Change in Gender Roles over Time
The Evolving World of Gender Equality Gender roles in America throughout the 1900s have arguably undergone their most drastic shifts than any other century. While a shift in a mindset that focused more in equality was marked by the passage of women’s suffrage in 1920, the Popular Front movement that occurred from 1890 through 1934 and amid the Great Depression was an often overlooked, although an important, turning point for civil rights as a whole. With the start of the World War II in 1939 and men fighting overseas, the economic stimulus of wartime created jobs for women while men fought overseas.
What was it that gave these women the power and courage to stand up for what they thought was right? How did they begin to transform what most considered a perfectly expectable part of society? By looking at writings, photos, and other works by prominent progressive women over the last century, we can get a real perspective on how gender roles have come so far. This paper aims at discovering how gender roles have progressed, what changed them, and who the main proponents of this change were.
While social and economic pressures clearly set the path for changing gender roles, discontentment among women with their social status and the push by particular women from the ground up within the greater context of a civil rights overhaul set the precedent for a more equal America and shifting gender roles. Theoretical Perspective # 1 Feminist theory is the first theoretical perspective which I have chose to research. It addresses gender inequalities and puts forth a way to address these differences (Giddons 2012).
The focus will be on two different sub categories of the feminist theory, which are liberal feminism and radical feminism. Liberal feminists do not blame men for their oppression; rather they blame it on a larger system where separate factors such as the media and discrimination in the work place are to blame. Liberal feminists actively strive for greater political power and support advances such as the Equal Pay Act (Giddons, 2012). On the other hand radical feminism is based on the view that women’s oppression is solely the male’s fault.
They fight strongly against patriarchy (the domination of females by males), and some radical feminist goes as far as to say that female oppression can only be stopped by overthrowing the patriarchal system (Giddons 2012). Sociologist Shulamith Firestone was a very influential radical feminist. Her book The Dialectic of sex: A Case for Feminist Revolution caused a political riot when it was released. She describes how men will always be superior to women until science makes it possible for either gender to be able to give birth.
She explains that it is impossible for female oppression to end if they have to be dependent on men financially and physically during pregnancy. This gives the man a supreme authority over women that no law or political policy could remedy. Other radical feminists believe that male violence, including rape, sexual harassment, and relationship violence are all key factors to male supremacy (Giddons 2012). Throughout history, both liberal and radical feminists have fought actively to the end oppression of women by men. They have made enormous strides to gain gender equality and their efforts have been paying off.
Theoretical Approach #2 The next theory which I researched was the attachment theory. Even though most people believe it to be outdated, it fits very well with the research topic. The attachment theory is based on the idea that there is a learned relationship between mother and child (Giddons, 2012). The attachment theory is another form of the functional approach; which is the belief that society is like a system of parts that when working smoothly, produce a social equilibrium. In other words, men and women perform the tasks in which they are best suited for.
Men being better suiting for physical labor, and women being better suited to raise the children. Sociologist John Bowlby argued that the presence of the mother during childhood was critical to the mental and social stability in the child. His Maternal Deprivation thesis was used by some to argue that a mother who worked was remiss to her children and that it could lead to serious psychological and social difficulties later on in life (Giddons 2012). Anthropologist George Murdock, also a functionalist, did a study in 200 different societies and concluded that each had a social division of labor (Giddons 2012).
This leads back to the point of John Bowlby that the mother is critical, if not biological in the development of children. Functionalist theories are views of the past, as they deprive women of rights and free will. There is evidence that shows that children with two working parents have higher academic scores and personally development, which is completely contradictory to the Maternal Deprivation these (attachment theory). As society has progressed we have learned to accept the claims of past “academics” as nothing more than bogus reading material as we build a world that is free of gender inequality.
Disscusion The traditional outlook of “man as the hunter” and “woman as the mother” in the Victorian era (1837-1901) carried on well beyond primitive societies into early industrialization and advanced social development. America was still a considered a new nation and “freedom” was most aptly applied to wealthy, white men. Although small advancements had been made, such as the 1939 Mississippi grant for women to hold property, they still needed to have their husband’s permission first (Brooks, 2008).
