Week 5: Women? In MY workforce? It’s more likely than you think

A small handful of people in human history have had their ideas spread over the world with their last name attached — Machiavelli and Stalin jump to mind. These men are not merely the dimensions of their bodies, they are the projections of their minds upon society. Senator Joseph McCarthy is entrenched in 1950’s history as the driving force behind anticommunist fears. While McCarthy makes for an easy figurehead of a movement, broader societal forces were already at play. If the US were to turn its attention inward, then “gendered images could also serve as an effective method of attacking anticommunists’ domestic political opponents” (Brennan 116). 

Take foreign minister of Romania Anna Pauker. She was the prime example of a powerful woman that the evil Communist system produced. g “[Time’s] cover portrait of Pauker reinforced the masculine nature of communist women” (Brennan 122). ‘Femininity’, here defined by the expectations of women in a society, was a moral imperative. To be a masculine woman would be a sin. Religious attitudes couldn’t allow for independent women moving about society, thus fully half of the population became subjects of the nation’s gaze. De facto and de jure rulings towards women spun around the axle of femininity.

National presses of the time displayed blatantly sexist rhetoric to defame the feminist movement. According to the National Republic Lettergram, “Draper was a weak woman, obviously without a husband or children to care for” (Brennan 124). Thus, Draper’s strength and relationship status were the harbingers of Communist encroachment into America. Notions of domestic containment got a signal boost thanks in no small part to these sexist attitudes perpetuated by politically motivated parties. The communist and the woman were similarly sought after as being the weakest links in society. The unmarried woman was the signifier of a greater societal ill.

The greater American imagination wasn’t tolerant of women operating outside societal norms. The press and viewing public alike “ignored evidence of the women’s valuable political skills and activities and acted as if they were simply employed in ‘typical’ female roles. For example, almost all witnesses referred to [Jean] Kerr and [Catherine] Van Dyke as secretaries, when neither had ever served in that capacity” (Brennan 132). The working class of the United States formed a concrete schema of a dolled-up female secretary. This was the only acceptable instance of women in power: docile, supplementary, unimportant.

These are the lives touched by the gendered expectations of capitalism. The capitalist needed women doing countless dollars in unpaid labor vis-a-vis homemaking and childrearing to keep the wheels in motion. In the few instances of women in more powerful positions, scrutiny was the word of the day. The American public at large was unwilling to accept the idea that men and women could be equal in the eyes of the law. The failure of the Equal Rights Amendment was proof enough that not all was well in the popular imagination. As such, McCarthy’s anticommunist campaign pushed backwards the progress gained by women after World War II.

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