Gender

During World War II, women were working in the industries most notably aviation. By 1943, women made up 65% of the U.S. Aircraft Industry’s total workforce. This was heavily due to recruitment. “Rosie the Riveter” propaganda became one of the most successful recruitment tools in American history. The images like the infamous “We Can Do It!” poster that showed up on the Saturday Evening Post in the 1940’s were used to encourage women to join the supporting industries of the war. This was acceptable at the time since women were needed to fill the empty positions that were previously occupied by the men who left for the war.

Vintage image of Rosie the Riveter by J. Howard Miller.

Vintage image of Rosie the Riveter by J. Howard Miller.

However, these images were no longer needed after the war ended. The veterans of WWII wanted to come back and live out the American Dream that they fought for. Society wanted women to return to their original domestic positions they previously occupied prior to the war. As a way of controlling women’s freedom, the suburbs put women back in their domestic roles. More specifically, the layout of these typical suburban homes became a means of expressing the role of the woman in the household. The construction of living space thus can be used to further analyze the parallels between the suburbs and the idea of containment.

An example of the U floor plan on the right will be further shown in detail below. Image created using paint.

An example of the U floor plan on the right will be further shown in detail below. Image created using paint.

In addition to fears associated with race and class, these suburban homes dealt with gender anxieties as well. The placement and structure of the kitchen and the use of the family room in a typical suburban home will be further analyzed.

The construction of living space within a typical suburban home. Image created using Room Sketcher.

The construction of living space within a typical suburban home. Image created using Room Sketcher.

Upon observing the construction of living space, the kitchens were placed at the front. Beneath the window would be the location of the kitchen sink. There the woman of the household could wash the dishes and work in the kitchen while still being able to look out the window and watch the children playing on the front lawn. This efficient set up of the kitchen encouraged a woman to do her household duties as chef, caretaker, and mother. Each house the the street would be constructed similarly and thus all women would be able to look at the window and watch all the playing children. The window also provided a means for the neighbors to keep an eye on each other and make sure the wife was performing her domestic household job accordingly. Because women were put into stay at home mom roles, men were naturally put into the breadwinner roles. Advertisements and television shows reflecting suburban life further reinforced these gender roles.

Kellogg’s Pep advertisement from the 1950’s.

Kellogg’s Pep advertisement from the 1950’s.

Image from TV show "Father Knows Best" (1954-1960).

Image from TV show “Father Knows Best” (1954-1960).

This Kellogg’s Pep advertisement from the 1950’s shows a woman cleaning in the kitchen with the saying “so the harder a wife works, the cuter she looks.” This advertisement implies that women who do the domestic housework receive praise from the men in society. Shows like “Father Knows Best” and “Wait til Father Gets Home” also implied that the men are working throughout the day and when they come home they are the teachers and disciplinarians. These roles are then acted out and taught to the children in the private back half of the house where the family room is located. This family room is not just an arena for family values but also a place where the kids are safe, clean, and contained. This containing nature of the suburbs can further be seen in its ability to segregate against race and class.

 

— EBT