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How Did Industrialization Change the Social Class Structure?

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The period of nineteenth-century witnesses Europe’s revitalizing in efforts of revolution of the people amidst the rise of the industrial power resulting in a new kind class that gained a new force, a cultural movement driven by morale and most of all the non-elites fighting for their power. A revolutionary period, as it served as a place of series of pandemonium that wasn’t just of men but of the women of home. There is evidence of the women experiencing these social upheavals as there is evidence of women in the workplace along with the rapid industrialization of Europe, with the rising middle class, the roles of women change with a changing family structure along with the Victorian morale of a public and private sphere. Most importantly, women ask for their right to an individual voice on a national level as a form of suffrage. Overall, in this century, there is a public awakening of the existence of a place of women in the centuries of patriarchal society.

Industrialization originates from the mechanization of production. Paralleling to the mechanization of human beings, there is the mechanization of humans, as they participate in the new way of living. Affection or familial bonds are replaced, by a valuation determined by the capacity to contribute to the family’s survival as a ‘unit’ of labor and exchange; family members are thus no longer (or merely nominal) fathers, mothers, or children, but rather owners/managers and labor force. Wage labor effectively converts mothers into instruments for the reproduction of labor and laborers and children into ‘articles of commerce. Industrialization changed the nature of the economy becoming one that is driven on capital. Those who worked in these localities, like the factories, experienced their roles as members of a society to sources of capital. The mechanization of human labor fundamentally shifted the nature of the domestic structure where all members of the family contributed to the family income. Already subjugated within the realms of domesticity in a patriarchal society, once women stepped into the workforce, they witnessed the double marginalization as a worker. Women in the factories were not just subjugation in factories because of their gender, but also because of their class. Class consciousness becomes a growing element of societies, so as proletariat, women not only experienced subjugation because of their male superiors, mainly bourgeois, but also because of the class they belonged to. Prior to the rapid changes brought forth by industrialization, women had jobs of producing children as a form of duty to domestic life. Due to industrialization, women see a shift in their purpose to produce children not for a domestic life, but for sources of wages. This is evidence that the 19th century rapidly shifts the family dynamic, specifically women’s role in their homes, because not only are they contributing to the family income, despite inequalities in the workplace, but they are also producing sources of the family income.

Working in factories for women was not the only means of survival and income. With the rapid urbanization, those moved to cities like Manchester experienced the wrath of attempting to make a living in the city where wages were too low, to fulfill everyone’s salary. This directly affects women, because, amongst the rapid industrialization and urbanization, they sought ways to make money. One of these ways was businesses of prostitution. In ‘Madam Tribute of Babylon’, W.T. Stead, interested in sensational journalism finds the women work in these lines of work because they have no other choice to do anything else. A way of child labor was to send young girls of a family off for the sake of making money. Some of the victims of this situation were parents who sent young girls who are yet to become women to a place for their virginities to be taken away. Stead points out: “Children of twelve and thirteen cannot offer any serious resistance. They only dimly comprehend what it all means. Their mothers sometimes consent to their seduction for the sake of the price paid by their seducer. The child goes to the introducing house as a sheep to the shambles. Once there, she is compelled to go through with it. No matter how brutal the man may be, she cannot escape. ‘If she wanted to be seduced, and came here to be seduced’, – says the keeper, ‘I shall see that she does not play the fool. The gentleman has paid for her, and he can do with her, what he likes’” (Stead). This all suggests the length at which parents have to go because of the rapid changes taking place in society.

Upon stepping into the public life, taking charge of a role that demanded an individualistic voice, women begin to openly realize that due to the new found change in them working the same jobs as men, they deserve to equal rights to men. One of the prominent rights: the right to voice. With the upheavals of revolution in parts of Europe at the time, where a working man asked for their right to voice in the national forum, women also initiated their movement of the right to voice. A prominent example at the time in France. Olympe de Gouge, French feminist responding to the Declaration of Rights of Men, writes Declaration of Rights of Women, where she asks about the possibility of women’s rights. Some examples of the rights she demands from the National Assembly are a representation of women body, a right for an equality in punishment by the law, or the inheritance of a property of a mother transferred over to her child. With the distress that lack of representation of a class emerging, women begin to see that aside from class, their entire gender is excluded from the right to voice or representation. With the often fear of opinions, de Gouge explicitly points out, “No one should be punished for his or her opinions. The woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she should likewise have the right to speak in public, provided that her demonstrations do not disrupt public order as established by the law” (de Gouge Article 10). Women amongst the preexisting distress around them sought to find a voice without fear of getting arrested (although de Gouge ends up arrested for her rallying cry for women’s voice in politics).

Whereas writers like de Gouge wrote out their plea for a voice in the patriarchal society, Emmeline Pankhurst sought to acquire public status and voice for women through militant means. Her militancy is a response to the hypocrisy of the English government, where there are rallying cries of democracies of the people, lacking the majority of the population’s representation. In her speech ‘Why we are Militant?’ Pankhurst explains, “Although we have a so-called democracy, and the so-called representative government there, England is the most conservative country on Earth” (Pankhurst). The limitations to the monarchy by parliament were a facade, because in reality those who were in parliament as the representers of people, were all male, who in no way could ever represent the rights of women. Pankhurst shares the response she thinks violence has by stating, “Men got the right to vote because they were and would be violent. The women did not get it because they were constitutional and law-abiding” (Pankhurst). This statement, in fact, is valid. Historically, when any disenfranchised group wanted to bring reform to the system, they immediately rioted and became violent. For women, this response has barely ever been performed, which is why her act of violence is justified for the sake of bringing change to society. This is one other method of women experiencing the changes in the world around them. Although this is a very different way, 19th-century witnesses this to be an unorthodox form of gaining a voice. She ends this speech by saying: “When we were patient, when we believed in argument and persuasion, they said ‘You don’t really want it because if you did, you would do something unmistakable to show you were determined to have it’. And then we did something unmistakable they said, ‘You are behaving so badly that you show you are not fit for it’” (Pankhurst). This demonstrates the awareness of hypocrisy of men’s world that women are trying to gain rights in.

