Not June Cleaver
Although motherhood is the axle around which the activities of women after the war revolved, the selections in Meyerowitz’s book flesh out the variety of women’s roles and perspectives that preceded and seeded the women’s movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Among other images, the book provides a daughter’s perspective on the McCarthy communist witch hunts, an alternate reading of the media “back-alley abortion” provider cliche, and an expanded look at women’s popular magazine articles—different from that of Betty Friedan’s FEMININE MYSTIQUE. The stories of women who stood by their men on picket lines and peace rallies, without men on wartime assembly lines and at the abortion table, and often in front of men seeking justice in the workplace and in the courtroom are told. The contemporary and often negative images of women as they fulfilled these roles are documented as well.
Some of the essays are easy to read; more difficult ones reflect the dissertations from which they come. Eighty-two footnotes followed one article, but even these were interesting reading. The tone of the articles varies from narrative or interview style to painfully polemic. Several black-and-white photographs help the remembering process. A few articles slightly miss the mark of the book’s feminine focus, speaking to the racial, political, or economic concerns of the time with the woman’s voice as the subtheme. As a whole, however, the book is a fine retrieval of missing chapters from the life stories of women who were the vanguard of the 1960’s. Those who lived in these times will identify with some of the images, but even they will see more patently than before the birthing struggle that created the women’s movement.