Undoubtedly, the primary role of the woman was to bear and raise children, partly due to high infant mortality rates. As modern medicine advanced, woman went from bearing an average of 15 children in the 18th century to only five in the 19th (World Health Organization) although only five percent of married women still worked outside the home. Gender roles were deeply ingrained in America’s sociological fiber, and the Industrial Revolution truly segregated the working world of men form the private sector of women.
The domesticity and submission of women went hand-in-hand with repression of the era as a whole, and “Many 19th century physicians accepted Darwinism and concluded that women had stopped evolving sooner than men and were, therefore, less developed,” (Shultz, 1999). With the mindset that women were scientifically and genetically inferior to men, it’s no wonder that women were seen as having no place in the workforce. However, the outlook that women should be subservient to their husbands and left out of decision-making was quickly becoming a stale ideology, particularly to women.
One example of this was a “Letter to the Editor” sent to the evening post in 1896, when a Domestic Servant’s “Half-Holiday” Bill was voted on by men. In the letter, the woman writes to the editor that, “men would do well to consult their wives, or some women who have had experience in household matters, before they rush in and try to upset arrangements that have worked so satisfactorily, and which are in the department in which women alone are experts,” (Evening Post, Volume LII, Issue 34, 1896,).
Women clearly were reaching a point in which they wanted to be consulted and asked for their opinion, particularly in the matters they were supposed to know best. Despite the female mindset, any women, particularly immigrants, who wanted to work, were mostly confined to jobs as laundresses, servants, and the lowest forms of factory help. Women who did work were generally single. Female discontentment with their status in society came to a head at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, when the Women’s Rights Movement began.
At the conference from July 19 to July20, the “Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments” was signed after being modeled on the Declaration of Independence. Drafted by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Declaration of Sentiments called for the ending of “absolute tyranny” that white men had in America, as well as the tyranny of a husband over his wife. The National Woman Suffrage Association actively apposed the 15th Amendment since it gave only African-American men the right to vote, accepted only women into the organization, and began to harshly criticize American society.
As one female activist, Victoria Vlaflin Woodhull stated, “We mean treason…We are plotting Revolution. ” While the conference focused on women’s rights in the United States, the conference gave way to the overarching issue of civil rights as a whole, and the need for social change beyond what upper class, white men found acceptable. The following decades leading into the early 20th century were a period of small gains for women, more pragmatic associations that worked toward equality and the right to vote, and sparked other equality movements not only for women, but for African-Americans, Immigrants, and unfairly treated workers.
All these different movements came to a head in the early 20th century during the Great Depression, and the infrequently discussed Popular Front. The 1930s and 40s were an era in which the demand for social justice dominated the ideology of America. Known as “The Age of the Proletariat,” it focused on not only worker’s revolution, but a mass push for social equality and equal rights for anyone who wanted to work and earn a fair wage.
It became a time where women could earn their voice in literature, art, and the economy because of an overarching movement for fairness. One of the greatest and most obvious ways women began to make their mark on society was through writing and photojournalism. As certain women became more prominent and highlighted the plight of the woman as a worker and American, their suffering became real and tangible, and not only did their work highlight the conditions of other women in factories who were doing unfair labor, but they paved the way to finally give women a voice.
During the Popular Front and the Great Depression, oppression and poverty were not restricted to any class, gender, or ethnicity, Margaret Bourke-White pioneered the world of photojournalism to represent social struggle in the 1930’s. Bourke-White’s photojournalistic novel “You Have Seen Their Faces,” highlighted the ideals of the glaring disparity between the wealthy white men in America and the rest of society and provided the visual representation for change.
Margaret Bourke-White’s photojournalism was just one photojournalist who pushed through the narrow scope of men in the workforce to become a household name. Dorothea Lange worked to capture the plight of the migrant farmer during the dustbowl, and she created symbols of the Great Depression to not only emphasize the impoverishment of farmers, but the blending of class lines among the poorest in America. One of her most famous pieces, “Migrant Mother” depicts a mother sitting between her two children.
