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In the popular stereotype of post World War II America women abandoned their wartime jobs and contentedly retreated to the home These mythical women were like the 1950s TV character June Cleaver white middle class suburban housewives Not June Cleaver unveils the diversity of postwar women showing how far women departed form this one dimensional imageThis collection of fifteen revisionist essays charts new directions in American women's history and provides connections to scholarship that until recently has focused primarily on the years before 1945 and after 1960 The contributors explore the work and activism of postwar American women and also point to the contradictions and ambiguities in postwar concepts of genderIncluding examinations of such aspects of postwar women's history as the arrival of Chinese women immigrants in New York City; women's changing presence in the labor force and in union organization; and the precarious lives of women abortionists lesbians and single mothers the authors effectively demonstrate how postwar women's identities were not only an expression of their gender but also of their class race ethnicity sexual orientation religion occupation and politics


10 thoughts on “Not June Cleaver (Critical Perspectives On The P)

  1. says:

    This volume makes no attempt to provide a comprehensive history It aims instead to showcase new directions in postwar women's history to subvert the persistent stereotype of domestic uiescent suburban womanhood and to generate new histories of a complicated era p 11Against the mythic image of June Cleaver Donna Reed and Harriet Nelson Meyerowitz offers a complicated image of women in the 50s As she attempts to do in her classroom this collection of essays seeks to help us get beyond an image of women in the 50s that is limited to a snapshot of middle class women in suburban homes Most women in fact fell outside of this ideal even if we were to accept it as the idea which we are not Summarizing the historiography of women in the post war era she points out that until recently most accounts have stressed the confining traditionalism of the 50s which foisted an ideal of domesticity on women in a way that led Betty Freidan to condemn in The Feminine Mystiue 1963 which supposedly gave voice to women's grievances against the ideal of domesticity Yet in another way she reinterpreted the 50s in a way that has stuck with us for a very long time Linking the containment of communism to the containment of women in the postwar era Elaine Tyler May carried this analysis forward An excessive focus on women's subordination suppresses much of the history of the period As early as 1972 William Chafe was pointing out that women were still entering the workforce after the second world war The long term trend of older middle class women working when married continued into the 1950s In 1984 Eugenia Kaledin published Mothers and More which celebrated the success of working mothers Though this did not draw the attention to women outside the limelight it did awaken us to the fact that not all women were isolated victims of suburbanization In the 80s and 90s further study of lesbians communist women and white rebellious teens shed light on the greater variety of experiences of women in the 1950s The collection of essays in Not June Cleaver focus on the experience of a wide range of women women who actually defied the stereotype and effected change toward greater rights and a larger sphere for women One study of Chinese women shows how their wage work broke down patriarchal constraints another on nurses shows how they were able to gain concessions such as better pay and working conditions by their collective resistance in an era of labor shortage Women of the period participated in other progressive causes within trade unions the peace movement the civil rights movement and in civic reform Women re energized and re shaped an earlier maternalist politics to speak out for peace for the victims of the red scare and for civil rights White women reformers moved to the issue of race in the post war period in a way that replaced the issue of worker relief and outreach to the poor in the prewar period The YWCA for instance was instrumental in early agitation for desegregation In the South women like Septima Clark Rosa Parks and Ella Baker joined the civil rights movement Chicanas organized in the southwest Though not uestioning the sexual division of labor their organizational work laid the groundwork for later Chicana feminism Despite the dominance of the NWP and its virtual monopoly on the term feminist with its liberal individualist overtones the women of various worker organizations were fighting for a collective vision of feminism Persecuted in the red scare left feminist organizations went out of business but left feminist activity did not cease Left sentiment survived even if left organizations did not thrive Others have shown new forms of oppression marginalization and exclusion by looking at the way that racial definitions of poverty stigmatized poor black mothers as pathological and poor white mothers as neurotic Others have delved into the lesbian subculture to find ways in which the regulation of female sexuality worked in the postwar period Rickie Solinger on abortion and Donna Penn on lesbians The thriving female sexual underworld was also a source of strength Not only did the sexual subculture provide reinforcement to alternate female identities but so too did the beat culture The rebellious white teenagers Wini Bries studies sought a new kind of authenticity in their identification with men of the working class African American men and other rebels in the Beat Culture These women taken as a whole seem to form a bridge between the feminism of the early 20th C and that of the 60s and 70s What emerges from this study is a sense of the tremendous continuities in women's attempts to define their own identities in the troubled 20th Century In Beyond the Feminine Mystiue Meyerowitz goes to the heart of the historiographical uestion of women in the 50s by taking on the very origin of the popular orthodoxy itself in Betty Friedan's claim to women's oppression