(En)gendering war

Material Information

(En)gendering war the positional politics of bodies and borders in cold war America
Nuss, David K
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
viii, 117 leaves : ; 29 cm

Thesis/Dissertation Information

Master's ( Master of Humanities)
Degree Grantor:
University of Colorado Denver
Degree Divisions:
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, CU Denver
Degree Disciplines:
Committee Chair:
Wiley, Catherine
Committee Members:
Whiteside, James
Casper, Kent


Subjects / Keywords:
Cold War -- Social aspects -- United States ( lcsh )
Sex role ( lcsh )
Women -- Socialization ( lcsh )
Sex role ( fast )
Social aspects ( fast )
Women -- Socialization ( fast )
United States ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 115-117).
General Note:
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree, Master of Humanities. Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by David K. Nuss.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
Copyright David K. Nuss. Permission granted to University of Colorado to digitize and display this item for non-profit research and educational purposes. Any reuse of this item in excess of fair use or other copyright exemptions requires permission of the copyright holder.
Resource Identifier:
36420042 ( OCLC )
LD1190.L58 1996m .N87 ( lcc )

Full Text
David K. Nuss
B.A., Colorado State University, 1989
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Humanities

1996 by David K. Nuss
All rights reserved.

This thesis for Master of Humanities
degree by
David Nuss
has been approved
j-22 74

Nuss, David K. (M.H.)
Engendering War: The Positional Politics of Bodies and Borders in
Cold War America
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor Catherine Wiley
This thesis studies the positional politics of Cold War
America on a domestic and international level. American economic
expansionism following World War II was accompanied by a
repositioning of women in American society and Third World
nations in the world order. Women in America were contained
within the family structure, allowing the central positioning of a
heroic male persona that carried out Americas Cold War agenda,
while Third World countries were placed at the lowest levels of
the international order as producers of raw materials and cheap
labor. The positioning of women as consumers and Third World
nations as producers led to the collective disempowerment of both

groups. However, the rigid and restrictive nature of American Cold
War domestic and foreign policy led to an inherent dissatisfaction
with the status quo and created a backlash that eventually
deconstructed, both figuratively and literally, the American Cold
War social and international structures.
Chapter one studies the American economic agenda after the
war, drawing correlations between American economic policy
goals and the anti-democratic restrictiveness of American foreign
and domestic policies. Chapter two studies the positional politics of
gender and national identity in a militaristic wartime framework,
showing how American social and foreign practices led to the
containment of women in the home, the placement of Third World
nations on the margins of the world community, and the
ascendance of a male hero persona in Americas Cold War society.
Chapter three studies the containment of women in the home and
the disempowering relationship between women consumers in the
kitchen and Third World nations as producers of American
products and consumers of American images. Chapter four studies

the relationship between social techniques of repression and
marginalization and social focus and debate. Chapter five studies
the restrictiveness of Americas Cold War cultural images, social
practices, and political policies as reflected in film and television.
Chapter six studies the failure of the restrictive Cold War
definition of family to truly address the needs, both personal and
political, of all its members, on either the domestic or
international level.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates

1. BROKERING AGGRESSION............................ 1
The American Agenda...................... 8
2. PENETRATING AND OPENING UP......................21
Postmodern Warfares Ideology of Gender . 23
Capturing Bodies/Silencing Minds......... 27
3. THE VESSEL OF THE FAMILY .......................34
Abnormal Psychology.......................42
Sexual Outlaws............................53
House/wives............................. 62
4. BARBIE CAPITALISM.............................. 66
Plastic Fantastic.........................77
Subverting Subversions....................83

6. REASSIGNING RELATIVITY.................103

The United States emerged from World War II as the only
major power with the resources, infrastructure, and economic
wherewithal to broker power on an international level. Europes
economic capabilities had been severely compromised by the war.
Germanys massive wartime factory system had been annihilated
by bombings, and most of Europe faced an upward battle to
achieve economic self-sufficiency. England, the preeminent power
before the war, had been crippled by German bombings and had
lost control over many of its prewar colonial holdings. Where
England did still exert some control, it was tenuous at best.
Most countries along the Pacific Rim and in Eastern Asia had
suffered a fate similar to those in Europe. Japan, like Germany,
suffered extensive damage from wartime bombing. Korea and
China were compromised from the Japanese occupation, and the

countries to the south of China had also suffered setbacks from
the war and colonial occupation.
The Soviet Union and the Eastern European nations also had
ruinous complications to overcome. Not only were their economic
systems antiquated, but their lands and people were among the
most ravaged by the war. Fighting along the Eastern front was
some of the most savage and prolonged of the war. The Soviet
Union had suffered enormous losses, in both its military and
citizenry. As such, the Soviets posed no immediate economic or
military threat to the United States following the war.
The United States immediate postwar concern was to create
a world in which American business could operate and profit with
a minimum of restraint. The thrust of this policy was more
economic than political, but in its implementation, politics would
become ascendant as a ways and means to achieve U.S. economic
supremacy on an international basis. Any economically driven
powerbrokering after the war, at least from an American
standpoint, would necessitate not only augmenting some

countries economic infrastructures, but limiting economic,
political, and cultural growth in others. It would also require
political and social manipulation of countries on either side of that
economic polarity. It would necessitate a blindness to cultural
difference and legitimacy, an arrogant disregard for national
sovereignty, political diversity, and borders.
This polarizing dynamic did not end off U.S. shores,
hierarchically assigning economic worth and roles to countries and
peoples spread throughout both hemispheres; instead, it extended
inward, creating a similar domestic model based on economic
patterns of production and consumption. Within the United States,
however, these patterns were broken down primarily in terms of
gender, and as the Cold War became increasingly politicized as a
result of U.S. economic policy goals, a divisive Cold War ideology
was reflected in and promoted by gender-based categorization,
positioning, and representation in the homefront institution of the

As U.S. economic goals solidified, and the world order
became both increasingly reflective and reactive to U.S. policy-
making, womens roles within the United States became
increasingly restrictive and contained within the family. There
were three primary and connected reasons for this: first, the
family was the perfect domestic reflection of hierarchical
economic patterns of consumption and production on an
international scope, and its structure allowed a degree of domestic
hegemonic control similar to that afforded by U.S. foreign policy
on an international basis; second, "the family held great ideological
power as a representation of the valueseconomic, moral, and
politicalthat the United States hoped to promote as a beacon of
the benefits of democracy to an international audience; finally, the
institutionalization of women in the family allowed the creation of
a masculine hero persona that would pursue U.S. interests in an
increasingly regimented and militarized Cold War society.
With such a derivative basis and representational power,
the family became the crucible in which international divisions of

power were reflected and formulated. Ideologically circumscribed
and politically unempowered, women held much the same
position within the domestic order as Third World nations did in
the international order. Just as Third World nations were not
allowed political or economic latitude or national control of their
resources or borders, women were not allowed free exercise of
their economic, intellectual, and political potential, nor were they
allowed absolute control over their own personal borders, their
bodies. Because of their representational value within the Cold
War institution of the family, ideologically inscribed to contain all
that was un-American and represent all that was American,
women disappeared within the homes and houses that defined the
American dream. They became house/wives and mothers, and
provided a consumption counterpoint to their husbands
productive earning power. Choice for women became a profoundly
restrictive enterprise, typically limited to a product or a color

It was only in terms of severely restricted economic latitude
and self-determination that women truly reflected the status of
Third World countries, the bodies and borders, or biopolitical and
geopolitical status, of both being relative to a new world order. In
terms of further relativity, however, women and the Third World,
as was true of almost every entity that fell within the scope of
Cold War ideology, were polarized in relation to one another, for
women were cast primarily as consumers, while the Third World
fulfilled the role of primary producer (in terms of natural
resources and cheap labor). As these relative positions were
brokered through an economically driven political system on a
worldwide basis, they were profoundly at odds with one another,
which led to the ongoing and collective unempowerment of both.
Whereas the Third World was penetrated and mined for resources
and labor to fuel the production side of capitalism, women were
mined for their biological and economic contributions to sustain

Within the family structure, a woman could produce and
tutor future participants in the U.S. economic order, and
representationally show the developing world the pleasures of
leisure and ownership that would come from adopting a
cooperative capitalistic (not necessarily democratic) government
and state. In other words, the vision of freedom in the Cold War
was based less on assumptions and empowerment of human and
civil rights as it was on the potential exercise of economic benefits
for a chosen few. The rights of these few superseded the rights of
the many, violating their borders and bodies, silencing their voices
of dissent. Politics became the subservient mechanism of economic
expansion and penetration, and culture, gender, nationality,
bodies, and borders became invisible participants in their own
representational and physical rape.

The American Agenda
Although the Soviet Union was not an economic or military
threat after the war, U.S. policymakers saw the Soviets as an
ideologically dangerous adversary, particularly in relation to
developing countries. The United States was to base its actions on
an assumption that its vision of world order might at any time be
undermined by nationalistic revolutionary ideologies, including
democratic ones, that might run counter to U.S. economic interests
and either be initiated or exploited by the dubious virtues of
communism. In either case, to the anxious eyes of those guiding
U.S. postwar expansionism, anything that impeded that
expansionism, either domestically or internationally, could
ultimately be traced back to the Soviet Union. This formed the
basis for American policy in the postwar era, and would
eventually be the United States Achilles heel as such extremism
solidified into the polarized restrictiveness of Cold War ideology
and policy-making.

Under an economically driven ideological umbrella, U.S.
policymakers and government and corporate powerbrokers acted
to stifle alternative communist and noncommunist forms of
government on a worldwide basis, snuffing Third World political
and economic autonomy, nationalistic movements, and attempts to
nationalize industry or land ownership that might run counter to
U.S. interests:
Essentially, the United States aim was to restructure the world
so that American business could trade, operate, and profit
without restrictions everywhere. ... American business could
operate only in a world composed of politically reliable and
stable capitalist nations, and with free access to essential raw
materials. Such a universal order precluded the Left from
power and necessitated conservative, and ultimately
subservient, political control throughout the globe. This
essential aim also required limitations on independence and
development in the Third World... .
Traditional nationalism, consequently, was an obstacle
to Americas attainment of its goals.1
Geopolitics became the byword for American international
initiatives after the war. Much as in the suburbs and
business ways of the U.S. landscape, the credo became: Location, 1
1 Joyce Kolko and Gabriel Kolko, The Limits of Power: The World and United States Foreign Policy,
1945-1954 (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 2.

