Women In History Of Workforce And Gender Roles Change
Women have played a significant role throughout history, from Dido of Carthage to Wilhemina of the Netherlands. However, they have been overshadowed and confined to the home by societal norms since, well, the dawn of humanity. But during World War one and two, unique circumstances allowed for women to be temporarily emancipated from their domestic duties, and this taste of freedom eventually led to the feminist movements that fully emancipated women from the yoke of gender roles.
For some context, most of western culture was influenced one way or another by Greco-Roman culture along with the Abrahamic religions. As such, it is quite easy to trace back the depiction of women as inferior/weak to Greek culture and the Bible. For example, these quotes from odyssey and the bible show the extent of the oppression against women. As a result of the influence of these quotes, women throughout western culture found themselves forced into domestic roles. In addition to this, women living in misogynistic societies generally wore very non-revealing clothing, such as the Burqa, which women in Taliban controlled territories or fundementalist theocracies wore, evidenced by figure .
In the advent of the Great War, countries followed the doctrine of Total War, which dictated that every aspect of a country be mobilized in order to win a war. Gone were the days of purely professional armies fighting wars, now civilians volunteered in droves to fight for the mother country. In addition to the men who would join the fighting divisions in Gallipoli and the Western Front, women also volunteered en mass to join the nursing force and begin filling in vacant jobs. The nurses would have joined soldiers abroad in Gallipoli and treated wounds amidst the combat. Despite the horrific conditions within the trenches, there was a minuscule amount of deaths by infection, according to the ABC. But upon returning to Australia, the women did not receive any pension-Esque benefits, nor were they invited to any parades. From this, it can be inferred that despite, their heroism, their deeds may not have been recognized due to a certain stigma of “women are weak”. In addition to serving admirably as nurses in warzones, the Great War was one of the first instances of mass female employment, as evidenced by figure . This source displays large groups of women working within the industrial sector, a notion that was unthinkable prior to the Great War. However, the women were still restricted to traditionally “female” industries, such as textiles and clothing. But due to women entering the workforce in a reserve capacity, they were forced to give up their jobs at the end of the war, a trend that also occurs in WWII.
In WWII, women played much the same role they did in the Great War, with one crucial difference. The actions of the nurses in WWI had set a historical precedent for women in the workforce, allowing them to enter the workforce and eventually enlist in the auxiliary military in lieu of the men who had joined the war. For example, in 1941, the Australian Women’s Army Service (AWAS) was founded to free up men in non-combat roles. While historical precedent held that the women would fill service roles such as cooks and secretaries, they eventually served in the artillery, ordnance and intelligence branches of the military. In light of the AWAS’s resounding success, the Australian Women’s Land Army was established to replace the farmers that had been conscripted following Japan’s entry to the war in late 1941. Throughout the war, female participation in the workforce increased by upwards of 30% as a direct consequence of the war. Figure 7 shows that female participation increased by a significant amount during WWII. While I was unable to find a graph for Australia, I imagine that these trends would also be indicative of Australia. At the end of the war however, women were forced to give up their newfound jobs and freedoms to the returning men and return to the status quo. But the wars gave women a taste of freedom, and that taste would motivate so much more.
To answer the guiding question, I think I would prefer to be an Australian woman in WWII over WWI. This is due to the increased opportunities for women during the time period, and it being closer to modern times. As said prior, WWII built on the precedent set by the Great War, and allowed women further into the workforce, into jobs and careers that they had previously been denied, as evidenced by this poster. This poster depicts an advertisement for women to join the auxiliary branches of the army, navy and air force. This source displays both women in the military, and women wearing trousers and short hair. These attributes are especially significant as the women were often seen as too “fragile” for military service, and trousers along with short hair were seen as “unladylike”. These changing clothing trends that are indicative of changing societal norms are evident in the comparison of figure 8 and figure 10. The very fact that these two traditions are broken on a government-endorsed poster is enough evidence, that WWII was a time of shifting societal norms. In addition, WWII is chronologically closer to the present day, meaning that my hypothetical self is far more likely to witness additional gender equality movements, and thus experience more personal freedoms compared to the hypothetical self in WWI.
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