While it is not a surprise that men throughout history have overshadowed women, I think that by analyzing women’s roles through the centuries, we can better understand the development of gender roles and the evolution of women in society. Although society has not completely reached gender equality, there is no doubt that things have improved and will continue to improve.
Women aka Homebodies
To understand the growth of gender equality, we can start by looking as recently as the 18th century. While the 18th century may seem distant, a lot has changed since then in the perspective of humanity and social constructs. In the 18th century Western society, men and women had their individual roles to play depending on social class (UDEL). Lower-class families were typically larger and more rural than the upper-class families who could enjoy bigger houses and luxuries such as plumbing. Because of the class distinction, gender roles slightly differed. In the timeline of the evolution of women in society, Women in lower-class families mainly tended to the house and raised children, and men would work on the farms and perform other labors to support their families. Women in upper-class families would tend to domestic matters such as servants and other estate affairs if their husbands were absent. The fundamental similarities of gender roles between classes are the expectation of women to stay home and men’s expectation to be out working. Even though there was a drastic financial disparity between women of the lower-class and women of the upper-class, they shared practically identical roles.
Another similar social aspect across class spheres of the 18th century is the role of marriage. Women of both social classes were expected to marry into a wealthier family, although lower-class families had far less to offer compared to upper-class families. Nevertheless, women were supposed to marry to obtain necessities for living because perish the thought that women work for their wellbeing and prosperity.
Sending Women to do Men’s Jobs
As the Western world expanded, however, a variety of societal expectations arose. During the 19th and 20th centuries, women could play a much larger role in society. Although women were still considered weaker and performed more domestic duties than men, the growth of manufacturing allowed women to move from work inside the home (VAM). Women could run businesses with their husbands and even work their own textile mills, pottery, and laundering jobs. In the 20th century, during the World Wars, women were vital to the success of the Allies as most working men were enlisted in the military. Women began to perform jobs that were considered men’s work. The role of women in the World Wars would help prove to society that women were, in fact, just as capable as men.
During the 20th century, there was a massive influx of support for the Women’s Rights Movement in the United States. After finally gaining the right to vote in the United States in 1920, the Women’s Rights Movement gained more momentum and thrived in an increasingly progressive society. Within 200 years, women were able to freely express their desire for social liberation and equality without worrying about how it would reflect on their social status or their family. Women were finally free to do this because their expectation to stay home and raise children was now fading away with the past.
Why is Gender Inequality Still an Issue after the evolution of women in society?
Looking at today’s society, women are now more independent than ever and can live for themselves. However, while women have undoubtedly gained equal rights, smaller-scale disparities still exist such as equal pay and sexual harassment, which is a whole other can of worms. Additionally, trans women are also gaining rights as society progresses. The main issue of equality is not the amount of rights granted to women by legislation but rather the attitude of individuals towards the concept of women being equal to men. However, there is a promise that attitudes can change as they have done so immensely over the centuries, but there is no excuse for the delay in equality. By looking at the past, we might understand the future trends of gender equality better.
“Social and Family Life in the Late17th & Early 18th Centuries.” British Literature Wiki, sites.udel.edu/britlitwiki/social-and-family-life-in-the-late17th-early-18th-centuries/#:~:text=Women%20had%20to%20take%20on,raising%20and%20educating%20their%20children.
Victoria and Albert Museum, Online Museum. “Gender Ideology & Separate Spheres.” Gender Ideology & Separate Spheres in the 19th Century, Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL. Telephone +44 (0)20 7942 2000. Email Vanda@Vam.ac.uk, 4 Apr. 2013, www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/g/gender-ideology-and-separate-spheres-19th-century/.