An Argumentative Essay about the role of women during the New Deal Era
All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . This is probably the most famous phrase in the United States Declaration of Independence. While it sounds great, a good look into it may change the mind of a person who’s reading it by the play of words in the phrase.
For one thing, it say’s “ the pursuit of Happiness.” Does this mean that happiness is meant to be pursued but never found? Another is the fact that “ All men are created” While a person would usually say that this pertains to the human race in general, another may say this, if we look at the times when the document was formed, women didn’t exactly have a lot of rights back then.
Of course, this is a debate for some other time, but the main focus of why this was brought up is the fact that times have changed. The phrased is now being applied to everyone regardless of skin color, gender or background. There was still a time however, when the ideal of the phrase was still being put into effect that old customs and roles were not yet abandoned.
An example of this time was the New Deal Era. While those that applied the “ old ways” were dying out, the problem was the fact that it was only beginning to die out. Thus there were still many times when either rights were not being enforced, or they were stepped upon accidentally or purposefully. As such, this essay will cover the notion that while the New Deal did empower women in many ways, it also indirectly enforced gender inequality by the type of work that was given and the role of a woman in society if the 1930’s.
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Desperate Equal Reformations
The first thing that must be looked into is the reformations where women were involved. The most extensive of these was the Works Progress Administration where people were employed to work on public projects. At its highest point in 1938, the WPA was able to provide jobs for over three million men and women.
Furthermore, another objective of the WPA was not only to provide jobs, but to also give the men who were no longer the main financial provider of the family some return of dignity. As stated above, in the 1930’s, the concept of the father being the head of the family was still religiously practiced. Thus the WPA was created to give unemployed men the chance to return to their status as the breadwinners.
Women came into the picture when the government finally realized that they had not accounted for families where there was not father . Thus, work was also provided for women, especially those who were widowed, divorced, a single parent and the likes. Additionally, the workload of women was very different from those of a man.
This may seem only natural as there are certain jobs that would best suit a man such as construction work, but the discrimination in gender role can mostly be felt in work segregation. Women were hired for more “ household” work such as sewing and serving at school lunch programs. There were no real rules that these were the type of jobs that the women could do, but there was also no one who made a dent in the mindset that these were the type of women that a woman should do.
Another aspect to be looked into in the WPA was the belief that, in a couple, only one person should be working as it will take away the role of “ breadwinner” from one of them if they both worked. This would often lead to arguments within spouses as, a woman working would usually for the husband to try and defend his dignity from his family and society. Because of this, many husbands abandoned their families from the pressure of having to feed them and because no one could afford a divorce.
Finally, it is also of note, that there were jobs which were given to both genders without any segregation in the type of work. This was mainly in the field of arts where people were hired by the government for projects in cultural and sometimes social awareness regardless of gender. While this may be attributed to the argument stating that the New Deal Era did not enforce gender discrimination, one must look at the fact that both genders ARE required to pull of some of the pieces of art.
An example of this is movies. It would be easy to get a man to portray a woman in a play or a film (like they used to do in ancient Greece) but the ability for an audience to take the film or play seriously will be greatly impaired. This will even have a bigger detrimental effect if the film’s concept is propaganda. As such, the arts cannot be used as a defense against the argument that the New Deal Era did not indirectly enforce gender inequality.
Programs Exclusive for the Men
At the beginning of the New Deal Era, especially during the First Wave, there were numerous agencies that started out but did not last; often because they were about manual labor. This is the case of the short lived Civil Works Administration which provided millions of temporary jobs in construction. While the CWA was successful in creating lasting infrastructural developments, the program was still shut down because the government felt like the program was going nowhere in the future.
While some may say that using this as an example to prove the point of this essay is a fallacy of ignorance, this can be rebutted by also looking at the programs that were exclusive for women.
Programs Exclusive for the Women
The Emergency Work Bureau, first started out in 1930 (during the great depression but three years before the New Deal Era), created a voluntarism Women’s Division in 1931 which focused on the unemployed and unmarried women who were sustaining themselves before the start of the Great Depression. While the division focused on raising money and awareness for these women in New York, it was still not enough to answer all of the issues and women and at some point, men as well, who were looking for work .
The numbers is said to be five hundred to seven hundred each day and as such, most of these women became homeless. This is not to say that the homeless were exclusively women, but the housewives who were also activists were seen as nothing more than a nuisance; a group of women who were trying to fill the role of a man in a household. Additionally, while they were taken seriously by the press of the time, they were also seen as a humiliating part of the population with sexist headlines such as those that appeared in the New York Times such as “ Women Picket Butcher Shops in New York: Slap, Scratch, Pull Hair, Men are Chief Victims”.
Another good example of the discrimination towards women is the case of Josephine Roche. Successful in her own right, she was the first female police office of Denver but was forced to leave the service when her prosecutions of prostitution and sumptuary laws were forcing the more lax law enforcing agencies into action. In 1934, she lost in the bid for Governor of Colorado but was appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury by President Roosevelt.
Her story is possible one of the most successful during the time, which is exactly why is can be used to highlight the discrimination. The fact is that society of the time found it hard to be led by a woman. When she left Rocky Mountain Fuel Co, it was staying afloat, when she returned after the president of the company died, the company was in near shambles and didn’t take long to fall.
The lives of women during the New Deal Era was not one fraught with strive that they are to be pitied. Rather, they were held back by the number of social norms of the era which was still mired in the thought that men were better than women in many tasks. There were many other people who faced even worse discrimination (such as the African Americans) but it also cannot be denied that they faced many challenges; especially those who were abandoned by their husbands.
Everyone had it bad in those days as the country was still trying to get itself back on its feet after the Great Depression, but women had it a bit worse as they had to obey the social norms while facing the possibility of having their families starve because they were either abandoned, or divorced.
The government in turn did not turn a blind eye towards them however, but it did only answer the call because the discrimination was getting quite obvious. This in turn shows the fact that it was not in the government’s intention to alienate the women of the country, but they did not have plans for them to begin with in the first place.
In addition to this, it can also be seen there that agencies where women were placed first, had a harder time getting the support they needed as, while those in position and the press were serious about their causes, they were seen in ridicule by the rest of the populace.
As such, the steps taken by the New Deal agencies did help women survive the difficult times, but it also inversely heighten the prejudice against the capabilities of women of its time, something that will thankfully change in the decades to come.
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