When you repeat something out loud a little too often, it turns true, isn’t it?
Ever wonder when you see your little girl playing house? She makes tea, bakes a cake in the tiny kitchen, feeds the kids and puts them to bed; standing at the door of the play house she waves goodbye to the man of the house who is going out to work. Then she gets back to her chores in the playhouse. We look, gush over and smile – how cute!
She grows up and we don’t hesitate to tell her ‘it’s time to get married’. If we had enough, we educated each of our kids including the girls or maybe we were struggling to make ends meet and only enrolled the sons in schools. Of course, we don’t fail to teach her that a woman is complete when she bears child and her best achievement is a well-cooked meal.
That reminds me of when I had just graduated and stepping out in the world with big dreams of working abroad and traveling the world. One of my father’s close colleagues and senior from the Indian Army asked me about my plans. I shared my thoughts with him with all of youth’s excitement and ambition. He looked at me, smiled and said, “That’s nice. But have you thought this through? It’s not as if you have to build a career”. Maybe I did want to build a career (Reaction: raised eyebrows!! Result: tiny puncture in the confidence bubble) but it was naturally expected for marriage to be my first priority. Rest could follow with my husband by my side. I have since travelled the world, worked abroad in different countries and built a life. But how much have perceptions really changed?
Let’s look down history – There is a huge historical misconception that women have only worked in the very recent past, emerging from their suburban housewifery after the second world war to begin their climb towards the glass ceiling. But in reality, the modern idea of the housewife is an invention. The historian Amy Erickson estimates that up to 98% of married women were engaged in waged labour in 18th century London. (Ref 2).
The power-driven machinery in the English and Scottish textile industries were introduced in the second half of the eighteenth century revolutionizing and transforming Western Europe and United States all through the nineteenth century. But far more than the cotton textile industry was transformed in the course of this revolution. Public perception of paid work shifted from heavy labour to office jobs.
All over the world, occupations have been professionalized over the 19th and 20th centuries through and following the industrial revolution and women kept playing catch-up battling the inertia of long-standing religious and educational conventions. Lack of access to education continued delaying women’s entry into higher professions.
[Cambridge University fully validated degrees for women late in 1947 after much opposition and acrimonious debate]
Before the dawn of the Industrial Revolution Britain was immensely different than the one that exists today. In the United States, life was, for most of the population, the life of a farmer. Education was poor, only the rich had the privilege of tutors and nannies. Politics was based upon land ownership and military honors won, with women and ordinary men given few rights. Life as a result was a constant struggle against famine, a wicked landlord, overwork and sheer bad luck. (Sounds like much of Asia today, isn’t it?) Industrial revolution reached some parts of the world a bit late and just added to the confusion of cultural changes. Industrialization would change only some of these worries and women had a long terrain to trek. (Ref 3)
Expectation of right and wrong for a woman hasn’t much changed in either developed or developing countries irrespective of scientific or economic growth and every tiny shift for women as a group has always been discussed, debated and allowed reluctantly.
Women have contributed to their communities mainly through agricultural work. In Southern & Western Asia and Africa 20% women work in paid non-agricultural jobs. Women have traditionally managed the ‘hawker’ stalls in Central America, South Asia & Africa. By 2012, 63%(5) of Filipinos working outside the country as domestic workers are women supporting families back home. Construction work, hard labour, seamstresses, manufacturing; where have you not seen women through history and in modern times?
While I might be the ‘ultimate leftover’ woman by Chinese standards and looked down upon by the stereotype maintaining society; we all forget that women have always worked outside their homes. Centuries before the industrial revolution or after…. while bearing and rearing children and taking care of homes.
Change begins with shift in thought one woman at a time. You have a right to know and realize your true potential!
1. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=2004352&fileId=S0268416008006772 2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/09/history-victorians-housewives-five-myths-violent-vikings
6. Featured image – http://www.sheva.com