Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Role of women in times of social change

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 2785 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

From a passive housewife to an active member of society – in times of social change, where are our women heading? So, what influenced the women in our society to change? With smiles on their faces and freshly cooked meals on the tables, they used to wait for their husbands to come back home from work. Their ambitions were centred on the marriage, fulfilment of the role of a proud housewife and devoted mother and the economic security that their husbands, the breadwinners, have provided them. But, in the past fifteen years, a woman’s path from an obeying housewife to an emancipated, independent and active member of society has been both, a cause and a reflection of social change in the UK.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Feminine mystique

Looking back to the past decade, there has been significant influences from the Women’s Liberation Movement that has tackled the traditional gender roles. America has not only brought the drive to invent the clever labour saving devices designed to liberate women from domestic drudgery, it has, also, introduced Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique to our British ladies. In this feminist classic of 1963 Friedan claimed:

“…The women who grow up wanting to be just a housewife are in as much danger as the millions who walked to their own death in concentration camps (Friedan in Fermaglich,2006,p.58).”

Her strong views of the women’s position in society have caused historians to charge her with carelessness, insensitivity and exaggeration. However, nobody could stop the raising assertiveness of women who claimed that the labour saving virtues of modern household technology were countered by an expansion of maternal duties and more exacting levels of cleanliness.

As feminists point out, for women of the 1950s in general, happiness was defined by a stereotyped view of the woman’s role as a homemaker and consequently, many women experienced social isolation. Women were expected to give up work once married and magazines such as Woman portrayed the image of a ‘perfect housewife’ as the social norm1 [0] . These high, and often impossible expectations are some of the causes that make the depressed housewife one of the more frequent visitors to the councillor’s office1 [1] .

Challenging the traditional values

With growing female dissatisfaction and frustration, the rise of feminism is quite understandable as many women have begun to question their image of domesticity in the sixties. The teenagers, in particular, have challenged their, rather prescribed roles and as the young girls have developed into women, they promoted more liberal attitudes. The rising female resilience towards social constrains have resulted in a union of British feminist movements. With their aim to promote equality between the genders, at the first National Women’s Liberation Conference held in 1970, they assertively demanded equal pay, free contraception and abortion on request, equal educational and job opportunities as well as free twenty-four-hour childcare [10] .

Betty Friedan had set up the National Organisation of Women in 1966The success of feminism in bringing about the legal changes cannot be denied. In the past decade, the passing of the Abortion Act 1967, Divorce Reform Act 1969 and Equal Pay Act 1970 [11] have made the women the main beneficiaries. However, the feminist conference and the four iconic demands took place after the government legislated in favour of women. This proves that some social injustices are still affecting women which are beyond the scope of legislation. These belong to the world of embedded prejudice among women as well as men. Even with their significant achievements, feminists still struggle to change the principal attitude at large – we are still witnessing social and moral restraints that many women, particularly single mothers, spinsters and divorcees face [12] .

Education was another useful tool by which girls’ expectations were manipulated. The universal secondary education and the expansion of universities in the 1960s facilitated admissions of women to higher education, but women felt frustrated that better jobs were still going to men even with their equal qualification [13] . Therefore, the emancipated, middle class girls have promoted the feminism as they benefited the most from the campaigns for equal rights. However, women from the lower classes have seen feminism as nothing more than the obsession of the middle class [14] as they did not feel the direct affects of the feminists urge for women’s liberation.

Girls work – girls shop!

Still, the most encouraging trend indicating the change in the society is that more women are working outside their homes. Nevertheless, researchers take 1961 as the critical point when, for the first time, it was the married women who dominated among the female workforce. As the figures have been steadily rising since then, historians and sociologists predict that we are heading in a way where by 1980 two thirds of all women at work will be married [15] .

The reasons and impacts of this trend cannot be ignored. While many women view work as an escape from the loneliness of their homes, the families where both parents are in work benefit from an increase in consumer power. With an extra income, there are opportunities for a holiday or purchase of a car [16] . Therefore, the higher standard of living is an inspiration for married women to work [17] and also, a persuasive argument for their husbands to accept the new trend. This change has largely transformed the old fashioned attitude of the 1950s where working women are portrayed as a threat by depriving men of their jobs [18] .

Combined with the increased family income and low figures of unemployment, new attitudes systematically led to a general increase in consumerism. Nevertheless, if all the reinforcement of feminism and the recent change in the law have caused Britain to ‘go girlie’, female natural affinities are not to be overseen. The fact is – girls shop! [19] .

Feminist propagandaThe new, liberating fashion for young women, mini skirts and see-through blouses, welcomed the beginning of the buy-and-throw-away consumer culture as we know it today. Even after the feminists criticised the new styles as a reinforcement of the new female stereotypes, relatively cheap clothes as designed by Biba have helped to create the concept of shopping as a leisure activity which has spread from young women to society at large [20] .

