In the period of 1750-1900, the role of women in East Asia and Western Europe began to shift. Traditionally, women were kept domestic and were expected to keep quiet; away from the affairs of men. Influenced by the modernization processes during this time period, the fight for women’s rights was initiated which allowed women to play an increasingly greater role in shaping politics. In both regions, women were to look appealing for men, and were never truly seen as being “equal” to the male. The two regions were different in which Western European women were more involved in, and successful in acquiring rights than East Asian women.
In both East Asia and Western Europe, women were urged to appeal to men. Foot binding in China was used to symbolize the high status of the woman, while peasants needed their feet to perform hard labor and work the fields. Binding the feet also created a sexual appeal because it was considered beautiful, elegant, and the swaying motion of the woman’s body while she walked was considered highly attractive. By crippling a woman’s feet in the process, this prevented women from having a greater effect on society, and bounded them to their homes. In a way, it was telling them to just sit there and look pretty. In Japan, some women gained status and fame as geishas. Although they were not valued as sex objects like prostitutes, the white paint on their faces and the symbol on the back of their necks were viewed as beautiful and erotic. During the period of the second industrial revolution, the development of a new social structure emerged. The new structure recognized the rights of all people to education, health assistance, and quality living conditions.
Women began to hold more jobs as well. The nursing profession was created. Florence Nightingale introduced hygiene and reforms which revolutionized the nursing profession. Many women started to work in factories and took on what was previously known as male professions. These women went from being child providing home keepers to revolutionary idealists. The cult of domesticity was created to put an end to this, and justifying men’s favor of keeping women at home. This act was a notion of feminizing women of Western Europe by saying that they were becoming too masculine. The cult of domesticity involved women looking a acting a certain way to please men’s idea of femininity. In areas all around the world, women gained power with their sexual appearance. Using this, they were able to influence men’s decisions.
In both areas, women were never truly “equal” to men. Even during the Enlightenment, very few liberal thinkers even considered the equality of women to men. The fact that both areas were very much patriarchal also proved to be a big factor to the reason women were subjective to men. Confucian doctrine justified a secondary status for women. The teachings of the five important relationships classified and gave clear authority to certain people. Not only were women expected to be submissive to their husbands, but to their sons, as well. Boys have always been more favorable because it was their duty to carry on their family’s name and legacy.
They were also expected to care for the elderly. Although there were women that held high titles and authority, many queens and empresses came to power only because there were no males to bestow the thrown. In Western Europe, women remained subservient to men-legally and economically. Although they might have done the say work as men, they were paid less. In China and Japan, girl children were less valued and sometimes put to death or sold into prostitution or servitude. With social norms ingrained in the brains of the people after having followed them for so many years, men remain superior over women.
The roles of women in western Europe and eastern Asia were different in which Western European women were more involved in, and successful in acquiring rights than East Asian women. Women rights came more as a byproduct of the modernization in East Asia, but in Western Europe, women were more physically involved and fired up in the fight for their rights. In Western Europe, some women became soldiers and fought in the war themselves. For example women helped fight in the French Revolution and were engaged in the march to Versailles, which began the French Revolution. In China, on the other hand, reformers called for women’s education and equality, and the end of foot binding as a result of the Hundred Days reform. Around the time of the Meiji reforms when Japan started its modernization process, Empress Haruko of Japan raised issues about marriage, family planning and especially education. In Western Europe, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote the “Vindication of the Rights of Women”, which argued women aren’t inferior to men, but only appear due to lack of education. Olympe de Gouges wrote the “Declaration of the Rights of Women”. This shows how much European women were involved in their society.