Did WWII PTSD Lead to the Women's Movement?

We always talk about Rosie the Riveter leading to female emancipation, but I wondered about another cause.

My maternal grandfather served overseas and I think he came back with a lot of problems. Which of course nobody ever discussed back then. Maybe he was already a violent, temperamental man who drank? There’s no way for me to know.

But I do know that his daughters grew up with some really distorted, very negative views of men and masculinity as a result. And it occurred to me that if this phenomenon was widespread, it might’ve been part of the impetus for the women’s movement of the 60’s.

I wondered if anyone else thought so, too.

I don’t think so. I know several women (including my own sisters) whose fathers came back from the War with emotional problems who went for traditional marriages and lifestyles.

I think it* is * more of the Rose the Riveter effect, combined with the traditional “you have to have a fallback in case he can’t take care of you” attitude that was sharpened during the Depression and WW2. Combined with the experience of European women during WW1, and the time was ripe for a mindset change about the role of women.

If I’m reading the OP right, it suggests that the women’s movement was based on having “really distorted, very negative views of men and masculinity”. That seems to follow the feminism = man hating meme that I see with a lot of younger folks these days. IMHO, feminism is about being empowered enough to realize one’s full potential. It’s about having positive views of women, not negative views of men.

The woman’s movement didn’t start until around 1970. That’s a hell of a gap if it was caused by WWII. As far as I can see, none of the women who were involved in founding the movement (Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, Myrlie Evers) fought overseas – many were too young and the others all worked on the home front.

I think you’re missing the point of the OP (which I disagree with).

Perhaps you’re right. Maybe I should be asking a different, more broad question about the effects of WWII PTSD on veterans’ daughters.

It is true that my relatives weren’t particularly “liberated” - although they feared and resented the male archetype of the time, they weren’t empowered.

I’d argue that the women’s movement started long before that - hard to pin down a date - but the LAST date I’d give it is 1792 with the publication of the Vindication of the Rights of Women. That between 1792 and 1848 (Seneca Falls) there were a number of lower key efforts and raised awareness in the U.S. (British dates - as well as French dates or anyone else’s dates are different, but although Vindication was published in Britian, I think its fair to date the U.S. women’s movement from somewhere around there. Certainal Abigail Adams was a “feminist” of her era. The women’s movement has always waxed and waned - taking a back seat to abolition for most of the 1850s, picking up a lot of steam in the 1900s, getting sidetracked by WWI but women NOT letting go for the war, picking up critical mass to get the vote - taking a back seat to the depression, becoming a necessity to get us through WWII and then - in the 1950s - being a societal “problem” - women “needed” to go back on the back burner so men returning from war could have jobs.

The women’s movement we see as a 1963 (publication of The Feminine Mystique) -1979 (when the ERA failed to be ratified) was a backlash against that - women who did find staying home and raising children unsatisfying - and had few options for other roles. I actually think that this had more to do with modernization of the home - before WWII, the average housewife didn’t have a lot of time to be discontent with her options. Stop having to bake from scratch, beat your rugs, put all the laundry through the wringer, and you suddenly have time to wonder what you are doing with your life. Society realized that Mom was starting to get bored, so suggested she fill her time creating the perfect home for Dad - and some women resented that.

Want violent tempermental men who drank - you can go a lot farther back than PTSD from WWII. There was a reason that prohibition seemed like a good idea at the time. Prohibition and the women’s movement are linked - so you may have one variable for creating women activists in the drinking, but it started long before WWII.

Thanks for the lesson, Dangerosa! Very interesting. I read The Women’s Room a long while ago, never got around to The Feminine Mystique.

What actually kind of prodded me was Freakonomics, where he takes an unconventional look at causality; I got to thinking that perhaps a lot of women shared unacceptable living conditions post WWII.

I knew that feminist thinking surely predated the 60’s, just wondered if PTSD was an additional impetus. If anything, though, it might’ve been just the opposite - my grandfather’s daughters were raised to be very fearful, actually.

Very true, Dangerosa.

On Prohibition–before it passed Americans were some of the hardest-drinking people in the world. My grandmother (a very smart lady) always insisted that Prohibition had resulted in more good than bad, as so many working-class men could no longer spend fully half their wages on drink, leaving their wives and children to scrape by on whatever was left over. A lot of families got themselves out of dire poverty simply by the husbands’ inability to drink so much of their money away–their children could get more education and so on.

Women at the turn of the century could easily see the damage wreaked by too much drink–that’s why they were so big on Prohibition. It’s not like it was a totally irrational idea born solely of misguided puritanism. Thousands of women were direct victims of alcoholism, so it was a feminist principle.

