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Cold War Gender: Nuclear Family, Nuclear War

Prof. Maria Luddy

This option explores how the Cold War shaped gender relations, sexuality and the politics of feminism. Historians have noted the contradictory impact of Cold War culture. The anxieties of the era created a climate that could hamper women’s activism, but sometimes these anxieties allowed for women’s public participation. Women came to symbolise safety and security yet Cold War rhetoric created a dimension of sexual fear. The ‘feminine mystique’ defined women’s place as in the home, the home being a bulwark of social stability. This was also the era greatly influenced by psychology and psychoanalysis, experts from these disciplines promoted traditional femininity. Women’s sexuality was increasingly regulated but also had a greater public presence than ever before. The impact of the Kinsey Reports, for instance, caused shock waves in American society. By the early 1960s women were beginning to redefine politics and citizenship and increasingly began to play a more public and visible role in reform organisations. Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique helped launch the 1960s feminist movement. We will look in detail at that work, and its impact on feminism.

Intended learning outcomes:
  • To understand how the complexities of the Cold War period shaped gender relations
  • To appreciate the contradictions and ambiguities evident in the study of gender relations in this period
  • To become familiar with key texts such as Betty Friedan’s, The Feminine Mystique

1) The Rise of the Women's Liberation Movement

2) Cold War Sexualities

3) Feminism, Militarism and Anti-Militarism

Illustrative Bibliography

Davidson, James West and Mark Hamilton Lytle, ‘From Rose to Lucy: the mass media images of women in the 1950s,’ in West and Hamilton (eds.), After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection (2nd ed., New York, 1986), pp.
D’Emilio, John and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America (Chicago, 1997).
Friedan, Betty, The Feminine Mystique (New York, 1963, many editions since).
Harrison, Cynthia, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues, 1945-1968 (Berkeley, 1988).
Horowitz, Daniel, Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, The Cold War and Modern Feminism (Amherst, 1998).
Laville, Helen, Cold War Women (Manchester, 2002).
McEnaney, Laura, Civil Defence Begins at Home: Militarisation Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties (Princeton, 2000).
May, Elaine Tyler, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York, 1988).
Meyerowitz, Joanne, ‘Beyond the Feminine Mystique: a reassessment of postwar mass culture, 1946-1958,’ Journal of American History 79 (1993), pp 1455-82.
________, (ed.), Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960 (Philadelphia, 1994).
________, ‘Sex, gender and the Cold War language of reform’, in James Gilbert and Peter Kuznick (eds.), Rethinking Cold War Culture (Washington, 2001), pp 106-23.
Moskowitz, Eva, ‘“It’s good to blow your top”: women’s magazines and a discourse of discontent, 1945-1965,’ Journal of Women’s History, 8 (1996), pp. 66-98.
Rosenberg, Emily S. ‘Foreign affairs after World War II: connecting sexual and international politics,’ Diplomatic History, 18 (1994), pp. 59-70.
Rupp, Lelia J. and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: the American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945- to the 1960s (New York, 1987).
Weigand, Kate, ‘The Red Menace: the feminine mystique, and Ohio un-American activities commission: gender and anti-communism in Ohio, 1951-54,’ Journal of Women’s History, 3 (1992), pp. 70-94.