Location, Location. Whether the location provided resources,
production facilities, or military benefits, the idea was the same:
balanced, coherent expansionism at all costs. In a study of U.S.
power after the war, Melvyn Leffler notes that given the military
supremacy of the United States after the war:
Adversaries would be able to threaten U.S. security only if
they could undermine the American economy... From the
perspective of postwar Washington, a viable international
economy was the surest way to defend the health of core
industrial nations and to protect friendly governments from
internal disorders and nationalistic impulses that might impel
them to gravitate eastward. American officials believed that
they had to relieve the problems besetting the industrial
economies of Western Europe, integrate former enemies like
Germany and Japan into the international economy, and
insure that all these industrial core nations could find
markets and raw materials in the underdeveloped periphery
of the Third World.2
A hierarchical and polarized international structure was the
result of this emphasis, as was the progressive restrictiveness on
Third World and domestic freedoms that would eventually serve
to undermine U.S. Cold War hegemony.
- Melvyn P. Leffler, A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration, and
the Cold War (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1992), 10.

Europe was the key to the U.S. desire for postwar
expansionism. The United States hoped that Europe would provide
a cornucopia of economic benefits in return for U.S. aid. The
United States hoped first and foremost that Europe would become
active trading partners, but they also desired to disallow any
influx of Leftist ideology into Western Europe, and consequently
tied much of their aid offerings under the Marshall Plan and other
reconstruction measures to imperatives for democratic
government.3 Moreover, European nations were to serve as the
United States pointmen into Third World countries. Aid to Europe
(including England) was tied to Europes continued but transitional
colonial presence and incursion into peripheral countries
outside of the Western Hemisphere, which ironically, the United
States considered its own territory.4
On the whole, however, U.S. policy was more reactive than
proactive. Although powerful, the United States strength was
^ Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, 158.
4 Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, 59,91, 164-65.

economic rather than political or ideological. Americas attempts to
substitute technology, arms, and cash for coherent democratic
reform or other viable and diverse political systems left it bereft
of solutions should its monetary attempts at problem solving go
awry. In addition, the lack of ideological appeal made U.S. officials
anxious, both at home and abroad. They were aware:
of the great appeal of Communist ideology to demoralized
people who had suffered greatly in depression and war and
who faced new hardships and shortages during the difficult
reconstruction process. Many of these peoples had become
disillusioned with bourgeois middle-of-the-road parties that
had failed to meet their needs in the past. Yet American
officials regarded Communist parties everywhere as tools of
the Kremlin. ... Policymakers in Washington assumed that
wherever and however Communist gained power, they would
pursue policies that directly or indirectly served the purposes
of the Soviet government.5
This anxiety only increased after the Soviets possessed the
atomic bomb, for now their purported ideological appeal was
supplemented by warpower, the one advantage the United States
had held over them following the war. American officials feared
that armed with atomic weaponry, the Soviets might now have
^ Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, 1.

the resolve to penetrate further into the Third World, fueling
revolutionary policies that would be detrimental to U.S. interests
in Europe and the periphery.
The results of this international shift in ideological and
military power were threefold for the United States. First, the
stakes were raised on the international level. If the United States
was to increase its economic power on a worldwide basis, it would
have to practice the same resolve as it supposed the Soviets
possessed and step up its penetration of and hold on Third World
countries within the protective sphere of U.S. economic influence.
This need for resolve in the face of atomic retribution would
eventually lead to the arms race and the uniquely restrictive
workings of atomic diplomacy. Second, the United States realized
that the threat of atomic retribution tied its hands should it
exhibit the resolve to penetrate the Third World and attempt to
hold its interest there. Any potential or actual conflict would
therefore better be handled by covert manipulation of political
and social systems, military aid to friendly governments, and if

war were to break out, the localization of the conflict (as in Korea
and Vietnam) to avoid war on a wider scope. Third, the lack of
direct ideological appeal on an international level led the United
States to adopt and promote a restrictive attitude toward
freedoms within the United States. The desire was to maintain and
represent an attitude of consensus and ease by which to promote
American values, economic, moral, andby proxypolitical,
overseas as a counterpoint to revolutionary ideologies on an
international level. In short, democratic freedoms needed to be
curtailed within the United States in order to promote the virtues
of democratic freedoms abroad.
These policies were all connected by the U.S. interest in
maintaining economic supremacy over world markets, resources,
and trading partners. As the framework of the Cold War became
more and more rigid and polarized, U.S. interests became less and
less those of promoting freedom and increasingly those of
safeguarding capital privilege. NSC-68, the National Security
Councils answer to the need for greater international control, is

exemplary of this emphasis. NSC-68 promoted military aid,
covert operations, [and] psychological warfare ... to improve
internal security and enhance intelligence activities.6 The
implementation of NSC-68 had domestic and international
implications. It polarized the world, making neutrality a nonoption
and diplomacy a zero-sum game. Impetus was added to the arms
race, as the United States formulated a position that self-
deterrence would promote communist aggression and be
counterproductive to U.S. interests in Europe and the Third World.
Moreover, NSC-68 placed an emphasis on positive representation
on the home front, as well as the nonrepresentation and
nontolerance of dissent, with effects that would reach well into
the Kennedy era, influencing that presidents views and actions
toward the Civil Rights movement.
NSC-68 was the outgrowth of atomic diplomacy, the zero-
sum game forced by coownership of nuclear weaponry by the
6 Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, 356.

United States and the Soviet Union. The seeds for such a
diplomatic approach were laid as early as 1946, when:
U.S. officials defined the Soviet Union as the enemy. Faced
with intractable problems abroad and exasperating
constraints at home, they grew worried and angry. Rather
than dwell on the vacuums of power in Germany and Japan,
rather than focus on the popular desire for reform and
recovery throughout Europe, rather than emphasize the
indigenous sources of civil strife in Asia, and rather than
identify with revolutionary nationalism in the Third World,
they latched onto an interpretation of international
developments that placed blame and responsibility on the
By simplifying the threat, and depicting the world in
bipolar terms, and naming the Soviet Union as an ideological
enemy, ... it [became] easier to resolve the ambiguities in the
international situation and to take necessary steps to enhance
U.S. security interests.7
George Keenans infamous long telegram and Churchills Iron
Curtain speech are examples of the rhetoric and grandstanding
that grew out of this diplomatic mindset. Keenans picture of
unfettered Soviet expansionism played well at home and abroad;
moreover, his suggested policy of never negotiating with the
Russians set the tenor for the excesses and rigidity of Cold War
diplomatic fare, setting the stage for grand and melodramatic
7 Leffler, A Preponderance of Power, 100.

brinkmanship that tinkered with nuclear retribution, rather than
coherent and reasoned diplomatic bargaining. Churchills speech is
indicative of the mindset of fear that would define the domestic
representation of the Cold War: dire imagery and threatening
scenarios would pack people into their homes and garner enough
votes to continue U.S. expansionism abroad.
Keenans telegram was only partly indicative of the ideas
and means he employed to counter revolutionary ideologies and
communism on a worldwide basis. In 1938, he drafted a book that
among other things explained:
why benevolent despotism in America was to be preferred
to the shrill disorders of democracy, and its core was the need
for the very restriction of suffrage in national affairs.
Immigrants, blacks, and women (Keenan dubbed them
frivolous) were to be denied the vote.8
This curtailment of the shriller voices of democracy was at
the heart of U.S. expansionism after the war, and it serves to shed
light on the absolute failure of the United States to bear its own
8 Martin Walker, The Cold War: A History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993), 32.

democratic standard and birthright into the postwar era, either in
its international dealings or at home. The need to create new
markets led to the debasement of freedoms at home and abroad.
The decision to play up the fears of Soviet expansionism as a
means to gain domestic conformity was among the most pervasive
methods of assuring domestic compliance. Others included raising
the economic and social opportunity costs of adopting non-
American lifestyles (that is, outside of the heterosexual family
structure); promoting consumerism and ownership; stifling
intellectual, social, and political awareness; and breeding a
conformity of thought that found its basis in the safe vessel of the
home and family. Everywhere, the purported threat of
international and domestic communism narrowed the options for
anyone who did not have an equal or even adequate piece of the
American economic or political pie immediately after the war.
International as well as domestic social problems were left
unresolved in fear that any focus on such problems might betray
Soviet influence or American weakness. As a result of this anxiety,

policy options, both internationally and domestically, became
increasingly restricted and restrictive. Any attempts to garner
additional resources, either economically or politically, were
quickly labeled by red-baiting accusations as un-American:
American culture was politicized. The values and perceptions,
the forms of expression, the symbolic patterns, the beliefs and
myths that enabled Americans to make a sense of reality
these constituents of culture were contaminated by an
unseemly political interest in their roots and consequences.9
The costs to the United States for this narrow definition of
options and freedoms under the domestic and international
versions of Cold War atomic diplomacy would be enormous. Such
rigidity would serve to alienate a large portion of the developing
world from U.S. economic and political desires. It would also stifle
the intellectual, political, and economic growth and pursuits of a
large portion of fringe Americans, including to greater and lesser
degrees, women and minorities. Finally, it would backfire
absolutely on the primary U.S. economic goal of worldwide
9 Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1991), 10.

expansion, leaving the United States in debt and decline, even as it
still attempts to resolve the same unanswered social issues of
equality and reform that it has consistently failed to meet in a
head-on democratic fashion.

