The colonial women were instrumental when it came to work though their work mainly occurred at home. Stretching from the colonial period to the revolution of America to the end of the Second World War, women performed household roles because of cultural indifference.
It took a long period for women to change their roles. Through liberation movements and strikes, women fought to take positions initially assumed as “men’s work”. However, after the Second World War, men started recognizing the potential of women and slowly changed their beliefs to allow them take some of their roles at work. Nevertheless, some roles of women never changed and remain even up to today.
The paper examines the role played by colonial women on work. As Kiger and Riley (1996) notes, these roles have changed significantly and the modern woman does not do much of what the colonial woman did. However, it is imperative to note that even in the contemporary world, some roles played by colonial women still remains. For example, women do all household work with little assistance from men.
Nevertheless, there are certain roles than women never performed. For instance, women never participated in politics and in churches, they did not preach. However, on realizing this, women regrouped themselves to fight for these rights. Their long struggle for equality with men bore them fruits (pp.357-360).
The main roles of the colonial women were preparing meals for their children and husbands, raising children, participating in farming activities, helping their husbands to build houses, and engaging in artistry work of manufacturing pots from clay, jewelry and other household or farm tools. As women performed household chores, men involved themselves in activities like hunting and in some occasions, they were the one who fought with bordering communities whenever a feud arose.
Nevertheless, the roles of women varied from one particular tribe to another. For instance, some communities allowed women to hunt, and participate in traditional war activities. In some communities, women were community or spiritual leaders, while in others, women served as traditional healers.
As time went by, European women arrived and settled in Jamestown. These women also performed domestic roles as their European husbands engaged themselves in making profits and mining gold. Kamensky (1995) quickly asserts that European women hated doing dirty work like that of cultivating in the fields but instead, remained at home to attend household chores. Like the Native women, European women helped their husbands to construct houses.
This was actually their hard task because as soon as they finished constructing homes, they could not perform any other activity apart from taking care of the family. They spent the rest of their life in sewing clothes, preparing meals, raising children, and weeding their small gardens near the house. In homes with domestic animals, women could milk cows and nourish chickens. Other European women wove and sold baskets in the nearby trading centers (pp. 5-29).
These household chores were tedious forcing women to work from dawn until sunset. However, with time, domestic human slavery came to their rescue. In the New England era, affluent women hired house help to assist in performing of these household duties. The inception of slavery marked the beginning of a dark era in the life of slave women. Surprisingly, men kidnapped women from their respective homes; drag them to the ocean, where they will sell them to the colonialists.
The colonialists would then take them to their homes where they will perform unskilled labor like digging in the farm, and building fences. With time, European women left domestic works like cleaning, washing, cooking and laundry to the slave women. In addition to domestic servitude, women also enjoyed profits coming from their farms. Consequently, they became rich and developed other interests. For example, they could preach Christianity to their slaves and attend numerous European social events.
The roles of women have changed significantly since colonial times. In the new era of human rights and freedoms, women have involved themselves in various roles traditionally considered as “men’s work”. During the colonial times, women performed household chores, which reduced them to mere caregivers and housekeepers.
They therefore represented families in family unit life but not in other arenas of life like politics and economic emancipation. Traditionally, women performed household chores based on their age and the place where they stayed. However, with the dawn of civilization, things started changing slowly. Nevertheless, this civilization was never to be had it not been long struggle and the quests for women say. Whenever women saw an opportunity to change societal roles, they bravely stood to resist male dominance.
The traditional settings deprived women various rights and freedoms. For example, women could not own property or inherit land. Only boys could go to school as girls stayed with their mothers at home to learn how to perform household chores. Eventually, women did not know how to read and write.
Just like Kiger and Riley (1996) notes in their book, after the end of the Second World War, women formed movements to fight for their rights and freedoms. They had witnessed massive deprivation of women rights, disparity and suppression. The prejudices against women appeared many and harsh. At one point, prominent male leaders assisted women to fight for their rights. For example, Mahatma Gandhi of India rallied behind women movements to discard men’s exploitative teachings and wipe out women’s acceptance of the status quo.
These movements saw major constitutional amendments in America and Europe to reserve legislative and political seats for women so that they can also make decisions. Moreover, women wanted to gain some rights like their male counterparts for example, schooling, occupation, ability to inherit property, reduced violence towards women, equal earnings with men, and empowerment (pp.361-370).
