“Behind Every Successful Man, There is a Woman”?

            The idea of domestic containment centers on a woman’s role in maintaining the household and rearing children. As the Cold War gave way to anticommunism in the 1950s, domestic containment rose in popularity across America. Where men fought against communism outside of the home, women did their part inside the home. It was argued that women “could best serve their country by teaching and supporting their husbands and sons” (Brennan 118). As a “nation is only as strong as her homes,” the work of stay-at-home mothers and wives was seen as another way to contain communism—a way to defend the United States from the rising threat of communism within our borders. Of course, all of this is based on the misogynistic idea that women are “guided by their emotions rather than intellect” so therefore, they are unfit for the public sphere or to participate in anticommunism beyond the home.

            Brennan discusses how this gender ideology creates a powerful dichotomy between anticommunist American women and communist Soviet women. Whereas American women were seen as delicate, loving, compassionate, and domestic, Soviet women were seen as masculine, selfish, ugly, and enslaved by the state (121). Americans thought that because Soviet women worked outside of the household, that they had “chosen careers over motherhood” (120). The fear and disgust that arose from these supposed characteristics of Soviet women strengthened the push for American women to be wholly domestic.

            Many women fell victim to the gender ideology of domestic containment. Ana Pauker, the Romanian minister of foreign affairs, was labeled as the stereotypical communist woman who had taken a man’s career path and abandoned her family and home. Brennan writes that her image “reinforced the masculine nature of communist women” and that she represented the “antithesis of a maternal figure” that became the example “to show how communism destroyed women and thus the family” (122). Pauker’s intelligent, strong, and ambitious nature led her to be characterized as a masculine figure who held none of the feminine traits that Americans valued.

            While these gender beliefs worked against communist women, they also worked against anticommunist women in American politics. A prominent example of this is Jean Kerr. Kerr worked for Senator McCarthy as an administrative assistant and speechwriter who would also later marry him. After McCarthy’s role in Millard Tydings loss in the Maryland election, a Senate-held investigation took place. The committee questioned Catherine Van Dyke and Kerr for their role in the election. As Kerr took charge of the hearing and defended both herself and Tydings’ bad character, she “mangled the gendered image of anticommunist women” as she “was not acting like a proper lady” (133). Brennan writes that “she argued, she fought, she mocked” and “she refused to pack down” (133). Kerr strayed away from the passive and sensitive woman that anticommunists praised, not only was she stepping into the manly sphere of politics, she was also unwilling to be subordinate to men.

            Another example of these gender beliefs working against anticommunist women is Doloris Bridges. During JFK’s campaign, Bridges spoke against Kennedy for his weak stand on communism. She felt that he was “very soft on communism” (143). Because Bridges was a woman and also married to one of Nixon’s strategists, the idea that she was simply a decoy for her husband’s bidding was popularized. Because it was unladylike to do such a thing, many concluded that it was never her idea in the first place. The gender ideology of this period discredited Bridges for her own ideas and actions. Despite their passion for anticommunism, Kerr and Bridges were still injured by the idea of domestic containment as they moved beyond their household duties into the public sphere of politics.

3 thoughts on ““Behind Every Successful Man, There is a Woman”?

  1. I never mentioned in my post how domestic containment could be used against anti-communist women who were trying to argue in politics. The examples you discussed were a good representation of how women could not win during the cold war era. Even when they were trying to fight communism and represent capitalism and their country, men still shut them down. They called them masculine for wanting to debate the credibility of competitors. And even in some cases, they were called decoys that did not even care about the topics and were just being used to hide their party’s bidding.


  2. It is very interesting as to why the idea of a communist woman was thought to be more manly or masculine. On the other hand, women under a capitalist society were thought to be more feminine. It is interesting these ideas were believed to act as sort of a deterrent to communism. It is almost as if people were saying that if a pretty woman becomes a communist, their features will change and they won’t be pretty. It is crazy how ingrained the thoughts of anti-communism were for many Americans during this time. I wonder if something like that could happen today or in the future.


  3. I thought you made really good points about gender ideology when it comes to domestic containment, especially when it comes to women being subservient to men. No matter how smart or outspoken a woman could try to be during the Cold War, she would constantly be discredited. The point about how this whole agenda was based off of already believed misogynistic views made me think about the trajectory of feminism or women’s rights before the Cold War. During the 30s/40s I feel like there was a sense of women starting to gain respect and it was becoming normalized for them to have jobs outside of the home, but then the Cold War came, and it pushed all of that progress away. It would have been interesting to see where women could have been if the Cold War ideology did not repress them back.


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