Society Shaping Gender Roles
Traditionally, both males and females were too preoccupied with earning enough money to survive to concern themselves with gender issues or bias towards women at work or home. Until the second half of the 20-th century, the majority of men had no alternative over their own destiny in life. Their only ways of making money to barely survive were as factory workers or soldiers. Men were closely guarding their positions at work and in society because they felt important and needed by taking care of their wives and children. The ideas about gender roles have become widespread only in the 1960’s – the time when society, probably, for the first time in centuries fully realized that women deserved a special place in the society. This paper, be referring to Edith Wharton’s “The other two” and Louisa May Alcott’s “My mysterious Mademoiselle”, analyzes how society shapes gender roles through supporting male/female stereotypes and examines various types of struggles females have to undergo proving their worth in the contemporary world.
One has to note that though cultural diversity makes generalizations difficult, some broad tendencies may be traced. Gender roles are nested in a clearly sex-separated society. Patriarchal notions are deeply rooted in many countries’ histories.
Edith Wharton in her story “The other two” clearly illustrates that in urban settings, women have clearly become second-class citizens that needed to struggle in order to defend their natural rights. Inequalities characterize urban social structures, gender being a status indicator. Inequalities are evident in education, employment, and salaries, deepening in the poorest sectors. As put by Wharton in her story, females have been always dependent on males in getting social recognition. “Alice Haskett’s remarriage with Gus Varick was a passport to the set whose recognition she coveted” (Wharton 3). Furthermore, the author shows that inequalities may underlie a series of legal and tacit obligations and rights, such as a woman’s needing her husband’s authorization to work or males’ control of their partner’s sex life and contraceptive practices.
The critical situation of the agrarian economy has led to change in the productive value of motherhood. Before, as many hands as possible were needed to cultivate the land. Now, with no means to feed her children, rural peasant women may want to limit fertility in the family, only she lacks knowledge of contraception means or has no access to them.
High fertility rates currently characterize the less educated and poorest women. Education seems closely linked to feminine self-perception, to traditional sexual attitudes, and to contraceptive behavior. Assuming that the maternal role is natural and unquestionable, women have faced discrimination (including self-discrimination) in economic and political realms. Women, especially rural migrants, have become involved in informal commerce and poorly paid services, earning less than males for equal jobs. A group among them has developed entrepreneurial interests and initiatives and is becoming considerably skilled in buying and selling national or imported goods.