In what specific ways did the Second World War change the lives of women in Canada and/or the United States? Were the changes merely temporary or did they sow the seeds of collapse for traditional gender roles? *
* The Second World War dramatically changed the lives of women in both Canada and the United States, on every level from political, to social, to sexual. Further, the changes in women’s lives during this time were not merely temporary reactions to a current situation, but rather were profound societal changes that would forever alter the place of women, and men, in modern society.
Before the war, women were cast as the “homemaker”, and their principal duty was to bear children and to narrow their endeavors to areas pertaining to home life. However, when the United States joined the Allies and entered the battlefield in 1941, roughly 16 million men were forced to vacate their jobs at home and enlist in military service. So the women stepped forward. *
* Encouraged by government propaganda like the famous “Rosie the Riveter” poster which advocated a woman’s patriotic duty to leave home and join the workplace, women joined the war effort in unprecedented numbers. By the end of World War II, 6.5 million American women had entered the workforce, increasing the size of the female labor force by more than 50%, from 11.5 million to 18 million. *
* During the war, women dominated almost every aspect of industry. They worked in careers as varied as streetcar conductors, taxicab drivers, business managers, engineers, and railroad workers. They worked in steel mills, where they made munitions and operated tractors. Some were even elected as government officials. *
* Nevertheless, when men returned from the war, they were given their jobs back, and women were expected to resume their previous lifestyle. However, a large percentage of women became increasingly frustrated with this notion. Women had proven, when given the chance, they could fill the role of men in traditionally male jobs and perform at the same level. *
* In this paper, I will argue that these women, who stepped out of the home and into the work force during World War II, were the women that provided the catalyst for the collapse of traditional gender roles.
In addition to women joining the civilian workforce, what is often overlooked is the increased participation of women in the military, where 350,000 women served in the United States Armed Forces. Though women were not permitted on the front lines, they were vital in maintaining “the bureaucratic mechanisms that [were] necessary in total warfare” by becoming typists, clerks and mail sorters. *
* Despite the fact women could not engage in armed conflict, they often found themselves close to the front lines in sectors like the Army and Navy Medical Corps, where they served as surgical assistants, among other positions. One critical branch of the Army was the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, which included 1,074 female pilots employed to fly military aircraft under the direction of the United States Air Force. Their efforts freed up countless male pilots for combat and service duties overseas. WASP flew over 60 million miles in every type of military aircraft, and in 2009 was given the Congressional Gold Medal for their tremendous efforts in the war.
Back at the home front, women were not only working in factories and performing all the other duties they took over for the men, but they also had to find time to aid the men overseas. They did so by rationing, food, gas and even clothes. They salvaged recycled goods and organized events where women would share with each other the most efficient ways to minimize waste. Women also initiated numerous volunteer organizations, which prepared packages for the military overseas.
Certainly World War II profoundly impacted the lives of women....