The idea of “domestic containment” gained support during the 1950’s due to the massive social changes that occurred during the 1930’s and 1940’s, that is, according to the reading, “The shifting realities of the postwar world provided anticommunists with fertile ground to plant the seeds of their concerns. Various historians have pointed out that the trauma of the Depression and World War II undermined traditional familial and gender relationships, creating anxiety as people adjusted to their new roles. At war’s end, a tremendous desire to reverse the changes of the previous decades encouraged an emphasis on domesticity among both men and women.” (Brennan, 2020). To simplify, the ideas of “domestic containment” presented by American conservatives was an attempt to return to the social norms of olden days, caused by the harsh realities of the Great Depression and the Second World War (Brennan, 2020).
These gendered beliefs were used against women such as Ana Pauker who was the foreign minister of Rumania. Pauker was slandered and misrepresented by conservatives in the United States (Brennan, 2020). For example, “Pauker was a mannish-looking woman who, according to American standards, seemed to display none of the “normal” feminine virtues of kindness, humility, and softness.” (Brennan, 2020). These stereotypes were then used to argue that communism caused the de-feminization of women (Brennan, 2020). One could then infer that it was necessary for American women to remain feminine in behavior, otherwise, they may have been at risk of communist subversion. The gendered beliefs of American conservatives were also used against people such as Muriel Draper who “According to the National Republic Lettergram, an anticommunist newsletter, this American woman, “well known in artistic circles as a pianist, a lecturer of sorts, and . . . at times . . . as a ‘patron of the arts,’ ” had become “bored and disgruntled” when her family lost some of its money. “Suddenly deprived of opportunities for the satisfaction of ego, condemned to the ‘relative barrenness of life’ in the United States—shorn of her position, her importance, and significantly of her audience, artistic cliques—she turned elsewhere for an outlet—to the pro-Soviet artistic circles in New York City.” (Brennan, 2020). The article then goes on to claim that American conservatives believed Draper was a weak woman who if she had still had her husband and children and her role as caretaker of the home, she would not have fallen to the temptations of communism (Brennan, 2020). To simplify, American conservatives attempted to imply that the family unit of a wife, husband, and children along with their stereotypical gender roles was necessary, otherwise, American women would be highly susceptible to communist influence (Brennan, 2020).
Finally, a woman who actually was positively impacted by these gendered beliefs was Jean Fraser Kerr who was a secretary in the office of Senator Joseph McCarthy whom she dated on and off starting in 1947 (Brennan, 2020). According to the article by Brennan, she became one of McCarty’s closest allies, that is, she joined the conservative, anti-communist crusade during the 1950’s (Brennan, 2020). To be specific, she actually helped rationalize and justify obvious contradictions in the belief systems of conservatives who advocated for “domestic containment.” That is, while seemingly breaking these roles by getting involved in politics she was able to portray herself as a loyal housewife-esque partner to McCarty, all while still actively supporting and promoting these gender roles (Brennan, 2020). She, in the eyes of conservatives, showed that women who were compliant with gender-roles could safely participate in the crusade without fear of being subdued by communism (Brennan, 2020).
[1.] Brennan, Mary C. “MANLY MEN AND THE LITTLE WOMAN’: GENDER AND ANTI-COMMUNISM .” Essay. In Wives, Mothers, and the Red Menace: Conservative Women and the Crusade against Communism. University Press of Colorado, 2020.
One thought on “Blogpost #4”
I really enjoyed reading your discussion post about domestic containment. I agree with you that women had to maintain a certain image in order to be considered feminine. I know from research beauty standards played a huge role during this time period, but I would have never connected beauty standards to communism and the defeminization of women. I also agree with you that the conservative ideas of the nuclear and family and viewing the woman as the homemaker played an important role during this time. I really enjoyed reading how Jean Kerr showed that a woman can have a career and also take care of the family.