The breakdown of traditional female networks

October 25, 2014

Prohibition of the manufacture, sale and transporting of alcoholic beverages I the Unites States from 1919 to 1933 was largely due to pressure from women’s social networks. Yet, after World War I flappers, young women living lives of excess, patronizing speakeasies and consuming alcohol, formed a counterculture that subverted tradition women’s networks. Flappers virtually removed corsets from women’s fashions, and visually and behaviorally freed up all women by wearing shorter skirts and short haircuts, and excessive make-up. Flappers redefined the roles of women in society and mocked the traditional female networks that had lobbied for Prohibition.

Television had a tremendous impact on how women gathered socially during the 1950. Nationally and locally produced women’s programs soon followed throughout the United States often premiering within hours of a station signing-on, first to sell televisions as an essential home product, and then to build loyal female audiences. Local broadcasters produced cooking shows to entertain and instruct housewives on the latest trends in cooking, nutrition, and kitchenware that carried the message that women should purchase the latest products that would enable them to get out of the house. Women’s programs usually lasted thirty minutes and featured food topics, along with other educational content related to home economics including, “textiles and clothing, home furnishings, time management and work simplification, gardening, kitchen planning, childcare, grooming and family relations.” Ironically, television also served to alienate women from traditional face-to-face networking.

The impact of the birth-control pill, simply known as “the Pill” approved for use in the United States in 1960, gave women unprecedented control over their bodies, and therefore provided them with the option to differ marriage. The availability of the Pill opened avenues for social networking that had previously been considered taboo as different social movements and counterculture groups emerged. Betty Friedan (1921-2006), a journalist writing for popular women’s magazines, in The Feminine Mystique (1963) called on women to seek satisfying and intellectually stimulating careers in public life without renouncing their roles within the home. Friedan and other feminists established the National Organization for Women (NOW) focused on the fight for full equality for women in 1966.

Female social networking within counterculture movements still mirrored traditional models of women assisting male leadership. For instance, the Diggers, a psychedelic political movement of the late-1960s was credited with coining the phrase, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” This subgroup of San Francisco hippies, utilized traditional female social networks as they worked towards a society where all food and possessions were shared freely. The Diggers provided free clothing in the Free Store and distributed free food in the San Francisco Panhandle during the Summer of Love. The group introduced principals of serving organic foods distributed broadsides and leaflets along Haight Street advertising free food, supplies, and performances to thousands of transient youth. Dedicated volunteers, consisting of mostly young women, ferreted cheap food from produce markets, slaughterhouses, fish markets and bakeries.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the U.S. Constitution stating, Congress passed “equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex,” in 1972. This amendment would have responded to many issues raised by generations of women’s social networks, but its controversy undermined the demographic female majority, because it was ratified by only 35 of the necessary 38 states by its 1982 deadline.

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