In the years that followed the second world war, a golden age in history was set out. There was a surge in business, and after mourning their lost ones, people had grown to accept this new life. However, this new age also led to the social hierarchy, placing men at the top and their women at their feet.
Men at the time were more than likely soldiers, adjusting to peace time once more. For most men, the idea was that they would start a family, get a job, and enjoy the benefits of being at the head of the household. The most common image of a man from this time was the typical business man, in a suit, going out and providing for his family. (Some of the most common occupations for men were drivers, secretaries and businessmen.) In return, it was expected for his wife, and all women, to be what was known as a “Good Wife”. A “good wife” would be expected to have a meal ready for her husband, to have perfect hair and make up, and to wait for the man to finish speaking before she spoke. It was socially acceptable for the man to punish his wife if he was displeased. Marital rape was commonplace, but often went unreported, due the expectations of a woman to please her husband. This often meant that the husband was allowed to abuse his wife for his own pleasure.
While it may have been seen as ideal to be the head of the household, the did come some downsides to being a provider. The main issue men faced would have been pressure to provide. It was up to the man and the man alone to provide for what was potentially an ever growing family. There would have been a number of factors that could have led a man to suffer from a great deal of stress. With the 50’s came the civil rights movement, giving way to more minorities being allowed to work in the same profession as a white man.
There was also an influx of immigrants at this time, who were seen as a cheap labour force by any big industrial power. This led to a number of men losing jobs, which then added to the stress. America at this time was at the height of the “Red Scare”, a period in which a mass hysteria gripped Americans, and a fear of communism was evident. People that failed to meet the American ideals were often classed as commies, and those that were, were unable to keep their jobs. Therefore, there were a number of factors that prove that despite the fact that they had supremacy, life for the 1950’s man was not as easy as it seemed.
Women in the 50’s had a difficult life. Many traditional women had no problem being subservient to men, it was an idea that had been in place since the birth of most modern nations. Women in the 50’s strived to be the ideal wife. They spent an inordinate amount of time cooking and cleaning, ensuring that everything was perfect for when their husband came home. They would also ensure that they had perfect hair and make up, and would stand at the ready to greet their husband when he returned.
Women would often suffer at the hands of their husbands if they were displeased, and the lack of equal rights laws meant that this was not only allowed, but in many cases, socially expected. Women were unlikely to have a career at this time, again relying more on their husbands to provide for the family. It was deemed as being disobedient if a woman went against her husbands will. In the 1960’s, a new wave of feminist protests took place, inspired by the civil rights movement.
Inspired by the successes of the civil rights movement, women became bolder in their demands, and a new wave of feminism took hold. Women began to campaign for equality, and wanted to bring about an end to discrimination against women. A leading figure in women’s feminism in the sixties was Betty Friedan. A leading figure in feminism, Friedan published a book in 1963, titled “The Feminine Mystique”. This was her term for a set if ideas that said that women’s happiness came from being wives and mothers. Friedan challenged this notion, insisting that women needed employment to avoid frustration and boredom. She wrote of hundreds of college-educated women who felt little better than domestic servants.
Men in the sixties retained employment in the military, sales, factories and construction. At the time, the majority of politicians were men, and very few women were allowed a job in power. Typical jobs for women included teachers, nurses, and home-makers. Even though they were working, they were still limited to jobs that focused on childcare, or minor medical care. More women than ever were entering into paid work, which led to an increase in dissatisfaction amongst women that were still living in patriarchal households. The sixties led to a number of breakthroughs in feminism.
Gradually, Americans came to accept some of the basic goals of the Sixties feminists: equal pay for equal work, an end to domestic violence, curtailment of severe limits on women in managerial jobs, an end to sexual harassment, and sharing of responsibility for housework and child rearing. During the sixties, there were major changes in marriage, particularly in the bedroom. More than ever, women had begun to use contraception. By the end of the sixties, around 80% of women of childbearing age were using the contraceptive pill after its approval by the federal government in 1960. This freed many women from unwanted pregnancy and gave them many more choices, and freedom, in their personal lives.
