Gender roles are prescribed to a person by the society, that’s why there exists a two-way bond between the social and gender evolution. The twentieth century was marked by a u-turn in re-evaluation of woman’s position in society and overcoming (although partial) of stereotypical historically established views on what rights and opportunities she is supposed to have.
1920 was a kind of reference point, a culmination of the movement, which had originated over seventy years before. Having received the right to vote though the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, American women broke out of the shell of their household and started a long way to become full-fledged subjects of social and political process. So far, women’s social life had been bound to the family circle. A researcher writes: “Maternity, the natural biological role of women, has traditionally been regarded as their major social role as well. The resulting stereotype that “a woman’s place is in the home” has largely determined the ways in which women have expressed themselves” (Women’s History in America, 1994)
However, it was not politics but economics that over a few next decades made an dramatic impact on women’s roles. The transition from initially an agricultural economy to an industrial one marked the era of urbanization. In farmers’ families the two spouses shared duties of common business, whereas the new city settlers’ lifestyle was quite different –it relied primarily on a single wage-earner, usually a husband.
In 1960s the share of working women increased up to one- third, twice the proportion in 1940. In terms of figures, the change seems to be significant but the evidence shows that the real situation had more of the older stereotypes’ reflections. “Tests made in the 1960s showed that the scholastic achievement of girls was higher in the early grades than in high school. The major reason given was that the girls’ own expectations declined because neither their families nor their teachers expected them to prepare for a future other than that of marriage and motherhood. This trend has been changing in recent decades”. (Women’s History in America, 1994) Besides, there existed a problem, which, I believe, hasn’t been solved until now- the duality of woman’s roles, the tension between the role of a wife and mother, on the one hand, and the role of the professional working person, on the other hand.
In 1970s due to feminist movement the Congress adopted a few laws, which were aimed at protection of women against gender discrimination in employment and education. “A 1974 law gave domestic workers minimum wage protection; a law passed in 1978 barred discrimination in employment against pregnant women; in 1984, Congress strengthened child support laws and pension rights of widows and divorced women”
Have women’s roles changed for the better? The answer is “yes”. The biggest achievement of the gender evolution of the twentieth century, described above, lies in the fact that for the first time woman got the chance to exceed the prescribed status of a housewife and at least got the opportunity ( not only declarative but also financial!) to decide herself about her life. The right of choice is probably the most essential for her to feel an independent personality, not just her husband property. At the moment over 60 percent of women work. Even though the percentage of female politicians is not high, women got enough influence to affect those in power to solve their problems.
Have problem remained? The answer is “yes”. While enjoying their new gender role at work, most women face the older gender roles at home. That’s why working full time they have to perform the bulk of family duties. Modern men find it hard to part with convenient stereotypes according to which it is a woman who has cook, clean, care about the kids and so on. Still I believe the problem is the majority of women are not ready for gender role shift as well. They transform the conventional patterns from their parents’ family to their own and rarely doubt the family life can be organized differently. At least, they have a choice.