The desire to change women roles started during the French revolution that occurred in 1789. The revolution had declared the rights of a man and ignored those of women. On realizing this, some women called on women to come out of their cocoons and fight for their rights just like men. The true emancipation of women rights had just started. Many of them argued that the ability to confine women to specific roles was a limitation to their development.
Additionally, women saw themselves potential and able to do the work previously assumed by me. They wanted men to participate in household chore like cooking, cleaning and looking after children. At the dawn of the twentieth century, women had increased in schools. Some of them were involved in doing white-collar jobs previously done by men only. This was the beginning of feminism and the roles of women were now changing though slowly.
Women movements saw major changes in terms of the work they were doing. As time went by, and following their successful liberation, women started doing other chores outside their homes. For example, they could work in colonial farms, textile industries and shops selling different commodities. However, on the contrary, Bem remarks that (1981) women could not mix with men at the workplace. Instead, they together with their children could hide in poorly ventilated houses and work for about twelve hours a day.
Other countries like Great Britain allowed women to work for ten hours a day following the passage of legislation in 1847, which allowed them to work outside their homes. However, it took United States another century to amend legislation aimed at allowing women to participate in various job opportunities outside home. Each American state determined the time span that women worked outside their homes, and successive legislation saw the improvement of their working conditions.
Although these labor laws allowed women to work outside their homes, to some extent, they restricted some rights of employed women. For example, women could work for limited hours during the day. The labor laws restricted women from working during the night and this meant that women never assumed managerial or supervisory roles at their place of work. Women also involved themselves in other professions like formal teaching and writing (pp.354-364).
The ability of women to work outside their homes was a sign of relieve to women who wanted freedom to do what they wanted. Some women could rent their own houses and buy property amid the hardships that existed. Like their male counterparts, women worked in various firms ranging from industries to hospitals to public service.
As evidenced by Rivera (1979) in his book, many of them now schooled became lawyers, teachers, doctors, engineers, and theologians. These were roles previously assumed by men because they believed women were intellectually inferior to men. However, though educated, some companies failed to employ women citing them unable and weak.
The attitude towards the colonial woman had not changed, and men still viewed contemporary women as colonial. Even in the contemporary environment, women could not take some roles. For example, women could not work as doctors in the 18th century. In fact, there were no medical schools during this century, forcing enterprising persons to participate in medical practices. If at all women participated in chores related to medicine, then it was obstetrics due to their biological nature to give birth (pp.2-7).
At the beginning of the 19th century, education became apparent and paramount for many professional roles like medicine and law. Governments sought to protect the citizenry from malpractices in the medical arena. For instance, many married women who had bored many children assumed the role of obstetrician due to their experience.
However, they ended up harming fellow women giving birth. Ironically, although home nursing was women’s work, when it came to hospitals, only men practiced nursing. Nevertheless, women still enrolled in medical schools to learn nursing practices. It is important to note that exclusion was still domineering as women had their own medicals schools separate from those of men. Thus, women were changing their work from being home nurses to professional hospital nurses.
Research shows that by the end of 1890, United States of America had five percent of the doctors being women. A century later, the number increased to sixteen percent as education became prevalent and discriminations over women reduced. In Europe, the situation was the same as women constituted 19 and 20 percent in France and West Germany respectively.
However, due to some factors, Israel had the highest number of women doctors and dentists constituting 32 percent of all doctors in the country. On the other hand, women also feared some professions and left them to men. For instance, by 1989, the number of women lawyers and engineers was too low due to perceptions that men were smarter in these two professions. Women also though that professions like engineering required muscular people hence, leaving them to men.
During the colonial times, women taught their children household chores. However, the contemporary women took paid professional teaching positions where they teach their children in public and private schools. Due to its traditional background, teaching is one career highly dominated by women. For example, in United States, the number of women teaching elementary and schools is twice that of men.
This is because women still perform traditional roles of raising children and are comfortable with this role. As Echols (1990) notes in her research, women constitute 30 percent of college and university lecturers. Surprisingly, most of these women teach art-based subjects like sociology, home economics, education, and home science. The number of women involved in teaching law, engineering and other natural and physical sciences are too low (pp.12-47).
