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World War II bring a number of images to the minds of most Americans: the Atomic Bomb, the Japanese Internment Camps, fighter planes, military jeeps, assault rifles, and soldiers in battle. The overall impression of the war is very masculine, from troops of male soldiers to songs about our "boys" overseas. However, women played a very significant role in World War II, and it is believed by most war historians that without such a strong backing by the female population, America would not have been victorious in the war effort. Women had many roles in the second World War; American propaganda posters proclaimed, "Women In the War: We Can't Win Without Them!" (Giampaoli) Women had to enter the workforce to increase production of wartime goods and to take the place of the male workers that were drafted. Housewives had to completely reinvent the way in which they ran their households. Female journalists found themselves emerged in wartime reporting, and women joined the force and entered the military. Unfortunately, not all women during the war were as lucky as those scraping to get by with their families, or as lucky as those risking their lives in battle; women were also used as sexual slaves for the male soldiers in the war.
Women changed history by entering the workforce in mass during World War II. "The demands put on American industry by the war machine were immense. With some ten million men at war and the rest of the male population at work, it was clear the only way America would be able to win the war was if it enlisted large numbers of women for employment. " (Giampaoli) World War II was dependent on the production of weapons and supplies because of the new technology involved in fighting, more dependent on that technology than any war that preceded it. Women were employed in plants that built airplanes, tanks, and ships for use in battle. A massive propaganda campaign was started by the government to encourage women to enter the workforce, and to convince the men that it was acceptable for the women to do so. Until that point, it was considered a shame for a woman to have a job when there was a household of children at home. With the start of the war efforts, however, it became not only acceptable for women to become laborers, but actually considered to be the patriotic duty of women to get jobs. Women were pressured into getting labor jobs with threats that their husbands, brothers, and sons would die overseas if they did not produce the supplies that were needed. Other campaigns made labor jobs seem desirable in a sexual way, as if a working woman would be shrouded in luxury. However, the propaganda campaigns always presented the need for women in the labor force to be a temporary situation because it was not the intent of the government to change the social order of America; women would be expected to go back to their proper place after the war. It made the idea more appealing to both men and women if the angle "allowed the public to accept the participation of women in unusual jobs without challenging the basic belief about women's roles." (Rupp)
The reality of the situation was, however, that it did challenge feminine "ideals" and it did change the course of American women. The rate of women in the workplace hit an astounding nineteen million in 1944, when the war was at it's peak, which was a record. However, while women were being told they needed to work to save the country, they were also being told that they were not good enough to work. Many employers refused to hire women despite the propaganda encouraging them to do otherwise. Companies would fail labor requirements due to lack of workers, and still not hire the women who were turning out in mass to apply for jobs. Other employers would hire women, but not allow them to perform tasks that were previously "men's work," or would only hire a small number of women. The National War Labor Board recognized the unequal treatment which women were receiving in the workplace, such as unfair wages and work expectations. Employers continued to pay women the wages that women would have received in woman-standard positions in the workforce, rather than paying them the same wages as the men who perform the same tasks. Employers would argue that women's work was easier than men's work, and therefore deserved lower wages, but this was simply an excuse because women were performing the same hard labor and pulling the same long hours as the men. "Women who joined the labor force as a result of World War II were often referred to as "production soldiers." Their standard work week was 48 hours, though many women frequently worked overtime, Sunday was their only day off, and most vacations and holidays were canceled." (Giampaoli) Women operated cranes and other heavy machinery, tested guns and weapons, worked as volunteer fire fighters, drove taxis, welded and riveted, built jets and war vehicles, and sewed military uniforms. They were essential to every aspect of production in America.
Not every woman in America joined the workforce, but almost every woman in America was essential to the war effort. Housewives and mothers played a large role, and in fact mothers with no one else to care for their children were not encouraged to enter the workforce because providing childcare for those children while the mother was working would take other women out of the workforce. However, they were also not encouraged to find work simply because the idea of women working was hard to accept, and the idea of working mothers was nearly impossible because it went against so many generations of values. Women found themselves deprived of many household items that were now under serious rations, such as cleaning supplies and food items. Staples such as sugar were unavailable because they were being used, surprisingly, to make weapons. "Sugar cane supply was significantly diminished. What sugar was left was vital to the war effort, because it makes molasses; molasses makes ethyl alcohol; and alcohol makes the powder which fires guns and serves as Torpedo fuel, dynamite, nitrocotton, and other chemicals desperately needed by the American military." (Giampaoli) In addition to sugar, silk, nylon, rayon, cotton, and wool were all rationed to make parachutes, uniforms, tents, bags, and other necessities for the fighting troops, which meant that clothing was difficult to replace. Food items such as coffee, tea, butter, and meat were rationed as well, and it would take a certain amount of scrounge skills for a woman to cook a full meal for her family. Gasoline was also a rationed item because the rubber from tires was needed, and less gasoline meant less driving. Steel was rationed in 1943, which meant that housewives could no longer buy canned and pre-packed foods. The response of the women was noble: a rise in the number of "Victory Gardens." These were small gardens that would produce vegetables and help feed a family when other foods were hard to come by. The efforts of non-employed women on the home front was definitely commendable.
Women also found that the extra support needed from them during wartime could be advantageous to them. For example, female journalists that had never been given an opportunity in the past were finally able to make a mark on the world. "Talented and determined, dozens of women fought for -- and won -- the right to cover the biggest story of their lives. By war's end, at least 127 American women had secured official military accreditation as war correspondents, if not actual front-line assignments. Other women journalists remained on the home front to document the ways in which the country changed dramatically under wartime conditions." (Library of Congress 2002) Women in journalism was not a new concept, in fact as far back as the 1700s, women were found in the newspaper business, and in the 1800s many jobs were available for women to write women's news. Women were working hard by the 1900s to have equal rights to cover important news such as politics, but they were discriminated against severely in the workplace. The war, however, made it possible for women to really prove themselves as serious and talented journalists. Female journalists were on the front lines, in the military hospitals, and even reporting from the concentration camps in Europe. "Political-reporter-turned-war correspondent May Craig best summed up their achievements in a 1944 speech at the Women's National Press Club: 'The war has given women a chance to show what they can do in the news world, and they have done well.' " (Library of Congress 2002)
Women also served the military during World War II. One notable group of women is the WASP, or the Women Airforce Service Pilots. These were civilian women who flew military aircraft for the Air Force. The idea for…[continue]
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