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And They Called it Women's Liberation
How Women Were Lured Out of the Home in the USA

Friday, June 26, 2009 08:37:44 PM, Areeba bint Khalid


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From the 1800s to the present day, family life in the West has remarkably changed. While the West calls this change part of the women freedom movement, a look at history may show otherwise.


America before the 1800s was a farming country and ninety percent of the population lived and worked on private farms. Households were mainly self-sufficient--nearly everything needed was produced in the house. The few things that could not be produced at home were bought from local craftsmen. Some other things, especially imports from Europe, were bought from stores. Males would take care of the fields and females would take care of the home. In addition, they would engage in spinning, knitting, weaving, and taking care of the farm animals.


Industrial Revolution

The Industrial Revolution, which began around the early 1800s, brought a major change to this way of life. In 1807, in the wake of the war between Great Britain and France, President Jefferson signed the Embargo Act, which stopped all trade between Europe and America. The Act meant that European goods would no longer be available in the US and Americans would have to produce them. One major European import to America was cloth, and so merchants used this opportunity to create a cloth industry in America.


In 1814, Francis Cabot Lowell, a man from Boston opened the first modern factory. Work here was to be done way faster than before. Instead of manually making things in houses, things were to be made at higher speeds in a factory and all stages of the work were to be completed under the same roof. Now what Lowell needed were workers. He found out that women, especially unmarried daughters of the farmers, were more economical to use in labor than men. They were also more willing to work as hired people in factories.


But Lowell had to make the working outside of home acceptable in a society which was not used to it. He assured parents that their daughters would be taken care of and kept under discipline. And he built a boarding community where the women workers lived and worked together.


Soon after, more and more factories emerged across America. Factory owners followed Lowell's example of hiring unmarried women. By 1850 most of the country's goods were made in factories. As production of goods moved from the country to the city, people too moved from the country to the city.


For money to be earned, people had to leave their homes. When women worked on the farm, it was always possible to combine work and family. When work for women moved outside the home, however, the only women who could follow it were those without family responsibilities or those who had no husband or no income. Likewise, the only women who could take care of their families were the ones that didn't have work.


This working out of home became a part of life for unmarried women. They would work until their marriage. But as time passed, women found family life interfering with their work life and instead of viewing working out of home as optional, they viewed family life as such. Many women started delaying marriage even more and some decided to stay single.


Married women however stayed home and dedicated their time to their children. Now that there wasn't any farm work to do, women had even more time to spend with the children. In 1900 less than about 5.6% of married women worked outside. If a married woman were to work, it would be considered that her husband was invalid or that she was poor.


World War I

The first major entry of married women to the workforce came during World War I in 1914. Men went to fight the war and the country needed workers to take over the jobs they left behind. Unmarried women were not sufficient for the labor needs, so employers started to invite married women too, to work. By 1919, 25% of the women in the workforce were married. But this was only the beginning.


Another change World War I brought was the entry of women to the army. About 13,000 women enlisted in the US Navy, mostly doing clerical work--the first women in US history to be admitted to full military rank.


Great Depression

The Great Depression came in the 1930s. The unemployment rate climbed from 3.2% in 1929 to 23.6% in 1932. Jobs became scarce for skilled people and men. Fathers went to search for jobs. Some, under despair, deserted their families. The responsibility of earning fell on mothers in many families.


Most women and children, however, found jobs more easily than men because of the segregation of work categories for men and women. Although 80% of men during the Great Depression opposed their wives entering the workforce under any circumstances, economic factors made it necessary for the women to work. Hours were long and pay was low. Twenty percent of white women were in the workforce.


World War II

World War II came in the early 1940s. Men were drafted to fight, and America needed workers and supplies. Again, the employers looked towards the women for labor. Unmarried and married women were invited to work, as had been done during World War I.


But still, public opinion was generally against the working of married women. The media and the government started a fierce propaganda campaign to change this opinion. The federal government told the women that victory could not be achieved without their entry into the workforce. Working was considered part of being a good citizen, a working wife was a patriotic person.


The government founded the Magazine Bureau in 1942. The Bureau published Magazine War Guide, a guide which told magazines which themes stories they should cover each month to aid war propaganda. For September 1943, the theme was "Women at Work". The slogan for this was "The More Women at Work the Sooner We Win." Magazines developed stories that glorified and promoted the placement of women into untraditional jobs where workers were needed. The idea was that if smaller, unexciting jobs were portrayed as attractive and noble more women would join the work force.


