How did the definition of women's work change with the onset of the commercial revolution?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In general, the coming of the commercial revolution helped to bring on the idea of “separate spheres” for men and women.  This was largely because the location of economically important work moved away from the home.

Before the commercial revolution, most economic activity occurred in and around the home.  The vast majority of people were small farmers.  They produced most of the food that they needed themselves.  In such households, women did work that was clearly economically useful.  This was work such as growing vegetables and tending chickens.  Their work clearly helped to put food on the table and sometimes helped to bring in other goods in trade.  Artisans also worked from their own homes.  Their wives often were part of the operation in some way.  Again, this allowed women to be economically useful.

With the coming of the commercial revolution, economic production moved away from the home.  More farmers were growing staple crops, selling them for money, and using the money to buy things.  More work moved from in-home workshops to places like factories.  This meant that most activity that brought in money was happening away from the home. When this happened, women’s work came to be characterized solely as work that did not have economic value.  Women’s work came to be things like cleaning and cooking that did not seem as economically important as their work had been when it brought in money or other goods.

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