Women and Feminism in America since 1877

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During the nineteenth century, there was an ideological ascendancy of medicine and science that interlinked to spread industrialization. The industrialization was to promote the sexual division of labor that assumed biology as destiny. The ideological determination on how women were viewed had it that their role was fixed as caregivers and bearing children. The qualities requisite to the success of the political and economic were linked to the biological notions of femininity and masculinity which meant that both minds and bodies of women were naturally positioned to power.

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By then, women were regarded as subordinate. The resistance into the viewing the sexual differences varied both culturally and historically which was later considered to be against the modern backdrop, and contemporary feminism was to be understood. Feminism consolidated into political movement due to the seen participation of the women in another reformist, radical and revolutionary activities (Mangan and Roberta 37).

Equality through Difference

There was a model during Victorian era who founded the ideals of domesticity. The model with the idea of True Womanhood, did not hold true for real women who did not affect the lives of the women. The women particularly considered under the middle class were the ones who were able to live to conform to True Womanhood. At all time, they were staying at home to devote most of their time to their family leaving their men to fulfill their role of being the breadwinner. This made them remain devotedly religious and sexually pure. The only important part here was that they were not interfering with the lives of their men and therefore remained untainted from the public sphere.

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Throughout the 1870’s, women continued to be faced with less formal gatherings that had to discuss the family, political, educational, economic and legal rights but they could meet in conventions. The only women who could participate in the broad spectrum of fighting slavery and alcohol and even protest movement were the white females and the middle-class women. These women were even allowed to advocate for the rights of the poor and the immigrants (Evans 242). The importance of the movement that the women took part in enabled the women to get the opportunity to sharpen and develop ideological and organizational skills. Even after gaining all these skills, women still got barred from holding the positions of power that were equal to their male counterparts. Therefore in America, women began to focus on their status after being denied the top positions.

Women and Civil War in America

At the time the American civil war broke during the period of a round 1861, the attention of women and their considerable energy were turned into the conflict. In both South and North, women got gathered in aid societies, at home and circulated positions to take the role of masculine duties to run the household. However much these functions kept the women at home, most of them wanted to support their position near to the battlefield.

Being faced with the low payment during the civil war, they were also faced with prostitution and even grueling factory work; the poorer ones followed their husbands, fathers or even brothers to the camp. The slave women got protection in those camps thought they were vulnerable to the horrors of war making them provide protection for themselves and even the children from Confederate raiders who could attempt killing, rapping and capturing them. By that time, the most promising option was to escape to a Union Camp.

Many of the middle class and the poor women who united with the troops, some worked as soldiers while other worked as nurses. During this period of war, around 10000 women played the role of nurses in both Confederate and the side of the union. Fewer zealous women got enlisted with troops and were disguised as men. For both female soldiers and nurses, their duty required forgoing the innocence and modesty attributed to the white woman during the period of civil war (Weeks 83).

Some patriotic women played the role of spying, and this could allow them to capitalize and maintain their femininity. The war dramatically interfered with the functions of the women in the American society. The roles of the gender became malleable as even stepping out of middle-class women and at the level of the households, they were forced to undertake the roles that were played by their male counterparts.

The leading feminist movement: 1870s to 1919

The suffragists

After the periods of the 1870s, suffragists put some great focus on winning the right of women to vote, and during this time, the argument became slightly different from the suffragists that were there before the outbreak of the civil war. During this period, the early reformers argued that being that women were regarded as human beings, they possessed the right to vote. From the end of the 1970s, suffragists took a different direction and argued that there was the difference in women where in some cases, some were even better than men. For example, women were more spiritual, pure of heart and noble than people. The reformers later concluded that, if women were granted the right to vote, they could help in purifying the political corruption in the United State (Mangan and Roberta 57).

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The social Feminists

There was an agreement between the suffragists and the secular feminists that women were to get to vote under a condition that, they dedicate themselves to social reforms instead of suffrage. The then the prominent leaders of the settlement were Florence Kelley and Jane Addams. Kelley was a social reformer and prominent feminist. On the generation of women, Kelley became the first female to have gained access to higher education after graduating from Cornell University in 1882.

The new generation of social feminists became more conservative and also pragmatic. In the year 1890, there was a reunion of AWSA and NWSA which formed NAWSA (National American Women Suffrage Association). The union was led by Carrie Chapman Catt who believed that women had a natural political right to participate in politics and also wanted the women to possess the right to vote to reform the society (Iversen 341). He believed that, if women had the political power, they were not only able to improve their own life but also for their children and also were able to be influential to the whole globe on the duty of promoting the world peace (Okihiro 97).

Radical feminists

This feminist offered a sharp critique of American politics, economics, and society. The well-known radical feminist, Charlotte Perkins of (1860-1935) who was also a lecturer, sociologist, self-proclaimed socialist and an author. In her book, she earned more fame for arguing that, the common humanity that was to be shared by both women and men was essential than the sexual differences. She added that it’s not biology but the social environment that determined the role women and men in the society. In her generalization, in the wider aspect of industrial society, women would be left to leave their home for them to participate a broader contribution to the community (Newton, Mary and Judith 120).

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America has undergone a profound transformation, and this is evident from when it moved from the agrarian nation where the free settlers were and changed drastically into both industrial and urban society. The disenfranchisement and subjection of women added to those problems because it made the solution to be harder to arrive at. This made other nations that were experienced with the same issues such as New Zealand to take corrective measures.

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  1. Evans, Richard J. The feminists: women’s emancipation movements in Europe, America and Australasia 1840-1920. Routledge, 2012.
  2. Iversen, Joan Smyth. The Antipolygamy Controversy in US Women’s Movements, 1880-1925: A Debate on the American Home. Routledge, 2014.
  3. Mangan, James Anthony, and Roberta J. Park, eds. From fair sex to feminism: Sport and the socialization of women in the industrial and post-industrial eras. Routledge, 2013.
  4. Newton, Judith L., Mary P. Ryan, and Judith R. Walkowitz, eds. Sex and Class in Women’s History: Essays from Feminist Studies. Vol. 30. Routledge, 2012.
  5. Okihiro, Gary Y. Margins and mainstreams: Asians in American history and culture. University of Washington Press, 2014.
  6. Weeks, Jeffrey. Sex, politics and society: The regulations of sexuality since 1800. Routledge, 2014.
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