The Cold War was the first truly postmodern war, existing
uneasily between the classical definition of a firmly delineated
war zone (over there), where the conflict takes place, and a well-
categorized home front (over here) that fulfills a set number of
symbolic functions in relation to that frontline conflict; for
example, sentiment, protectionism, support (the flag, mother, and
apple pie). During the Cold War the front line and the home front
became one and the same, and the set duties of handling conflict
stood hand in hand with the symbolic values they were to protect
and serve.
Homefront symbolism and frontline conflict became as close
as home and street or a neighbors house. Whereas before the
translation of homefront symbolism to frontline conflict tempered
somewhat the ideological import of values associated to home and
hearth and sweethearts, the juxtaposition of both fronts created a

drastic and hyperinflated displacement of value and import. The
insidious fear of creeping communism made the values of home
and hearth reach hyperbolic proportions, and as the hyperbole
increased, the definitions of just what constituted a proper home
narrowed in the extreme. This narrowness of view was the
domestic counterpart of the rigid form of atomic diplomacy
practiced on an international basis.
Instead of being embodied in a photograph of a sweetheart,
women became living, breathing compatriots in the struggle, but
as women, they were still perceived as requiring the
protectionism afforded to the classical sweetheart. Given their
historic wartime gender role definitions, women were suspect;
they were forced into a position on the front, but had none of the
qualities that would define them as dependable partners in the
fray. Thus they needed elements of defined control thrust into
their lives and forced upon their bodies, for the symbolic way
women used to wage war was forcibly out of date in the Cold War,

although the classical definitions of gender remained much the
same. Women became displaced in their roles as women.
Postmodern Warfares Ideology of Gender
To fully understand the political and cultural rigidity
brought about by the bipolarism and narrow definition of
diplomacy during the Cold War it is essential to comprehend the
militarization of U.S. culture, particularly in relation to gender and
gender roles. A patriarchally oriented military will, by necessity,
create a gendered social body, for if men are bound to be men,
then they must gain definition through social and semiotic
opposition of the feminine.
In a militarized society, which for all intents and purposes,
the United States was during the Cold War, as evidenced by the
enormous amount of resources that were fed into armament,
overt and covert foreign arms sales and personnel training, and
the cooption of the civilian populace through Civil Defense
exercises and red-baiting, the military man:

creates himself through the annihilation of woman. The
spectacle of brutalization, moreover, perpetuates the
traditional power relation: the male agent (author/actor)
exposes himself to his male audience. The womans body is
merely the object of exchange, the common ground that
allows men to position themselvesagents/clients,
author/audience, military/population...
During the Cold War, men served in a militarized role as did
women, the degree of relative symbolic positioning was the only
thing that differed. Men were used to war. They were versed in
its language, familiar with its conventions, and had been culturally
conditioned to function within its excesses. They could all become
potential heroes, if not as actual combatants, then as fathers and
providers. As heroes they would require definition through
opposition, which was created by socially positioning women in
the home, and by definition, casting them as antiheroes, potential
annihilators, and actual annihilatees. Womens value would
become synonymous with the home, where they would be called
upon to embody all of the symbolic excess invested in that 1
1 Diana Taylor, Spectacular Bodies: Gender, Terror, and Argentinas Dirty War, in Gendering War
Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993),

peculiar entity, for as fathers and providers, men no longer fought
strictly for patriotic ideology on foreign soil, but for that ideology
as filtered through private ownership and domestic familial
The consequences of this juxtaposition of fronts was
profound, for not only did it lend to a much more narrow
definition of womens roles in a militarized society, it led to the
overvaluation of mens roles:
[T]he representation of maleness and the [wartime] narrative
in which it is imaginedwhich together constitute a set of
culture-specific dreams, desires, and fears[became] more and
more the cartoon image of a little boys fantasy of manhood ...
that imagines reshaping the future by changing the past, the
fortresslike body image of the masculine hero ... reassures its
audience of a masculine dominance made invulnerable by
[an] arsenal of high-tech killing devices ... an aggressive
enactment of male ... competition played by males, for males,
with women authorized only as cheering admirers of male
This radical displacement of gender roles in relation to war
created a dichotomous atmosphere in America. Men, typically
2 Lynda E. Boose, Techno-Muscularity and the Boy Eternal: From Quagmire to the Gulf, in
Gendering War Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott (Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University
Press, 1993), 74.

white, carried out essential business, for capitalism was now
synonymous with war-making on both an international and
domestic level, and women and minorities served as nonentities,
either becoming subsumed by inflated value systems or made
frivolous if not dangerous by the very fact that they dwelled on
an other-defined fringe.
In these terms, the international bipolarism of the Cold War
found its domestic equivalent, which dichotomized human
experience and thrust it into two different spheres. Every aspect
of the cartoon-like male supremacy engendered by the Cold War
had its feminine counterpart: mind/body, culture/nature,
logic/intuition, objectivity/subjectivity, aggression/passivity,
confrontation/accommodation, public/private, political/personal.
In each case, women came out on the downside of the equation in
terms of circumstance and duty, for with the hyperbolic
overdetermination of the male role and body in Cold War society,
womens bodies and minds were simply unfit for duty.

Capturing Bodies/Silencing Minds
The public/private, political/personal dichotomy of the
militarized Cold War U.S. society is essential to the understanding
of how women were placed after the war. In order for men to be
public heroes in the postwar period, women needed to be
privatized and protected as property in the home. In order for
men to function as political mavericks in a world open to economic
(rather than strictly political) redefinition both internationally and
domestically, womens concerns had to be personalized. In the
next chapter we will study the mechanisms and results of this
gradual redefinition of women as house/wives.
Suffice to note at this juncture that women as public and
political entities might serve to decenter the symbolic values they
now embodied and threaten the economic and political supremacy
of males. Women, by definition, were handicapped in the public
and political arena, and:
On the national level such handicaps threaten to expose the
entire political system, for they point to its vulnerability. ...
Insofar as political skepticism and opposition are linked to
feminization, postwar normalization requires a restoration

of the veterans masculinity so that his signification of
national triumph does not simultaneously constitute an
affront to hegemonic political values.3
In other words, for men to truly become men in the postwar
period, women must defer to silence. For if they were to speak
and interject their voices into the theater of war they betray a
knowledge of the front line, of the decisions and values heretofore
experienced, owned, and lived only by males. That knowledge
might prove fatal to Americas self-imposed mission of
expansionism after the war, for once spoken, such knowledge
might imply self-definition rather than enforced definition
through being placed in silent opposition to the masculine hero. If
women were to function politically and publicly, they might also
function militarily, or perhaps anfimilitarily. They might:
criticize a social order that uses language to kill men [and
women and children] and to repress dissent and difference ...
[and] deconstruct the oppositions between battlefront and
home front, public and private, war and peace, men and
women ... [and] expose those opposed fronts as part of a hidden
economypolitical, verbal, and literalwhose profits depend
on the meretricious divisions of war. [They might] all see
3 Sonya Michel, Danger on the Home Front: Motherhood, Sexuality, and Disabled Veterans in
American Postwar Films in Gendering War Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 260-61.

systematic interconnections between the manufacturers of
language, imperialism, and capitalism. ... By ... reevaluating
their traditional assignment to a domestic ... economy and
domestic knowledge, women can recast the cost/benefit of
In other words, publicly speaking, politically aware and
active women might foul the working mechanism of Cold War
society. Moreover, any untoward influence they might have,
sexually or psychologically, on menthe feminization of the home,
rather than the homification of the femmemight produce boys
and men who could not act as heroes when it came time to do so.
Female sexuality and the temperance they brought to the
home were both necessary and dangerous in the Cold War period.
Momism was a great fear in the postwar period, for the feeling
was that if a womans uncurbed sexuality and psyche were to
have a detrimental affect on her male children, they might grow
up to be deviants, both sexually and politically. Moreover, as a
wife, a woman was to be sexually available to her husband and
requite his battle-wounded soul when he came home from the
4 Margaret R. Higonnet, Not So Quiet in No-Womans Land, in Gendering War Talk, ed. Miriam
Cooke and Angela Woollacott (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 221.

economic front lines. But she was not to have too untoward an
effect on his psyche or intellect; otherwise, he might very well
wimp out, or be insufficiently masculine when it came to
conducting his services to his country and protecting its national
interests.5 If women and wives were to speak, men might very
well lose their voices, their tough and logical and heroic stance on
fighting the Cold War. If women were to speak, they might say
what cannot be spoken:
What is it that cannot be spoken? First, any words that express
an emotional awareness of the desperate human reality
behind the sanitized abstractions of death and destruction. ...
[W]eapons effects may be spoken of only in the most clinical
and abstract terms, leaving no room to imagine a seven-year-
old boy with his flesh melting away from his bones or a
toddler with her skin hanging down in strips. ...
But it is not only particular subjects that are out of
bounds. It is also tone of voice that counts. A speaking style
that is identified as cool, dispassionate, and distanced is
required. One that vibrates with the intensity of emotion
almost always disqualifies the speaker, who is heard to sound
like a hysterical housewife.
What gets left out, then, is the emotional, the concrete,
the particular, the human bodies and their vulnerability,
human lives and their subjectivityall of which are marked as
feminine in the binary dichotomies of gender discourse. ...
[Gjender discourse informs and shapes nuclear and national
security discourse, and in so doing creates silences and
5 Carol Cohn, Wars, Wimps, and Women: Talking Gender and Thinking War, in Gendering War
Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela Woollacott (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993),

absences. It keeps things out of the room, unsaid, and keeps
them ignored if they manage to get in. As such, it degrades
our ability to think well and fully about nuclear weapons and
national security, and shapes and limits the possible outcomes
of our deliberations.6
In these terms, given the hegemonic mission of United
States after the war, the domestic scene had to take the shape it
did during the Cold War, particularly after the Soviet Union
harnessed the atomic bomb. Womens minds, emotion, voices, and
intellects, had to be contained and silenced domestically, just as
Third World nationalism and political determination needed to be
contained and deterred internationally. Subjective voices in
opposition would threaten to overthrow the definitions (hero,
heroism, expansionism) afforded by objectified opposition of
women and Third World nations. Womens place would be in the
home, but moreover, the home would provide womans place: its
walls and appliances would become her body, and her body would
in turn become the vessel of the family and the values it in turn
embodied. Her intellect circumscribed, her voice silenced, her
6 Cohn, Wars, Wimps, and Women, 231-32.

body symbolically and hermetically sealed into the home, she
would melt into the lathing, studs, and silences of its walls.
The male hero in opposition would will out during the Cold
War period between 1945 and 1961, but the silences borne of
such hyperbolic redefinition of roles would have its costs in the
increasing rigidity of international atomic diplomacy and an
increasing inability of the United States to coherently articulate or
listen to its domestic displacements and problems of social,
economic, and political oppositions and inequalities. The veil of
silence, after all, was a cost of war, and war did have its costs and
its benefits; it simply depended on which I or not-I you
listened to. In the early part of the Cold War, the militarized male
hero was the ascendant I, whose social position and definition
was a self-imposed production created at a cost to others and
ultimately himself, for:
.Many men, stating that war has been a big productive force
for the development of our societies, are completely right. But
they avoid answering the question whether wars lead to new
inventions, ventures, investments and the like. And they
avoid counting the costs of destruction. But they look at
human lives as something to be converted into the

abstractions of victories or defeats, as something they have
the right to use for their special productivity. Each feels
himself to exist in deep disconnection from other people, in
powerful I-solation.
The military body is the perfect incarnation of
traditional philosophical thought, of the I. (Being right.
Being undefeatable. Being systematic. Being addicted to work.
Being alone. Shining in a suit of armor. Bearing a head on the
shoulders for seeing through and winning wars).7
I-solation would have its costson culture, family, and
human rights and equality. The heros armor would eventually
become dented by his addiction to conflict and tarnished through
his lack of care. In the meantime, however, the hero found the
silence around him golden indeed.
7 Klaus Theweleit, The Bombs Womb and the Genders of War (War Goes on Preventing Women
from Becoming the Mothers of Invention), in Gendering War Talk, ed. Miriam Cooke and Angela
Woollacott (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993), 293.