The mother clutches her chin and gazes into the distance, looking both worried and determined. Her clothes are dirty, her face is heavily aged with wrinkles and creases, and her children face away from the camera and rest themselves on her should, as if physically placing the burden of mothering on a woman who has no answers. The photo highlighted the need for social change, the shifting representation of a woman as a stronghold in the household, and the paralyzing effect of a lack of representation among the voiceless in America. Migrant Mother” gave a recognizable symbol to an otherwise faceless movement centered around gender oppression, worker’s oppression, and extreme poverty blind to gender or race. Finally, one of the most prominent women to arise during the Popular Front era and establish a precedent of strong women: Margaret Mitchell. Writing Gone With the Wind in 1936 and receiving a Pulitzer Prize for it in 1937, Mitchell’s heroine, Scarlett O’Hara, represents the need for survival and the changing atmosphere of America during the Reconstruction era.
While her novel served as an essential anti-civil rights movement, her message was greater than the context of the story. O’Hara spends the novel trying to escape poverty by any means necessary, and her plight resounded among society of people who were also facing inescapable impoverishment. While these women undoubtedly contributed to the slowly improving social status of women, their contribution came at a time when America needed restructuring, and within the greater context of the Popular Front and the Great Depression, it was a ime women could begin to make a greater impact. Census figures show that the percentage of women employed who were 14 or older actually rose from 24. 3 percent in 1930 to 25. 4 percent in 1940, totaling two million jobs. Furthermore, many more married women were entering the workforce (Ware, 2009). The times called for women to enter the workforce simply to support their families, but the change was less than welcome. As New Deal initiatives were taking place, such as the Wagner Act, which established the 40-hour workweek, women were often left out of these new initiatives.
Women still were inclined to fight back. In a 1931 New York Times article, it states that a “plea for help for unemployed factory women, who “seem to have been ignored” in the plans of work relief was made by the Consumers’ League to…the chairman of emergency unemployment Relief Committee” (Job Relief Urged by Factory Women, 1931). Such sentiment was common, and women struggled to be treated as equal citizens despite the influx of strong female figures in society.
The National Recovery Administration continued to set lower minimum wages for women performing the same jobs as men, the Civil Works Administration and the Civilian Corps Administration gave jobs almost exclusively to men, and women were forced back into sewing jobs. The Social Security Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act did not cover women’s employment when they were first instilled, and even though women’s employment was on the rise, America seemed hell-bent on maintaining the “man as the breadwinner” identity.
Women were expected to see their roles in the household as enhanced and the make life at home as comfortable as possible with fewer resources, while men were expected to find a job, despite the almost insurmountable struggle. It almost seemed as though America wanted to turn a blind eye to that fact that women clearly were attempting to enter the workforce. Any women who entered the workforce were seen as “stealing” jobs from men, and that they shouldn’t be working anyway. Women were assumed to be unable to handle labor-intensive jobs.
By 1939, the number of employed women equaled the total number of unemployed Americans, and Norm Cousins, a prominent New York Post political journalist and activist, famously said the solution was to “simply fire the women, who shouldn’t be working anyway, and hire the men. Presto! No unemployment, No relief rolls. No depression. ” Why, in the midst of strong female voices, a working situation where any work for any person was welcome, and the need for social and economic reform, was America so unwilling to accept women into the labor force?
Society had already separated jobs by gender, and it seemed almost a backtrack to disallow women, who had already accomplished so much as writers and photojournalists and muckrakers, to deny them the right to earn for their families. In a time when people needed answers for why they were so oppressed, women, immigrants, and African-Americans were often used at the scapegoat. Women’s oppression did not exist in isolation during the Great Depression, but was a product of complex and often exhausting interaction between the changing economic atmosphere and the contention with existing ideologies.
Inevitably, something had to give. Thus, women were seen as destroying the sanctity of marriage by trying to change their role within the context of the family, and strong voices were only viewed as greater sources of the problem. Perhaps the strongest female voice of the Great Depression, Eleanor Roosevelt, said in her book, It’s Up to the Women that “the women know that life must go on and that the needs of life must be met and it is their courage and determination which, time and again, have pulled us through worse crises than the present one. Her words were meant to empower the woman, it emphasized their need to be the family rock, as opposed to become another breadwinner, and that paralleled that lack of female representation in New Deal Initiatives. Although she was hailed as the strongest female of her time, women’s contribution needed to extend beyond the household, and America had a strong reluctance to let that happen. Women were supposed to be seen as a comfort and a sense of stability in the household, and coming home to an empty house while the woman was out working seemed like a confusing, let alone discomforting, role reversal.
