Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II
After the war
Women entered the workforce with different intentions on what to do after the war. Some entered out of patriotic reasons and always planned on leaving. Many women entered with the idea that they were going to stay. After the war, marriage and birth rates soared and after years of hardship and sacrifice during the Depression and World War II, many women wanted to return to a sense of normalcy and domesticity. Married women were tired of juggling work and domestic responsibilities and single women wanted their soldiers to come home so they could get married and start families. These women who left the workforce were now praised for opening up jobs for men.
Most of the married women workers needed to continue working since they were mostly minority and lower-class women, and they wanted to keep the jobs they had. In addition, women felt good about themselves since they proved that they could do the work that men could do and they did not want to give up their independence (Gregory 153). The promise that women were only temporarily filling in for men was being fulfilled as they were laid-off and forced back into female jobs fairly quickly. But there was little protest from women and what protest there was did not have any results. Not enough women challenged the discriminatory hiring practices of post-war employers. As a result, prewar employment patterns returned.
After the war, most companies only hired men, even if they had hired women during the war. Those that did hire women reclassified them to a lower rating with lower pay and used their lack of experience as an excuse (Gregory 194). The majority of women who wanted to keep working were able to, but usually only after a period of unemployment and even then it was at a lower-paying job.
Most business leaders recognized women’s contributions to the war effort, the skills they developed, and their desire to remain in the workforce. They also knew that it was unjust to treat women like a resource to use and then discard. At the same time, though, they thought that married women would want to go back to the home and so encouraged it. They reiterated the prewar idea of women as wives and mothers (Hartmann 67).
In numbers, there were more women in education and the workforce after the war, but their overall proportion relative to men declined (Hartmann 26). The biggest change in female employment patterns was that before the war the majority of women workers were young and single, and after the war the majority of women workers were older and married. The sexual division of labor was never fully eliminated during the war. This became evident when it reasserted itself after the war and the government and employers forced women back into the home and low-paying female jobs. Even though there was a temporary shift during the war, conventional attitudes regarding women’s roles as wife and mother never lost their appeal.