Strength of Women Research Proposal

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American Woman

The post World War II American family as portrayed in film and on television belied the strength of the American woman. Americans were inundated with images of families that existed purely on the pages of film and television series scripts, and those images did not depict the American woman's attitude towards the world around her, nor her strength to survive that world. Films came closer to capturing the American woman's strength with works like the Grapes of Wrath (Ford, John, 1940, motion picture), and less so with films like the Searchers (Ford, John, 1956, motion picture). Television series like Leave it to Beaver (Connelly, Joe, Conway, Dick, and Mosher, Bob, 1957-1963, television series), and Father Knows Best (Tewksbury, Peter,1954-1960, television series) departed from the reality of not just the strength of the American woman, but portrayed the post war nuclear family in a way that was a complete departure from reality.

The American Woman - the Strong Woman

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In the film the Grapes of Wrath, a pre-World War II era film, the women of the plains, at least, were depicted as confronting the hardships not just of the economic times, but also the harsh geographic conditions of the American "dust bowl." The film depicted the rural American woman as more capable of surviving hardships than the depiction of her post World War II urban counterpart. It was an image that stayed with Americas; rural women sewed their own clothing, canned fruits and vegetables to get them through the unpredictable economic times of cold winters; and, when things went terribly wrong, they packed up their household goods and moved on. This is not far from factual when examining the stories that of the pre and post World War II rural American woman.

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Strength of Women Assignment

The press called them Dust Bowl refugees, although actually they came from a broad area encompassing four southern plains states: Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. Victims of drought and depression, they had headed west by the tens of thousands, hoping for a brighter future in California, only to find, it seemed, more misery. No wonder reporters rushed to tell their story. It was a spectacle rich in drama and pathos. Here were themes dear to the nation's heritage -- westward migration, the search for opportunity, the dignity of the American farmer -- presenting themselves in ironic and disturbing ways. The struggles of the Dust Bowl migrants seemed to suggest a pathetic failure of the American Dream, a failure of all the promises of opportunity that formed its vital core, a failure which if true confirmed Americans' worst fears about the meaning of their Depression-era experience (Gregory, James, 1991, xiv)."

It was an event and people, especially the women, which inspired the John Steinbeck novel and, later, the John Ford film. The women were able to work fields, tolerate subsistent living, and give birth without the benefit of a sterile hospital room. They possessed, and were portrayed, as having a strength that the post World War II urban did not have. The post war urban woman was portrayed as housewives, living on tree lined suburban streets while their businessmen husbands commuted to the city to work. These women, as depicted in Leave it to Beaver and Father knows Best, vacuumed the house in heels, a lovely neat and pressed cotton day dress, wearing an apron so as not to muss it up, and, of course, the signature strand of mother's pearls. Her make-up looking fresh, her figure trim, her hair perfect, Beaver and Wally's mom, when confronted with a problem by her "boys," looked hurt and disappointed when she discovered the problem. However, the real problem was always left to Mr. Cleaver to resolve, and he would do that when he came home from work, changed into his suit, and called the boys into his study to deal with the problem while June was fixing a nutritious meal. It could not have been any farther from the reality of the life of the post war mother and woman.

In general, then, the prevalent view of the postwar family is constructed around two propositions: first, spousal rights and responsibilities were strictly divided on the basis of gender such that males assumed a strong provider role and retained authority in the family while females were relegated to a domestic and subservient role in service of the family; second, inasmuch as "reproduction became a national obsession" (May, 1995, p. 18), the role and expectations of women collected narrowly around their anticipated motherhood ((Douglas, William, 2003, 74)."

The reality is that in the post war era, pregnancy was less a function of a woman's obsession with reproducing than it was a function of lack of birth control in an environment when large numbers of men were returning from Europe when the war ended. The other fallacy is that the images portrayed in the early television family shows did not deal with the social issues that were prevalent in the post war American family: alcoholism, undiagnosed PTSD, depression, divorce, and the other issues that impacted men and women in the aftermath of the war. Those marriages that survived these social challenges, survived because a woman was strong enough to confront or to ignore the problems, and remain focused on raising her children. Those women who left, were equally strong and brave in that they were forced to confront a post war society where, although they had risen to the call to come to the aid of their country during the war that same society and government no longer wanted them work in factories and hold jobs that could employ returning war veterans.

The post war years were difficult times, and the television shows did not deal with the reality of the times. Instead, the reality was obliterated, hidden, by the television images of June Cleaver and Donna Reed.

Critics argue that such a model violated ongoing trends and point to a variety of indices, most especially postwar marriage and birth rates as well as women's reduced involvement in the paid workforce and their reduced levels of academic achievement during the period, as evidence both of the model and of its lack of precedent. Finally, popular portrayals, including those on television, are posited to have expressed and encouraged this artificial family system (Douglas, 74)."

By the 1960s and 1970s, the post war children were becoming young adults, and their ideas and behaviors were a shock to many, because the media had portrayed them as June Cleaver and Donna Reed. When women like Joan Baez, Gloria Steinem, and other early feminist leaders emerged on the scene, asserting themselves in a way that was new on a public scale; television and film responded with shows like That Girl (Denoff, Sam and Persky, Bill, 1966-1971) and the Mary Tyler Moore Show (Brooks, James L, and Burns, Allan, 1970, television series). While these television shows depicted a different kind of woman, they were still women who did not quite capture the reality of the times. During the 1960s and into the early 1970s, few women achieved the success and financial independence depicted in these shows. Yes, the women were independent, but most of the women of the era, that is, the women who were not on Hait Ashbury or at Woodstock, worked as secretaries, waitresses, and factory workers. Few of them had glamorous jobs in television or could afford to be struggling actresses in New York City who lived in roomy apartments and could afford designer fashions.

What, then, was the purpose of departing from reality in so drastic a way between 1950 and the later part of the 1970s when portraying women as less capable than men, and subordinate to the patriarchal society? The answer, of course, is that those depictions served a purpose in society. The early post war depiction of the woman as a high-heeled, neat, orderly housewife was actually presenting an escape from the reality of the American woman and family, is explained in part by films like the Searchers and other John Wayne films. It is not a depiction of what the American woman was, or needed, but a depiction of what the American man needed to be, and how he needed to feel about himself (McCarthy, Patrick, 1997, 165).

Among the major themes that identify the mountain man's characterization are threads ostensibly linking him to power -- anarchic freedom, animal-ism, bravery, instinct (or loss thereof), the return to nature, the search for paradise, sexual potency, staunch individualism, stoicism, and wander-lust, which in actuality is agonized restlessness. The mountain man portrayed in American culture attracts those projections because historians and mountain man aficionados have viewed the historical trapper as sui generis -- an entity who lived without social restraints. In reality, the historical trapper belonged to a long line of "masterless men" who lived on the periphery of society over the ages (McCarthy, 165)."

America's post war veterans counted in the thousands, and many of them suffering the residual affects of their war… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Strength of Women.  (2008, October 12).  Retrieved October 17, 2021, from

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"Strength of Women."  12 October 2008.  Web.  17 October 2021. <>.

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"Strength of Women."  October 12, 2008.  Accessed October 17, 2021.