The militarized society of the Cold War required the family
structure as a vessel to both contain and protect a symbolically
positioned and empowered populace from the horrors of frontline
conflict. Since the front line was now as close as the street or a
neighbors house, the private home became the sanctum for all
that was sacred to society and civilization. In perhaps the most-
quoted passage from her book, Homeward Bound, Elaine Tyler
May observes:
[I]n the early years of the cold war, amid a world of
uncertainties brought about by World War II and its
aftermath, the home seemed to offer a secure private nest
removed from the dangers of the outside world. The message
was ambivalent, however, for the family also seemed
particularly vulnerable. It needed heavy protection against
the intrusions of forces outside itself. The self-contained home
held out the promise of security in an insecure world.1 1
1 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic
Books, Inc., 1988), 3.

For the containees within the home, the message was indeed
ambivalent: self-contained carried ominous undertones. The
home had such powerful symbolic value in both social and
international terms that it threatened to subsume the identities of
its occupants, chiefly the wives and mothers who literally fleshed
out its walls. Security was also a double-edged concept, for as well
as keeping danger out of homes and the lives of its occupants, it
also served to contain and ameliorate subversive or dissident
voices that might otherwise threaten society and the mission of
Cold War expansionism.
During World War II, women entered the civilian workforce
in record numbers. Moreover, they entered many segments of the
job economy heretofore occupied solely by men. The ability of
women to function in these jobs and keep up their homes was a
threat to the definition of the male hero during the Cold War
period. Returning vets needed jobs, and a definitive post from
which to exercise their identities and civil duties after the war.

Although any actual threat was seated in womens skill
and intellectual abilities, the perceived threat was embodied in
assumptions about their sexuality. A loose woman-that is, one
outside of the family structurewas a loose woman, a threat not
only to the symbolic sanctity of the private family, but as a result
of that threat, a danger to national security as well:
It was not just nuclear energy that had to be contained, but
the social and sexual fallout of the atomic age itself. Many
contemporaries believed that the Russians could destroy the
United States not only by atomic attack but through internal
subversion. ...
The logic went as follows. National strength depended
on the ability of strong, manly men to stand up against
communist threats. ...
According to the common wisdom of the time, normal
heterosexual behavior culminating in marriage represented
maturity and responsibility; therefore, those who were
deviant were, by definition, irresponsible, immature, and
weak. It followed that men who were slaves to their passions
could easily be duped by seductive women who worked for the
It also followed that given womens suspect sexuality, they,
by definition, were biologically, thus necessarily, deviant; they
were national security accidents just waiting to happen. Men
might be led astray, but women embodied the original sin. And by
2 May, Homeward Bound, 94.

some further bizarre exercise of logic, women would become
responsible not only for leading men astray, but for keeping them
from going astray. Either as overprotective mothers, frigid wives,
or aggressive sex goddesses, behind every subversive, it seemed,
lurked a womans misplaced sexuality.3
It went without saying that men in sexually satisfying
marriages would be less likely to become bent or deviant, and
thus open to moral, social, or political decay. As wives and
mothers, women held the brunt of the responsibility. Not only
were their economic and social capabilities displaced in their
sexuality, but their minds and bodies were as well. The
house/wife was not simply a juxtaposition of terms, rather it was
a term in and of itself. Location and biology (biopolitics) became
related in such an intimate fashion that the woman disappeared;
in her place was a doppelganger, in every sense of the word:
[W]omen had to turn their energies toward the family in
healthy ways. As long as they were subordinate to their
husbands, sexually and otherwise, they would be contented
and fulfilled wives devoting themselves to expert childrearing
3 May, Homeward Bound, 96.

and professionalized homemaking. As loving, erotic mates,
they would prevent their husbands from straying from the
straight and narrow. And they would raise healthy children to
be strong, vital citizens.4
The transition from woman to house/wife is readily
apparent in the above passage, and as women were increasingly
drawn into the home, their energies increasingly turned against
their very sense of self, eventually becoming so other-oriented
as to cause a complete sublimation of their personality into the
The private home was privatized as property, as was all that
it contained; in terms of women this meant that as private
property, their personalities and politics were privatized as well.
Despite theories as to the feminization of the home, the home
actually subsumed the female. A mans house was very much his
domain, particularly since he spent his days battling as a heroic
knight against forces that defied his individual control and
imagination. A mans home empowered him as a hero.
4 May, Homeward Bound, 97.

As material providers and domestic authorities, men can be
seen as primary citizens in their duties outside the home and in
their roles inside the home. Much the same as Third World
countries supported developed nations by giving up their
sovereignty and borders to the identity and wealth of these latter
nations, women served as secondary citizens who acted through
and for others to affirm that others civic worth and identity.
The reproductive consensus (Baby Boom) that followed the
war only affirmed womens roles as secondary citizens. As a
mother, a woman was to act as a conduit through which her
husbands sperm and hegemonic values could produce strong and
healthy citizens. Procreation and motherhood were civic duties
that affirmed national goals. Again, women were subsumed by
their own sexuality:
The 'maternal instinct was the point at which sexual and
reproductive ideology fused, giving rise to a revival of the
cult of motherhood. ... [T]he Victorian notions of motherhood
were recast in the form of powerful sentiments encouraging
women to have more, rather than fewer, babies. The new
glorification of motherhood reflected the twentieth-century

idea of the sexualized home. The notion [was] that motherhood
was the ultimate fulfillment of female sexuality... .5
It is essential to note that motherhood as such took place
within the family, under the auspices of male control, as the
discussion of birth control below will attest. It is enough to realize
here how completely womens personalities and politics were
filtered through her completely privatized role within the home.
Eugenia Kaledin describes the myth of the domestic
orgasm that seemed to reduce women absolutely to their
domestic role, conveniently dovetailing sexuality and domesticity
as irreducibly synonymous; sexuality and satisfaction becoming a
function of how completely a woman could fulfill her role as
house/wife and mother.6 Moreover, it became abundantly clear
that a woman was to perform her role as citizen from within her
own ideologically prescribed home, politically serving her
husbands primary role by accepting her secondary status.
5 May, Homeward Bound, 140.
6 Eugenia Kaledin, Mothers and More: American Women in the 1950s (Boston: Twayne Publishers,
1984), 110-111.

Thus, if women were the vessels that contained the family,
they themselves were contained in the vessel of the home. Their
connection to the political and cultural world was filtered through
anothers personality, not their own:
Childrearing was one of the few ways of exerting influence on
the world. Domesticity was not so much a retreat from the
public affairs as an expression of ones citizenship. ... [As
mothers] women were endorsing and affirming, through their
families, the goals expressed by major political leaders and
experts ... in conformity with widely shared political goals.7
But was silence truly endorsement, or was it merely a
reflection of enforcement? Womens political energies were
obviously capable of being extended beyond themselves and their
homes, but just as their homes privatized and subsequently
displaced their political energies, other cultural influences acted to
personalize what was already privatized and thus put women in a
political and social position twice removed from active and
proactive citizenship.
7 May, Homeward Bound, 160.

During the Cold War, the social impetus, politically,
economically, socially, psychologically, scientifically, and
culturally, was to assign women to the homeand to leave them
there. Sexuality outside the home was dangerous, personally and
politically, having clear national security implications. And inside
the home, the pressures remained and intensified: the female
citizen had not only to be a good wife, but a good, unfailing, and
unflagging mother. Again, the basis of the social action was
womens sexuality, and the weapon of choice was psychology.
Abnormal Psychology
As a militarized economic society, the United States required
a degree of functionalism that would readily accommodate
military and economic policy goals. This was best achieved by
developing different spheres of action and influence in society. As
we have noted earlier, the primary male function, the Cold War
conception of the hero, required the subordination of women as
secondary citizens. This division of labor had a long tradition in

U.S. culture, but in the postwar era it also picked up a scientific
legitimacy it had heretofore lacked:
in the developing intellectual school of functionalism, which
gave added scholarly weight to the traditional division of
labor. The functionalist perspective ... seeks to analyze social
behavior or institutions in terms of the consequences or
functions they have for maintaining the larger society or
social system in which they exist. But functionalism, as it
came to be applied to an analysis of womens roles in this
period, was used ... to pronounce the status quo as the best of
all possible worlds. In the popular application, functionalism
came to mean that society functioned best with women in the
home caring for children while men earned the living.8
The concept of functionalism affirmed the objective
relativity of women to the male hero in the postwar period. It also
demanded that women as political beings not exist within the
realm of policy-making or social debate. Part of womens
marginalization as political creatures was accomplished by the
sheer weight of anti-communism in U.S. culture and the
association of any non-mainstream political rhetoric with a red
threat. Social protest was simply not a very viable option in the
Cold War period, and where womens groups did exist, they had to
8 Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Womens Rights
Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 1415.

battle the stigma and appearance of communism to such an
extreme that it stifled the free exchange of ideas within the group
and diluted the thrust of effective protest or reform. The Cold War
polarity of good and evil, democracy and communism, tore many
groups apart, as it did the Womens International League for
Peace and Freedom. Ironically, this group, which attempted
economic and civil and human rights reforms in Latino and other
Third World countries, was rendered impotent, at least for a time,
by internal distrust:
The paranoia so rampant in U.S. society played itself out
within the specific branches, ripping the organization apart
from within. The national board attempted to address the
problem by condemning the governments political
repression of Communists and at the same time portraying the
organization as non-Communist. This resulted in a paralyzing
distrust among member who embraced a variety of ideologies.9
Forced to police their own message and organizations, these
groups were highly unlikely to police or reform anyone else. The
implicit suspension of their democratic right to gather and
9 Harriet Hyman Alonso, Mayhem and Moderation: Women Peace Activists during the McCarthy
Era, in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 19451960, ed. Joanne
Meyerowitz (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 129.

exercise free speech threw them into immediate contradiction
with their own organizational goals and beliefs; moreover, it
divided women along lines of political beliefs that often amounted
to no more than subtle degrees of difference. Such divisions would
also be artificially inflated along lines of race, religion, and class as
the Cold War drew on.
Politically emasculated and publicly divided in proactive
roles by the militarized cultural dynamic of the era, womens
political function, as noted above, was largely confined to the
home and redirected through another party. Much of this was
accomplished through the psychological structure of the family
and a womans place within it:
In a curious way, an updated Freudian version of the idealized
family of the Victorian era became the normal family of the
postwar era. Like the nineteenth-century Utopians who
believed that society could be regenerated through the
perfection of family life, postwar child-rearing experts and
social scientists looked at the ... family as the ... potential cure
of a host of social problems: poverty, crime, mental illness and
all forms of deviance. As in the nineteenth century, the
.burden of molding the future of their children fell squarely
on the mothers.10
10 Arlene Skolnick, Embattled Paradise, The American Family in an Age of Uncertainty (New York:
Basic Books, 1991), 69.

