The role that women have played in the economy has dramatically changed in the last 100 years. Having once provided what was viewed as supplementary income, today, women earn 45% of all household income and over seven million families rely mainly or solely on the woman’s income to survive. During the era that Skyscraper was written this was definitely not the case. As was mentioned in class, Skyscraper does not discuss much about the Great Depression in the book which made me curious as to what life was like for a woman of the time and how far women have come.
The Great Depression’s effect on women, then, as it is now, was invisible to the eye. The tangible evidence of breadlines, men selling fruit on street corners, and Hoovervilles rarely contained any images of urban woman. Unemployment, hunger and homelessness was considered a “man’s problem.” Women who found themselves in similar dire straits rarely turned up in public spaces like breadlines or street corners; instead they often tried to cope quietly on their own. The women who sought relief or paid employment risked public scorn or worse for supposedly taking jobs and money away from more “deserving” men. The thought that men are “more deserving” than women makes me sick. I understand that traditionally men are the breadwinners however what is it about the fact that a woman might be their equal that they can’t fathom. This is something that can also be seen in the job industry today. The majority of men are higher paid and are more likely to get a job over a woman.
Norman Cousins said “Simply fire the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment. No relief rolls. No depression.” With those thoughts all of the work that our foremothers have done is practically nonexistent. In rebuttal to Cousins comment though a sociologist stated, “Few of the people who opposed married women’s employment seem to realize that a coal miner or steel worker cannot very well fill the jobs of nursemaids, cleaning women, or the factory and clerical jobs now filled by women.” Although FDR made happenings to start federal assistance programs few women were treated as equal citizens when trying to qualify for these. One-quarter of National Recovery Administration codes set lower minimum wages for women than men performing the same jobs and New Deal agencies like the Civil Work Administration and Civilian Conservation Corps gave jobs exclusively to men over women.
From 1935-1936 the median family income was $1160 (a year), which translated into $20-25 a week to cover all their expenses, including food, shelter, clothing, and perhaps an occasional treat like going to the movies. Most people now make that roughly every one to two weeks. Can you imagine trying to survive on just $20 a week and supporting a family? Now it would be impossible.
When I first read Skyscraper I wondered how people could escape into a pulp fiction novel. But given the realties that many American’s were facing, anything that offers an escape from reality had to be appreciated.