The 1950s were great years for Americans. The economy had recovered, and the nation was recovering from the World War. However, things were not all settled as a liberal age of women was beginning to arise. Women started to protest against what historians refer to as the Cult of Domesticity. This term was used by historians to describe a trend among the upper and middle classes that emphasized new ideas of feminity that acted like unspoken laws and guidelines of how a woman was supposed to serve at home. According to this theory, a “true woman” was supposed to be pure, domestic and submissive. A woman was seen as the center of the family, and her roles at home were geared towards holding the family members together. This cult was designed to limit a woman’s area of influence to directly home and family.
According to a text dubbed “How to be a Good Housewife, a “good wife” was supposed to be submissive to the husband, cooking and making him questions, and was not supposed to ask questions or complain, but instead “try to understand his world of strain and pressure.” A woman was supposed to allow the man to rule over her and their children without disobeying. These laws portrayed a woman as a weak gender whose only role in the community was serving her husband. This undermined the women’s contribution to the well being of society even from the family level since they were not even supposed to question their husbands, but instead, make them comfortable and happy by obeying them always. This culture had been designed for women married to, and daughters of rich and well educated white American men who formed the middle and upper class of the power structure.
Some women were obviously against these restrictions dictated on them by the Cult of Domesticity and openly spoke against it while others found ways within its threshold to take action by educating children. Educated women used books to air their views as well as those of the public in condemning this culture. It is, however, a shock how a country such as the United States could possibly impose such unfair and undermining rules to their women. There are probably a handful of theories that can help historians understand the roots of this culture, especially in the 1950s.
During World War II, many women signed up to serve in the army, navy and even in the Airforce in America. It is estimated that there were nearly 350,000 American women who served in uniform, participating in Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACs), the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve among others. At the end of the war, most women wanted to keep their jobs, but many of them were forced out by men who were returning home from the war and their services in factories were no longer needed since there was no longer need for war materials. In the Soviet Union, more than 800, 000 women were integrated into the various army units including bomber and sniper wings.
Despite this similarity, the two nations were different when it came to how women were treated after the war, in the Soviet Union, women had complex roles and even had almost equal privileges to men when it came to education, training and personal development. Women were also encouraged to get involved in the communist revolution. They believed that petty housework degraded the woman and wasted her labor on unproductive duties. This was a far cry from the Cult of Domesticity in the United States, who considered themselves superior and different from the communist Soviet Union. This is probably why the United States preferred to stick to their traditions, especially after witnessing what the women were capable of during the war, they were afraid that the Russian Culture would catch up with their women. They were worried that by doing so, it would appear like they were replicating their rival’s policies, a notion that would make them look inferior.
Koropeckyj-Cox, T., Pienta, A. M., & Brown, T. H. (2007). Women of the 1950s and the “normative” life course: The implications of childlessness, fertility timing, and marital status for psychological well-being in late midlife. The International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 64(4), 299-330.
Fitts, R. (2001). The rhetoric of reform: The Five Points missions and the cult of domesticity. Historical Archaeology, 35(3), 115-132.
Roberts, M. L. (2002). True womanhood revisited. Journal of Women’s History, 14(1), 150-155.
Summerfield, P. (2013). Women workers in the Second World War: production and patriarchy in conflict. Routledge.