Extra Credit: Surprises

In Howard Zinn’s chapter labeled Surprises, various social and racial groups are discussed but he places a lot of emphasis on women. His opening statements are all about women and their inferior position to men. To help enhance his argument, he uses quotes from two important individuals to the women’s rights movement: Dorothy Dix and Betty Friedan.

Dorothy Dix wrote an advice column that hit newspapers across the nation after women got the vote describing the current situation. “The woman who cultivates a circle of worthwhile people, who belongs to clubs, who makes herself interesting and agreeable … is a help to her husband”. The reason Zinn opens with this quote is because he wants the first image that you associate women in the 1950’s with, is a sidekick, an assistant. Women at the time very rarely held positions with any power, like managers or executives, but instead had to either fulfill the role of housewife, or a demeaning job in a factory.

The second individual that Zinn draws on to support his argument is Betty Friedan, the author of The Feminine Mystique. Her novel describes as situation that women were beginning to face as the Age of Affluence set in. She describes an instance in which she “heard a mother of four, having coffee with four other mothers in a suburban development fifteen miles from New York, say in a tone of quiet desperation, “the problem.” And the others knew, without words, that she was not talking about a problem with her husband, or her children, or her home. Suddenly they realized they all shared the same problem, the problem that has no name”. This issue was powerful in that it was widespread, affecting countless women living in suburbs. Zinn brings both of these individuals up because they described very real situations, very bluntly, and were able to stand up and express what they saw was wrong with society.

The Pain of Secrecy

During the 1950’s, American society dropped its own Iron Curtain around women and completely limited their social, economic, and political freedoms. While there were still certain laws in place that separated men and women, the main divide came from unspoken social laws. A clear example of a model, suburban American woman is portrayed in the film Far From Heaven with Cathy’s character. While she is in essence, the “ideal” type of woman during this time period, she is incredibly unhappy.

While on the outside she is Mrs. Magnatech, the wife of a successful salesman, and has a nice home and two children, she does have internal family issues. After hosting a great party and increasing her social standing, she is left alone in the dark with Frank. With the rules and regulations of society removed, her drunken husband abuses her because he has issues with homosexuality. Although the male figures in this movie have the ability to take action, like Frank pursuing his new lover and Raymond moving away, women are the most trapped because they are bound to either their husbands or their homes. When she loses Frank she loses her economic freedom, which in American society at the time was also the source of social freedom. So while Frank was free to continue life with a new man, and Raymond was able to start anew with his daughter in a different town, Cathy is left to live the life of a divorced, black-loving, friendless woman.

Media: A Catalyst for the War

“But you say I am a thief, because I took the old mare along with me. Have you got to learn that I had a better right to the old mare, as you call her, than Manasseth Logue had to me? Is it a greater sin for me to steal his horse, than it was for him to rob my mother’s cradle, and steal me? . .. Have you got to learn that human rights are mutual and reciprocal, and if you take my liberty and life, you forfeit your own liberty and life? Before God and high heaven, is there a law for one man which is not a law for every other man?

If you or any other speculator on my body and rights, wish to know how I regard my rights, they need but come here, and lay their hands on me to enslave me.. . .” -J.W. Loguen

Although the reasons President Lincoln went to war were initially racially neutral, tension had been building between the North and the South for many years. Contempt for southern slave owners only increased when newspapers like The Liberator began publishing letters and stories of the horrible experiences in the South. J.W. Loguen was a slave who escaped to the North by stealing his master’s horse; He proceeded to go to college and became a minister. After receiving a letter from his former mistress that she demanded compensation for the horse or return to slavery, Loguen openly publishes the letter and his reply to it.

This marks a time when blacks were no longer afraid to voice not only their opposition to slavery, but their defiance. Newspapers like The Liberator helped rapidly spread anti-slavery beliefs because of these firsthand accounts and pushed the North further and further apart. This marked the beginning of a time in which a clear rift existed between the free North and the enslaved South, a time when people felt free to voice their opposition and dislike for the other side. The effect was a building dislike not just for runaway slaves, but for white Northerners as well, which only helped lead the divided nation to war.