Women & Conformity in the Fifties

by admin - November 20th, 2017

By Sophia Kontoes

The word conformity and the decade of the 1950s, go hand in hand. Although, in many ways, the decade was a period of traditional conformity, where men and women observed strict gender roles, but there were also many changes being made. These change began from the displeasure women had about their status in society. Conformity in the 1950s was common, everyone followed what the norms being reinforced by pop culture and the media. The norms consisted of the men being breadwinners, controlling the household and bringing in all the money. For women that meant their place remained in the home to do the cooking, cleaning, and raising of children.

Stereotypical woman doing chores in the 1950s

After the United States had overcome the desolation of World War II and the Great Depression, many americans desired to rebuild the American society to its affluent manner. Even though women were expected to be wives and mothers, they made up a lot of the postwar labor force. Because so many males were drafted into the war, women had taken their spots, but upon their return many of them were replaced. Most women want to keep their jobs, which like I mentioned, is why they made up one third of the peacetime workforce.

Post-war prosperity was skyrocketing, leading many Americans to the “American dream,” especially women. After war, America was going through a baby boom. Even throughout that time period, “approximately forty percent of women with young children, and at least half of women with older children, chose to remain in the workforce.” (Khan Academy) The proportion of women in the labor force as a percentage of women of working age (15-64) increased from 45.9% in 1955 to 51% in 1965. Despite the increase in labor, women were still only working as “secondary workers.”

Pop culture had a lot to do with conformity in the 1950s, social standards set the pace for the stereotypical American family. I Love Lucy, was one of the shows that set the tone for the roles of women in the home. “Lucille Ball’s zany I Love Lucy, which aired from 1951 to 1957, became the greatest television hit of the fifties.” (Dunar 235) Going for job opportunities or interests that took place outside the household never went her way. But her doing that, showed that women were unhappy with where they were at. Lucille Ball was a role model to women because even though her character was a stereotypical housewife, in reality she was a very successful actress.

The post-war advancements women made ultimately led to the 1960s Feminist Activities. “1960s feminists inspired political action and changed many women’s lives.” (Napikoski) All of what happened in the sixties for women branched from the fifties, and for that we can thank fifties women.

Works Cited

Dunar, Andrew J. America in the Fifties. N.p.: Syracuse UP, 2006. Print

Napikoski, Linda. “1960s Feminism: Examples of Activities of the Movement.” ThoughtCo, www.thoughtco.com/1960s-feminist-activities-3529000.

“Women in the 1950s.” Khan Academy, College Board, www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-us-history/period-8/apush-1950s-america/a/women-in-the-1950s.

6 Responses to “Women & Conformity in the Fifties”

  1. Amanda Babbitt says:

    Today women are still fighting for complete equality. It has been going on since the 1950s and women still have not received what they have been asking for. That is not to say that a lot hasn’t changed since the 50s. Gender roles are much less strict and much less apparent in today’s life. In 2017 many women have jobs and don’t rely on husbands to bring money into the family. Also women are expected to get married and have kids as they had been in the 50s. If it wasn’t for the women that stood up to get what they wanted almost 70 years ago, today women might have been in a much worse position.

  2. Emma Greenberg says:

    It’s interesting that you bring up I Love Lucy, because in an episode the women and the men switch positions and try to live life in each other shoes. By the end of the episode they decide that keeping to the status quo is better, but it does ask the question of what would happen, which didn’t happen in other shows.

  3. Meagan Sebastiao says:

    I really appreciate that you mentioned that women don’t just sit around and cook and clean, and that many do serve in the army or the labor force. There is such a stereotype of a 1950s housewife and mother that just cleans and cooks all day and doesn’t do anything to make money or be productive outside of the house. I also agree with what Amanda said. It is common in today’s society that women work more than men in relationships and there are even more stay at home dads.

  4. Jenna Goodreau says:

    I agree with Amanda that women today are still fighting for equality, and although gender roles are much less strict, they are still there.I also found it interesting that women had more job opportunities during the war, but then were replaced when the men returned. This clearly wasn’t because they were incapable of doing the work, it was because of the stereotype that women should be at home while the man works. Emma’s comment was also interesting, I didn’t think that a show of the 50’s would have people switch gender roles.

  5. Emily Clemente says:

    I completely agree with all the previous comments on this post. I think women are still struggling for complete equality today; however, I truly believe that so much has changed for women since the 1950s. Back then, it was very common for women to stay home in order to care for their children, clean, and cook. I think this stereotype still exists; however, it has evolved. Today, many women work and it is not uncommon to hear of a father that stays home.

  6. Kelsea Blair says:

    I agree with Amanda completely about how the fight for women’s equality is still going on today even though we’ve clearly made so much progress since the 1950’s. You see so many families today where the mother is the breadwinner for the family and the father stays home. But where you mentioned how even though America was going through a post war baby boom, a large percentage of women remained in the work force surprised me. It showed how women can do anything men can do and still take care of children.