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“Let men become more chaste and modest, and if women do not grow wiser in the same ration it will be clear that they have weaker understanding” (A Vindication of Rights of Women, Wollstonecraft). The rising middle class held education as a social movement in their homes. With the changing nature of their status in society, the education of middle-class family members gained specific importance with a rising professionalization. This change didn’t just stop to the men but farmed out to the women in the family who through education began to realize the inaccuracy of the education provided to them through majority male educators. Mary Wollstonecraft is an exemplary figure of women in middle-class families who realize that the changing nature of the world around her in her time should not remain to pertain to the male of the societies who head the world. She ends this speech by saying: “…but what has been the result? A profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of misery I deplore, and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion” (Wollstonecraft). Education as a driving element of identity of the rising middle class now becomes part of the fighting efforts of women who see that their place in the world is rendered passive without a given chance.

With the rise of the industrial power and capitalism as a main source of economy, a preexisting social class came into power and that was the middle class. This middle class or bourgeois class was unique in that, though it didn’t have the title to be a noble, they definitely had the means to be part of the upper class with the capital they made in this new system of economy. With the ways of acquiring income, the bourgeois finds a place in society where manners and etiquette, much like those of nobles begin to emerge with attention given towards the ways in which they want to run society.

The bourgeois morale became the new way of life in the 19th century with Queen Victoria’s encouragement of this moral and women’s role as keepers of the cult of domesticity. The separate spheres of influence of the 19th century affect women because they experience encasement within the realms of their homes to protect domesticity. These roles included having large families, a more subjugated state to the men, and more ways to be domestic. With encasement, bourgeois women were excessively cut off from the workforce and with the obsession with morality in the Victorian society, women were encouraged to stay in the homes and not to waste time demanding for rights in the workplace. This affected women, because already bound from social norms, women were even more closely into their homes, not even given the slightest permission to get out. This affected women greatly, because the widespread culture based on the cult of domesticity took away power from women, and never gave it back to them. The cult of domesticity was romanticized, as a perfect way to keep a successful marriage. Along with the morale driven society, the romantic movement running side by side made women the source of children and that’s it. Just like lower class women working in factories created children as sources of capital, as Marx puts it, a bourgeois woman was encouraged to have children as sources that demonstrate the domestic morality, on its high point at the time.

The societal changes in the era did not just stop at the bourgeois model family. Paralleling this model was the romantic movement and the revived Christian evangelicalism. Together, despite the modernity that industrialization created, encouraged a step back to society for the women. Romantic works of literature talked for a perfect woman who was a keeper of a perfect society, where her model behavior lied from home, again a bourgeois morale. This model behavior of a woman for many women leads to a boring life, one that sometimes they couldn’t escape. Watching male enjoy social mobility; women realize that they want a place in this world where they get to do what they want to do. Something portrayed in ‘Madame Bovary’ by Gustave Flaubert. With the economic and social upheavals of society where men were allowed to change the way of life, a bourgeois woman, or in her case, a pseudo-bourgeois woman, sees no choice but to witness her utter entrapment in the changing world around her. With the men she meets and the relationships she acquires with those men, Madame Bovary was the epitome of a woman who wanted to see the world beyond but couldn’t because of her gender. This disappointment with her life becomes something that kills her in the end. Their deaths, in the end, signify the rapidly changing world that has often left others, like women behind to enclose their own desires.

So, how does a woman live in the nineteenth century when everything changed around her? The main thing to understand is that the average life of a woman changed when her male counterparts experienced a change in their lives or called for change. The distress in Europe had to do with ideas borrowed from Enlightenment where an individual’s freedom was valued against authoritarian power. These upheavals all around Europe included struggles of social mobility, franchise for political power in the hands of commoners instead of elites (to get away from only giving power too few people), and a cultural movement of finding a new voice of Europe or the struggles of being a proletariat in the factories making something out of the fewest means of survival. What is so ironic about this whole situation is that those same struggles were left for women while men found their own way to power. Witnessing the victory of their male counterparts struggles in, women experience a disadvantaged state of status in the status, what seemed eternal, because of their marginalized status. For poor women, they experienced a double marginalized status where they weren’t just women, but poor women who were commodified to great lengths not only in their workplace with unequal wages but also at home where they had to produce children who would, in turn, be pushed into the system. The nineteenth-century witnesses the period of rapid modernization, because of rapid industrialization, but as the world of mechanization becomes modernized, the life of a woman remained stale and stuck in one place, where she couldn’t move out of the world, which can be seen in Gustave Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’. Industrialization is the reason behind much of the upheaval stirring in the 19th century. It influenced every corner of Europe, but women were influenced the most, because of their preexisting eternal state of subjugation that is magnified with social movements to keep women in the home, but simultaneously movements of revolution for rights of marginalized men, while they utterly disregarded the always marginalized women from society. These changes in the century left women in a state of the conundrum, because we’re on one hand they were fighting for their rights in society, they also had to model for the perfect bourgeois family, a parallel commodification of a woman who became subject of eternal state of a pariah, with no chance given to her to change her status in the world, just like the world of mechanization made man a source of the creator of commodity, a necessity to make capital, a consequence of the capitalistic society.

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How Did Industrialization Change the Social Class Structure? (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
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How Did Industrialization Change the Social Class Structure? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from:
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