A lot of women have shared unacceptable living conditions for a LONG time. Some of those women become agents of change. The women’s movement, in my opinion, has always had far more women in it driven by an intellectual awareness of equality and that many of the world’s women are not equal than women who themselves had unacceptable living conditions. i.e. Feminists have been weighted towards Elizabeth Cady Stanton and away from Sojourner Truth.

I think a big factor was that in women started living is a different culture in the fifties and sixties. Prior to WWII, most people living in a small community where their view of the outside world was limited and values were shaped by the people immediately around them. Women would model themselves on their mothers and grandmothers. After WWII, generations were much more likely to live seperately and there was a wider view of the world via television and telephone.

Betty Friedan, one of the pioneers of the second wave of the women’s rights movement, has said that she grew up assuming that her opinions were out of the mainstream and was surprised when she realized how many other women shared them. Presumedly, there had been many women before Friedan and her peers who felt the same way but they hadn’t been able to make the connections with each other and join together into a movement.

Advocating women’s rights goes back to the American Revolutionary War, at least. Remember Abigail Adams, who told her husband John to “Remember the ladies,” in the new American government. Didn’t do her a lot of good, though.

Then why were the feminists so keen to have NSA sex with them? As others have mentioned, feminism does not equal man hating, and even if it did, women had plenty of reasons for it prior to WWII.

Only approx 4% of those in uniform saw combat in WWII. Some percentage, large or small, of that 4% suffered from PTSD, but would they be enough to trigger the women’s movement?

You could make as good an argument in favor of it being the result of power steering.

Cite for that stat? I seem to recall reading it was higher than that but I can’t recall the source.

Yup. Fascinating fact: alcohol companies were some of the biggest contributors to anti-suffrage organizations in the 1910s. The companies assumed that if women got the vote they would naturally vote for Prohibition. After the 18th amendment passed and Prohibition began, those sources of anti-suffrage funding dried up (pardon the pun).

ETA: It’s not like many of these women with alcoholic husbands had bank accounts or marketable job skills of their own. No domestic violence shelters either. Let’s say that you’re an average wife in 1910. You husband gets paid on Saturday afternoon, drinks up the paycheck on Saturday night, comes home, and roughs up you and the kids. Realistically, what are your options? No wonder so many women thought removing alcohol from the equation.

Wll, this unsupported statistic has 9%. I got mine from one of those Time/Life WWII books.

You could see how this can vary: were the gunner’s mates on the Enterprise in combat? (yes) Were the snipes in the engine rooms on the same ship in combat (yes) Were they gunners mates on on the supply ships that steamed in and out of combat zones in combat? Etc.

Even if they did have those things, it was extremely difficult for a woman to get a job that paid enough to support a family. My great-grandmother divorced her husband soon after my grandmother* was born–about 1919?–and she could not support her child by working; the attitude was that the men needed to support families, but not the women, so they didn’t get paid much. She had to send my grandmother off to live with relatives while she tried to earn enough to keep them both. It didn’t happen until she remarried a few years later–at which point the relatives didn’t want to give up their new daughter, and my great-grandmother kidnapped her own child and lit out for California!

*This is the same grandmother cited in my last post above.

When you look at causality for societial trends, I think to take the short term Freakonomics view (abortion lowers crime rates) is short sighted. In societial trends, there is always a TON of background. A woman like Bella Abzug, who was an early leader of that “Feminist Mystique” period, was earning a law degree during WWII, not waiting until post WWII to get beat up by a returning PSTD father. Betty Friedan graduated from Smith in 1942 - pre WWII. These are women who followed in the steps of women like Katherine Houghton (Katherine Hepburn’s mother) and Margaret Sanger, who themselves followed in the footsteps of Susan B Anthony and Cady Stanton. Each generation passes the torch and the history on to the next and the next generation builds. 1960s Feminism did not spring full formed from the head of Zeus.

Now, what makes something capture the public imagination - I think that is a lot more short term causality. And then you have the “intelligent housewife, told her fullfillment is to be found keeping a clean house, raising good children and meeting her husband at the door with his drink in her hand and dinner ready to set on the table” being BORED out of her mind. And a generation of women who watched that person be their mother - even if she didn’t rebel, many of them did.

I dunno, though; the question for me isn’t where the leaders came from, because there are always a bunch of terrific leaders poised and ready.

The question is where the followers came from. Was boredom alone enough to make them go to consciousness-raising groups, and march, and rally?

I probably need to go to an AARP meeting and ask women in their 60s! :smiley: