Rosie the Riveter: Women Working During World War II

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When women started to work in traditionally male jobs, men resisted and often harassed the new women workers. At first, employers were hesitant to hire women, but they realized that with only minor modifications to the workplace they could utilize a large labor pool. The male employees had a deeper and more sustained resistance, though. They feared that women’s cheap labor would replace them or lower their wages and most believed that a woman’s place was in the home. Some men, though, accepted that the war effort needed women workers.

Women were brought into skilled labor quickly, upsetting the male employees. They also resented the special labor laws for women like longer rest periods, more desirable shifts, and newer restroom facilities (Hartmann 63). Men often played tricks on women by sending them for tools that did not exist. Men also sexually harassed women by whistling and cat-calling to them as they worked. Most of the resistance and hostility towards women workers disappeared as the novelty of women workers wore off, the labor shortage got worse, and women proved themselves (Hartmann 63).

Unions varied in their attitudes toward women workers. Some unions welcomed women, but only for the duration of the war. Other unions did not trust women because they feared that they might take men’s jobs after the war. Women depended on male leadership to safeguard their interests since their representation in power was not reflective of their membership (Hartmann 65). After the war, many unions that had allowed women members got rid of them. In general, unions only helped women to the extent that it safeguarded the pay, seniority, and other labor standards of their male membership (Anderson 60). Unions wanted to make sure that those safeguards remained when men returned to their jobs. For instance, when women took over male jobs, unions advocated for equal pay for women because it prevented employers from undercutting future wages for men by hiring women at a lower wage. But unions did not fight for equal pay when women and men were in different positions or paid differently even though the work was the same.

 

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