Teacher's Guide: Half the People

At the turn of the twentieth century, women in most of the world are still confined by their traditional roles and by religious traditions. Tired of the limitations, they fight long battles for equality and control over their work, their education, and their own bodies.

Unit Themes and Topics:
human rights
ideology of social movements
values and popular culture

Connections Across History
connection: when: where: program:
civil rights movement 1945-1994 South Africa, United States "Skin Deep"
youth movement 1950-1975 Great Britain, France, United States "Young Blood"
environmental movement 1959-1990 India, Japan, United States "Endangered Planet"
religious fundamentalist movements 1978-1992 Iran, United States "God Fights Back"

Colleen Parro on Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique
(housewife and mother, United States)

"I thought, 'How strange! What is wrong with this woman?' Everybody I knew was not oppressed and was very happy and was not miserable, and we were all enjoying raising our families."
photographic portrait of Colleen Parro


Before Watching

1. What are different ways that people define feminism? What are its goals? How is feminism portrayed in the media? Do you consider yourself a supporter of the feminist movement? Why or why not?

2. As students watch the program, have them write down the obstacles feminist movements have encountered in different countries.

After Watching

1. Why did some women like Colleen Parro decide not to join the women's movement? How might Jacqui Ceballos, Ginnie Whitehill, "Dusty" Rhodes, and Lorena Weeks respond to Parro's quotation? How did their experiences lead them to join the feminist movement? What issues became important to all five women and why?

2. Do you think the feminist movement has accomplished its goals? Explain. How might the lives of young men and women be different today without the feminist movement?


To help students understand the roots of feminism in the United States, have them trace the three waves of the feminist movement: the mid-1800s, the early 1900s, and 1960­1980. Ask each student to focus on one of the three periods and to research the life of a woman involved in the movement, or have them use their research about the movement to imagine an ordinary woman of the time. Then have each student write a paragraph from the woman's point of view, explaining why she joined the movement, what issues were most important to her, and how participation in the movement affected her life. Have students read their paragraphs to the class and compare perspectives within and among the three movements.

Barriers to Equality

The following lesson focuses on a program segment about the occupational barriers and cultural stereotypes that women faced in the 1950s and 1960s. Several U.S. women describe how these barriers and stereotypes shaped their lives.

Program Segment
approximately 10 minutes

Women enter the workforce during World War II.

Jacqui Ceballos says, "I realized it wasn't us, it was the society."


Before Watching

1. Why is work important to people? What do they get out of it? What kind of work would you like to do as an adult?

2. As students watch the program segment, have them write down the kinds of work women are allowed to do, the kinds of work they are not allowed to do, and the arguments used to keep them out of certain jobs.

After Watching

1. What occupational choices did women have during World War II? How did these choices change after the war? How did Colleen Parro, Barbara "Dusty") Rhodes, Lorena Weeks, and Ginnie Whitehill adapt to the limited choices they had? What experiences were Rhodes, Weeks, and Whitehill denied by these limits?

2. Would equal pay for equal work solve the problems faced by women in the program segment? Why or why not? What other economic and cultural factors limited women's choices? If the feminist movement focused only on economic issues, do you think it could achieve equality between the sexes? Explain.


Have students evaluate the feminist movement today in the United States. As a class, identify different areas in which women seek greater equality with men. Organize the class into pairs, and choose one area to look for evidence showing that U.S. women's status in a particular area has improved since the 1950s as well as evidence that inequality still exists. Students can examine job opportunities, parenting, education, religion, and attitudes toward women.

Encourage students to use a variety of evidence, such as statistics, personal interviews, visual images, and secondary sources. After students present their findings, have them write a paragraph identifying the common elements among the areas, and have them recommend strategies for women to achieve equality in the areas where they still face inequality.

As a class, brainstorm a list of factors that students can use to evaluate the role and status of women as they are portrayed in the popular media, especially television. Consider the appearance, occupation, education, abilities, and relationships of the characters, as well as the plot, dialogue and setting of the shows. Then have students watch episodes of television shows of the 1950s and early 1960s, such as The Donna Reed Show, Father Knows Best, and Leave It to Beaver, as well as episodes of today's television shows (sitcoms and dramas). Ask students to compare and contrast the portrayal of men and women. How do they reinforce or challenge gender stereotypes?

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