Progression of American Women Throughout Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

"Their activities emphasized the sensual, pleasure-seeking dimensions of the new century's culture and brought sexuality out from behind the euphemisms of the nineteenth century (1997). This was seen in the dances of the era (e.g., the slow rag, the bunny hug, etc.) as well as the dress styles of American women. Women's appearance changed. They no longer were buried under petticoats and big skirts, restricted by their corsets. The silhouette was now slender and smaller, allowing a greater freedom of movement as well as more exposure of arms and legs. Women who worked were now considered "bachelor girls" as opposed to "homeless women" or "spinsters" (1997). By 1920, the image of the flapper girl was everywhere; this can be viewed as an example of just how far women had come.

Unit III: 1921 -- 1945:

Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, said in 1924: "I like the jazz generation and I hope my daughter's generation will be jazzier. I want my girl to do as she pleases, be what she pleases regardless of Mrs. Grundy" (Evans 1997). This became the symbol of female expression in the 1920s. Mrs. Grundy was symbolic of prudery and sacrifice as seen in contrast to the new standards of pleasure and consumption (1997). Fitzgerald continued,

I think a woman gets more happiness out of being gay, light-hearted, unconventional, mistress of her own fate, than out of a career that calls for hard work and intellectual pessimism and loneliness. I want her to be a flapper, because flappers are brave and gay and beautiful (1997).

Flappers made a huge impact on society of the 1920s. They showed that there was a major behavioral change -- as well as an ideological one -- in American culture. Youth became an important part of society. Coeducational colleges were forming and women and men were put to together where they lived and studied; this was important as it began new ways for men and women to date and participate in heterosexual relationships (Evans 1997). Sigmund Freud was an important part of this whole movement of sexuality and sensuality as he basically "declared war on Victorian ideology, labeling it superstitious, unscientific, and unhealthful" (1997).

Freud's emergence as a leader in human psychology helped people to acknowledge that women indeed had their own sexuality. There was the new idea that sexual pleasure was completely separate from simply procreation. At this same time, however, "it reinforced the traditional goal of marriage in the context of an increasingly competitive 'marriage market'" (1997). There was once again a high importance placed on marriage. A new kind of marriage thus emerged with this new kind of woman. Romantic love, sexual pleasure and companionship were seen as the most important elements...
...The marriage, though, was also completely cared for by the woman as she was aware that her financial security, emotional needs, and her social status pretty much depended upon a successful marriage. There were new worries then. If a woman had to find a husband, how was she supposed to put her efforts into the physical freedoms put forth by the flappers?

By 1930 when Joan Crawford went from being a silent screen star portraying flappers to portraying mature sexual women in the new talkies, there was a new sophistication seen in women in film. There were stars like Marlene Dietrich and Bette Davis who were all woman in appearance but had the self-confidence of men. This was an interesting aspect of the time as the Great Depression had already begun and women were being forced to be more "man-like" for survival. On screen there were often battle of the sexes that "reflected serious tension felt by many" (Evans 1997). The crash of the stock market in 1929 had shattered the illusion created by the twenties. Men were out of work and unemployed men felt like failures. Black women became domestic laborers as there were very few clerical and manufacturing jobs available. Between 1930 and 1940 the numbers of private workers in households increased by 25%, and most of these workers were black (1997).

Unit IV: 1946 -- 1976:

By the end of the War, it was clear that the war's victory was made possible by men and women. The goal of the war had been victory and victory only. Men fought and women worked back home to make victory a possibility. The wartime communal effort did not have structural nor ideological support for continuation after the war (Evans 1997). As men came out of the army, women were sent home from the factories. They were meant to go home and lead their private lives. Even if women had wanted to keep their jobs in factories, very few had the choice of doing so. When military orders came to an end, industries shut down and had to prepare for reconversion; the laying off of women workers was a direct cause of this. When factories did reopen, many of them refused to hire the women back. Not only this, but when women went to the U.S. Employment Service to find work, the only jobs available to them paid half of what they made in the war industries (1997).

Women fought back, however, protesting their exclusion from the workforce. When they did go home they were constantly faced with economic challenges of postwar prices (Evans 1997). In New York, hamburger went up from thirty-five cents to seventy cents per pound. The Women's Trade Union League leaders created a coalition to stage a meat boycott that advised women not to purchase meat for more than sixty cents a pound. There was some success, as for a while, stores advertised hamburger for "fifty-nine cents" (1997).

The anxiety shifted to optimism by the 1950s (this would later be perfectly exemplified in the TV series "Happy Days"). The woman's job was now about creating the perfect home life for her husband and children. In 1954, McCall's called this "togetherness" (Evans 1997). Even though women were the foundation of "togetherness, the American culture (based in a consumer economy) depended on new female workers. From…

Sources Used in Documents:


Collins, G. (2009). When everything changed: the amazing journey of American women

from 1960 to the present. Little, Brown & Company; 1st edition.

Evans, S. (1997). Born for liberty: a history of women in America. Free Press.

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