The science of psychology, however, made the task of
accomplishing this goal increasingly difficult. Mothers, biologically
and sexually assigned to their roles, had to walk a very thin line
for the very same reasons that they were so deterministically
proper for their roles. Too much mothering, a wrong turn here or
there, could be disastrous to the growth and sensibility of future
citizens. Childrearing, which to this point in time had been the
picture and practice of normalcy, now was fraught with the peril
of potential abnormality.
And as personality development was now central to national
security and the development of the militarized economic culture
of the United States, these tasks had monumental import and
created a heightened sense of dread and guilt in women. Betty
Friedan speaks ironically about this Happy Housewife Heroine in
The Feminine Mystique. Femininity, according to Friedan, had its
own set of sacred rules, and functioned in willing and sacred

opposition to mens heroic cultural roles. He could not exist
without not-her:
The end of the road, in an almost literal sense, is the
disappearance of the heroine altogether, as a separate
self and the subject of her own story. The end of the road is
togetherness, where the woman has no independent self to
hide even in guilt; she exists only for and through her
husband and children.11
Womens identities were thus increasingly subsumed in
their roles and duties within the home. As a result, not only were
their group efforts stigmatized and stifled in the public/political
arena, but their personal individual presence was as well. The
social forces amassed against any form of deviance (and an
independent woman was, by definition, deviant), were enormous:
Independence might have led to a rebellion against the
domestic role or an active rejection of the status quo. ...
Defying the consensus could lead to the loss of economic
security, social reputation, or community support. Adaptation
was clearly safer than resistance. Those who chafed against
domestic containment ... buried their discontent and sought
therapeutic rather than political solutions to their
problems.11 12
11 Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1963), 41.
12 May, Homeward Bound, 183.

Thus, at the level of the individual, a woman was forced to
occupy the home at the risk of her personality and psyche, and to
effectively act against her own best interests by focusing on and
seeking cures for an enforced state of disease. In short, she was
divided against her own sense of self.
This enforced division was reflected over and over, ad
infinitum, through the entire social structure. In effect the vision
of the Happy Housewife itself contained and deflected a
multitude of sins:
The Happy Housewife of the 1950s is an image so familiar it
need not be belabored: the smiling, pretty suburban matron,
devoted mother of three, loyal wife, good housekeeper,
excellent cook. Like all American social imagery, especially in
the conformist 1950s, it is an image determinately white and
middle class, in total disregard of the diversity of American
women and thus a typical product of the snowblindness and
middle-class myopia of American society.13
This white-oriented vision of the place and problems of
women created a layering effect in terms of group efforts and
social approaches to problems of equality and the division of
13 Rupp and Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums, 14.

social resources. Any collection of social movements will naturally
compete for available rights and resources, and if they can be
placed at odds in terms of goals and desires, their struggle will be
diffused one against the other. Moreover, the division of social
resources necessitates a social vision of a need for such resource
allocation in the first place. Inasmuch as the middle-class family
not only reflected mainly white concerns, but also glossed over
class divisions, it was easy to assume that there was not much
immediate need that couldnt be solved by the free marketplace:
Commodities would solve the problem of the discontented
housewife, foster pride in the provider ... and allow children to
fit in with their peers. Consumerism provided a means for
assimilation into the American way of life: classless,
homogenous, and family centered.14
In this manner, the highly accentuated gender roles within
the U.S. economy obliterated the social vision of class distinction.
Moreover, they affected the social vision of race, not only in terms
of class and resources issues, but in the efforts of both women and
14 May, Homeward Bound, 172.

racial minorities to gains rights and equality in the Cold War
The womens rights movement ... defined its priorities with
reference to white middle- and upper-class women. Thus
discrimination that affected all women included the right of
owning property but not black womens voting rights. Black
women ... formed their own organizations ... to fight racial
discrimination and foster solidarity among black women. ...
They sought contact with white womens organizations but
were often overlooked if they did not insist on inclusion in
coalitions. ...
As the effort of black organizations began to make
progress in the area of civil rights, the womens rights
movement was forced to respond.15
Black women not only had to overcome barriers to their
potential as women, they also had the burden of race with which
to contend. Their cultural existence and social position was much
different than those of white women: economic necessity forced
them into the labor market in higher numbers, and more black
women sought higher education in an effort not only to better
their own position, but that of their families and communities as
15 Rupp and Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums, 15455.

Social attitudes were also different toward blacks. Implicitly
if not overtly racist, they resulted in placing an additional burden
on blacks, who had to be recognized in conjunction with or in
opposition to the white middle-class model, which stood at the
center of American culture:
[T]he employment of African American mothers [was] more
problematic than it was for white mothers ... [because of]
applied racial stereotypes [of] the black family,
characterizing it as matriarchal and suffering the
handicap of a relatively weak father image.16
In other words the black family did not conform to the
vision of the white family, and thus was deviant from the norm.
Viewed in these terms, black women who worked outside the
home or promoted racial equality were doubly deviant when
compared to their white counterparts, and were further
marginalized by their need to overcome the often racist attitudes
of their supposed sisters:
16 Susan M. Hartmann, Womens Employment and the Domestic Ideal in the Early Cold War Years,
in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 93.

Black and white women agreed on the importance of
developing comfortable interpersonal relationships across
racial lines. But the effort necessarily put different burdens
on each group. White women might face criticism from black
colleagues for racist remarks and actions, but blacks had the
more difficult task of controlling the sting of racial prejudice,
with its implication of inferiority. Just as they had in the
interwar period, black women shouldered the burden of
educating their white colleagues about racism, believing that
only through persistent efforts would whites begin to change
racist attitudes.17
Such black effort presupposed that white womens groups
were even willing to recognize the additional racial and class
aspect of their struggle, or were willing to take them on when it
might bring on additional social criticism or ostracization, thus
further diffusing their own efforts.
The division of thought and effort did not end with race, for
many middle- and upper-class white women were blind to sexual
or class rights that didnt readily conform to their own ideas of
normalcy. The burden of double-deviance could successfully
marginalize these groups from one another, as if the
primary/secondary (male/female) opposition and cultural division
17 Susan Lynn, Gender and Progressive Politics: A Bridge to Social Activism of the 1960s, in Not
June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 19451960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 113.

in America was infinitely replicable. One need only read Betty
Friedans comments on serving women to see that the structuring
of middle-class womens place in the home on the backs of other,
less-advantaged people was often a class-assumed given; her
withering views of homosexuality as shallow, immature, unreal,
and sexually promiscuous, readily dovetailed with the conformist
views toward women themselves.18 In these terms, such divisive
views held by middle-class white women not only disempowered
others, they reflected and furthered such womens own
Sexual Outlaws
Disempowerment on the level of class, race, and the
individual was accomplished through the heightened importance
placed on gender roles and positions in the Cold War militarized
U.S. culture. Gender stood in place as a method by which to
ameliorate and control other social divisions. But on the level of
18 Friedan, The Feminine Mystique, 176-77, 26465.

gender and its associated roles, women might still wield a weapon
of some formidable power, for if they were to gain control of their
highly restricted sexuality or biopolitical destiny they might
wreak havoc upon the social order necessitated by U.S.
international expansionism in the Cold War. Social mechanisms
needed to be enacted that would ensure division at the level of
gender itself in order to effectively rob women of any avenue of
individual or collective empowerment.
Strong attachments between women, particularly outside of
the family structure, were viewed as suspect and deviant. The
reduction of womens intellectual, political, public, and
psychological stature to a personalized biological model embodied
in sexuality made society react to women primarily as sexualized
beings, and as sexualized citizens, womenparticularly
independent oneswere viewed as more prone to degeneracy and
Cultural critics and various professionals intensified an
assault on those with lesbian tendencies or inclinations as
sexually deviant and depraved women. Lurid and
sensationalistic accounts of those who strayed from

monogamous, heterosexual bliss filled the cultural landscape.
In their efforts to make absolutely clear to an otherwise
ignorant public what dangers lurked in the shadows, the
purveyors of dominant discourse painted a sinister association
between the lesbian and the prostitute as sisters of the sexual
Just as the white middle-class house/wife stood in
opposition to the male hero of the Cold War era, defining him
through her position on a margin relative to his social and cultural
centrality, her position was relative to that of a fallen women, a
woman who by definition existed outside the marriage and
threatened all that was sacred in that essential union.
By accentuating the deviance of the fallen woman in social
portrayals of sexually degenerate women, particularly those who
preempted male roles and powers, cultural pressure was brought
to bear on women who were already sequestered in the union of
marriage to stay put, both in terms of place (home) and position
(wife). It also pressured them to perform within that union so that
their husbands could not be led astray by their fallen
19 Donna Penn, The Sexualized Woman: The Lesbian, the Prostitute, and the Containment of Female
Sexuality in Postwar America, in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945
1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 359.

counterparts and thus endanger the fabric of the militarized
Public expression of such illicit behaviors, however,
embodied in forms as divergent as pulp paperback novels and the
extremely popular postwar movie genre film noir, also brought
to public discourse an awareness of the very forms of behavior
that it attempted to marginalize and repress. Moreover, the rather
prurient cultural fascination with this form of sexuality betrayed
an anxiety that was centered in the hints of female power that
womens reduction to sexualized beings was meant to mask.
The mechanisms of intergender division did not stop at
dividing women along lines of normal and deviant sexuality; it
also attempted to divide them over the control of their own
bodies. The links drawn between women in relation to fertility
and abortion in the postwar era were also highly suspect, for if
women had been reduced to sexualized beings, and they were to
exercise control over the nexus of that definition, they might very
well be able to express their power through redefining first their

bodies and then themselves. Abortion, however, was seen as the
ultimate violation of social trust, speaking of a treasonous bond
between women:
[P]erhaps the most fundamental violation committed by the
women accused [of having or providing an abortion] was the
crime of getting mixed up in the mess of other womens sexual
lives. Whether the unhappily pregnant women were married
or not, they were guilty of having had sex without procreative
intentions. The woman abortionists, it was said, cashed in on
the wages of sexual misadventure and in the process were
smeared with the stain of sex. ...
One doctor defined [such] women in ... a way as to cast
the ultimate aspersion on a female deviant.20
The label of sexual misadventure thrust the deviance of
abortion into the structure of the family as well as upon women
who dwelt on the social margins. Birth control within marriage
was acceptable to a degree, as long as it was used to plan families,
rather than prevent them. The cultural dictate of citizenship for
women was heterosexual procreation and the proper nurturing of
future citizens. To betray this social task was tantamount, once
20 Rickie Solinger, Extreme Danger: Women Abortionists and Their Clients before Roe v. Wade," in
Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 346-47.

again, to a treasonous act. As possible purveyors of self-control,
women even destroyed their own cultural identity as women:
Women abortionists were not-women, not mothers, and were
compelled by their own disabilities to destroy other womens
potential as women and mothers. Psychiatrists had license to
cast these aspersions as part of their general appraisals of
independent women. ... Women abortionists were perceived,
by definition, as midwives, as out-of date, unskilled
charlatans, sadistic and sick.21
The extremity at which cultural opinion placed women
abortionists and their victims, however, again betrayed a large
degree of social anxiety over the roles and power of women. The
sexual stain argument itself spoke of a certain desperation over
the slipperiness of the social definition of women as sexual beings.
Moreover, the degree of cultural judgment was matched by the
degree of social awareness brought to bear on the issue of
sexuality and birth control. Each act of opposition to womens
control of their own bodies served to center that act of control in
the social framework and debate.
21 Solinger, Extreme Danger, 350.

