Women and Gender Studies
13 April 2018
Throughout American history, women have been subjected to intense discrimination stemming from dependence on their husbands and lack of legal protection. For a long time, women were also thought to be intellectually inferior to their male counterparts. Over the years, the American society has made significant strides in recognizing and upholding women’s rights and sense of humanity. Prior to the 20th century, women in the US did not have the right to vote and were required to hand over their property to their husbands following marriage (Kabeer 191). At that time, women were tasked with doing domestic chores such as farming and raising children while their husbands worked in professional jobs.
Many historians trace gender inequality to the transition from a subsistence economy to a market economy in the early 1800s (Kabeer 192). In the pre-market economy, men and women were more or less equal. They both worked on their farms and were in charge of raising the children. The law still favored men and women were granted few legal rights. However, the subsistence economy meant that most people were responsible for making their own shelter, food, and clothing. As such, the labor of a farm wife was critical to the basic survival of the family. However, as the subsistence economy morphed into a market one, more household commodities were procured from the marketplace instead of being manufactured at home (Kabeer 192). This turn of events saw the decline in the value of a wife’s household work.
Instead of making cloth, a farm family could now purchase it. By the 1850s, canned food could be procured by families who previously had to preserve their own food (Kabeer 194). In the Jacksonian era, the work of women became more obscured following the replaced of subsistence goods with products manufactured in the marketplace. This transition resulted in a radical change in the relationship between men and women. This change caused Americans to begin debating gender roles. Proponents of gender-defined roles argued that men and women were physically, mentally, and psychologically different. They viewed women as gentle, loving, and subservient and, therefore, better suited for household chores compared to men (Kabeer 194). In contrast, they regarded a man’s world as tough, competitive, rational, and harsh. As such, they thought that men should be left to work in fields such as politics while women should be resigned to domestic duties.
On the other hand, the opponents of gender-defined roles reckoned that there was no difference between men and women. In other words, men and women were blessed with similar talents, mental abilities, as well as physical and mental toughness (Kabeer 195). Moreover, this faction argued that world would be transformed for the better if rights and privileges enjoyed by men also applied to women. In the mid-1800s, wo...