The media created Rosie the Riveter, a mythical character to encourage women into the workforce. Rosie was portrayed as a patriotic woman, a hero for all American women. "All the day long, Whether rain or shine, She's a part of the assembly line. She's making history, Working for victory, Rosie the Riveter… There's something true about, Red, white, and blue about, Rosie the Riveter."


The propaganda efforts worked. More than six million women joined the workforce during the war, the majority of them married women. In 1940, before the war, only 36% of women workers were married. By 1945, after the war, 50% of women workers were married. The middle class taboo against a working wife had been repealed.


Post World War II

The 1950s marked an era of prosperity in the lives of American families. Men returned from war and needed jobs. Once again, the government and media got together to steer the opinion of the public. This time, however, they encouraged women to return home, which shows that the women were brought out not for their freedom but because workers were needed.


But this effort was not as successful and was abandoned quickly. First, women from lower economic ranks had to remain in the workforce because of economic necessity. And second, there came the rise of consumer culture.


The baby boom took place during the 1950s as well. Women who returned home dedicated their lives once again to their children. But around the same time an important change had come in the American life. This was the spread of the television. By 1960, 90% of the population owned at least one set. Families would gather around the screen for entertainment. In the early days, everything including commercials was watched with great interest.


Most middle-class families could not afford the goods the television declared necessary to maintain or enhance quality of life with one paycheck alone. Many women returned to work in order to live according to "the American standard of living," whatever that meant to them.


The number of American women in the workforce from 1940 to 1950 increased by nine percent. From 1930 to 1940 there had only been a three percent increase.



As mothers returned to work, the television became the most important caretaker of a child. Children in the 1950s spent most of their non-sleeping hours in front of the television screen.


In 1940, less than 8.6% of mothers with children under eighteen worked. By 1987, 60.2% of women with children under eighteen were working.


As wives assumed larger roles in their family's financial support, they felt justified in demanding that husbands perform more childcare and housework. Across the years, divorce rates doubled reaching a level where at least 1 out of 2 marriages was expected to end in divorce. Marriage rates and birthrates declined. The number of single parent families rapidly increased. People grew unhappy with their lives, when compared to the lives of people on television.


Women working affected the society in many different ways. The first and most important of these was that children with working mothers were left alone without the care of a mother. As the number of working women increased, the number of children growing up unsupervised increased, and with this increased crime among teens.

Since most women placed their career ahead of family life, family life was greatly affected since unmarried women were generally able to make more money than married ones. For example, according to a study by a Harvard economist, women physicians who were unmarried and had no children earned thirteen percent more per year than those who were married and fifteen percent more than those with children.



The majority of women still work at the lower levels of the economic pyramid. Most are employed in clerical positions, factory work, retail sales, or service jobs. Around 50% of the workforce is female. While about 78% of all cashiers and 99% of all secretaries today are female, only 31% of managers and administrators are female. Equality in the workplace has been a mirage but it has conned millions of women into leaving their homes and destroying the family structure.


It was only when economic or political factors made it necessary to get more workers that women were called to work. The Industrial Revolution, the Great Depression, and the World Wars, all the major events which increased the proportion of women workers, were times when the capitalists required more workers in order to be successful in their plans and so they used women.


The move of women from home to the public workforce has been gradual. First poor women went. Then unmarried women. Then married women without children. Then married women without young children. And then, all women. The same thing can be seen to be happening in developing countries around the world, as the West spreads its propaganda of freedom for women to work. The results of this move will probably be the same too.



-Hawes, Joseph M., ed. American Families: A Research Guide and Historical Handbook. New York: Greenwood Press,- 1990.

-Mintz, Steven. Domestic Revolutions. New York: the Free Press, 1988.

-Gary B. Nash, American Odyssey. New York: Glencoe McGraw-Hill, 2002.

-Wilson, Margaret Gibbons. The American Woman in Transition. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1979.

-Goldstein, Joshua S. War and Gender: How Gender Shapes the War System and Vice Versa. Cambridge University Press, 2001.

-U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau. Women in the Force, 1900-2002.

-The Library of Congress Rosie the Riveter: Real Women Workers in World War II.





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The article by Areeba bint Khalid is perhaps a good analysis of how a class of working women developed gradually and in majority of the cases almost unnecessarily...


However there is one very important point as to why women must be prepared to be financially independent... the atrocities on women!

the reason for divorce is not always because women go out to work, most of the times it is the behaviour of the husband and his family that force a woman to either be financially dependent on the man and suffer humiliations or uphold her self respect and go in for separation.


I've seen enough practical examples to believe very strongly that working wives and mothers are NOT always the reason for divorces or failed marriages. It is time the institution of marriage underwent some humanitarian changes as well, so that the family life can be sustained.


