Just like we (second-generation) feminists claimed back in the 1970s, changing the status of women would change everything, because women were everywhere…
In reality… by 1960 there were as many women working [outside the home] as there had been at the peak of World War II, and the vast majority of them were married… More than 30% of American wives were holding down jobs, including almost 40% of wives with school-aged children.
Yet to look at the way Americans portrayed themselves on television, in newspapers, and in magazines, you’d have thought that married women who worked were limited to a handful of elementary school teachers and the unlucky wives of sharecroppers and drunkards…
If all the working women were invisible, it was in part because of the jobs most of them were doing. They weren’t sitting… in the network news bureaus. They were office workers — receptionists or bookkeepers, often part-time. They stood behind cash registers in stores, cleaned offices or homes. If they were professionals, they held — with relatively few exceptions — low-paying positions that had long been defined as particularly suited to women, such as teacher, nurse, or librarian. The nation’s ability to direct most of its college-trained women into the single career of teaching was the foundation upon which the national public school system was built and a major reason American tax rates were kept low. The average salary of a female teacher was $4,689 at a time when the government was reporting the average starting salary for a male liberal-arts graduate fresh out of college was $5,400. (Women graduates’ salaries were significantly lower, probably in part because so many of them were going into teaching.)
Another reason the nation ignored the fact that so many housewives had outside jobs was that working women tended not to be well-represented among upper-income families. The male politicians, business executives, editors & scripwriters who set the tone for public discussion usually felt that wives not working was simply better.
So many political threads to unpick in just a few short paragraphs! — from the way one class’s disenfranchisement [underpaid women teachers] supports a larger social benefit [widespread public literacy], to the media’s role in enforcing social norms, always at the service of the top economic earners…
I was born at the end of 1955, and by the time I was in high school, I was aware that having been born just a few years earlier or later would’ve made a huge difference in the way I lived my life. One of my smartest high school teachers was a nun with a PhD from Fordham — she was grateful to be teaching chemistry to tenth-graders because, she told us, until she ‘found her vocation’, her father was pressuring her to quit school at 14 and start bringing home a salary. She was quite serious about her religious calling (one of a small handful of the Christians I’ve met who actually try to live according to the precepts of that Christ guy), but she also wanted us teenage Catholic girls to know how privileged we were. On the other hand, tenth grade was IIRC when they gave us some nationally-rated Vocational Guidance test, many pages of timed multiple-choice questions, where my top ranking at around 65%, was for “Librarian [female]”… but when I looked at “Librarian [male]” my ranking shot up in the high 80s. Five years earlier, I probably wouldn’t have thought to compare, and five years later, I suspect the guiding authorities were recalibrating that year’s test package to eliminate [the abilty for testees to check] gender bias.