Ideal 1950s American Women

During the 1950s, anti-communists picked, pointed out, and exaggerated differences between the United States and the Soviet Union/communist nations. In the book chapter “Manly Men and the Little Women” by Mary Brennan, Brennan speaks on how US anti-communists would contrast their idea of soviet women to American ones. Because Soviet women were part of the workforce, anti-communists described their work as “hard, physical, monotonous drudgery such as digging ditches” (Brennan). This point had particularly pushed white middle class women to further oppose communism, the threat of doing work they had never had to do before. Anti-communists also painted soviet women as more masculine than feminine. How did this affect the domestic setting? Anti-communists successfully drilled into the mind of Americans, particularly women, that a good American women -a wife and mother- would stay in the home setting. Women could fight communism by staying out of politics, focus on being a homemaker, dressing well, and emphasizing their femininity. This was the idea of domestic containment. That by focusing their energy on domestic duties, they would strongly support not only capitalism, but their husbands and the American way.  

Anti-communists would attack a specific type of women to showcase examples of the negative affect communism had on women. The first one that Brennan mentions in the chapter is Anna Pauker. Pauker was the minister of Rumania. Apparently, Time’s magazine had featured Pauker on the cover. She had been described by others as “angry, uncompromising, and cold” (Brennan). She was cast as a awful wife and mother in the media who only twisted stories to fit the anti-communist feed. She was everything an American women should avoid being.

Another example was Muriel Draper. She was a mother who moved back to the US from London and after divorcing her husband. Because she was a newly single mother, she had to find work, a communist action as others saw it. Once she was financially stable, she became involved with politics. “She served as a chair of the women’s division of the National Council of American-Soviet Friendship” (Brennan). I think it’s fair to say that people would connect Draper’s interest in Soviet relations/activity to lack of husband. Since she was out of the home, it led her to her un-American route.

The last women I wanted to mention from Brennan’s chapter is Margaret Smith. Smith was a Republican senator from Maine. Although her job status went against the whole “women shouldn’t participate in politics” idea, she was so strong and verbal on her anti-communist stance that it was ok. At one point she had even introduced a bill to get rid of the American Communist Party. When it didn’t follow through, she had asked, “why talk about the evils of communism . . . if we are not willing to outlaw it’s sponsors” (Brennan). When it came to other women, Smith had only reflected domestic containments ideas on a woman’s place.  

Coming from how I’ve seen women be active politically (or not) today, and how the views on pursing careers over family has changed, I think it odd how easily women fed into this homemaker and only homemaker life. I think this was just another idea to keep women from progressing in men’s eyes. There are still many women today her prefer, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it must have been so so so many women, living the same life.

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