The place and societal roles of women have greatly changed over time. The modern woman enjoys several freedoms that were not necessarily within the reach of her mother or grandmother. Unlike in the past, women can make most decisions today without having to bow to any external forces. Societal and institutional forces constrained the choices of the 20th-century woman, especially in the early and mid-20th century (Pilcher 98). Their aspirations, career options, spouses, among other choices, were influenced by these forces. Moreover, owing to the prevailing conditions, the number of role models for young girls back then were not as abundant as they are today. More often than not, women were also forced to make compromises to fit the societal description (Abramovitz 120). To understand how things have changed through time, this paper will focus on the lives of two women, one born in the 1940s and another in the 1960s. Questionnaires will be used to get their view on various forces that influenced their decisions. The answers given will then be discussed and compared.
Social and Institutional Constraints
As mentioned earlier, various social and institutional forces have constrained the choices made by women throughout history. In the years before 1940s, women had little say in the society. Their place was predominantly at home taking care of children. However, a shift away from this norm began in the 1940s. Since thousands of men were in the war, the women had to step up, and their roles had to expand to take up some of the roles preserved for men (Wootton and Kemmerer 185). They took up labor-intensive roles in factory, and when the demands of war increased, women were allowed to join the army. Though the women fell in love with the temporary factory jobs, the men wanted them to go back to the kitchen after the war ended. It is in this dynamic period that one of the women interviewed was born.
Growing up in the 1940s
Unlike the generation before her, she grew up in a society where women were expected to fix things rather than just rely on men. The desire for women to be equal with men, especially regarding lower pay, was also alive and hence girls were increasingly getting a full education. Just like the women in the 1920s fought for the right to vote, the women in the 1940s and 1950s fought for equality. They set the pace and the groundwork for the generations that followed. The women that championed this cause, such as First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt were the role models for most of the young girls. Moreover, as these girls grew up, the belief that equality in the workplace would be achieved grew by the day. Our interviewee, therefore, had aspirations to get out the confines into which the society had placed women and become an engineer.
Unfortunately, her journey, as well as that of millions of other women across the country was not smooth. The society, especially in the South where she grew up, was largely traditional and hence hesitant to let the women venture into the men's world. The men thought that such moves would blur the lines between masculinity and femininity. Moreover, they were scared that once the women got into the new space, they would become their own person and acquire an identity. The society she grew up was not ready for such drastic changes. Unlike their mothers who saw settling down and raising a family as an honor, girls in this era were getting increasingly focused on their dreams and worried little about settling, at least until the society intervened. The interviewee was determined to pursue her dream even if it would delay her settling down.
Other than the societal constraints, various institutional constraints stood between the women and their dreams. The engineering field at this time was a reserve for men. The curricula, as well as the schedules, according to the interviewee, were designed in a way that disadvantaged women. Moreover, once in the workforce, the career favored engineers who did not have any other responsibilities back at home. This worked against the women who were also expected to raise children and take care of the household. Unfortunately, she had to give up her dream and settle down. This is one of the major regrets that she has in life. She wishes that she had fought a little harder for her dreams instead of just settling down to make a family. However, like all the women before her, she takes pride in bringing up a strong family and offering her daughters more opportunities than she was offered. Just like her mother, she settled for an independent man who would adequately provide for the family. Therefore, through the fight for equality and the elevation of the place of women in the society was on, its fruits were not to be enjoyed by this generation of women. However, their children had it much easier, as demonstrated by the second interviewee.
Growing Up in the 1960s
Deep cultural changes were taking place in the society in the 1960s when the second interviewee was born. More and more women were getting into paid workforce. However, the fight against gender disparities in pay and career advancement still raged on. Women also had more choices and freedoms regarding family and reproductive health. For instance, the approval of the birth control pill freed thousands of women from unwanted pregnancies. The voices against gender-based violence were also getting louder by the day. Regardless of the contradictory expectations and the confusing images concerning work and family, the girls in this period could explore their potential with fewer constraints as compared to the generations before them.
Women who had ventured into previously male-dominated fields were the role models for these girls. According to the second interviewee, some of the role models as she grew up included Oprah Winfrey, Madeleine Albright, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, among others. Encouraged by these women, the girls were willing to pursue any career regardless of its demands. She aspired to be a lawyer from an early age, and she is a successful family lawyer today. Moreover, institutional constraints had eased up, and girls were increasingly being admitted into schools and colleges that formerly did not admit women. In the pursuit of their dreams, most of these women delayed settling down. Unlike most of their mothers who settled down in their twenties, some of these women went deep into their thirties before forming families. They went for spouses who understood and appreciated the changing place of women in the society. Since most career women had high levels of financial independence, the stability of the man was not the main factor considered when choosing a spouse.
Relation to the Course Readings
The views of the two women on various societal issues mirror the sentiments made in the course readings. The changes in gender roles presented in the course reading have also been revealed in the interviews (Zinn et al. 173). While women were traditionally supposed to take care of the children and household while the men served as the breadwinners, the narrative began changing during the World War II. The transition of women from household chores to paid workforce, an element that featured heavily in the interviews, is well captured in the course reading (Zinn et al. 203). However, the fruits of the changes were not immediately visible. Though the first interviewee grew up in this period, various societal and institutional constraints saw her settle for a traditional kind of life. The second interviewee, however, lives a modern and independent life courtesy of the shattered gender barriers. Just like the first interviewee revealed, the course reading advances that women in the 1930s and 1940s looked for stability and maturity in spouses. However, the preferences changed as women became more independent (Zinn et al. 227).
Relation to Choices Made by Women Today
The struggles of the 19th century led to the shattering of barriers as well as the redefinition of the gender roles and the place of women in the society. Today, women can freely make choices regarding their lives with little or no external pressures. Societal and institutional constraints have been gotten rid of, and hence, women can fully explore their potential. They can join any schools they qualify for and pursue the careers that they like. Moreover, there exists successful women in all spheres of life, from science to politics, to the corporate world. As a result, the little girls and young women have many role models to look up to. The modern woman has become increasingly independent and hence, do not have to seek independence or stability from a spouse. More and more women are bringing up children single-handedly and succeeding at it. However, though huge strides have been made, there still exists gender inequality in terms of pay and career advancement (Howes et al. 320). This is a huge impediment to the rise and advancement of women at the workplace,
This paper has traced the journey of women from the 1940s, exploring the changing gender roles as well as the place of women in the society. From the interviews, it is undeniable that far-reaching changes have occurred. Societal and institutional barriers have been overcame, and hence, women can make decisions more independently. The compromises that need to be made are also fewer. However, though the place of women in the society has improved, there remains more to be done to achieve gender parity in the society.
Abramovitz, Mimi. Regulating the lives of women: Social welfare policy from colonial times to the present. London: Routledge, 2017.
Howes, Satoris S., et al. "Yes Virginia, There Is a Gender Disparity Problem-and It Goes Beyond STEM." Industrial and Organizational Psychology 11.2 (2018): 318-323. <https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/industrial-and-organizational-psychology/article/yes-virginia-there-is-a-gender-disparity-problemand-it-goes-beyond-stem/C065F8277C97BFD2B1E35596F3A6E04C>.
Pilcher, Jane. Women of their time: generation, gender issues and feminism. London: Routledge, 2017.
Wootton, Charles W. and Barbara E. Kemmerer. "The changing genderization of the accounting workforce in the US, 1930-90." Accounting, Business & Financial History 10.2 (2000): 169-190. <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/095852000411023>.
Zinn, Maxine Baca, D. Stanley Eitzen and Barbara Wells. Diversity in Families. 10th. Pearson Press, 2015.
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