During the World Wars, there was an influx, unlike any other time in recent history, of female workers. Since most men, both in Europe and America were off fighting the wars, women were needed to work the factories in order to provide weapons, clothes, and other provisions. It was during this time that women proved that they could take on “traditional” male roles and fulfill them successfully. However, after the wars ended, and the men returned, the women were encouraged to take on the role of the housewife once again.
One could say that this enhanced the tension between the sexes, and is manifest in NOW’s Statement of Purpose: “…we do not accept the traditional assumption that a woman has to choose between marriage and motherhood, on the one hand, and serious participation in industry or the professions on the other. We question the present expectation that all normal women will retire from job or profession for 10 or 15 years, to devote their full time to raising children, only to reenter the job market at a relatively minor level.”
Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made discrimination in the workplace illegal, it had hardly helped the woman’s cause. Most women had limited job, education, and pay prospects, despite the fact that most of the gender norms of society no longer applied to the modern world (such as the need for muscle to do work). Now that women had experience and a possible chance to level the gap between the sexes, an engine was needed to push the cause forward.