WOMEN'S WORK AND FAMILY VALUES, 1920-1940 by Winifred D. Wandersee

WOMEN'S WORK AND FAMILY VALUES, 1920-1940

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The old wisdom was that post-suffrage the feminist movement disintegrated. The new wisdom is that feminists turned their energies toward a variety of causes: peace organizations, politics, trade unions, careerism. Wandersee (History, Hartwick) helps fill in our picture of what happened to women after 1920 by effectively showing how dominant family values affected women's work-force participation. She correctly sees the 1920s as representing ""a whole new era with respect to consumption, standard of living, and the economics of family life."" This new emphasis on consumption, or what she terms ""deficit living,"" was among the factors leading married women into the labor force. During the Depression, women workers initially suffered less than male workers--in part because they were already discriminated against through being clustered in low-paying, sex-typed jobs. But, as the Depression progressed, married women increasingly came under attack: ""Direct discriminatory action was thus the logical extension of the 'pin-money theory,' and the married woman worker, who presumably had a husband to support her, was the natural victim."" Would-be career women suffered too, for, ""given the social and economic obstacles that they faced, many women had little other choice than to retreat from the challenges of an earlier generation and to seek security in the home and the family."" Nonetheless, the Depression did demand a degree of role-flexibility between spouses which, combined with the emphasis on deficit living, helped legitimate the presence of women in the labor force, so that post-Depression their numbers would continue to increase. Wandersee concludes by drawing some implications for feminists: that the problem was not that early feminist theorists never attacked the family head-on, but rather that they never focused on ""the continued importance of family life and family values to most American women."" She recognizes the need for revolutionizing the family, but believes that revolution ""will have to be gentle if it is to have a broad base of support."" Unpretentious, straightforward, and clear.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press