Resisting the “Feminine
In the past sixty years we have come full circle and the American
housewife is once again trapped in a squirrel cage. If the cage is now
a modern plate-glass-and-broadloom ranch house or a convenient
modern apartment, the situation is no less painful than when her
grandmother sat over an embroidery hoop in her gilt-and-plush
parlor and muttered angrily about women’s rights.
THE OUTBREAK of World War II and the continued exclusion of women doctors from the military reserves revitalized the activism and organizational élan of American women physicians. The postwar era, however, confronted them with a more insidious challenge, an enervating entreaty to return to home and family Postwar insinuations that women physicians were underproductive and unreliable, moreover, added a jarring note to such siren calls. Women physicians were no more immune to the determined domesticity of the fifties than other women professionals, but in the American Medical Women’s Association they at least had the advantage of an organization with long experience in the struggle for equal opportunity.1 Even during the baby boom, with its collateral encouragement of “momism,” AMWA attempted to reinvigorate the movement of women into medicine. As women physicians confronted the major dilemma of all women professionals in twentieth-century America—the demand to be productive professionals and “well-adjusted” wives and mothers—they hesitantly began the journey back to political awareness and activism.