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So there’s some things going around that got me thinking about Billy Joel’s Allentown again.

Like, the whole conceit of the song is “Our fathers went off to WWII and in return the country moved heaven and earth to make them patriarch-princes, we went off to Vietnam and now we’re treated as disposable.”

(He’s forgetting Korea in between, but that’s OK, everyone does.)

And given the title the focus is on the fall of the unionized Rust Belt heavy industry, but look at this line

met our mothers at the USO
asked them to dance
danced with them slow

this is literally, 100%, a lament for when we had government-provided gfs

The morale-boosting USO, now best known for in-theatre concerts and airport lounges, ran homefront clubs and canteens near soldiers’ postings, and a major role was providing the troops with female attention, recruiting girls from the area to free dances with regularly paid soldiers, hiring staff hostesses whose job was to flirt.

(This in a period where “courtesan” jobs like taxi dancer or cocktail waitress, with a career path culminating in marriage, were more of a thing)

And it wasn’t just the USO. Part of the point of the WAC was to match the supply of single women to the demand of support roles, freeing men for front-line service, part of it was just to have some young women on base. (Here I vaguely gesture at Miss Buxley, General Halftrack’s buxom secretary in Beetle Bailey)

Then there were nurses. Male military nurses in the war had a reputation as twinkle-toes homosexuals, drawn by the constant flow of strong yet vulnerable young men in uniform far from home to comfort. The male ones, of course. (Florence Nightingale’s innovation wasn’t young women going abroad to tend to soldiers – field armies ALWAYS drew trains of camp followers to attend to the men’s needs – but rather an idiom to do it compatible with Victorian sensibilities)

Like, guys, the government very much did try to provide gfs. And it didn’t stop with the war.

There’s this Rosie the Riveter impression that women streamed into factories in WWII but faded at its end, in fact post-war female factory employment was lower than before the buildup. (If women in factories started with WWII, how would you explain the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911?)

And this came amidst government pressure (from an extensive wartime central planning system) to clear out women and make way for returning men. There was a fear the Depression would return (this is why the war economy was never unwound) to a country of battle-hardened men and provoke Communist revolution; it was a high priority to keep men occupied, loyal, and rewarded as patriarchs.

Daniel Moynihan took shit in his famous report for suggesting the solution to black community’s ills was government-backed patriarchy, Earl Butz took more shit for putting it thus:

I’ll tell you what the coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit.“

For how colorful the language might be, though, that formula – “rising standards of living through improved access to consumer goods and women” was the exact same deal the United States made with its whites, as the basis of the postwar golden age.

I could talk about the postwar expansion of high schools and the creation of the “teenager” and all the courtship stuff there, hosting proms and football games and teaching how to dance in gym and how to wife in Home Ec and showing film strips and Coronet 16mms on how to get a date, but that’s a bit of a stretch. The point remains, though, under the New Deal social compact, from the Depression into the 1970s, the government was ABSOLUTELY in the gf-providing business.

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