuum cleaners gave married women an opportunity to attend to household chores and have time for employment (Sangster, 1995). These machines increased efficiency than ever before. Coupled with television advertising that promised a departure from the backbreaking housework, expenditure on these appliances by American families rose by 240 percent in the first five years preceding the war. These appliances appealed to women from lower middle class families, because of opportunity for leisure time that used to be the preserve of the upper class women. With these appliances, women could change their lifestyles flexibly.
In conclusion, several radical changes have contributed in changing women’s work after World War Two, which presented women with opportunities to participate in various activities from a choice perspective instead of obligation. Although women have made significant strides in employment after the war, there remain some areas which are obstacles in the achievement of equality and freedom. Stereotypes such as seeing “the home and childcare as solely a woman’s responsibility” needs to be changed by women themselves.
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