Good Research Paper About How Entering The Labor Force Changed Women’s Status In World War II Europe
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Women began to increase their status early at the turn of the 20th century, but it was World War II in particular that allowed women to make the push forward that they needed. World War II was an important time for the advancement of women in society because it offered women the chance to prove themselves as an industrial force. The traditional family structure was forever changed due to women entering the workforce during the war. This led to the advent of modern feminism, women’s rights, and gender equality. While North America had Rosie the Riveter and other famous icons, Europe’s working women were less visible. However, women in Europe had a substantial influence on the journey to equality for working women. Through their efforts on the home front in the war, women were able to advance their status in European society. Women became regarded politically and socially as they were now seen as vital to the economy. Without these contributions industrialization would not have been able to take shape after the Great Wars, and industrialization was necessary for the mass production seen in the modern world. Improvement to the political and socio-economical status of women in Europe during World War II came from women’s roles in the social labor force rather than the effort of fighting for the women’s suffrage movement. Women’s labor was vital during the war years for all of the countries involved in World War II and this remained an important stepping stone in the development of women’s rights in Europe.
Women were involved in the war as nurses, which was an important job due to the amount of casualties produced during battle. There were also women who fought as soldiers on all sides. In the Soviet Union, women formed a combat force of over 800,000 female snipers, machine-gunners, and tank operators. This was the only country in Europe that had a fighting force made up of women. Later on in the war, some of the other countries that utilized female soldiers followed suit and made special units. Germany and Great Britain also sent female soldiers into combat in mixed-gender units. Germany utilized 450,000 female soldiers in total during the war. Women also worked in the non-combative roles that were required in the military, such as accountants, clerks, and interpreters. By 1945 in Germany, women comprised 85 percent of those non-combat roles. The theory was that the more women worked in these roles, the more men would be able to operate as air, ground, and sea soldiers. Even though there were many women involved as soldiers, many countries still permitted women from firing weapons or any other direct actions. They were allowed to drive tanks and perform lesser tasks, but it was not until further into the war when some countries changed their laws and allowed women to fire guns. While their contributions to the fighting effort were substantial, the most important role that women played in the war was at home in the workforce. Historian Charles Townshend states, “Far more important in the Second World War were those women called upon to manage the home front.”
Women played a vital role on the Eastern home front during the war. The majority of the fighting took place on German and French soil, which meant that many cities in these countries were bombed out. This left the women who were at home to take care of the mess. The devastation from destroying cities meant that women now had to find ways to survive and take care of their families. This was not an easy feat. Supplies dwindled, meaning that they now had to be rationed among families. Wartime rations were not unheard of around the world, as in the United States this was also common. Germany in particular lost many supplies during their occupation in the harsher climates, as they were underprepared for the changing weather conditions. This required more food and clothing supplies to be sent to the front lines, and more demand for families at home to make sacrifices. Women were now in charge of finding ways to keep their family fed and sheltered while obliging the country’s demands. These demands were put in place by other countries such as the Soviet Union, as forces also required a higher supply of food and textiles. Food kept a soldier strong, and many soldiers were malnourished due to improper rations. Malnourishment also led to diseases and illnesses that could prevent a soldier from fighting at his full potential, weakening the core of the army. As a result, production of food for the military increased as much as supplies could allow. This also meant that women were required to provide supplies, such as food crops and meat, for institutions that were deemed more important. Supplies were also required to defend cities against bombing attacks, and cities that got bombed out needed to rebuild. Women were often the ones who had to put the pieces back together for their cities, their households, and their families.
Women entered the workforce out of necessity. Many men had to leave home to fight in the war, leaving a lack of manpower behind. This was especially true for countries that enforced conscription, which made it a requirement by law that any men who were able and old enough to fight must serve as soldiers or face legal consequences. There were also social consequences that went with conscription. If a man avoided fighting he would be ridiculed by his peers and cast as an outsider. This factor was another reason so many men went off to war. In Great Britain, all women who were between 19 and 40 years of age had to register for employment, after which they would be directed to specific jobs. The job selection was based on either their marital status or any jobs they had worked previously. This came out of the necessity to fill jobs in factories that had began to develop during the industrial revolution. Before the war, women worked in positions that were seen as more traditionally female-oriented, particularly domestic service jobs. These jobs required skills such as sewing and laundry, which were considered roles for women. Women had worked in factories during World War I, but some had stopped working when the soldiers returned home. By World War II, this was no longer an option. Not only were women required to fill the positions that men had worked in the factories, but the pay was much better than the jobs they were used to, which made it hard to pass up. However, the pay was still much less than what men were being paid for the exact same work.
The Soviet Union placed an importance on women in the workforce to a degree that they were using the concept in their wartime propaganda, making women workers appear as a fashionable ideal. This was an attempt by the country to appeal to popular opinion and inspire women to join the many industries that needed workers. Propaganda was important during the war and it was a tool used by every country to mobilize their citizens to take action in any way they could. This action shown in the Soviet propaganda, which featured stories of citizen heroes and women who were doing things deemed extraordinary. This, as is the point with propaganda, was meant to inspire women to join forces of combat or labor. Both options were available for women, but the majority chose to enter the workforce.
