Sociological Trends of Gender Roles in Since the 1920 Term Paper

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Gender Roles

Throughout history, gender roles have played a vital part in the shaping of Western society. From the changeover of colonial belief systems to the industrial revolution in the 1920's to current trends, these gender roles have altered the workforce, family life, and numerous other areas. This paper will discuss gender roles from the 1920's through today, and will examine the sociological trends of these roles over time.

At the turn of the century, gender played a vital role in determining the educational and professional choices of men and women in colonial America. However, as social trends began to shift from the family nucleus of the religious norm to economic and political ambitions, the role of women in society developed, and began to expand into much wider opportunities ("American Centuries: Gender Roles"). Previously, women were seen in roles only of mothers, and were overall not seen in the workforce. However, as these social norms began to break down, more women entered the workforce and were seen more in the public agenda.

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This is not to say, however, that this increase in female workers was viewed positively by all society. Some, particularly the males in political and business roles, saw the new presence of women as threatening to the male workers. But with the Progressive and Labor movements of the early 1900's, the plight of women workers was used to promote woman suffrage. Working women began to push for the right to vote in order to convince legislators to pass laws to protect their working rights (Landau, 35).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Sociological Trends of Gender Roles in Since the 1920's Assignment

By 1920, the female role was more solidified with the passing of the amendment allowing women the right to vote. Now able to participate in political discussions and the selection of government, women found themselves in non-traditional occupational roles, such as factory and office workers, retail workers, teachers, accountants, and other previously predominately male roles. Industrialization had altered the gender roles in society to produce a more female oriented workforce (Landau, 35). While family farms still existed in large rural areas, a decrease in soil productivity and competition forced women to abandon the farm life, and instead begin working.

This change in the female role was not only apparent in the workforce and the voting booth, but in society in general. The tight waisted, body covering clothing of the early 1900's was replaced by the clothing of the flapper girl, which allowed women to show legs and arms. This change, while seemingly subtle, was a clear indicator of the changing role of women in society. Rather than accepting life as mother and homemaker, women were clearly seeking a new role, that of a powerful, attractive, sexy force (Tranquilla, 2).

In addition to industrialization, World War I brought about a similar sociological trend in changing gender roles. In 1914, the world went to war, and in response, many of the activists for women's rights became activists for the peace movement (Zieger, 146). At the forefront of the political battle was the use of military training in public education, supported by mostly male reformers who supported training in the classrooms. In the school systems, the traditional gender of physical education instructors was male, and these individuals supported the reform movement. On the other side of the argument were the predominantly female educators, whom had previously often been excluded from education entirely. The now female oriented classrooms quickly became a battlefield of sexes, showing again the sociological shift of America (Zeiger, 150).

This shift, and the resulting political argument, again showed a trend in sociological acceptance of gender role transition, as the female-directed opposition to classroom military instruction became a vital tool for male reformers to push against female educators. Admiral F.E. Chadwick made a statement in a push against woman instructors that to place males in the care of females was to do violence against the "masculine" nature (Zieger, 159). The male physical educators claimed the male students to be less masculine than those of other countries due to the "feminization" of the classroom (Zieger, 162). Such statements clearly show the beginnings of sociological trends against women advancing in society, and against women in power in general.

From the female educator standpoint, the gender role shift allowed them the ability to have some political power over the classes taught in the school system. These female activists, firm in their role of peacemakers and educators, were convinced the teaching of military strategy in the public school system would depart from the education of America's youth (Sullivan, 512). Unlike the men who supported such action, who claimed such efforts were part of a strategy of preparedness, the females, based on their gender roles, could use their roles in their campaign. Whereas the males in society were, and often still are, seen as aggressors, the females were, and are, seen as more peaceful, thereby allowing them to use gender as a strategy to convince the public of their position (Sullivan, 514). This again shows how the trends of gender roles can, and are, used in society as a way of gaining support or assistance.

Men were not excluded from this gender shift. Those men seen as too "soft" or "non-masculine" to serve in combat were quickly dispatched to other areas, beginning a new social trend in male gender roles. These individuals were responsible for making clothing, packing supplies, working in the U.S. Forest Services, or at local universities, where they were used in experiments (Sullivan, 516). While looked down on by the public, these individuals were clearly setting the precedence for a new role of men, that of support roles rather than roles in conflict.

By the great depression, these trends in gender roles continued. Traditional roles within the family were altered, with men finding themselves out of work, due to pay differences. These men began to rely on the women and children to make ends meet, further securing the place of women in the workplace. While it was clear the role of men was changing in response, these changes were not accepted without difficulty (Allen, 41). Many did not accept the loss of power as decision maker and breadwinner easily, but instead began to resent the new role of women, and began to stop looking foe work in resentment. Paralyzed by a lack of available employment, due to higher wages for males, many men walked out on their families entirely (Allen, 42).

A study done in 1940 showed that nearly 1.5 million women had been left by their husbands (Allen, 42). At the same time, women found that their new role of prime head of household meant an increase in their overall power in society. Left with few options, the females in society went to work in full force, against the opposition of the common public (Allen, 43). Black women in particular had an easier time in finding employment than their unemployed husbands. They were able to work in the fields of domestic servitude, clerks, textiles, or other occupations. This employment increased their overall status and power, both in the home, as well as in the domestic decision-making process (Allen, 45).

By World War II, the gender role changeover in society was nearly universal. By this point in history, all of society was participating in the construction of the feminine role. As in previous wars, the males were sent to combat, whereas women served as a sanctuary for soldiers. While this alone did not shape gender roles for the duration of the war, it did reinforce the tendencies for women to serve as support for males, a common sociological trend for gender relations (Goldstein, 50).

As in previous times of crisis, women found themselves again asked to go to work outside the home. With increased demand for weapon manufacturing, and with nearly ten million men overseas, it became clear that the role of women must change again. Instead of being icons for homesick soldiers, the women of WWII had to become factory workers. While women had been in the workforce previously, their role was often still as educators, retail sales personnel, and other non-tasking roles. For the first time, women were asked by their government to join the labor force as skilled laborers, welders, and other traditionally male roles (Rupp, 63).

The tactics used to ask women to join the labor force also showed a sociological trend for gender, that of women as emotional creatures. Whereas propaganda to ask men to join the military focused on concepts such as aggression, protection of the home, and responsibility, those for women focused on patriotism, prosperity, and reminders of the danger to husbands, sons, and fathers. By appealing to the emotional side of women, the government forced these individuals to leave the comfort of their families and homes once again to enable the country to continue the war effort (Rupp, 71). By 1944, over 19 million women had joined the workforce (Rupp, 72).

This is not to say, however, that all in the U.S. At the time accepted the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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