Much like Europe in the mid-nineteenth century, the United States believed that women should continue to be confined to managing the household in the mid-twentieth century. In response, the National Organization for Women developed in 1966 and spoke out against these injustices and lack of progress made in the United States. In their mission statement, the National Organization for Women compared the lives and opportunities of American women to European women, claiming, “We believe that this nation has a capacity at least as great as other nations, to innovate new social institutions which enable women to enjoy true equality of opportunity and responsibility in society, without conflict with their responsibilities as mothers and homemakers. In such innovations, America does not lead the Western world, but lags by decades behind many European countries,” (3). It is clear, through this excerpt of their mission statement, that opportunities for European women had increased dramatically since Sanford and Beeton wrote their pieces on the ideal middle-class woman in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, because European women were not confined to their households like they had been, the National Organization of Women took note and believed that the United States lagged “decades behind many European countries.” Furthermore, this organization rejected, “the current assumptions that a man must carry the sole burden of supporting himself, his wife, and family, and that a woman is automatically entitled to lifelong support by a man upon her marriage…” (3) As indicated, more European women became less dependent on their husbands in the mid-twentieth century, as they were encouraged to join the workforce and step outside the confines of their household.
The progress made by European nations in regards to women and their newfound role in society can be boiled down to two aspects: the golden era of socialism in Europe and constant warfare amongst European nations. Before the start of World War I, many European nations produced socialist thinkers who argued for the rights of European women and workers. Due to the success of these socialist thinkers, “new social institutions” were formed throughout Europe, allowing “women to enjoy true equality” and become more than household managers. Secondly, European nations constantly fought with one another during the early twentieth century; these wars included the Morrocan Crisis, Bosnian Crisis, World War I and World War II. Due to these wars, European men were constantly gone, leaving women without the “lifelong support by a man upon her marriage.” In fact, due to their constant absence, women were the one’s carrying “the sole burden,” for they had to support themselves as well as their children financially and domestically during times of war. In these times, European women proved themselves to European men; for they displayed their ability to manage a household while maintaining an everyday job typically reserved for men. In conclusion, European nations progressed more quickly than the United States in regards to gender roles because of the success of socialism and the constant involvement in warfare; which allowed women to prove that they carried more value than simply being domestic workers.
You found a great point from the reading today. America was so behind in women’s rights because they hadn’t seen the dramatic changes in society like Europe. American women hadn’t had the chance to prove themselves during the war like European women. America may have been a world leader since they came out on top during the war but only half its population was truly rewarded from the war.
I agree, it is definitely important to keep in mind that Europe’s population of women were clearly more affected by the war than the US population of women. This is probably due to the fact that they were directly affected by the war; all of the fighting was going on in Europe itself. However, I also believe women in the United States made some progress because they also had to care for the home and take on a job as well.