Him/Her/Self: Essay, Research Paper
Him/Her/Self: Gender Identities in Modern America
The role of middle-class Victorian women is the focus of Women and the World and Women and the Home. The wives, mothers, belles and virgins only role and purpose in this era were to dedicate their lives to the needs of their husbands and families. A woman is nobody. A wife is everything. This was the role that Victorians assigned to the female sex; these were the boundaries of female rights. (pg. 7, Filene) This less than satisfying life style led women to seek refuge by religious practices and/or female companionships, such as women s groups. This way of life, with no other outlets then stated above, brought about such inner turmoil, that women suffered an illness labeled nervousness . These times were hard for women and many women started taking control over their lives by limiting sexual intercourse, which led to the reduction of STD s and high birth rates.
This was also the beginning of labor saving devices for the home. In the making and use of modern appliances, to ease the burdens of housewives, they caused women to lose their hired-help and work long, tedious hours with no outside help. For the first time the True Women emerged outside the home. The long battle for equality was beginning and with it came the start of the women s suffrage movement.
Women were leaving home and entering the world. A small percentage went off to college and started careers afterwards. Women were redefining themselves, personally and as a class. Divorce rates were increasing and the birth rate was declining. The Crisis of Family placed blame on the higher education of females. Of course, this threatened the ethical order of male society. This scared the male population, so in order to deter female rebellion, Congress tried to place emphasis back on the home by declaring a national holiday, Mother s Day . This tradition started solely to redirect women s priorities back to the home front: to encourage the career as homemaker, wife and mother. In reality it was a ploy to keep women in the home and under male ruling. Feminists saw this as an opportunity to fight for equal rights against the male society that enslaved and dominated women.
In chapter three, Men and Manliness, The New Woman era comes forth and with it comes the revelation of men s insecurities. Two types of women threatened men s manhood, the Gibson Girl and the Career Woman . Women were exploring their sexuality more and found they enjoyed passion. Men were angry and disgusted. Why? Some of the answer has to with men s concern that passion would impair delicate female health, but more of the answer derives from their fear that female passion would deplete their own masculine strength. (pg. 98, Filene) Women were not portraying the lady like image that their mothers portrayed. Men saw this as seeds of destruction which would lead to destruction of the home and ultimate chaos in society. Man depended on woman to keep him pure and clean and the Too frequent intercourse would drain away his vital fluids and leave him weakened, impotent, unmanly. (pg. 98, Filene)
In Time of War focused on men finding an outlet for their frustrations. Sports, namely baseball, was one such way. Baseball, not being such a violent sport, resembled in some ways the qualities of the Victorian man with its honesty, physical fitness, courage, initiative, self-control, teamwork. (pg. 101, Filene) With WWI, men were able to enact and repossess the manliness that modern America lacked while achieving political and psychological reassurances. Ultimately the real war helped men find virtues that they failed to find before. While men were fighting the war, women were finally taking the place of men on the home front, in careers and sexually.
The 1920 s saw the beginning of a new and modern era. Women had won the right to vote, but for some it was also a disappointment. Many women had no interest in politics and did not care to vote. A sample of nonvoting women told two political scientists, they were not interested in politics, because their husbands had failed to remind them, and especially because they did not believe women should vote. (pg. 128, Filene) This attitude was very disappointing to the feminists. Women were finally able to work outside the home, but it was more out of necessity than a victory of equality. Women wanted careers and families and this put a burden on husbands who had to show cooperation and equal union, both emotionally and financially. Men were losing the role of dominant husband and turning into poor old dad .
After WWI, the Great Depression came. It emotionally and financially devastated everyone. Women had to return to the home and men were having difficult times keeping and finding jobs. Equality between men and women was no longer the issue it was survival at stake. Families were forced to live in poverty. In 1941, WWII brought about another change in events. Women were back out in the workforce.
Some women took over the jobs that men had left. By 1945, the nation was booming economically and the employment rate was soaring. Men came home from the war and marriages and birth rates rose drastically. The country was now entering the baby boom era. During this time the dominant role in the home fell to the woman. Men no longer were the predominant force. Male dominance, in the home, had deteriorated because so much of their time and energy was spent out in the workforce. Women focused their attention on the home and the upbringing of their children.
The 1960 s brought forth the children of the baby boomers . This new generation shocked the country by their sudden assault on the established cultural institutions and values . (pg. 191, Filene) Sit-ins, freedom rides, marches and picket lines were only the beginning of this generation. (pg. 199, Filene) For the first time in history a younger generation was questioning the existence of life. This younger generation believed in love not war. They questioned political issues, education and employment. Women were being seen and heard. Men were discovering themselves in their emotions, compassion and sexual preferences, by the 1970 s. Men wanted their humanity back. Feminism, the men s movement, and gay and lesbian issues were the focus of debate and controversy. Even now, in today s world, these issues are still at hand and will most likely remain until real equality exists.
These past generations paved the way for a type of leniency in the early 70 s, my high school years. No more dress codes, off-campus lunches, even to the extent of designated smoking sections on school property. Until reading Him/Her/Self, I never knew the extent of the fight for personal freedom and sacrifices women went to. I admire these courageous women but the fight is not over. Nor is the fight now just for women s rights. All people, men and women, of each color and race must band together to fight against all discrimination. Whether discrimination is in the workforce, the healthcare system and schools or in the privacy of the home, no person is created equal.