The sex roles or our society have been changing from the dawn of time. What society feels to be “acceptable” in the eyes of the sexes, has changed due to media, the times, technological advances, and what a society as a whole feels necessary to survive and prosper. In the U. S, the sex roles have changed from what was perceived as acceptable in the 1950’s, to the present day America. Society shifted from a family oriented way of thinking, to a more liberal, loose fitting definition of family. In the 1950’s, the U. S went through major shifts in the various sex roles held by both men and women.
With the war going on, and the sudden decrease of men in and around the work force, women were called upon to do, what was once thought to be only work acceptable for a man to uphold. The once ever-popular ideal and role of the woman as a housewife, was socially changed to cater to the sudden loss of the main workforce, which in the 1950’s prior to the war, was predominantly male. Once the war was over and the men began to once again flood the work force, society suddenly made it inappropriate for women to hold the jobs they once did.
Through propaganda the women were brought out of the original housewife mode and into the work place, and through propaganda, the women were placed back in their homes. Prior to the war, the woman’s place was in the home. Her job was to be the housewife, mother and devoted wife, while the husband’s job was to make the money and provide for his family. “Women in the work field” was not thought to be appropriate. The middle classes in the U. S, strived to be socially acceptable, and along those thoughts, it was the middle classes that were fed the information through media, to establish the social norms.
As seen in the movie, “Rosie the Riveter”, The ideal household, consisted of the women staying home and spending her time cleaning the house, getting the kids ready for her husband to come home, doing the laundry, and buying food with the money her husband gave her. Whereas, the husbands role was to bring in the money to support the family. Movies would portray such a lifestyle as being the norm, what society should be like. The companies, would market their product specifically with the intent of appealing to the females, just as they do today. The roles were pretty set, and no one really complained about where they fit in.
For females, they were raised at a young age to accept their roles, and were conditioned to look to be the best housewife for her husband. The belief in a women’s destined social role, prior to WWII, was reinforced by the popular media of the day. “Since women bought 65-80% of all goods sold in the U. S, advertisement and product designs were frequently aimed at feminine concerns, at least as male advertising executives saw them. ”(American Decades pg. 279) Magazines were filled with images of dedicated housewives whose main concern was their family and pleasing their husband.
The men were conditioned to work for the good of their family. Always perceived as the stronger sex, having to take care of the weaker one, which was the female. Once the war started, the roles of the men and women changed. Due to the war, the majority of the men in the work fields at the time went off to do their duty and fight in the army for their country. Meanwhile, back at home; companies were faced with no one to work for the company since the majority of the workforce at the time was male. This is when the propaganda started.
Suddenly it became OK for a women to hold a mans position. In fact, it was her duty to the greater U. S, to step up and help out. It was the mini war for the females. Now, the media glamorized the workingwoman. Whereas before, she was portrayed as poor, ugly and run down, she was now held in a different light. Pictures were posted of a strong, confidant women, going to work to support the boys off at war. Pictures like the one of Marilyn Monroe in the factory, portrayed this new lifestyle as somewhat glamorous. The role of the female changed to a now working mom, outside of the home.
The importance of the home shifted for the time, and women were “allowed” to leave the home. After the war was over, and the men began to once again fill the work field, the media immediately began stating how women should be back at home. The media would state that women, who spend too much time away from their home, were endangering their families and neglecting their husbands and their children. An article in Life magazine stated “They should use their minds in every conceivable way…so long as their primary focus of interest and activity is the home.
Media pictures showed children running rampant and hurting themselves and blamed it on the mothers who are never home, as seen in the movie,”Rosie the Riveter”. A lot of the women though, decided that they enjoyed working and although for a short time after the war was over, the women went back to the roles they were in prior to the war, the women soon began to play a different part. Such as the women’s roles began to change, so did the males role as the father. In the 1950’s, the baby boom, formed the demographic foundation for the quickening attention to the male family role.
These baby boom families, popularly associated with tradition, were harbingers of transitional family patterns. (Journal of Family History) Television became more predominate as a means of communication after the war, and television commercials and shows, began infiltrating themselves into the American home. Brining with it, the visual norm of what life should be like. Programs in the 50’s after the war, showed the rise of fatherhood as we know it today, and the shift in the woman’s role in the house, to outside in the work force.
Popular shows like “Father Knows Best” showed the U. S, that men are taking on new roles as the father and have become more family oriented in their time spent in the home. American society in the 1950’s was less stable then it seemed. The Depression, World War II, and the unpredictable growth and prosperity of the postwar period brought fundamental changes in American life. According to the book “American Decades”, by 1956, 35% of all adult women were members of the work force, and nearly a quarter of all married women were working.
Times have changed since the 50’s, and although as a society we will hold onto some of the family views that were present in that time period, we, as a whole, have begun to limit the roles less of both male and female. Such as television was a contributor to the stereotypical views we had on society, television is even a larger part in our society today. Over 90% of the community has a television in the U. S. Thus, television is a huge source of our conditioning not only as individuals, but also as a society. More and more programming is setting the stage for what is OK for us to do.
Since the 50’s, women’s parenting on the television has dropped from 69. 2%, to 28. 3% in the 80’s. (Sex Roles: a Journal of Research) Women are depicted now in a wider range of jobs and found in greater numbers in the workforce. The depiction of the various sex roles in our society has changed to a more liberal attitude. Although boundaries are still set, and the female remains to be the overall person thought of when the question of who should stay home comes up, the numbers are decreasing. The male has taken on more of a fatherly role in the sense that he stays home with the kids.
Programming has depicted the single father role more and more often. It has now become the norm for women to work outside of the home, and OK for the man to stay home. Our roles as male and female have become more androgynous as the times have progressed. In defending one view or the other in terms of the acceptability of the 50’s view on the sex roles, and present day, the present day has far surpassed the 50’s. In the 50’s, male types composed the view on what women should do. The men were the ones feeding the stereotype taken on by the housewife.
Due to the fact that it was the men that held the positions, which highly influenced what society felt was the norm, i. e. , television, newspapers, magazines, radio, and movies. Men, disregarding the female’s perspective, established the glamour of working in the home to support the male figure. Once the females were allowed outside of the home, during the war, they never fully returned to their original ascribed status. This is due to the fact that they enjoyed their new role. As it is today, women have more freedom in their decisions and are not necessarily looked down upon for upholding a job outside of the home.
This newfound freedom was never present in the 50’s. The male role has now become more universal then it was back then as well. Men are able to stay home with the kids and hold part time jobs, and still be socially accepted. This new liberating concept has made America flourish into the commercial giant that it is today. With new ideas filling the market due primarily to the diversity of the people working in the various departments. These new sex roles in the 90’s, have allowed barriers to be broken in the work force, and home, that would never have come down in the 50’s.
The family has become more rounded and the youth no longer places boundaries in what they feel they can accomplish. The general conditioning of the youth has changed dramatically, in the past 40 years, to what is now, a more open area. The youth is able to see both male and female handling similar, if not like, jobs, as well as taking responsibility for the family duties. The woman’s role is no longer confined to the home an in the society today, it is finally possible for the women to come home to her husband.