Vietnam War: A Shift in Women’s Roles

Image: Dorothy Marder’s photography of Women Strike for Peace

The Vietnam War challenged traditional gendered roles with the destruction of the family unit due to removal of male figureheads who were prisoners of war. The United States framed Vietnam as the destroyers of an institution by holding these captured men.[1] Natasha Zaretsky argued that “whatever the physical wounds the United States military had inflicted on Vietnam, the psychological wounds inflicted by the Vietnamese on the United States were ultimately more dire.”[2] Families were torn apart and the state asserted that this was an “epidemic of male absenteeism with dire consequences for family and nation alike.”[3] The lack of men in traditional positions at home forced women into the workplace. Females became the viable source of authority for the family. Wives engaged in anti-war activism and earned prominent roles in society.[4] The source of empowerment and independence caused marital problems when men returned from war. Dissent arose from the war-related problems and couples filed for divorce in exponential numbers.[5] Children suffered from unstable family situations and questioned authority. The lack of male leadership led to frustrated and rebellious young adults.[6] This emerging generation experienced a severe shift in gender roles. Since the traditional male authority position transferred to the mothers, they redefined the meaning of an authentic family unit.

[1] Natasha Zaretsky, No Direction Home (Chapel Hill: University of Carolina Press, 2007), 27.

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Ibid., 29.

[4] Ibid., 46.

[5] Ibid., 47.

[6] Ibid., 53.


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