Feminism in Post-War Europe

The reality of life during WWII enabled women, even in societies like Germany who wanted women to remain in the home, to venture out into the workforce by necessity.  Postwar Europe began to reflect this shift in attitudes towards females in society, allowing women to accept positions outside of the home in larger numbers, but the situation did not necessitate equality.

Although in most European countries women were granted the right to vote either before the war or soon after, there was a huge press towards progress in both social and economic positions once the war had ended.[1]  Women who gained the right to vote in a lot of European countries tended to vote more conservatively, which accounted for the stagnation of social and economic equality that many of the more radical members of the feminism movement desired.[2]  Across Europe, however, women were no longer confined to the home, expected to bear and raise children and to stay out of the workforce.  The life expectancy of women increased while the birth rate decreased in many of Europe’s nations, encouraging migration for work and birth control in the form of the pill became more readily available despite influence against it from the Church.[3]

Women in the workforce, however, did not have wage equality with their male counterparts, and the jobs available to them were typically female industries such as teaching, typing, nursing and sewing.[4]  While more and more jobs were available to women who desired to work outside the home, there was little opportunity for advancement, and opportunities were limited.[5]  Women who did choose to work outside of the home were still expected in large part to come home and take care of the household, and in many areas men still failed to contribute to chores and household responsibilities.[6]

It took until the late 1970s and beyond for women to gain a place in European politics, most notably Britain’s Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1979.[7]  Encouraged by the women’s liberation movement in the United States, European women began to push for more social and economic equality in the 60s and 70s, asserting that women across Europe were oppressed by their male counterparts whether or not they chose to acknowledge it.[8]  The push included abortion rights and more control over their own bodies, refusing to accept the idea that the woman’s true place was either at home or in bed.[9]

While huge strides have been made worldwide for gender equality in social, economic and political aspects, there is still a lot of work to be done before the gender wage gap and societal equality and recognition are truly reached, and the world is facing various setbacks by various religious and political groups.  Great progress has been made, and it’s advancing rapidly, but in order to achieve true equality the work needs to continue.

[1] Felix Gilbert and David Clay Large, The End of the European Era 1890 to the Present sixth edition, (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2009) 451-455.


[3] Ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

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