Apart from fashion, the challenging attitudes of the younger generation had an impact on society in many ways. Teenage girls embraced feminism as it complied with the rebellious nature of the youth culture who were urged not to accept tamely what they were told, but to make their own judgements [21] . This presents the biggest threat to the future of the old fashioned, traditionalist Britain and if by looking at our offspring we can draw predictions about our future, the feminists are the ones to celebrate.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Equal Pay – fact or a myth?

Families with both spouses in work contributed to an economic emancipation of society and allowed women to gain a degree of independence. But, less encouraging is that, in every occupation, employers restricted women to particular kinds of work, where they must accept low skilled and inferior jobs [22] . But, towards the end of the sixties, as the female workforce grew and women became generally more liberated, there was a growing attitude that discrimination was wrong [23] .

This injustice has inspired over eight hundred women, sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham factory to surprise the country with their strike for equal pay in 1968. Even after the striking women agreed to 92% of male wages, their actions, the support of the first female Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, and the urging of the feminists, have publicly highlighted the existence of the discrimination of women in the sixties. This has subsequently led to the reform and the passing of the Equal Pay Act in 1970 [24] .

For most women, the feminist’s ideas about female fulfilment was alien and unrealistic, therefore, the majority regarded it as a movement of the affluent middle class [25] . But the sewing machinists proved that the there has been a change of attitudes in general as women from all social classes wanted better and more equal roles in the society.

Having afternoon tea with the Secretary of State – women of DagenhamBut, five years after the changes have been made in the law, employer’s discrimination still leaves the gender gap [26] . The types of jobs that traditionally belong to women, such as nursing, remain less paid than the ones dominated by men. The evidence of inequality between the genders is in brutally honest statistics – in the past ten years the salaries of women increased less rapidly on average than those of men. Today, average earnings of women is just a little more than half of those of men [27] .

However, the life stories of Yvonne Pope, the first women Air Traffic Controller in 1960 who has also earlier this year became the first women pilot and Annie Nightingale, the first woman on Radio One inspire many girls. Even while the debate about the principle ‘equal pay for equal work’ continues, these women, pioneers in the world of male employment give optimism to many young girls.

Working mothers, the pill, abortion on request: Is modern society exterminating us?

The defenders of a traditional, patriarchal family have made the link between the recent fall in birth rates and increases in female employment. Their accusing finger points to a direct causal effect of the women in work which subsequently strengthens the beliefs that women belong at home. This attitude is still embedded in society, although a report in 1963 denied any correlation between the two. Still, many women, even today, feel guilty when applying for jobs [28] .

While Penelope Mortimer and Margaret Drabble wrote articles in which they supported the traditionalist views by glorifying the position of women as mothers, feminists questioned the belief that women could only be fulfilled through motherhood [29] . They also campaigned for the right to family planning measures and the first effective contraception pill has undoubtedly become the feature of the decade. Even after officially going on sale in 1961, the turning point was in 1969 [30] when it became an available choice to all women regardless of their marital status. The feminist’s eight year long battle to make the pill available to everyone proves how effortful it was to change the traditional attitudes towards motherhood and sex.

The Pill was largely criticized by many, but probably the most disputed of the sixties reforms is the Abortion Act 1967 [31] . Even though it was illegal in the early sixties, the expensive West End clinics performed thousands of abortions a year. At the other end of the social scale, horrific back-street abortions with coat-hangers and unofficially trained clinicians were the main cause of avoidable maternal death [32] . Even so, abortion is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church who asserts how all life is sacred [33] and not even all feminists agreed with it [34] . However, the passing of the Abortion Act is, after all, a powerful indicator of the extent to which women had become more emancipated.

Decline in birth ratesVoluntary child bearing and the increase in divorce rates as a consequence of the passing of the Divorce Reform Act 1969 have all had a transforming effect on domestic life, the idea of home, and all the roles and functions of womanhood [35] . These play the important factors in producing smaller families as does increased family affluence which have made people choose their priorities with care. Even the modern architecture reinforces the trend towards smaller families – new houses are designed for families with only two or three children [36] .

So, where are our women heading?

When analysing social change, it is important to stress the diversity in aspirations of British women. Whether that is as a housewife or as a career woman, some are free to choose their lifestyle, but others are still constrained by the attitudes and norms of the society they live in. The changes in government policy extended women’s choices, but it remains to be seen if they have achieved the right balance between work and family. However, it is the social as well as economic circumstances which unavoidably leave some women more equal than others. In the future these issues will need to be addressed if women are to overcome the discrimination that still exists3 [7] . However, the promotion of equality between the genders by the younger generations indicate, not a revolution, but a slow evolution of a women’s role in British society.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: