Given his affair with Marilyn Monroe, it is ironic to evaluate the gender policies of John F. Kennedy and maintain, as one should at the macro level of historical interpretation, that the legacy of his administration can be said to have made a significant impact on gender equality in the work-place…
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What followed will be argued to be two-fold: first, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women [Woloch 504], and second, it will be argued that that commission along with the Civil Rights Act had a direct impact on the creation of the Equal Pay Act of 1963 [Maclean 175]. While Kennedy did not live to see the practical and legal impact of both, his mandate or vision is nonetheless captured in his successor's words. Commenting on the passing of the Equal Pay Act, Kennedy's former Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson asserted: “not just equality as a right and a theory but equality as a fact and equality as a result” [Katznelson 542]. In the long term, the influence or onset of legislation in the Kennedy era can be seen the establishment and operation at the Federal level of government, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission [Wolach 560] and as the precedent for all kinds of the affirmative action claims and challenges. And, Wolach points to specific cases where “employers might sometimes favor women and minorities over better qualified men and whites to correct a conspicuous imbalance” [Wolach 560] While the right to vote, or the passing of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919 was unquestionably one of the most important landmarks in Twentieth-century Woman's rights history, it can be said that the back-drop necessary for the Kennedy era legislation was a shift or transformation in attitudes or public sentiment. In particular, the following will argue that the transformation of the role of women in the labor force by during the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War, significantly and indelibly stamped a change that has ever since been only an impact measured in terms of progress. As Wolach writes: “The Great Depression and World War II were disruptive emergencies that changed women's roles at home, at work, and in public life” [Wolach 438]. Wolach points to the trans-formative impact of this period resulting from the direct participation of women in the work-place. The emergencies were defined in terms of labor shortages in the case of both wars. And, the transformation that being referred to in the present context, is basically the increase of women participating in all forms of menial labor and other areas that had an impact in two important senses. That is, important in terms of the impact on public sentiment. First, the patriarchal order that had a systemically constructed prejudice against women's abilities, was challenged. The basic perception of women were capable of doing or accomplishing changed. As Wolach stresses, the spectrum of it's impact had to do with “public life” [Wolach 560] as well. For instance, one of the changes that occurred in both Wars but in a more influential sense, during the First World War, was the admission in greater numbers of women in post-secondary institutions or colleges and universities. With great access to education, there was likewise a greater advancement of women in the professions or those fields that required post-secondary education. Greater participation in every facet of the labor force, and in the advanced education system meant that a change for the positive occurred in regard to the patriarchal order's perception of women and their capabilities. At the very same time, it can be said that they also viewed women as a form of opportunity as well. No one would challenge that greater labor
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