Portrayals of gender, motherhood, and sexuality were even
advanced to further the racial divide between women, and
produce debilitating effects on the struggle for racial and gender
equality. Following the war, the approach toward white women
who committed sexual misadventures shifted from labeling
them as female delinquents to viewing them as female neurotics;
moreover, the cure became less overtly punitive, and more subtly
psychological. This view of white womens sexuality and their
momentary loss of control fit well with the postwar model of the
middle-class family, allowing the family ( and womens place
within it) to remain at the center of the equation of normalcy:
[T]he recasting of [white] illegitimacy as a psychological
rather than a sociological problemthe causes of which were
to be sought not in environmental conditions but individual
psychesmust be understood in the context of the ... postwar
period, when a family-centered culture and rigidly
differentiated and prescriptive gender roles took shape... At a
time when health was measured in terms of how well an
individual adjusted to his or her appropriate place in the
nuclear family, it should come as no surprise that out-of-
wedlock pregnancy was stigmatized as an abnormal
departure from normal gender roles.22
22 Regina G. Kunzel, White Neurosis, Black Pathology: Constructing Out-of-Wedlock Pregnancy in
the Wartime and Postwar United States, in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America,
1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 312.

In centering the family and marginalizing psychologically
deviant women, cultural norms deflected criticism away from
their own prescriptive pressures and once again focused in on the
personalized problem of the sexualized woman, allowing the
centrality of the family to stand pat, and the mechanisms of
cultural positioning of women to go unexamined. Given the
centrality of the family framework, the cure was deceptively
By transferring illegitimacy from a discourse of illicit
sexuality into a discourse of motherhood, psychoanalytic
diagnoses deemphasized the sexuality of overtly sexual
women, maternalized women who flouted so many postwar
family imperatives, and repositioned maternalized mothers
within a structure of family relations rather than opposed to
it. ... [B]y subjecting unmarried mothers to individual
treatment, the psychiatric approach worked to shrink the
problem of unmarried mother down to manageable
proportions. In her new incarnation as a neurotic, the
unmarried mother appeared considerably tamer than in her
old role of sex delinquent. Once an issue of national concern,
illegitimacy might now be understood as the psychological
problem of the individuals.23
23 Kunzel, White Neurosis, Black Pathology, 314.

The social view of black motherhood and sexuality, however,
was again placed in direct opposition of the relative safety of the
white problem. Those who did see illegitimacy as a problem in
black communities viewed it as a natural outgrowth of racial
hypersexuality and immorality, and a general cultural
acceptance of illegitimacy among blacks.24 Again, however, it was
less a problem of dominant social or cultural norms and conditions
as it was a deviant pattern of adaptation by a subgroup within
that culture. In short, the problem was one of racial pathology.
This pathology further served the purpose of centering the white
middle-class family and its structure, and circumventing criticism
of dominant cultural norms. Moreover, it created a further divide
between women positioned on the margin and those who existed
within the center, both of whom might require the other to
effectively petition and reform the very cultural norms that
bipolarly positioned them at extremes from one another.
24 Kunzel, White Neurosis, Black Pathology, 316.

The positioning of deviant women at the margin of culture
and family effectively robbed them of political and public
recourse; the positioning of women within the family, however,
allowed women the potential, if not the means, to be politically
active due to their relatively central position. As noted above,
though, women at the center were so subsumed by their houses
and their duties within them as secondary citizens, that they were
effectively equated with the household vessel that contained the
family. As symbolic objects of social good and normalcy, they
were as effectively robbed of voice and proactive political/public
power as their symbolically evil counterparts on the margin.
Inundated by experts in the realm of childcare, lorded over by
her husband in the essentials of any important household
decisions, a womans choice within the home was limited to:
The color of next years refrigerator. ... The serious,
discussible issue for the future was ... emerging demand for
home machinery that matched the consumers new sense of
self in both practical and symbolic terms. If she [the
house/wife] was bent on leaving the kitchen, then a
dishwasher that followed her into the dining room and a floor

polisher that did its job after she was gone made perfect
Womens decisions within the home, then were self-
determinately commercial. Her equation with the appliances she
would chose and operate furthered her sublimation into the
workings of the household to the point where it becomes senseless
to draw any definitive separation. Her position within the home as
an appliance by which other appliances operated and other people
functioned objectified women on a symbolic and functional level
to the degree of making them invisible and effectively voiceless
within the home. In terms of the dominant culture this was with
good reason:
Since the home of domestic ideology was ... principally a
metaphor ... for conformity... exposing the metaphor of the
ideal home as the fantasy that it was meant undermining a
cherished ideological bulwark... .
While elevating domesticity to a sacred and
quintessential American virtue, the idealization of the home
silenced the experience of women, the citizens who were to
occupy this realm as their exclusive domain.26
25 Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 283.
26 Deborah Nelson, Penetrating Privacy: Confessional Poetry and the Surveillance Society, in
Homemaking: Women Writers and the Politics and Poetics of Home, ed. Catherine Wiley and Fiona
Barnes (New York, Garland, 1996), 93.

Privacy and intimacy disappeared beneath the glare of
cultural functionalism and the pressures from the culturally
prescribed margin. Circumscribed outside the home and
functionally reduced to absolute silence and invisibility within it,
a woman was utterly exposed, both publicly and privately, while
not being allowed any voice in her cultural exposition:
the woman has completely merged with the house and as a
result, we are privy to her most intimate moments ... and so the
distinction between the public and private no longer exists
external to the woman as the threshold of the home. Instead,
she has internalized it and so the only private space left to her
is that which is within the body. All spaces external to the
body have become public spaces. When the woman becomes
the house and internalizes the public/private boundary, she
is both exposed and silenced. ... [T]his disconnection of the
woman from public discourse was one of the results of
marking the threshold of the home as the border between
public and private and then idealizing privacy. ...
Furthermore, the internalization of the threshold meant any
entry by a woman onto the public stage would be perceived as
a kind of exposure. Privacy would always be violated when
women, who were identified as wholly private, speak about
their lives.27
Robbed of a public identity and voice, and denied the
privacy of her own mind and body, women, like the Third World
27 Deborah Nelson, Penetrating Privacy, 113-14.

in the international framework, were effectively silenced and
rendered invisible in terms of human rights and political and
personal autonomy. The cultural prescriptions and political
motives of the militarized U.S. mission, both at home and abroad,
never appeared more comprehensive, and, to some, they never
appeared bleaker.

The symbolic association of womens bodies to the home and
the appliances within it not only subsumed womens personalities
within the family structure, it also served as the conduit by which
their oppression was linked to that of the Third World. As a
cultural artifact, the mother, house/wife, woman served as a
device by which U.S. society could promote the benefits of
capitalism to an international audience. Literally standing in as
trophies, women were adorned in such a way as to become living
sculpture. The New Look, which often disguised simple geometric
lines and shapes with a violent host of garish colors and glittering
accouterments, reflected the ideological thrust of U.S. economic
expansionism in the Cold War, for when:
. Applied to the female body, the principles of the New Look
exuded a palpable optimism. If its basic shape could be
changed, so could the human condition... Things were always
perfectible, just as formones own includedwas invariably
improved... [T]he old rules of finality no longer pertained. In

the design ethos of the New Look, everything was always
brand, spanking new.1
The portrayal of women as artifacts and symbols further
solidified domesticity as their definitive cultural position. Female
trademarks, such as Betty Crocker, maternalized the American
house/wife, in many ways reflecting the symbolic
disembodiment of her personality brought about by the dress-
up mode of 50s fashions:
The Betty Crocker of the cookbook years ... wasnt a whole,
living person. She was only a head, a graceful bust delimited
by the implicit oval outline of a locket or colonial portrait. By
her manner of presentation, she evoked the past, a heritage, a
disembodied memory, maternal authority.1 2
The house/wifes authority, of course, was relative to that of
her husbands, and the symbolic import of the trademark is
obvious in the limitations it implies for the woman in the home:
domestic femininity is a heritage that is to be passed along,
1 Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994), 15.
2 Marling, As Seen on TV, 208.

handed from mother to daughter ad infinitum, as evidenced in the
cooking instructions of the picture cookbooks of the 1950s:
The photo-essay technique ... taught the novice how to
perform each operation by duplicating the actions of a pair of
hands seen from the point of view of someone sitting or
standing directly across the countertop from a woman with
polished pink fingernails wearing a white, long-sleeved
coverall. The ... viewer ... was placed in close proximity to the
cooking instructor and saw the inside of the bowl from the
same angle of vision as Betty Crocker did ... the almost
invisible Betty Crocker ... who offered up the innermost
recesses of her bowls and pans to the scrutiny of the nervous
The task for a woman was to cook, clean, and provide for the
primary citizens in her household, training them to assume their
relative Cold War roles. Any personal creativity or artistic
inclination was to take a backseat to this task, or at least be
displaced into creative activities as innocuous as decorative
cooking, which attempted to elevate the feminine work of the
kitchen to a scienceor a fine art; such pursuits would also lend a
woman a false sense of satisfaction, allowing her to assert control
3 Marling, Seen on TV, 214.

