But, as far as I can tell, the 1950s was the LEAST repressive decade in American history.. UP TO THAT POINT. Lets just focus on women for the time being. What decade was an improvement? Women didn't even get the right to vote until 1920, after all. While there were some notable improvements to the status of women in the 1930s -- including in Social Security legislation -- everyone was really too preoccupied with staying alive, excepting some notable Socialists. There was no significant movement of women into the work force until the 1940s, during the war.
The 50s seems to get the attention because its milieu was what the early feminist movement rebelled against. Here's the summation from Wikipedia:
With radical political activity suppressed by McCarthyism, consumerism being fostered by the retooling of wartime factories for domestic use, and the nuclear family at one of its historic peaks, the scene was set for a major reconsideration of women's roles. The symbolic fuse was the publication of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, which critiqued suburban white women's socialization and experience as intolerable.But this reconsideration was not made possible by the fate of women being at a historic nadir. Their legal status was at an unprecedented high. They could vote. Legally, they were given nearly the same rights as men. The social sphere might've been stifling, but it was also domestically tranquil: no major wars, no Depression -- a long period of economic prosperity that made it possible to consider liberalizing social arrangements. And don't forget that one of the major changes of the 1950s is that it was one of the few decades when literacy was universal. Women could band together to READ. It was also an era of unprecedented spending money -- revolution takes cash.
Still, it seems like the most important change was technological. The shift to consumerism is apparently one of the major problems with suburban life. Consumerism was a dramatic improvement! Labor-saving devices gave homemakers free time for the first time -- the vaccuum, telephone, dishwasher, refrigerator -- you weren't spending 12 hours a day scrubbing floors. Legal and available contraception meant that the era of 9 babies was over. Television and cars meant that housewives were no longer isolated in the home -- they were free to travel widely and meet similarly-bored women.
This is not to say that the 1950s were great. They were repressive. But they were nonetheless the least repressive era ever -- and they gave women the tools and time to rebel for even greater opportunities.