Marginalization of Women During the Cold War

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At the height of the Cold War in 1959, Vice President Richard M. Nixon visited the Soviet Union to discuss political ideology with Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. In what was labeled the “kitchen debate,” Nixon presented Khrushchev with an American “model home” that highlighted the merits of capitalism to a global audience. But as the politicians entered the Americanized kitchen, Nixon took a step further. Instead of keeping the focus on economic systems, the Vice President turned the discourse to the two nations’ construction of gender roles. While looking at an American dishwasher, Nixon said, “This is our newest model…In America, we like to make life easier for women… I think that this attitude towards women is universal. What we want to do, is make life more easy for our housewives” (teachingamericanhistory.org). While the accessibility of consumer products that reduced labor for homemakers was an achievement of American capitalism, Nixon’s comments promoted a new American vision of the family. The traditional family in Cold War culture, which featured men as breadwinners and women as homemakers, was now an important component of the American Dream. By referring to women as “housewives,” Nixon effectively reinforced the pervasive sentiment that women could not only be homemakers in a financially prosperous capitalist society, but that it was also expected of them. As these expectations became fully engrained into the mainstream, gender roles became increasingly rigid, which discouraged many women from considering professional careers, let alone pursue them. As the Cold War era prompted Americans to find refuge in the traditional family, women were expected to operate within the framework of the home and in resul... ... middle of paper ... ...represented an escape from the uncertainty of the future. But with the rise of a new traditional family in America, complete with strict and separate gender roles, women were denied opportunities in the workplace and forced to embrace the task of homemaker. While Nixon argued in the “kitchen debate” that American strength rested on each member’s ability to rise and fall, the marginalization of woman in Cold War culture masterfully highlights the distance between political idealism and reality. Works Cited Books May, Elaine Tyler. Homeward Bound. Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. Movies The Home Economics Story. Online Resources “The Kitchen Debate.” Articles Stevenson, Adlai E. “A Purpose for Modern Woman.” Chambers, Whittaker. “Witness.”
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