In colonial times, women performed traditional chores in addition to digging. However, contemporary women can still do the same but also assumes other professional works like clerical positions, manufacturing work, retail work and other service jobs. For example, in many industries, women work as machine attendants and operators.
Quite a high number of women work as secretaries, typists and managers in commercial and allied firms. Unlike in the past where women could not take managerial positions in a firm, the favorable environment has empowered women to be top managers in a firm where even men work.
Women also involve themselves in service jobs like cooking, cleaning and hairdressing for commercial purposes. Evidently, women mainly do some service jobs such as cooking and cleaning but this does not make them colonial women. After all, even the contemporary men involve themselves in some of these jobs at their various workplaces like motels and manufacturing industries.
During the colonial times, men were warriors and were the only one responsible to fight their enemies. However, in the contemporary environment, countries recruit women to serve in the armed forces. For instance, over 300, 000 women served United States Army and Navy during the Second World War in noncombatant positions such as typing, secretarial and nursing. In Europe, women were instrumental in staging dissident confrontation engagements.
In 1989, women constituted 45 percent of persons working in various sectors American economy. Many of these women held prestigious positions and made decisions on behalf of their firms of institutions.
Nevertheless, the number of women working as managers, supervisors, and other administrative jobs keeps on increasing. In future, this number will be at level with that of men holding senior positions. Nevertheless, Kerber (1989) notes that there is still discrimination of every kind at workplaces, which relegates women from earning the same salary like their male counterparts.
In United States, the senate has enacted two legislations yet to bring sanity into men and women earnings. These are the Equal Employment Opportunity Act together with a commission, and the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The number of married women working in the labor force has increased by great margin and women no longer depend on men for basic utilities (pp.565-585).
Many countries all over the world have enacted legislations that favor women rights and freedoms. For example, the European Union has been at the forefront to ensure women rights. For instance, in the Community law, gender equality clearly sets out equal opportunities for men and women.
The law prohibits discrimination of any kind in the workplaces especially those related to gender. In handling the gender issue, the European Union has adopted specific measures aimed at gender mainstreaming. Such measures include accessibility to education, poverty reduction, economic empowerment of women, and the respect for fundamental women rights and freedoms.
Most educated women can now compete favorably with men at workplaces. Through education, women became enlightened and slowly started discovering their fundamental rights and freedoms. Education empowered some women to write feminist philosophies that became paramount in the struggle for women rights and freedoms. These philosophies are the one responsible for the change of roles on women’s work.
Women receive low wages in workplaces as compared to their male counterparts. Even after the creation of the two legislations to oversee equality in wage demands, Filetti (2001) asserts that there is still continued biasness towards women. Some have even failed to secure permanent jobs because employers believe that when they get married, they will relieve their duties and go to take care of their families. Consequently, many women work as casuals with low wages (pp. 471-484).
Sexual discrimination is highly prevalent in many workplaces all over the world. The society views women as weak and unable to do muscular demanding jobs.
Moreover, sexual discrimination has locked out women from managerial and other high positions. In some institutions, male managers engage in sexual harassment of women who give in because they fear losing their jobs. However, if governments all over the world enact legislations against such vices like sexual harassment and gender equality, women will benefit greatly.
It is imperative to note that the roles of women have significantly changed from the colonial period to the contemporary era. In the past, women performed household chores as men took all other jobs. The colonial society did not allow women to receive education. This locked them from competing with men. However, after the successful struggle, women received their rights and freedoms like owning property, inheriting land, schooling and many more. Today, women compete favorable in all sectors ranging from economics to politics.
Bem, L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88,354–364.
Echols, A. (1990). Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America, 1967–1975. University of Minnesota Press.
Filetti, S. (2001). From Lizzie Borden to Lorena Bobbitt: Violent Women and Gendered Justice. Journal of American Culture, 35(3), 471–484.
Kamensky, J. (1995). The Colonial Mosaic 1600-1760. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kerber, K. (1989). Beyond Roles, Beyond Spheres: Thinking about Gender in the Early Republic. William and Mary Quarterly, 46, 565–85.
Kiger, K. & Riley, J. (1996). Gender differences in perceptions of household labor. The Journal of Psychology, 130, 357-370.
Rivera PC (1979). Women in development: the road toward liberation. Initiatives Populism, 5 (3): 2–7.