There were heavy feminine influences on much of the culture in thee 1960s. In 1963, an American woman, the physicist Maria Goepper-Mayer, won a Nobel Prize for the first time. The civil rights and antiwar movements politicized and radicalised a growing number of women bombarded with contradictory expectations and images about work and family. While Lesley Gore’s hit song ‘You Don’t Own Me’ climbed the charts, Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best dominated television. One in 5 women with children under 6 and nearly one fourth of women whose children were over 16 held paid jobs in the Sixties. Their pay, however, was 60 percent of the male rate. Though equal pay legislation passed in 1963, that did not solve the problem of low pay in jobs that were classed as female.
In 1966, the National organisation for women was formed. In 1968, feminists protested at the “Miss America” pageant, claiming that the competition was sexist. It was no longer unusual to see women in the top positions of what were seen as men’s careers, such as Opera Winfrey on TV, Madeline Albright in diplomacy as Secretary of State, and and in the Supreme Court, with Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bayder Ginsburg.
In the seventies, it was apparent that the protests of the sixties had caused changes. Women were now able to hold jobs that granted them more power than ever before. It is clear that at this time, people were generally more accepting, and as a result, this decade saw more female political leaders than ever before. Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s first female Prime Minister, in a move supported by most of the population. It was not her gender, but her social status and her actions that caused controversy, which in a way, showed that women were becoming more equal to men. Another woman who changed the face of politics include Isabel Martinez de Peron, who became the first female president of Argentina in 1974.
She was also the first female head of state in the western hemisphere who wasn’t a monarch. Other women that took positions of great power included Elisabeth Domitien, the first woman Prime Minister of the Central African Republic; Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India until 1977; Prime Minister Golda Meir of Israel; Lidia Gueiler Tejada, who became president of Bolivia between 1979 and 1980; and Maria de Lourdes Pintasilgo, who became the first female Prime Minister of Portugal in 1979.
Women’s rights and wages were high on the public agenda throughout the 1970s. Women continued to challenge traditional gender roles that confined them to work as child bearers and housewives, or kept them in routine, low-status positions.
In the early 1970s, women constituted one-third of the workforce, but were still paid less than men. In 1972, the Whitlam Government ruled that women doing the same job as men should be paid the same wage. In 1979 women also won the right to paid maternity leave. Few women, however, were employed in managerial or high-status roles.
More women had however, begun to work outside the house, men were allowed by society to show their sensitive sides. Whilst women would prepare for work, men would take over more child care and housekeeping roles; a step away from any previously existing stereotypes regarding gender roles. However, with new conflicts such as Vietnam arising, it was a time when many men would be drafted and forced to fight. At this time, many people opposed the war in Vietnam, and believed that it wasn’t worth the loss.
Therefore, women weren’t relied on as heavily during this conflict to keep things running on the home front, and so there wasn’t a major shift in gender roles. Equality spread to military service for 70s women as well. Women were however finally admitted into U.S. military academies, though assignments in combat would have to wait. The U.S. Army did, however, finally eliminate the Women’s Army Corps in 1978 and brought women into the U.S. Army.
The feminism of the 60s had not yet died out, and what is referred to as the “New Wave” of feminism came to be. This was a huge success with women becoming more equal on any number of fronts. This was the first time that more women attended college than men, with the number of women in college making up 60% of the population. It was also in the sixties that the first female magazines were published, which featured male centrefolds.
The 1980s saw major advances in technology, with televisions, early internet connections and video tapes all becoming more common. Some would argue that this was a new golden age in Hollywood, with hundreds of new movies and TV shows being readily available to those that could afford them. This growth in media had a direct impact on life at the time. Stars such as Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted the “tough guy” image in their violent, action packed ventures onto the big screen. This led to a lot of men trying to emulate this image, with some going to extreme lengths to get that “Action Hero Look”. Women in movies at the time were either shown as the “Damsel in Distress”, in need of rescue, or the love interest of the protagonist. Some films, such as the “Alien” series, broke this stereotype, casting strong, female actresses in leading roles.