Please bear with me and allow me to share my views on marriage and family system:


I think one takes certain things for granted: One's family for instance. While assuming it to be an integral part of life we often neglect the importance of having a family that helps us take on life's challenges relatively easily. Because the family is made up of our own people whose concern for our pain is genuine and therefore can soothe an anguished soul as nothing else can. A supportive family is that cushion which helps us absorb the shocks and overcome fears, providing fortitude and confidence in the most trying times.


And if the family can be taken for granted, is it any wonder that marriage, which sustains the family is under tremendous pressure. In addition we hear of same sex marriages and live-in relationships as an acceptable alternative to the hitherto satisfactory traditions of social behaviour. An ever-increasing number of the educated youth have started questioning marriage and are contemplating if marriage has outlived its usefulness.That the youth should think so, and become cynical to this extent in their personal lives is indeed indicative of how much the tolerance levels have drooped these days.


The unwritten law in a normal Indian marriage is that the woman must follow the customs of her husband's family. She is supposed to take his name and in some places even her first name is changed as part of the marriage rituals. Thus every trace of her maiden identity is lost forever. Is it correct for a marriage to be so extremely one-sided where it becomes the holy duty of the woman to make all adjustments?


The late Begum Tara Shervani, who shared excellent relations with her daughters-in-law, once said to me that the tussle in a marriage is no less a fight for power than in high political circles with the two most polarised positions being taken by the mother and the wife of the man. Each one feels insecure of the other! The fact however is that both the wife and the mother have their unique places and thus both are important in their own way. She could not have been more judicious.


The present day increase in divorce rates indicates how fragile marriages (where the partners are called jeevan-saathi!) have become. Any relationship needs time and space to mature. The same is true about marriage. So much depends on it. And yet since life is not an experiment carried out in a science lab or a theorem proved after research in mathematics, there is no one formula to ensure success in a marriage. Life is beautiful because it is forever changing, and hence individual situations demand individual solutions, which in turn demand a level-headed approach, which in turn demands maturity. The success of a marriage may thus be assumed to lie in patience.


Let us realise that there are no perfect situations in life. After all perfection is one of the virtues of God Almighty, while we mortals have been granted the luxury of being always imperfect. So it is perfectly in accordance with Nature that marriages are imperfect. And it helps to remember that marriage is neither an unending tug-of-war where the parties are constantly pulling on the rope to outdo each other, nor is it an auction where the highest bidder vrooms with the groom.


Certainly there are no such situations in real life where one can end with "...and they lived happily ever after." In the continuity called life you just go on from one situation to another, learning and sometimes unlearning things. And although in a society, there is a proper time and place for things to happen, one should have the liberty to decide upon this most important aspect in one's life, where ideally the decision-making should rest on considerations such as love, compatibility and understanding. 


But until this can be achieved, families will continue to crumble as they strive for existence...and marriage will continue to be a beautiful word with an ugly meaning...



Zohra Javed.

Sat, Jun 27, 2009 at 9:29 PM

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All people have a deep-rooted, natural desire for freedom and self-dtermination, both collectively and as individuals.  This "all people," dear Faizee Aleem ji, believe it or not, includes the female gender.  It is not right to expect me, a woman, to be happy always at the mercy of some man.  He might be a very good, kind, loving, generous man, as was my first husband.  Even so, forced dependency is bitter to a free soul.  Although I had the ability to go out and earn money, I chose to stay home and raise our child - while also running our home and farm.   Still, if I did not have my own resources, it would still be slavery, me at the mercy of his whim.  I loved my life because it was my own choice.  If I had been forced to live that way, I would have been frustrated and miserable.  However luxurious and pleasant, slavery is still slavery.  Frankly, I would rather live in a shack scraping by and be free, than to live in a mansion as a slave, even if the mistress of the house.


A dry chapatti with a glass of water eaten in the freedom of self-determination is sweeter than a sumptious feast eaten in submission to another human being.  Slavery is ashes in the mouth.


Of course, I am a Sikh, not a Muslim;  I wouldn't dream of telling you how to follow your own religion.  You must obey its teachings, as you understand them.  May the One God (by whatever name) bless you in your endeavor.  Just, please, don't try to force it down my throat.


BTW, I have never liked most Women's Liberationists.  They tend to be bitter and glum and full of malice toward men.  On the whole, I like men, enjoy their company - in a chaste way, of course.  Also the Women's Libbers tend to have no sense of humour and less sense of fun.  "If there's no dancing, I don't want your revolution."  Emma Goldman.


Joy and freedom to all.


Chardi kala!


Mai Harinder Kaur, TINK, CRf, TN

Sun, Jun 28, 2009 at 6:38 AM


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