A History of European Women's Work: 1700 to the Present

A History of European Women's Work: 1700 to the Present

A History of European Women's Work: 1700 to the Present

A History of European Women's Work: 1700 to the Present

Synopsis

In A History of European Women's Work , Deborah Simonton takes an overview of trends in women's work across Europe and including Russia, Britain, Germany and France, from the pre-industrial period to the present.Focusing on the role of gender and class as it defines women's labour, this book examines:* a wide range of occupations such as teaching and farming* contrasting rates of change in different European countries* the definition of work within and outside patriarchal families* local versus Europe-wide developments* demographic and economic changes.

Excerpt

All societies and cultures redefine the gender roles of their society. Although some argue that women’s position and image in European society have always been subordinate and inferior, this is patently not the case. the concept of womanhood is complex and highly nuanced. Thus the image of woman as persistently subordinate to man was always mediated by a range of influences, while women’s experience often belied stereotypes. Notions of women exist in tension with other prevailing views in society. Values and motivations of society change virtually generation to generation, often very subtly, so that perceptions of women by any given culture similarly vary. Indeed, views of women and their role are part of society’s perception of itself, and not always the least important. So, while women affect the character of change as active participants, as workers, mothers, wives, daughters and consumers, their experience is also shaped by the nature of change. This is both about gender construction and about the way we view any society from our own vantage point. Views of women are constructed from a range of materials and on a number of levels. the variations and balances in these facets build up a society’s view of ‘woman’. Frequently, that view is constructed as an absolute, regardless of class, sometimes of nation. Values, aspirations and goals can be universally ascribed to women, so that those who do not meet, or at least approximate, an ideal are seen as ‘unwomanly’ or ‘unfeminine’—as failures. the root of women’s perceived inferiority often was due to their physical and biological weakness. Not only were they lighter, smaller, shorter and less muscular, they were subject to their own little-understood gynaecological being. They were seen as subservient to their reproductive organs, and therefore as unruly and uncontrollable creatures. These notions shaped more than medical practice; women’s political, social and economic roles were circumscribed by interpretations of female physiology. Physical weakness was transmuted into a corresponding belief in mental inferiority.

The relationship between woman and her labour is similarly mediated by a number of issues. Some, such as the nature of work available, its urban or rural character and the work process, affect men as well. in addition, key issues for women concern family and female life cycle. But work is mediated by ideology . . .

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