1950s women in politics

During the Cold War, anything that was seen as unAmerican was attacked. As we have discussed in class, homosexuality was a vehicle of political degradation. Another concept heavily reinforced during the Cold War was the ideal nuclear family. As Mary Brennan states in her chapter “Conservative Women and the Crusade against Communism,” the nuclear “family members symbolized perfection of the American way of life and proved the superiority of democratic, capitalist, Christian Americans over the communistic, totalitarian, atheistic Soviets and Chinese” (115). This idea of domestic containment gained adherents because it separated the ‘good’ American values from the ‘bad’ communist values. Due to the clear separation of values, Americans could victimize those that didn’t follow the nuclear family lines. In an instance lacking conformity to traditional American values, “anticommunists warned, could lead to all sorts of problematic behavior, including experimenting with radical ideas” (117).  So, straying from the norm made you more susceptible to communist ideals. Like General Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove, there was the belief communism was infiltrating all aspects of American society. 

Women were called into action to be defenders of the American Nuclear family. Unlike communist women with freedoms and equality, American women were to control their homes. Communists were attacked for allowing their women to work. 

To set an example of how communism impacted women, Ana Pauker was criticized. Pauker was the foreign minister of Rumania; she was criticized for her masculine appearance and actions. Rumors were floating around about Pauker and her family. Stories about her joyfully watching her husband’s death and neglect of her own people crushed any imagery of Pauker’s mothery values. Overall, “Pauker became for anticommunists the example they needed to show how communism destroyed women and thus the family.” (122). Another example of anticommunists making up stories of women to fit their agenda was Muriel Draper. Draper was an American woman who loved the arts and appreciated the Soviets. Draper’s husband had gambled away their money, so she divorced him. Rather than being seen as a powerful woman, she was dragged for leaving her family behind because she was seen as a selfish woman with communist views. A few women in Joe Mcarthy’s were proud defenders of communism but ultimately fell to the notion of them not being housewives. 

I think this idea of “Manly men and the little woman” still has lasting effects in today’s politics. Obviously, we have come a long way since the 1950s concerning women’s equality. There are still innuendos about women needing to remain housewives. Political leaders are supposed to be strong and outspoken. Men with these qualities of a political leader are labeled as powerful; women with these qualities are labeled as heartless and power-hungry. These labels can be traced back to gendered beliefs. The gendered beliefs were cut in stone then; society pushed back against them as time passed, but they have been insidious. I hope gendered beliefs continue to be pushed back against, but with how polarized our society has become its hard to see that future.

One thought on “1950s women in politics

  1. I liked the point you made on how men are labeled as power and women are labeled as power hungry for going after the same things. After reading the Brennan article I can definity see how that mindset stemmed from that 1950s era. I believe that as more and more women enter traditionally male positions, the jobs themselves will become more natural, more neutral. I do believe are society can be polarizing at times, but I truly believe social progress is possible with the right leaders to guide us.


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