Femininity is the trait of behaving in ways considered typical for women. Although the definition of femininity has not changed, expectations of a typical woman in today’s society has radically changed since the 1800’s. As the 19th amendment was passed and technological advances were discovered, cranes, forklifts and other heavy duty machinery requiring strength, women slowly became more able to do all tasks that once only men could accomplish, women and men even began to wear the same types of clothes, thus the line between masculinity and femininity is gradually fading and nearly gone. gone.gLife in the 1800’s for a typical woman was filled with much adversity. During the early 1800’s women were considered their husbands’ “property” and inferior to men. In the bible, Eve, and Greek mythology, Pandora, brought evil into this world. This gave the overall impression that women were like children and not able to care for themselves (“Women’s History In America”).
Wives were expected to obey their husbands’ every command; otherwise most were beaten and not protected by law. Women were not seen as responsible enough or qualified for work or making major financial decisions. They were not allowed to own property and the fathers had full custody of the children if the couple were to separate. Divorce was very uncommon during this time because women were almost unable to provide for themselves. As a child, women would stay home with their mothers and help with everything; this would eventually help them when they too had to do this for their husbands. Also, premarital pregnancy was greatly frowned upon. It was nearly impossible to provide and care for the baby during that time because they had no source of income. In society, women played the role of the housewife. The wife was left with the duties at home, raising the children, cooking and housework; the natural job of females for most species. This title has been around since hunter-gather societies still existed. Men would hunt big game while women would stay home and nurture the children or gather fruits and vegetables.
These roles were not made so that women were more dependent on the men to provide meat but a strategy because men were much better at tracking and killing big game than woman, making the men of the village in control; similar to households after civilization had taken place (Diamond 449). Housewives are still around today but it is not considered the only possible role for a woman in society, but men are still “bringing home the bacon”. Female employment began to grow because of an increasing number of new factories being built. As women became more highly educated, the involvement in politics and their representation in court be be came more important to them. to However, women continued to be treated unequally.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the Seneca Falls Convention to discuss reforms and issues on women’s rights and suffrage. This sparked the beginning of the change of the word “femininity” and Women’s Rights Movement, from housewives to an income provider. During the period of 1880 to 1920 the number of employed women tripled. Clothes were also a big distinction between the sexes during their time. For those privileged and wealthy enough there was a difference in clothes that were worn by men and women, and the ones who had succumbed to poverty would wear anything they could so this disregarded them. During the 1800’s women generally wore gowns while men wore button-up shirts. This distinctly separated the physical looks of both genders.
The 1900’s was the century of change between women in the 1800’s to women in the 2000’s; there were many “firsts” during this period. The first time a woman competed in Olympic Sports, first woman to enlist in the military, first woman to be elected in to politics, even first woman to fly around the world solo (“Women of the Century”). As the female population in the work force increased, states began to pass laws limiting work hours and improving working conditions. Although women were given near equal employment rights, women’s wages were far lower than that of men in the same job. The difference in wages was not resolved until the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Equal Pay Act equalized pay between women and men. This encouraged more women to pursue an education and put their “womanly duties” aside. Another influencing factor was the numerous amounts of wars. The United States were in desperate need of a larger working force. Most men were drafted for military service, resulting in a need for women to take the jobs of nursing, teaching, and factory worker building munitions and vehicles and also replacing men at their old jobs (“Women’s History in America”).
The new invention of machinery did the majority of the heavy lifting. This invention allowed women to perform tasks that were considered only possible for men. Independency became a growing and common characteristic in women. The unusual became normal. Divorce was no longer a shocking idea, because only after “1891…women were told that they could not be forced to live with a man if they did not want to” (“Women in 1900”). Due to many factors women were allowed to leave their husband legally. These women were able to finally support themselves financially, and able to be fairly represented in a court of law.
The 1900’s didn’t have one distinct fashion throughout the century. The clothes that women wore at the beginning of the century were nowhere near the same to what was considered normal at the end of the century. In the early 1900’s clothing trend was very similar to that of the 1800’s, but as the fashion industry boomed women’s clothing and men’s began to collide. As more women began to work and they wore the same uniforms as men did, women also started wearing the same clothes as men. Near the end of the century women and men wearing the same clothes was not out of the ordinary. Towards the end of the 1900’s century segregation based on gender was nearly abolished.
During the 2000’s, femininity took on a whole new approach as to what we expected of women. Judy Syfers describes the perfect woman of the century for most men in “Why I Want a Wife” (Syfers 445). The woman described by her friend is the mother we have today, who you might call “Wonder Woman” (Steinem 466). This “Wonder Woman” was able to do everything that men could but more. She would do all the house chores, work long hours, and spend quality time with the children; greatly exceeding men in their part of the job. The gaping difference between men and women began to diminish. Men possessed different features and characteristics that women had such as strength, size and hormonal reactions; this is what only separated the two sexes other than unequal pay. Although the EPA was passed, women were still generally paid less. Trauth said “Changes in job compensation. Although equal-pay-for-equal-work is not a reality yet, we’re making progress. In 1979, young women made 68 cents to every dollar a young man made. Today it’s 82 cents. That’s progress.” With women in political positions, new technology, and clothing as well, woman had now become nearly equal to men in society.
With such advancements many jobs were no longer limited to only men, women were now able to provide for themselves and their families successfully. The 19th amendment gave a big push towards women’s equality. In today’s economy, one source of income is not enough, so wives are expected to get an education and find a job. Not only were women expected to help provide for the family, the stereotypical house wife duties were still there: raising the children, cooking dinner, and cleaning. However, not only had femininity changed, masculinity did as well. Since women had also taken the role of the father by helping provide income, husbands would also help with “womanly duties”. Although this was very uncommon before, women putting time aside for their job took time away from their house work and the men would have to help finish them (Trauth). Change in fashion was no longer “abnormal” during the 2000’s. The title in which each article clothing held was narrowed down to that only women wore dresses and men wore tuxedos. Other than that most clothes were considered bisexual. The line between masculinity and femininity had vanished.
Women’s role in society is continuously changing, from the 1800’s till today. The typical housewife was expected to stay home, respect the husband, and do all the house duties. Women had no rights and were considered property and subject to their husbands will and every command. Since the beginning of 1900’s, women demanded for change and fought hard and long for several decades. Labor unions, laws, and amendments were made so that men and women would be equal in today’s society. Finally in the 2000’s, women and men played the same role in their community, working the same jobs, wearing the same clothes, and taking care of the children. Femininity had socially lost its definition but the physical features such as, giving birth and other physical bodily differences, still remains.
Compton’s Interactive Encyclopedia. Women’s History in America. 2nd. Compton’s NewMedia, 1995. Women’s International Center. Web. 28 Feb. 2013 Diamond, Jared. What Are Men Good For?. New York: Longman, 2011. Print Steinem, Gloria. Wonder Woman. New York: Longman, 2011. Print Syfers,
Judy. Why I Want a Wife. New York: Longman, 2011. Print Trauth, Denise. The Changing Role of Women. Texas State U, 21 Oct. 2002. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Women of the Century. Discovery Education, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013 Women in 1900. HistoryLearningSite.co.uk. n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2013