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In general, the coming of the Industrial Revolution led to a situation in which women became more subjugated to men and were allowed to have less contact with the public sphere. The idea about gender roles that arose from the Industrial Revolution is sometimes called the idea of “separate spheres.”
Before the Industrial Revolution, most work occurred at home and everyone in the family worked together as a unit. There was very little distinction, if any, between work and home or between economic activity and non-economic activity. For this reason, women were seen as part of the economic unit and had a role that was not too dissimilar to that played by men.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, this changed. Work came to be something that was performed away from home. The ideal was that women would not work outside the home. They would stay home and perform work that was not paid. This meant that there came to be the sense that women belonged at home and outside the economic sphere while men belonged outside the home in the economic world.
Before the Industrial Revolution, families worked together farming on agricultural plots. This income earning method involved the input of every member of the family and included labor from children both female and male. The contribution of each gender was seen as equal and one was not valued higher than another. Furthermore, at times women were involved in the production of food items and fabrics for sale to earn an additional income for the family.
However, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution it was not necessary for both parents to be working. This is because laborers were generally paid higher wages than the income earned from agriculture. And because men were paid higher wages than females in the factories, males were usually the ones going out to work while the females remained at home. This practice soon became the norm in industrialized societies. Thus, female roles became nurturing and taking care of the house and children and a man's role was to "bring home the bacon."
The Industrial Revolution produced a clear delineation between 'home' and 'work.' There were many social changes that occurred: worker's rights, work health and safety, enforced schooling, and a need for childcare. Gender roles were also clearly modified.
- experienced limited work health and safety (often more so than for men)
- were paid less than men for the same work
- had limited employment opportunities
- often returned home to "housewife" duties
- saw their education suffer severely
- experienced society's anxiety about a woman left 'unsupervised' from the home
- endured laborious work
- worked long hours
- were typically viewed as 'bread winners'
- were often in supervisory roles (of women)
- saw the importance of education diminish—work took priority
It wasn't until the World Wars of the 20th century that the next major modification of stereotypical gender roles took place. This was because the population of working men were enlisted—forcing women to take on 'male roles.'
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