The changing roles of women throughout history has been drastic, and none more so than the period during and after World War II. The irrevocable changes that occurred once the war started and women went to work were unprecedented. In the end, the changing role of Canada’s women during the War was the beginning of a chain reaction of events that have forever changed the Canadian workplace and also that of men’s archaic views on the capabilities of women in general.
Many look back to the period during the war in which women were encouraged to get out of the kitchen and go to work, and wonder how a five year period could be so instrumental in forever changing the norms of society? Two authors, who attempt to sift through a mountain of information and provide a clear picture in response to this question, are Jeff Keshen and Ruth Roach Pierson. Both authors paint a slightly different picture from the piles of papers, minutes, war diaries and publications that covered that pivotal period during World War II where so many Canadians women found their voice and their freedom from domesticity.
Canadian Women and the Second World War Ruth Roach Pierson’s essay is written with purely the perspective of women in mind, and the article itself is geared towards a female audience. The writer briefly describes the conditions of Canada at the onset of the war and the societal views of the role of women. Although there are no quoted references sited for this essay, there was a vast amount of alternative reading where I am sure one could draw numerous conclusions.
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Even with the lack of references, I did find this essay the most compelling especially, given the current climate of women in the work force. Ruth Roach Pierson describes in great detail the plight women faced during the war, when they were encouraged by the government and the needs of their families to get out and help support their families financially while all of the men were away at war. She goes on to describe the working conditions and child care situations for working women which were less than adequate.
As a member of the Canadian Forces and a woman, the most interesting part of the article for me was the descriptions of how women became a uniformed part of the military and how all three branches of service came to assimilate women into active duty and the roles they were allowed to serve in. Throughout the essay, we were told about the deplorable conditions, the lack of equality the women faced in the workplace, and the stereotypes that were attached to women that proved very difficult and almost impossible to overcome.
At most concern was the inequality found between men and women’s pay, benefits and allowances throughout the World War II era and beyond. The lack of equal pay for equal work caused great contention for women and still does to this day (although it is not quite as blatant in the civilian workforce today).
The argument of the writer is that the roles taken on by women during the war forever changed the roles of women in society. I agree with her argument. Had it not been for the war, and the call to work and the military, things would be very different in our society for women, even today.
The war was the instrument to get Canadian women to work, and once there, women found their voices to fight the inequality with respect to working conditions and pay, and paved the way for the next generation of women to continue to work and fight for an equal playing field with their male counterparts . Revisiting Canada’s Civilian Women during World War II Jeff Keshen’s essay is without a doubt written from a man’s perspective without much sympathy to the plight civilian women experienced during the World War II era.
This article is very well written and cites over 100 references, making for a very factual account of the times. This article was geared more towards what contributions were made by civilian women versus the article by Ruth Roach Pierson which put most of the focus on women’s roles within the military. Jeff Keshen’s article explains how the media plays a of the time played a pivotal role in doing two things specifically, one was to get the women out to work, support their families and contribute to the war cause.
... our textbook of the important role women played in Revolutionary War effort, the image of the womans role in the American Revolution has ... increased during the war years. The American Manufactory of Philadelphia employed about 400 women in this line of work and individual households ... also made clothing for the army. (pg 202) Women also ...
The second countered the last by telling women were over and over told how important their role in the home was. Throughout this article the writer makes numerous references towards how the government of Canada attempted to do the right thing towards female workers during the war, but it also shows how the government’s heart wasn’t into it, thus just making offers to female workers just to appease their complaints for the time being until the war was over.
The government was terrible on providing financial support to women whose husbands were away at war, offering only meager amounts of their pay each month, thus forcing more women into the workforce. The article goes on to further explain how during the war, women felt empowered by their circumstances and how once the war was over that women continued to fight towards equality and many refused to ‘go back to the kitchen’ after the war and further challenged the norms by continuing to work.
In conclusion, the most compelling argument found during both articles was the willingness of women to move forward and support their families, no matter the cost or the inequalities found between their male counterparts. I have always heard said that ‘women are the backbone of society’. Now, this may not be entirely true in the year 2011 with the shared roles of women and men in families, but it certainly can be said for the years during World War II. Women were faced with the challenge of having their spouses and breadwinners away from home, and they were also faced with the uncertainty of their safe return home to their families.
When you couple this with the call from their government and society to join the work force to help the war effort and take over the roles of the men in society while they were away. Eagerly the women answered that call, and stepped up to take over the roles the men used to hold before the war. Not only were they working full-time jobs, but they were still in charge of their households and raising their children and taking over and completing the roles of husband and fathers for an extremely long period of time.
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