While some aspired to be follow the film stars of the time, another major media influence was in music. Madonna was one such icon, who broke all previously set boundaries regarding what was allowed in the media. With her provocative outfits, controversial lyrics and strong attitude, she became a figure in the growth of females as sex icons. She has inspired many current musicians, many of whom are still seen as mere icons. She also paved the way for an era of scantily clad glamour models, who wore very little, and promoted the idea that a woman had to be thin, with clear skin and perfect hair, in order to be attractive.
Men had become more and feminine, following influences of Bon Jovi, Queen, and other similar musicians. It was more common for men to have long hair, wear tight clothes and to complete more traditionally women’s roles. Michael Jackson was another influence, with his high pitched voice, outlandish outfits and his behaviour on stage, he showed a generation that men were able to sing, dance and generally perform as women did. Freddie Mercury also showed this. Being openly homosexual, he often wore women’s outfits, such as his trademark white jumpsuit, and danced whilst performing, making him an icon of the less masculine man in the 80s.
The household hierarchy had changed again in the 80s, with more women being the breadwinner for the family. The 80s suffered from an economic recessions, so many families relied on both parents to go out and make a living. Eventually, this recession would come to pass. The financial world and the stock market were glamorized in a way they had not been since the 1920s, and figures like Donald Trump and Michael Milken were widely seen as symbols of the decade. Widespread fear of Japanese economic strength would grip the United States in the ’80s.
The 1980s gave a variety of role models in the media.
During the 90s, it is widely believed that women were slipping in some cases back into the previous roles of the caregiver. Women’s long quest for equality appeared to be coming to a halt. Bill Clinton was president of America throughout the 90s, and despite the fact that he was a notorious womaniser, he was a preferred political leader to his wife, Hillary. Most men and even some women were uncomfortable at the idea of a woman being in the White House as leader of the free world. Despite the opposition to Hillary Clinton, she remained a member of the Senate, being the first woman to do so after their husbands term in office had ended. Other women were appointed to Clinton’s office in positions of power. During the time he was in office, he appointed Madeleine Albright as Secretary of State, and Janet Reno as the United States Attorney General.
Sheila Widnall became Secretary of the Air Force, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg joined Sandra Day O’Connor as the second woman to be on the U.S. Supreme Court. Women were becoming significantly more visible in American politics. The role of women in politics was changing in other countries, too. Margaret Thatcher, who had been the Prime Minister of Great Britain throughout the 1980s, resigned in late 1990, ending an era in which young women saw her as an example of how a strong woman could successfully lead a major Western nation. Although women had made great strides in their self confidence in the 1980s, they almost seemed to be taking a step back at the beginning of the 1990s.
However, this trend did not last for long. Feminism continued to grow in strength once again. When Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas was nominated, several women, including Anita Hill, came forward and testified about how they had been sexually harassed by him in the past. This gave other women the courage to speak out against the sexual harassment they had experienced in the workplace. As a result, many women realized they no longer had to suffer in silence while their male co-workers told obscene jokes or made suggestive remarks to them.
With the 90s came even greater advances in technology, with computers and thee internet becoming more powerful, communication was made easier, and the media was able to have an even greater influence on society. Although women seemed to have made strides in Hollywood during the 1980s, they seemed to lose ground in the 1990s. In the theatres, most of the leading roles continued to be played by men in movies such as “Dances with Wolves,” and “Braveheart.” However, a few women were able to land leading roles in movies like “Twister,” and “Pretty Woman.” Although “Twister” portrayed a woman scientist, “Pretty Woman” was the classic Cinderella story in which a poor girl has her life transformed by a rich, successful man.