Factories produced the equipment and weapons that were used in the war. Women were in charge of many various tasks that ranged from putting together land mines to sewing parachutes. World War II is famously known for the introduction of the modern bomb, dropped by air, which changed the way wars were fought forever. The development of the Manhattan Project in the United States created the atomic bomb, but the allies were using bombs before this. Strategic bombing was being used by the United States and Britain to defeat German forces. This caused a surge in demand for weapons that would defend against bombing. It also required faster production of textiles and equipment that needed to be replenished as soon as possible. Women were called upon to create more weapons at a faster pace to keep up with the destruction that was being caused by the allies. This kept women in work during the war years. Factories were not the only industry that women worked in. There were many other areas that needed labor to support the country during the war. Women sought employment in the mines, on farms, in the service industry, and in the textile industry. There were also many day care facilities that were established to take care of children while their mothers worked, and this created more jobs to fill. It also allowed for more women to be available to work. These child care facilities were known as war nurseries. This concept remained in modern times as day care became a crucial part of society, and it was an influence for working mothers from then on. The advent of day care is one of the most important factors in modern feminism and gender rights today, as it has allowed working women to be able to hold full time jobs as well as raise a family.
After the war, women continued to be a strong presence in the labor force. Russia, East Germany, and Poland had a strong need for industrialization due to the loss of men and resources from the devastation of the war. The final death count at the end of the war was 55 million people. 7 million of that number were Russian soldiers. This created a hole in populations for all of the countries involved. Casualties from the war meant less men were available to work, and many of the men who did return home were injured and could not physically perform the tasks they used to. Some veterans also suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which placed limits on their ability to work and function in society. It was common for soldiers to feel “demoralized,” especially when they returned with injuries or diseases that crippled their physical ability. This added another task to the list for women as their husbands required extra assistance at home. It also opened up more jobs for women as caregivers for those who could not provide the aid that veterans needed. Within 10 years after the war ended, there were 20 million more women than men in Russia. This meant that women were depended on to remain in the workforce for their household as well as the industry itself.
Some women found it difficult to adjust to working life when they had domestic responsibilities at home as well. For this reason, not all women stayed in the workforce when the soldiers returned home. Women who had children under 14 had not been legally required to work, but found it necessary as the supplemented income from their husbands being at war was not enough. Women now had the choice to either work or go back to being a housewife. This was a choice that had been previously unavailable, and it has formed the roots of modern feminism. Some women did not have the choice, as many became widows by the end of the conflict. Thus, they had no choice but to keep working to provide for their family indefinitely. Without the acceptance of women in the workforce, these women would have had a harder time being able to keep their family together after the loss of their husbands. Women proved themselves during World War II when they kept the workforce alive in the absence of men. This resonated through to the current century as the majority of women currently work and are employed in all sectors of industry.
The traditional family structure changed during World War II and it would never be the same again. Men had always been seen as the breadwinner of the family, providing the household income while the woman stayed home to take care of the children and the home. Entering the labor force allowed women to become the breadwinners. While their husbands were away fighting the war, it was now the woman’s job to take care of her family and provide for her children. By 1959, 30 percent of households in Russia were headed by women. This was a big societal change that could not simply be reversed in times of peace. Women had become accustomed to the wartime life of being the family provider, and for many people it was hard to go back. Unions had also developed for women specifically, such as the Women’s Co-Operative Guild. This meant that there were developments in rights for female workers and it was now being seen as more of a long term status. Being a mother and a working woman were no longer two separate functions and there were more options available for all women. Single, unmarried women were now willing to travel for work and to expand their abilities.
These advancements did not come without their share of societal criticism. The popular belief was still the idea that women should remain at home to raise their children. Some women who worked in factories had to bring their children to work with them, where they were put in factory nurseries, which had a bad reputation for making the children “miserable.” Women were seen as selfish and stood accused of sacrificing their children's’ well-being to make extra money for luxuries. A woman’s place was still widely considered to be in her home, and society in Europe has not always been willing to embrace change instantly. The Communist Party put out a variety of leaflets after the war that discussed women as mothers that were aimed at the importance of housework and “keeping the peace.” These leaflets were aimed to influence women to stay home and let the men go back to work. In later years, they embraced the concept of women working and encouraged women to find more traditionally female jobs in specific sectors. Criticisms were often made by the middle and upper classes towards the working classes. Women of the middle classes could afford not to work, while many working class families needed the extra income to survive. Despite this criticism, women fought for their rights to work and this spirit has remained ever since. As industrialization became more prominent and important, the more these attitudes shifted. It became more acceptable for women to work in the advent of more jobs, especially those seen as traditional female jobs, such as nurses and caregivers. In many situations, it was highly necessary.
After World War II ended, women found themselves in a more important position than they had ever been, and thus feminism began to form. The early forms of feminist protest were blended among protests against nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war in and from Russia. This involved the creation of many women’s peace groups known as “Women’s Peace Camps” in Britain. Without the labor of women during the war, women would not have been in a position to argue against war. Women were now being taken seriously as a vital part of society, economically and politically, and were able to take a stand against something. They also had experienced firsthand the devastation of war and did not want it to be repeated. At this point feminism was still not a popular opinion and society was still beginning to adjust to the idea of women working. The concept hit North America before it hit Europe, but it was still taking its shape all the same.
Fighting efforts for the women’s suffrage movement made a big impact on the changing status of women, but it was their role in the labor force in World War II that truly improved their political and socio-economic status in Europe. In order for the economy to remain steady throughout the duration of the war, European countries relied on women to fill the void that was left by men going to war. This produced a newfound appreciation for women and a realization of the potential that came from having extra workers. More opportunities would be available and products could be created on a bigger and faster scale all over Europe. Factories in particular could boost production by utilizing women. More industries came about as the demand for new services, such as child care, increased. This allowed even more people, men and women alike, to gain employment and further their status within their classes. The working class had the opportunity to push further to the middle class and live a life with more luxury than they had been used to. Without these wartime efforts by women, the rights they enjoy in the modern world would not exist in the extent that they do. These women set the bar for modern working women who balance family life and work life in a society where this is the norm. This was a major stepping stone for women’s rights all over the world, as women were joining the labor force in other parts of the world that were also involved in the war. Together, this united front caused a massive societal and political change that shaped the modern world for women and men alike.
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