In her 1945 essay “The Woman Problem,” in the Antioch Review, Elizabeth Hawes writes that housewives should be more politically involved. The essay also discusses the complications women faced when they became part of the workforce because of the war, and what would happen when “the men” returned. At times, the essay is cringeworthy within the context of modern sensibilities. As part of her opening salvo, Hawes says, “It is patent to everyone that the women of this country—most of them—say ninety-nine percent, have never taken any very active part in the affairs of their communities, states, or the nation.” This hardly seems accurate, but it does give a good sense of the climate for women in 1945 where women were preferably seen but not heard.
Toward the end of the essay, Hawes says, “The mass of women in America have never been encouraged to go out and get [what they need]. As a group they have been patronized to their faces and laughed at behind their backs by the very men who assiduously profess to love and admire and protect them. They have been discouraged at every turn from becoming active citizens.” It is surprising (or not) how little has changed, and how women are, in ways both great and small, still discouraged from becoming active citizens and equal participants in our culture.