through images of domesticity in the popular press In an opening statement Meyerowitz states the orthodoxyIn Friedan's formulation the writers and editors of mass circulation magazines especially women's magazines were the Frankensteins who has created this feminine monster In defense of women Friedan did not choose a typical liberal feminist language of rights euality or even justice Influenced by the new human potential psychology she argued instead that full time domesticity stunted women and denied their basic human need to grow For Friedan women and men found personal identity and fulfillment through individual achievement most notably through careers Without such growth she claimed women would remain unfulfilled and unhappy and children would suffer at the hands of neurotic mothers p 230Claiming for herself and her fellow 1960s feminists the task of liberating women from this oppression this foundational statement of post war feminism secured Friedan not only a place in the women's movement but also a place in historiography But was it good history? Meyerowitz reexamines the press sources that Friedan based her claims on and even broadened the scope to understand the popular discourse around domesticity for the middle class in the 1950s Meyerowitz looks at articles published in the following periodicals 1946 1958MiddlebrowReader's DigestCoronet HighbrowHarper'sAtlantic Monthly African American PublicationsEbonyNegro Digest Women's MagazinesLadies' Home JournalWoman's Home Companion From the non fiction articles in these magazines she finds within the mass media subversive as well as oppressive voices and concludes thatAll of the magazines sampled advocated both the domestic and the non domestic sometimes in the same sentence In the literature domestic ideals existed in ongoing tension with an ethos of individual achievement that celebrated non domestic activity individual striving public service and public success p 231The mass culture was therefore delivering mixed messages about domesticity and Friedan echoed the ambivalence of the mass media she criticizedStrong accomplished women with public careers are present in the pages of these magazines Take for instance Dorothy McCullough Lee the mayor of Portland Oregon who was credited with wiping out organized crime in that city A picture of modern superwoman who manages both career and family also emerges from the portraits of the women in these magazines Especially in Ebony where a vision of racial advancement encompassed spheres both private and public women were encouraged to excel inside and outside the home All the time however these magazines stressed that these women were feminine not lesbian mannish or man hating Interestingly Friedan also sought to assure her readers that women who felt trapped by the feminine mystiue were actually sufficiently feminine as well Alongside stories of family and motherhood there were stories of female Horatio Algers women like Helen Keller who buy hard work and force of will had risen to distinction in society Articles defended women's wage work and even advocated child care for working mothers and other types of support for women's paid work Housewives were encouraged to take active roles in government as a form of mobilization against communism in the Cold War The magazines did portray domesticity as the heart of women's roles but they did discuss openly the downside of housewifery Articles about the plight of the young mother who was isolated and lonely in her perfect suburban home appeared throughout the period Even the supposed exploitation of black women as sex objects in magazines like Ebony can be understood differently as a reinforcement of the belief that black women are beautiful To the claim that Friedan makes that Marynia Farnham the famous antifeminist was the dominant voice Meyerowitz argues that the abject subservience to male authority and domination which she argued for was often rejected than accepted in these magazines Modern Woman The Lost Sex 1947 Farnham was a marginal figure in an upbeat positive and optimistic age Mixing long held beliefs in both women's domestic roles and the ideals of individual achievement the magazines form a bridge to the earlier feminism of the pre war era Stressing continuities Meyerowitz provides strong evidence that the Friedan story of decline from an empowered position of the 1930s was simply an imagined past that skewed reality in service of political ends


  2. says:

    Interesting collection of articles that resituate women's history during the 1950s recasting the period as a bridge between the 1940s and 1960s rather than the bleak time in between


  3. says:

    In the 1960s Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystiue chronicling how women in the 1940s and 1950s were forced into the role of stay at home wife and mother This is a collection of essays by historians that refutes that stereotype of women in the mid 20th century There were female factory workers nurses students activists and other workers in many industries and yes housewives although uite a few of these were active in protesting nuclear weapons and other problems of the day The book provides a view that is not typically available to us or discussed and is a must read if you have an interest in women's history


  4. says:

    A collection of essays about women in the 50s put together to counter the mythology of women in the 50s as lily white suburban housewives Interesting essays about Beat women lesbians Chinese immigrants unwed mothers my favorite was probably the one about the group of pacifist activists who fought against mandatory duck and cover style nuclear war drills It's an interesting rhetorical success story Some boring ones but everyone's mileage will vary here


  5. says:

    Meanders a bit never really focusing on any specific countercultural movement or figure but glances paid penetratingly to American pop and political culture across the three decades post war Worth reading for a look at how American men and women saw one another if little else


  6. says:

    I only read The Sexualized Woman The Lesbian the Prostitute and the Containment of Sexuality in Postwar America by Donna Penn