Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Relationship of men to the women's movement in marriage and at work

Johnson continues her discussion of the role of men in women's changing roles from earlier. Here, she discusses why she believes so many marriages fall apart when women are in their forties and fifties and their children have grown. In addition, she talks about the impact of the economic downturn of the mid-1970s on women's growing role in the public domain and links this to the level of men's support of the women's movement.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Guion Griffis Johnson, May 17, 1974. Interview G-0029-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

So much of this has been going through my mind this past weekend when I was at home visiting my mother, who I think, is a southern lady for whom I think most of the myths came true. But you can see her, in my breaking away from what she told me as a child, and it's very hard on women, who I think, have been caught and have had children and have given their life to their children and to their husband and then say, "All right, what now?" And it's just very, very difficult.
GUION JOHNSON:
It is. You can understand why so many women in their late forties and fifties become disoriented, extremely unhappy, and need psychiatric help or at least counseling. Because it's traumatic to be needed desperately when the children are small and give perhaps three-fourths of their time to the children, chauffering the children, taking the children to music, to dance lessons, etc. and at the same time, the husband is growing professionally and growing away from the wife. Then, when the children are gone, what is there for the wife? Because she's far from understanding her husband's drives and motivations or even participating in his work or in his goals. So, there are two entities in the family situation which are separate and often conflicting.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
Well, so many marriages break up at that point.
GUION JOHNSON:
Oh, yes.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
There's no way back.
GUION JOHNSON:
That's true, it's quite understandable, because they've grown so far apart that it's almost, well, it is in many instances impossible, to find a way back to understanding and companionship.
MARY FREDERICKSON:
One of the interesting things, or really tragic things, I think, now, is as roles for women are opening more and more, is the economic situation and we are in a real cut-back period. We are no longer having the growth of the sixties. And you find, "Well, all right, we'll hire a woman, but we don't have any places to hire anyone." And I think that this is a shame. I see this in the history department now, where PhD's in history are having so much trouble getting positions and there is sort of a divided feeling among the male students. Some of them feel, "Well, I believe that this is right. I have a wife, or I have a sister who wants to have a career, so I understand." The same with the hiring of blacks. They basically believe that there needs to be some compensation for time lost. Others on the other hand, I think, feel definite resentment. And I think that it's just a shame that this had to happen at an economic, you know, a state of economic decline, rather than during a period of . . . well, wars tended to have such a tremendous impact on the role of women.