, Research Paper
The Impact of the Industrial Revolution on Women
Women have always worked, constantly, continuously, always and everywhere, in every type of society in every part of the world since the beginning of human time.
Traditionally a women s place was in the home – the private sphere, while the man occupied the public sphere (office or factory). When the Industrial Revolution transformed the workplace in the 18th century, it also transformed the life of women as well. This paper will focus on how life for women changed drastically when, during the revolution, factories became the most common place to work.
With the transformation from an agricultural to an industrial society, women lost the flexibility and control of their work. Instead, they commanded low-grade, low-paying, exploited occupations. They had a double burden of having to go out into the workforce and take care of all domestic responsibilities, including the sole accountability of child rearing. Each of the changes in the Industrial Revolution proved to have a negative impact on women, in a devastating way that could have never have been predicted.
The first of these changes was the move from home to factory. Women had maintained a partnership with their husbands, working beside them in the fields. With the Industrial Revolution the woman was denied an opportunity to share her husband s work. This primitive way of life, which had endured through so many thousands of years, was one of the first casualties of the revolution in labor.
Another change that had a negative impact on women was the loss of control they had as head of their households of production, along with the considerable sums of money they could generate. There was no concept of a principle male bread winner prior to the revolution – all were productive and the women was doubly so. She would bake, weave, raise pigs, etc. and whatever was left after her household requirements, she would sell. The harder she worked, the more money she made. As a waged laborer in a factory, by contrast, a women was on a fixed weekly salary, typically even lower than what children made. It behooved factory owners to hire female laborers not just because it was cheap labor, but because women typically had families at home to support, thus they accepted the poor working conditions and were more attentive and docile.
Thus, the once independent woman became economically crippled and was forced into depending on a man. And men in return perpetuated the notion that women were inferior to men. Female subordination and subjection to the power of males was harsh under the authority of a factory owner. Women were required to work extremely long hours (5:00am to 8:00pm) with infrequent chances for rest or a variation in duty. The average temperature in a factory was 80-85 degrees and taking drinks or opening a window was strictly prohibited.
To an even more vulgar end, small girls were exploited for labor. Little girls as young as 5 years old were sent down into the mines to work. Thus, condemned to work the same hours as their parents and as much of a workload, the children of the laboring poor were children only by name. Because of the fear parents had about losing the income a child could generate and because they did not want to lose their standing with the factory owners, parents were powerless to challenge the abusers of their children.
I believe, as illustrated in my arguments above, the impact of the Industrial Revolution on women was quite extensive. It facilitated not only significant changes in their work routine, but the quality of their life as a whole. Furthermore, I believe some of the attitudes that were perpetuated during the revolution still exist today in many countries all over the world. Many continue to believe that women are inferior, their chores menial. The fact that the domestic responsibilities women commonly had were called chores , illustrates just how demeaning male egocentric attitudes were. The word chore, no doubt coined by a man, for things like child rearing, providing food, etc. is incredibly moronic. During the 18th century, women were cheap tools to be exploited for monetary gain.
Although women have obviously succeeded, at least in the United States, in obtaining the same rights as men (voting, etc.) we still do not typically command equal pay. Just as in the 18th century, women today still bear the double burden of going out into the workforce and taking care of most of the domestic responsibilities. Only over the last 2 decades have we seen significant advances towards men and women, husbands and wives, becoming partners once again. We may not be plowing fields together, but men are beginning to share in the home-life duties that used to solely belong to women. Women are taking the field in areas that only men used to occupy, such as the military, the sciences, and space programs. Thus, hundreds of years after the Industrial Revolution began, women are still fighting for equality in the arena that that revolution forced them into.