Women have only been out of their box for about 50 years, and we’ve made a lot of progress. It is not surprising that a lot remains to be accomplished. Morality, religion, and power structures resist change, and this change has been a big one.
Until the 18th or 19th century women (except aristocrats) were part of the same business and daily routine as their husbands. They managed farms or blacksmith forges or grocery stores together. There was a separation of labor, but even if women’s duties were mainly at home, she and her husband were part of the same community.
The big change happened when men left home to work. Then women sank out of the commercial loop, didn’t know the people and issues which were occupying their husbands’ days; they languished. I would have too.
The Victorian ideal of fragile, sex-averse womanhood was about as destructive to women as any idea could be. I think that if I were regarded as the “angel of the household,” I might have become a hysteric too.
In the Victorian era, “nice” women were walled off from effective contraception and abortion by religious and social tropes. In no other period of history were women so out of touch with methods to prevent and terminate unwanted pregnancies. (That’s another story, dealt with in my short book called The History of Abortion, available on Kindle.)
In the 20th century, women proved themselves good workers during the Second World, the Pill was discovered, they joined spiritual forces with the civil rights movement, and laws changed in their favor.
I grew up in the 1950s when, for middle class white women like myself, marriage was the one and only goal. “They changed the rules on us midstream,” said one of my high school classmates. Suddenly, we had to work, but we also had to take care of the home. Our male counterparts did not know how to do laundry, cook, iron, take care of babies, or entertain, so we continued doing those things too. Women were forced to change; for men, it was optional. Many men my age still don’t know how to cook or do the laundry.
Now is the moment, two, or maybe three, generations after mine, when things are really changing. It has taken time for society, religion, and morality to catch up with the Pandora’s Box that was Women’s Liberation. There is still a cohort which clings to the old days but they are never coming back.
I wish I could be here 50 years from today, when no generation will remember the Old Days. There are certain bad things about setting women free, and we have to learn to deal with them, but I couldn’t go backwards.