Equality – or rather – the lack thereof is something of a running theme when discussing the history of women, particularly here in America. When America entered World War II in December of 1941, it did so during a time of economic distress. The lack of available manpower due to high enlistment rates made the idea of running the thousands of factories required to create weapons, munitions and the various vehicles required to keep the war effort alive seemed insurmountable until it was decided that women were allowed to work in such factories, an opportunity that until these extreme times was essentially denied them. Unsurprisingly, many women who found themselves working these so-called “men’s jobs” were found able to do their jobs proficiently, with them being noted as being easily as good – if not better – than a man working the same job. Iconic women like Rosie the Riveter showed America that women were not only willing to help defend their country, but they were also able to do so. (Kerber et al. 2016)
Sadly, after the end of the second World War, many women who had these “men’s jobs” found themselves getting replaced after the troops returned from their tours of duty. The reasoning for replacing perfectly good workers is a good indication of the mindset of The Greatest Generation – it was thought that while women could do the jobs that men could do, it was better for men to do jobs that were deemed to be for men. In essence, women were seen as a temporary solution until someone more “capable” was available, much like duct-taping a leaking pipe until a plumber can come fix it, as ridiculous as the comparison is, it is an apt one. This wasn’t limited to factory jobs either, in Michigan, women bartenders also were targeted in a similar manner, though they did not go quietly into the night.
A law in the state of Michigan prohibited women from tending a bar in areas that held more than 50,000 residents unless they were the wife or daughter of the establishment’s owner. This seemingly arbitrary law directly effected Valentine Goesaert, the owner of a bar in Dearborn, Michigan which had a population exceeding 50,000 people. Legally, Ms. Gosaert was not allowed to own the property that she had invested so much time, energy and money into. (Kerber et al. 2016) All of this seems strange, especially once you consider that this law flies in the face of the fourteenth amendment, which ensures that states shall not deprive it’s citizens of life, liberty or property without due process of law, nor shall they deny any person equal protection of the law. However, the rationale behind the attempts to hedge out female bartenders may be born from other motives.
The perceived frailty of women may have played a part in determining whether or not females were equipped to handle the rigors of bar ownership. At the time, bars were almost exclusively visited by men, so much so that they were considered ideal locations to discuss politics, economics and any other pressing issues of the time. According to the powers that be, the owner of such an establishment must be able to handle any unruly patrons, as well as dispense information and advice on a wide degree of topics, which according to the source of a 1950’s New York Times article said “I do not believe a woman can talk as well as a man, to begin with . . . and, physically, a woman can’t handle a drunk as well as a man. ” among other things – including the notion that women aren’t as intelligent as men. Additionally, it was a fear of those in the business of tending bar that allowing females into the fold would take away the role of breadwinner from many males, as well as opening the floodgates for prohibitionists to rally against bartenders.(French, 2014)
Based on Goesaert v. Cleary and the treatment of women factory workers post WWII, the era’s stance on gender norms is fairly clear. That is to say that women are equal to men…only until it becomes inconvenient for the men. Women were completely able to work in the factories, and by many accounts are the main reason why America was able to meet the demands of outfitting an army during wartime. Women were able to tend bar and do a myriad of other jobs that were deemed too difficult for their gender and nobody complained. Nobody complained until it began to effect the male populace, then society scrambled to “right itself” and put men back into the position of breadwinner, a position of power all the while deeming women unfit to do the jobs they did without issue.