Feminism was viewed as movement creating waves and making trouble in a time that was already hard enough, and fighting for the right to work and provide for oneself as a woman directly contradicted the maternal outlook they previously held. Feminists rejected Maternalism as the only path a woman could take, and the more they tried to thrust themselves away from that light, they more they were seen as anarchists in a time that was already marred by chaos.
In an article by Jane Humphries, entitled “Women: Scapegoats and Safety Valves in the Great Depression,” she discusses that one of the main reasons women were blamed was because they were expected to receive and willingly took lower wages than a white man would in the same position. She adds, “Coupled with the effect of the Great Depression more generally, inevitably pointed to increased female employment and a persistence even after the Depression in the great disparity between men’s and women’s earning scales. It would seem that, because women were unable to enter the workforce on their own terms, they had not only become their own worst enemy, but were unintentionally making men their enemy because of their circumstance as well. From here, gender identity shifted from women as a source of solace and relief during difficult times, to direct competition for resources and wages. Obviously, they weren’t to blame. Among the turmoil of the Great Depression, the fight for gender equality and civil rights, and the New Deal Initiative came the biggest economic stimulus to pull American out of its hardest time: World War II.
Suddenly, wartime efforts called for serious factory work, and women began to work long day-jobs to support the war. Not only did women want to work due to their patriotism, but a whole new wave of propaganda – particularly the “Rosie the Riveter” image – encouraged women the join factory workers. By 1945, 2. 2 million women were working in war industries, building ships, aircrafts, vehicles, and weaponry. Even 400,000 women were serving in the military, and they finally gained recognition as a not only helpful, but vital part of a movement. In an article by Dr.
Sharon H. Hartman Strom and Linda P. Wood entitle “What did You do in the War, Grandma? ” They argue that the war “widened the horizons of American women. ” Women were no longer confined to clerical work and the lowest paying jobs, but were expected to contribute while the men were away at war. The tremendous shortage of labor guaranteed women a spot in the labor force, but Hartman and Wood argue that it was not necessarily their patriotism that sent the running to the factories, but the joy of and sense of accomplishment of finally being able to make their own money.
Women were finally acknowledged as helpful, the impoverishment and emotional turmoil due to economic crisis during the Great Depression was over, and women finally had a sense of purpose. Hartman and Wood cite this time as when gender segregation and racial segregation finally started to see their walls break down, and “the genie was out of the bottle and could not be back in. ” In a 1942 Deseret News entitled “More Women Called To Work: War Department States New Job Policy,” it states that “the War Department has adopted a policy of using women employees in all capacities, for which they are qualified or may become so by training. Suddenly, the concept that women were incapable of doing the same job as men was shattered, and the inferiority of women was temporary suspended. Classified articles call for women to come to textile mills, aviation factories, and weaponry factories earning wages of over $30. 00 per week for their efforts. The “Rosie the Riveters” of America forever affected the nation’s view of strength and the ability of women to be constructive members of the workface and complete tasks previously only held by men.
Propaganda encouraged women to see themselves as independent and hardworking, and women were expected to prove themselves during the war. They were encouraged to take advantage of their new opportunities. This newfound belief in a woman’s ferocity was only a temporary fix for the war that eventually gave way to the “Susie Homemaker” image when the war ended and men returned to reclaim their jobs. However, the impact had been made. The war politicized women and made them more conscious of their power in the United States.
They realized that they could make a strong impact if given the chance, and the push from the bottom in the 1930s was realized during the war. In “The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter: Invisible Working Women” by Sue Davenport, she argues that the women have always worked longer and harder than men for the same recognition, and wartime was one of the moments in history where they received recognition for it. She says, “crossing the traditional sex barrier in the workforce sharpened women’s understanding of how sexual division of labor pitted men against women and created hardship and false ideas in people’s lives. Propaganda in during the war reaffirmed women’s notions that could be strong, active members of society, and that confirmation in conjunction with the initial fight in the early 1900s gave way to a feminist movement to redefine gender roles in society. Indeed, it was an unusual circumstance that gave women this fresh identity, but it was the identification they need to truly get the ball rolling. There’s no doubt that the end of the war brought upon a demobilization of women in the workforce, and a step backward in terms of the labor movement for women. “Rosie the Riveter” was long gone, and women were expected to ive up their jobs to men. Despite this issue, many women were inspired to enter the labor force long term, and in the article “The Postwar Role of American Women,” by Mary Anderson, she states the labor force of women between 1948 and 1985 grew from 29 percent to 45 percent as women’s labor force participation jumped from 33 percent to 35 percent. This indicates a permanent change in attitude that lasted long after the war. Women were inspired to create things like daycare, and the identity of women to solely take care of their children was slowly being broken down.