over her environment at same time that [she] ennobled the base
animal function of appetite.4
The sublimation of women within the home had a further
effect of legitimating the ideologies and companies that promoted
and profited from the militarized social and international
atmosphere of the Cold War. Womens highly advertised
attachment to and affection for appliances not only served as a
propaganda symbol of the good life that played so well in the
international arena, it also spoke volumes of the nature of choice
available to women in U.S. society:
[T]he housewifes choice of a new appliancepink, square,
nonsensical, irrational: whateverwas a choice nonetheless
and the habit of making them was a good working definition
of the American way of life. The public virtues of democracy
were woven into the fabric of private life, into the brand new
... textures and colors and shapes of the suburban kitchen. ...
[S]tyle meant leisure, pleasure, convenience, and the USA.5
This exercise of choice also insured a level of domestic
economic demand that allowed these same companies to increase
4 Marling, As Seen on TV, 222.
5 Marling, As Seen on TV, 219.

their influence on the shaping of the international scene and find
markets for their alternative non-domestic products:
Those who controlled the means of production were also
intimately involved in the means of destruction. The push
buttons that were designed to make housework easier came
from the same laboratories as the push buttons for guided
U.S. culture even appropriated the destructive potential of
women for the Cold War rhetoric of violence that accompanied
international expansionism, creating symbolic connections
between ... atomic power, sex, and women out of control with
such terms as bombshell, knockout, dynamite, and bikini.7
On the domestic side, consumer behavior, promoted through
advertising and the implied social costs of falling behind the
neighbors in available technologies (a kind of neighborhood
6 Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1991), 74.
7 Elaine Tyler May, Homeward Bound: American Families in the Cold War Era (New York: Basic
Books, Inc., 1988), 110.

version of the arms race), allowed for ideological and political
control of possibly disruptive counterideologies or social activities
In appliance-laden houses across the country, working-class
as well as business-class breadwinners could fulfill the new
American work-to-consume ethic. ... The family home would
be the place where a man could display his success through
the accumulation of consumer goods. Women, in turn, would
reap the rewards for domesticity by surrounding themselves
with commodities. Presumably they would remain content as
housewives because appliances would ease their burdens. ...
Family-centered spending reassured Americans that
affluence would strengthen the American way of life. The
goods purchased by middle-class consumers, like a modern
refrigerator or a house in the suburbs, were intended to foster
traditional values.8
Such activities also tended to promote American interests
around the globe, particularly affecting the peripheral status of
the Third World. The vision of affluence, however, made the
American presence on the international scene a high-wire act, for
there remained a thin line between promoting the virtues of
capitalism to developing countries and flouting U.S. wealth and
Model homes and supermarkets dramatized the benefits of
mass production of the average American family. As such,
8 May, Homeward Bound, 16466.

they were always important Cold War propaganda devices,
offering compelling tangible evidence of the superiority of
the economic system that so casually spewed for labor-saving
marvels. ... Although official government policy held that
displays of consumer goods would inspire businesses in
underdeveloped countries to produce items suitable for the
vast American market and open new markets for American
firms in nations still recovering from the ravages of World
War II, these American showrooms also seem calculated to
arouse envy and discontent at a basic level of appetite... .9
Appealing to countries on the margin and women in the
homes at a basic level of appetite might awaken some nascent
desires for more, desires that would require channeling in order
to further U.S. economic interests rather than personal or national
interests in U.S. homes and other nations. On the domestic level,
the mechanisms of advertising and the promotion of Sloanism
the planned obsolescence of products to ensure continued
demand, even though such obsolescence might simply denote a
change in styles rather than a functional deficithelped to keep
women in the home by creating a vague sense of need and
inadequacy that could be alleviated with a masculine helper:
9 Marling, As Seen on TV, 245-46..

Motivational researchers told clients that in the mind of the
consumer most ... appliances have a definite masculine
connotation. By that logic, housewives saw appliances as
substitutes for men who did heavy work, or the man who paid
for them, and felt vaguely guilty and lazy around certain not-
strictly-necessary items, like clothes driers and
Displacing needs that might find political or social expression
with a system of promoting inadequacy and fulfilling lack with
masculine substance was a primary means of sustaining the
momentum of the domestic economy and social status quo.
Seemingly innocuous, the subtleties of obtaining property
(consumer goods) to maintain property (house/wives) reaffirmed
womens symbolic equation to the appliances with which they
As noted above, womens choice to purchase these
appliances helped to keep the world in order. Unable to temper
any of their material messages to the Third World with anything
less than the threat of force and covert manipulation, U.S.
policymakers and economic entities swaggered through the world
Marling, As Seen on TV, 262.

like bullies in a school yard, armed with the best and the brightest
of military and civilian technology. The choice to consume
connected the house/wife to this act of masculine bravado, even
as it solidified her position within the home:
[T]he wonders of the American kitchen were profoundly
interconnected with the military hardware of the Atomic Age,
The same technological might that kept armed forces poised to
do battle against Godless atheism also kept the kitchens of
America squared off and squared away.11
In other words, military trickledown worked both ways,
balanced upon a fulcrum of economic expansionism that tilted it
equally into the American home and developing nations abroad.
The squaring off of the domestic and international scene was
essential to U.S. expansionism after the war, and the mechanisms
by which it was achieved not only segregated women from one
another in their homes, they segregated women from their
disempowered positional counterparts in the population of the
Third World.
11 Marling, As Seen on TV, 268.

The development of the birth control pill also figured into
this collective sequestering of women and the Third World on the
margins of domestic and international societies. The birth control
pill was introduced not as a medical technology that freed women
to actively pursue sexuality but as a technology of further
economic and political control of women and nations on the
margin. Indeed, in 1942 the Birth Control Federation of America
changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of
America [PPFA], signaling a major shift in the movements
direction.12 Throughout the Cold War, birth control was to become
increasingly a technology of control at every leveldomestic,
economic, national, and international:
The focus on population planning emerged during World War
II. At first, planning was geared to domestic needs,
particularly the ideal of the postwar family. A 1943 PPFA
pamphlet stated victory cannot be won without planning ...
Planned Parenthood ... can ... be made to mean that more
healthy children will be born to maintain the kind of peace
for which we fight. Margaret Sanger herself called for
national security thorough birth control. At the same time,
the war gave rise to the first direct connections between the
American birth control movement and population control
abroad. As the organization looked toward the postwar era, it
May, Homeward Bound, 149.

became more concerned with the international implications
of contraception ... [taking] into consideration population
trends and natural resources... . Healthy markets abroad were
also an important consideration... [Political stability
depended on rapid economic development and that
development in turn could only succeed if the rate of
population growth did not eat up the capital needed to finance
Such technologies of control on the biological level merely
supplemented the mechanisms of control over the scope of
womens and Third World nations autonomy and choice during
the Cold War period. Set at odds at almost every level of their
existence, the demands of women and nations on the periphery
operated at cross-purposes. Economic demand was not a two-way
street that ran unimpeded between home and the world beyond
U.S. borders; instead, two one-way streets turned off and dead-
ended in the supplier warehouses that catered to products that
fed a distinctly American appetite for dreams.
*3 May, Homeward Bound 150-51.

Plastic Fantastic
The dressing up and commodification of womens bodies,
roles, and social choices was integral to the economic and political
goals of the United States after the war. Getting dolled-up was a
term that survived the war and gained added import in the
domestic, rather than social, roles of women in the Cold War
period. No longer out and about with a man on her arm, enjoying
the relatively unfettered social freedoms of the 1920s, or the
economic freedoms of the 1940s, a woman dressed up as an
outgrowth of her domestic role. Such social and economic
freedoms were a reality of the past, but they were still held out as
a chimera of possibilityif women could just possess enough
pretty things to break through the shell of their own
commodification on the level of household appliances. The
displacement and commodification of such dreams of freedom
served to further center women in their roles as domestic dolls.
But what if a consumer good or object could be found that
operated to mirror womens domestic position while

simultaneously embodying and displacing their dreams of social
and economic freedom? Would the circle between object and
commodity (or subject and dream) then be complete? Such an
object was Barbie, who effectively tailored the postwar position of
women into a bizarre statement of self-mockery:
Eleven and one-half inches tall, this late adolescent was
endowed with a three-and-one-quarter-inch bust that
smashed the anatomical taboo in the toy market. But what
made it something of an icon of the Cold War were the
fantasies of consumption she evoked. Barbie came cheap:
three dollars. But her full wardrobe cost more than a hundred
dollars, and her appetite for more was insatiable: party dresses
and casual attire, prom gowns and eventually a wedding
ensemble... Barbie lived in a split-level house, patronized a
beauty parlor, drove a Corvette. She seemed to be only a
product, one scholar concluded, but she turned out to be a
way of life, [and] an affirmation of national supremacy. The
capitalist fetishism of commodities that Marx found so
repellent had advanced to the first line of defense.14
Here, in a small piece of molded plastic, was the
representation of proper Cold War femininity: sexually charged
but ultimately contained by a marriage track that led a woman
straight into a dynamic home life marked by consumption and
commodity-driven freedom and leisure. The only things missing
14 Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War, 71.

and they are telling deletionsare children and chores, both of
which would tend to have a damping effect on this idealized
vision of freedom.
The hegemonic value of Barbie is obvious in her
unabashedly unencumbered whiteness and freedom. She operates
not only to displace what is already marginal, but also functions
within hegemonic culture to push it to the edge. Hegemonic
discourse or symbolism tries to encompass all alternatives within
the scope of hegemonic values (wealth, mobility, possession,
virtue, choice, etc.) and simultaneously promises to fulfill those
values. Barbie functions as the corollary to white hegemony in the
dominant culture during the Cold war, displacing all divergent
social positions, while presenting the promised potential of her
own social position in all its glory. As such, the doll functions both
outside and inside the dominant culture to promote its highest
[Barbies] representational skin ... operates without
camouflage, like the corporate world of Mattel, on the
fundamentalist capitalist principle that some people deserve
to amass a disportionate amount of power, prestige, and

accessoriesdiversity comes into play only when it does not
entail significantly displacing white, blond Barbie. ... Barbie
never troubles herself about racism. ...
Similarly, Barbie never has to confront sexism. Nor
does she displace men, at least not in any way made visible.
Consequently, there is no suggestion that men must give up
power in order for women to gain power, no suggestion that
the social structure needs to be changed. In fact, the social
structure doesnt need to change in order for Barbie to be
Barbie. ...
In other words, Barbies infinite possibility is the
infinite possibility of hegemonic discourse. It reinforces
hegemonic discourses predominant in the United States at
large, which describe freedoms in ways that benefit rather
than challenge people in power.15
In these terms, Barbie can be seen as the representational
embodiment of womens roles (and dreams?) in the dominant,
middle-class domestic model framed by hegemonic social values
in the United States. Idealized, of course, she has an infinite
variety of commercial goods from which to chose; she is beautiful
(?), sexy (?), and she doesnt bother her pretty little head about
social position or equality. She functions in the same position as
the Cold War house/wife, sans kids and cleaning that is.
Barbie, however, contains the seed for the deconstruction of
her own role-modeling, for she fronts everything she stands in
^Erica Rand, Barbies Queer Accessories (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995), 84-85.

to contain. She is potentially sexy, her idealized body is sculpted
in tight curves. The absence of her genitalia centers the idea of
female genitalia and everything associated to them, from sex to
birth to abortion, from menses to female health issues to child
care. She implies that at the level of body, all women are
associated. Indeed, Barbies world has always been about
relations to and among human bodies.16
In this manner, on the level of shared body, Barbie might
allow access to the structure of hegemonic values without
necessarily demanding cooption. And from unhindered access it
might be a short step to actual criticism of that structure from
both inside and out. On the level of a body inscribed and
representative of hegemonic power, Barbie allows access into the
fantasy of the fantasy she promotes. By her very emphatic
presence, she becomes the object offering resistance to her own
overwhelming conformity.
16 Rand, Barbie's Queer Accessories, 66.

