Due to the threat of communism, the pressure to conform to traditional ideals was high in the 1950s. This was illustrated with the importance placed on domesticity and the idea of the “female homemaker.” Domestic life and the nuclear family were considered the “American way of life,” in direct contrast with the communist system (Brennan). Life under communism was portrayed as “cooperative” in a way that upset American individualists. Husband and wife were expected to share the housework and cooperative units were set up to watch the children. In American society at the time, the role of the woman as a mother and home keeper was highly valued (Brennan). Thus, anticommunists warned that communism would take women away from their families and domestic roles and force them into a man’s role in the working world. In this way, domestic containment was seen as integral because as long as women stayed at home performing their familial duties, the American way of life would be safe from the influence of communism.
These gendered beliefs were used to diminish the roles of women in politics, even when they were trying to help the anti communist cause. Jean Kerr, Joe McCarthy’s wife, was the subject of substantial criticism due to how she contradicted gender norms. After the Tydings election, Kerr testified to the committee investigating McCarthy’s victory. While Kerr was just trying to defend her position and continue her crusade against communism, the committee didn’t see it this way. They saw her as a woman who wasn’t acting properly due to her argumentative nature and still believed that she was acting under McCarthy’s orders. Margaret Chase Smith is another woman who was undermined by gendered language used against her. She gave a speech on the Senate floor about her worries of the country losing its American values, namely freedom of speech and political integrity. As McCarthy was clearly the target of her speech, he retaliated using gendered language, saying he didn’t “fight with woman senators” (Brennan). This implied that because she was a woman, her remarks held no real weight. Other critics used Smith to represent all women in politics and argued that her actions were setting a bad example, making it harder for other women to be elected. Doloris Bridges, wife of Senator Bridges, was also a victim of this gendered thinking. Bridges chastised Kennedy for his almost lenient stance on communism compared to Nixon. Critics were quick to blame Nixon for the attack and assume that Bridges would never have said anything without her husband’s approval (Brennan). She was effectively written out of the discussion and only used to emasculate the men around her for speaking “through her.” In all three of these examples, the women were undermined due to the lack of respect afforded to their genders.
It’s disappointing to think about how although we have made quite a bit of progress in gender equality, we still have to deal with things like gendered languages and beliefs. I feel like politics are an area where this is the most apparent. Women are just not taken as seriously as their male counterparts, even when they have the same ideas. I really hope that in the future, we can continue to diminish the use of this kind of thinking.
4 thoughts on “Wait, women have their own opinions?”
I think you did a great job at explaining why the push for domestic containment happened during the 1950s and how American Cold War ideology contrasted that of the USSR’s. The strength of the home is what was meant to keep this country together. While explaining three women that were disadvantaged by these gender beliefs, you did a great job at comparing and contrasting the role of men and women in politics. I always find it interesting in how even in modern society, we continue to refer to women as “girls” more often than we refer to men as “boys.” I thought it was especially gross how the men in the investigation would refer to the women as “cupcake” and “the girl” simply because they could not possibly conjure up enough brain power to remember the names of two separate women. I think this all adds to your last point, that gendered language and beliefs often paint women as unintelligent and inexperienced.
I agree with you in your article where you say that “domestic containment” was necessary as conservatives of the time believed that if women left the household that they would be susceptible to the influence of communism which was seen as a threat to national security. I definitely agree that this is the core idea of “domestic containment,” however, I think that there is also another hidden purpose that may be interesting for you to explore in the future. That is, could it be seen that “domestic containment” was intentionally used as a political weapon designed to ensure that American politics and decision-making remained dominated by men? Is it possible that this was the real motivation behind “domestic containment” and that the idea that it was necessary for women to remain in the home in order to protect them from communism was simply a rationalization of sexist attitudes?
I agree with you that it is disappointing that we still must deal with gendered languages and gender inequality. I think that unfortunately during this time in history, it did not matter if the woman was educated, professional, etc. it didn’t mean anything because they were a woman, and if they did not “act how they should” they were a communist and had to deal with the repercussions of that. I think it is so sad that woman back then, for example Margaret Chase Smith, were not taken seriously and like you said when she gave her speech Brennan said that he doesn’t “fight with woman senators.” That is extremely disrespectful and honestly a representation of him and his own insecurities. I feel proud of those women for sticking up for themselves and showing girls all over that you do matter and your voice is heard.
I agree with you that there are still issues with gendered language and beliefs. I understand the fear that the American people had with the invasion of communism in their daily lives. I disagree with forcing women to be “homemakers” because it will be the best option to prevent the invasion of the Soviet Union. The thing that I thought was the most surprising was how Richard Nixon even agreed with the idea of “No better existence for women than keeping a perfect house and pointed out the different appliances available to aid the American housewife by lessening her workload.” This a very disrespectful statement coming from someone in such a high position in government. My goal for the United States in the future is to allow anyone to do what they want and not be suppressed for it.