After the war, a poll taken in 1945 by the Women’s Bureau of the Department of Labor showed that ? of women wanted to keep their jobs. Responding to the call to work during the war brought upon an invigorating sense of pride for women that, although was stifled by the housewife-mindset of the 1950s, never truly subsided and was only waiting to gain to steam again. With the Equal Pay Act passing in 1963, it was just another sign that the movement had simply been dormant, and in no way had died.
The 1960s showed a reinvigoration of the women’s movement with the Civil Rights Act as well, which extended laws prohibiting occupation due to sex. Women’s battle toward equality almost seemed to gloss over the 1950s, but the interim was not surprising. The reluctance toward shifting gender roles was never a matter of women simply doing their civic duty during wartime efforts, but the unwillingness of men to see women as their social equals. Men saw women as trying to oust them from their jobs, and coming home to a labor force that was no longer as divided by gender was a new and suspicious change in the male eye.
Men had never worked next to women before, so it was no wonder that there was obstinacy. The male attitude that women should return to their status as homemakers is an ideology that still persists in today’s society. In a study at the University of Washing called, “The Effects of Attitudes Toward Family Life and Gender Roles on Marital Satisfaction,” researchers Diane N. Lye and Timothy J. Biblarz determined that husbands and wives who hold nontraditional attitudes toward family life are less satisfied with their marriages.
Gender roles in America have come a long way since the late 1800s, where women couldn’t even own land without the permission from their husbands. The changing tides of the economy in conjunction with social movements such as the Popular Front and wartime efforts were undeniably one of the biggest factors. However, movements start from the ground up, and without the push from prominent women who broke the barriers of what it meant to for a woman to be a productive member of society, women may not have been as inspired to work during World War II or encouraged to keep going after the war.
It took several strong voices (Margaret Bourke-White, Dorothea Lange, and Margaret Mitchell are just some of many) to help women realize that gender identity is a construct created by a society designed to work against them. Once the opportunity came for women to prove themselves as dynamic workers, capable of manual labor and better-paying jobs, it was almost perfect timing. This is not to say that the gender role of women does not have a long way to go, and while the Rosie the Riveter image was a positive piece of propaganda at the time, it should only be used as a template for how women should be viewed in the coming years.
In an age of corporations and big business, the concept of “gender roles” should be a term that slowly dies. In a Washington Post article entitled, “Laws fail to remedy workplace inequality of women,” it emphasizes the underlying imbalance between men and women in top positions of power. This often talked about “glass ceiling” is still a very real issue that women face daily, and equal pay still have not been addressed sufficiently. If asked what “gender role” means, the average person would still answer that it entails the man goes to work while the woman cares for the child.
The article states that, “women still have less success in the workplace than do childless women. Men, by contrast, see their workplace fortunes improve after they become fathers. ” Women are expected to “juggle” home life and work life because motherhood is still considered to be their primary job. For men, on the other hand, work comes first and family life comes second. What can be done to level the playing field for everyone so gender roles finally can be viewed the same? The issue extends far beyond women simply ioneering for equal pay and equal representation in the workplace, and must also focus on the changing outlook of the man as a primary parent. While the “stay-at-home-dad” is becoming an increasingly common scenario, particularly in such difficult economic times, the Washington Post article states that “American families sorely need paid family leave. ” Maternity leave, although necessary, is an outdated concept, and men need and want to make their families their first priority, but are as confined the breadwinner role as women are to the homemaker role.
Stay-at-home dads are often looked down upon, and men are expected to earn a wage that a family could subsist on alone. Men feel inferior to a woman that earns a higher wage. The concept of gender roles goes both ways, and it is just as important to encourage men to step outside their comfort zone as women. Only then will the idea of gender roles in America truly begin to morph, which will allow anyone to pursue the lifestyle that they desire. Women and men alike must understand that this battle of gender equality is far from over.