Music was again another influence in the 90s. Mariah Carey became the biggest female music artist of the decade. Other popular female recording artists included Spice Girls, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. Some male performers were criticized by the National Organization for Women because their music appeared to advocate violence against women. In particular, they objected to the lyrics of the song, “Smack My Bitch Up,” by the Prodigy. In the video, a person was depicted abusing women and picking up a prostitute. Many women were vocal in their objections to this type of music, and the negative ideas it might give young men. Eminem also became controversial with the song “Kim”, which described the brutal murder of his ex wife.
Despite some setbacks, feminism was alive and well during the 1990s. “You go, girl” was a popular expression during the decade. People also talked about Girl Power, and the importance of encouraging young women to reach their potential. The 90s saw more women in colleges and universities, and more women than ever began to graduate into higher levels of employment. As the 20th century drew to a close, women had made great progress, but were yet to achieve all of their goals.
The New Millennium
Many would argue that with the new millennium women have been able to achieve their goals. In some cases, this is true, with women being able to take up higher positions in employment. There are now more women as doctors, lawyers and politicians than ever before. There are less women being subject to abuse and marital rape in western society. More crimes against women are being taken seriously by the courts. Men are now more commonly taking up the role of the housewife. In many cases, the roles of men and women in society have almost reversed. The is no denying that society has changed.
But this isn’t always the case. More than ever, the media has a tight grip on people. This means that its influences on society are greater than ever.
Both men and women have grown to crave the looks that the media deems acceptable. The new millennium paved the way for the metro-sexual man, a male who takes great pride in his appearance, often using hair care products, fake tan and make up. This image is shown heavily in TV shows such as “Geordie Shore” and “The Only Way is Essex”. These shows not only promote this infeasible idea of what is good looking, but they also promote sexual promiscuity in their teenage viewers. This has led to a large number of teenage pregnancies, which has then either led to abortive procedures or students dropping out of education, barely able to support themselves.
This isn’t the only way both genders are exploited in the media. Modelling has become more and more common, but for women in particular, it is seen as a necessity to have a petite frame with perfect hair and skin. But due to photo editing, women are perceived differently to in real life. This leads thousands of young girls to anorexia, bulimia, and in some extreme cases, anxiety and depression. Men are also edited in the media, but not to the scale that women are.
Across the world, there are still places in eastern culture in which women have little to no rights. The Middle East in particular, is very strict against women. In some areas, women aren’t allowed to leave their homes without a male escort, and can suffer severe consequences if they do. Women in these cultures do not work, instead it is still the man that acts as the bread winner for the family. Recently, the president of Turkey attempted to ban women from laughing in public. Several years ago, it was illegal for women to vote in the Middle East. Both cases were met with huge resistance. Women defied the law and were finally allowed to vote. Women in Turkey openly laughed in public as a form on protest. Now, in the Middle East, women are finally beginning their struggle for independence.
Islamic clerics continue to enjoy a tremendous amount of power, and often exercise great influence in the field of education. The Middle East (including Israel) is unduly hostage to clerics, who do not allow the codification of civil personal status laws. For example, only Cyprus, of all the Middle Eastern countries, recognizes interfaith marriages. Furthermore, Islam has sanctioned and perpetuated many sexist practices and views, including polygamy, the stigmatization of menstruation, the requirement of wifely obedience to the husband, and the inequality of inheritance and court appearances. All of these practices have at one point or another been part of Christian and Jewish practices or cultures.
Although religion bears major responsibility for the inferior status of women, it cannot be solely blamed for the gender problem in the Middle East. In reality, the role of culture has been even more prominent in perpetuating the oppression of women. Female genital mutilation, for example, is a cultural practice that has afflicted women in several cultures at different times in history. The practice, which in Islam garners dubious permission in an alleged Hadith of the Prophet, is largely unknown in most Muslim countries, though it is still practised in rural areas of both Muslim and non-Muslim parts of Africa. Similarly, the so-called “honour crimes” have no basis in Islam. Furthermore, though veiling has become a symbol of Middle Eastern oppression of women, the practice actually came to Muslim cultures from Christian Byzantium.
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