Life on the Homefront

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How did WWII change the role of women and societal views on sex and "proper" roles, and how does this relate to today?

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During World War II, many women left the home and went to work in numbers that were unprecedented. Whereas about twelve million women were in the workforce before the attack upon Pearl Harbor, after the United States entered war, six million more women left the home to work in place of the men who were drafted.

Many of the women who had jobs simply retained them at a higher rate of pay because their employers wanted to keep them. But other women were enlisted in the work force as they went to work at manufacturing plants, becoming active in the war effort. Also, during previous wars, the role of women in the military was limited to nursing; however, with World War II, there were many women who enlisted and performed various roles. In 1948 the Women's Armed Services Integration Act recognized women as a permanent part of the armed forces. This Act led to more equality for women in the military.
Not all was positive, however. There were African-Americans who became involved with the military either as servicemen or women as workers. But, because the military was segregated, these people were subjected to discrimination.

After World War II, many women returned to their roles as homemakers as their husbands returned home, and they started families or had another child during what is called "The Baby Boom." Nevertheless, women who served in the military and in the workforce certainly challenged social norms and gave women a new perspective upon their opportunities. 

Some women profited from their war-time experience in opportunities and in feelings of self-worth. For instance, Maggie Gee, who is now 84 and a retired physicist who grew up in Berkeley, California. Ms. Gee was one of two Chinese-American women who flew airplanes in the military while she was an Air Force Service Pilot.

"I think it changed the dynamic - and gave women confidence that they could earn a living," she says of the war. "You didn't have to be dependent on the male. Being a housewife is an honorable job. But with women who were out in the world, they didn't feel subservient to the man anymore."

Clearly, many women who entered the workforce in WWII had positive experiences that gave them self-confidence and greater opportunities that they provided them hope for in any other situation of the time. Truly, there is no doubt that during and after WWII, there were opportunities opened in careers hitherto closed to women. These opportunities led, in turn, to more opportunities and challenges to stereotypical gender roles.

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