As with Barbie, the hyperbolic system of values thrust upon
and represented by the white, middle-class house/wife in the Cold
War offered the ability to subvert her own enshrinement. Opening
room for narratives and counternarratives in the enormity of
space that her body was forced to occupy and contain, these
women, like the doll, created the space for their own
deconstruction, as well as the deconstruction of a society grown
stale and stagnant in the unwavering enforcement of its
militarized, economic values that promoted gender and racial
inequality. Critical manipulation and counternarratives of the
house/wife can, like those associated to Barbie:
Be brought to bear on the matter of [their] own unstable
meaning, eminent subvertablility, and mass outing. ... On the
one hand, [such narratives can] make Barbie circulate as
straight and queerness [cultural deviance] circulate as
scandal. On the other they also create the very conditions for
subversion and social criticism. ...
From this angle, a statement or implication that ...
Barbie means x" does not necessarily mean that the utterer
believes this or doesnt recognize counterevidence. ...
[S]ometimes, instead, it serves ... as a strategy to use Barbie as a
vehicle to address racism, sexism, or heterosexism ... tapping
into the conceptual framework of many potential viewers who
do believe that Barbie comes with meaning attached.17
17 Rand, Barbies Queer Accessories, 190.

As such, the ubiquitous presence of the white middle-class
American house/wife and the familial, cultural, and economic
values she was positioned to contain allowed the growth of a
diverse social debate over everything that she was positioned to
remove from debate, allowing the critical review of self, other,
and the context in which both were formed and positioned.
Subverting Subversions
Many mothers within the war were actively practicing this
manipulation of self-value to draw a critical eye to cultural
assumptions and social practices, sometimes striking to the heart
of the social contract by which their own position and the
positions of others were so severely limited.
The Families Committee within the American Communist
Party actually fronted the institution of the family, with a working
husband, dutiful wife, and citizen children, to counterattack the

suspension of their civil rights and their marginalization as ideal
families that happened to hold the wrong political views:
While conservative politics and ideology of the 1950s shored
up the alliance between motherhood, family, and
anticommunism, the Families Committee resisted state
repression with a strategy that made use of the valorization of
the family. The alliance between patriotism and familialism
was challenged by women who pointed to the state as the
destroyer of family freedom, security, and happiness. But in
the process of undertaking the defense of their families, the
women who constituted the Families Committee ... also altered
their own position as political actors. ... [T]he very process of
asserting their familial ties of maternity and marriage
became vehicles for political action and empowerment.18
By repositioning their marginalized families in proximity to
those at the center and the values they represented, these women
were able to offer a critical counternarrative to the militarized
political and social atmosphere that held them at the margin. The
family became an instrument of counterattack against its own
unwavering hegemonic symbolism, and the governments blatant
repression of a system of shared existence rather than opposing
beliefs came under fire. In addition, by politically calling the state
Deborah A. Gerson, Is Family Devotion Now Subversive?: Familialism against McCarthyism,
in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz
(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 154-55.

of the family in the United States into question, these women
were also loosening the constraints that bound them, body and
soul, to that family structure.
Women at the center were also interjecting
counternarratives to dominant values through the instrument of
self and family. Many middle-class mothers gathered their
families and children together in peaceful but highly visible
protests of the values and practices of a functioning military
society, as embodied in Civil Defense exercises. By shaping a
counterritual to the mandatory ritual of Civil defense drills, the
mothers-with-children protest was the first large-scale public
mobilization in the postwar era to make national security policy a
widely contested issue.19
Civil Defense as a program operated to further the
hegemonic domestic values of the militarized U.S. society while
promoting the militaristic framework that contained those values.
Dee Garrison, Our Skirts Gave Them Courage,: The Civil Defense Protest Movement in New
York City, 1955-1961, in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945-1960,
ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994), 202.

The program preached survival through the maintenance of
dominant values:
The civil defense establishment sought to convince the public
that the gravest threat to national security was not the bomb
itself, but irrational terror of nuclear war. ...
This propaganda emphasized that traditional gender
roles would be carefully maintained during and after nuclear
attack. Federal civil defense material pictured happy families
awaiting the all-clear signal to emerge from their shelter. It
featured masculine fathers, often shown with shovels in their
hands, alongside competent mother-homemakers, with their
alert children at their sides.20
Thus Civil Defense operated in a manner that preached
eternal vigilance and optimism, sanctified the family and its
gender-defined roles as the central bulwark to a properly
functioning society, and allowed such military vernacular as
acceptable losses to enter the social realm.
Some mothers, however, used their maternal roles as a
counterdiscourse to this hegemonic promotion of social values
The womens most brilliant innovation was their reliance on
the image of protective motherhood to win public notice and
support. They made detailed plans to surround themselves
with children and toys during the Operation Alert [Civil
Defense drill] protest... Plans were made to pass out extra
20 Garrison, Our Skirts Gave Them Courage, 205.

babies and toys to single male activists who would practice
civil disobedience alongside the young mothers. All guessed
correctly that police would not want to take parents, complete
with children, playpens, trikes, and assorted childhood
paraphernalia, into custody.21
The symbolic formulation of this counterritual functioned on
many levels, for not only did it front the family and all of its
accouterments as an active counterdiscourse to the social values
the family was supposed to represent, it broke the boundaries of
family to mix married women with single menin a political
rather than sexual union. By fronting their hallowed familial
bodies in a sexually charged political activity, these women
effectively questioned their own biopolitical objectification.
Moreover, by fronting the family in a situation that the
government promoted as dangerous, where compliance was the
rule for survival, these protests countered the militaristic cast of
U.S. society by exposing the absolute vulnerability of its members
to both nuclear destruction and social division, showing the
rationale behind each to be ludicrous. By actively mingling, class
Garrison, Our Skirts Gave Them Courage, 215.

among class, race among race, sex among sex, the participants
called the boundaries and obstacles that held them apart into
question and made the rigidity and limits of Cold War militarized
culture the focus of critical awareness and scrutiny.

Social rituals such as the Civil Defense program betrayed an
increasingly rigid cultural framework in the United States. As a
militarized society, the United States had become as regimented
and bipolar as its government claimed the Soviets to be. The
oppressive sense of normalcy, and all the oppositions/margins it
required, repressed social and political debate, action, and reform.
Americanism ruled the roost, and alternative systems were held
at arms length as unacceptable:
The search to define and affirm a way of life, the need to
express and celebrate the meaning of Americanism, was the
flip side of stigmatizing Communism... The belief system that
most middle-class Americans considered their birthright ...
was adapted to the crisis of the Cold War. An uncritical
patriotism often shaped interpretations of the past. Faith was
strengthened in the institutions of authority [including the
family] as the best preservatives of national values, and the
esteem for business achievements became perhaps the most
common vindication of American life.1 1
1 Stephen J. Whitfield, The Culture of the Cold War (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press,
1991), 53.

Such a rigid belief system and unquestioning grasp of
authority indicated a general sense of cultural anxiety in Cold War
U.S. society. The very sanctity of the hegemonic white middle-
class model made it seem ripe for potential corruption. And the
knowledge of the marginal existence of oppositions by which the
normal functioned served only to increase this anxiety. The
aforementioned juxtaposition of home and militarized front line
made such anxiety almost inevitable.
The extremely popular film noir genre of the 1950s
captured and expressed many of the symbols and receptacles of
this cultural anxiety, particularly the anxiety surrounding the
independent, sexual woman. Subordination and insubordination
were the two polar options open to the sexual woman in both the
culture and film of the 1950s, and since an independent woman
was insubordinate by definition, these films functioned to express
the outcome of such cultural wantonness. The sex kitten typified
by Marilyn Monroe speaks to the bizarre maternalized sexuality,
softness, and infinite availability that was somehow preferred to

that of the odd woman out, such as Barbara Stanwyck in Double
Kiss Me Deadly typified the cultural anxiety captured in film
noir during the Cold War. The film begins with detective Mike
Hammer barreling down a highway in his fashionable sports car.
Suddenly, he is confronted by the apparition of a woman,
Christina, who has recently escaped from a lunatic asylum clothed
only in a trenchcoat.
The wealth and style that Hammer exudes, not to mention
his unabashed misogyny, typifies the material values promulgated
as necessary to achieve national and international hegemony. The
interruption of Mikes journey by a potential lunatic (although she
is obviously sane) who shows no interest in him either sexually or
intellectually shows the potential for the American dream itself to
be disrupted in its rising journey by people who appear out of
place. However, Mikes own inability to think of anyone besides
himself (he pimps his secretary, and pursues a mysterious box at

the cost of his friends lives) ironically attests to the seeds of self-
destruction that might be sown by materialistic self-interest.
Christina quotes a passage of Christina Rossetti poetry that
Mike never is quite able to grasp, until he figures that it provides
a clue to the mysterya key that literally lies within Christinas
rebellious (but now dead) body, which given the outcome of the
movie, attests to the perception of the violent potential contained
within a womans sexuality even after her social or cultural
death. After Mike roughs up the morgue attendant and gets the
key, he discovers the box only to have it stolen out from under
him. He tracks the box to a beach house, where Christinas
acquaintance Gabrielle, another independent woman, first tries to
seduce Mike, then dismisses him as unnecessary and opens the
box herself. The box contains a mysterious glowing fire that
consumes all in its path, including, we assume, Mike and his
secretary, who are trapped in the house.
The apocalyptic vision contained in Kiss Me Deadly,
however, is only partly the result of an independent womans