That Was Then, This is Then
The Victorian Age saw the lower class women giving birth to many children and often dying in childbirth from a young age. If they didn't die during childbirth, they looked forward to a long life of grueling, backbreaking work of cooking, cleaning and caring for a large family. And all of this accomplished without indoor plumbing or electricity. Education for women was about as easy to attain as summer vacations on Mars. As for the upper class women, their daily life may not have been as rigorous but their sole purpose seemed to be trophy wife baby machines. Providing their husbands with an heir and a spare was their first priority and being schooled in the art of social graces was their second. They had to make sure they didn't appear either too intelligent nor too dim-witted so as not to become a liability to their husbands at social engagements. Either way, both classes of women were under house arrest for the duration of the 19th century.
The 1900s saw a lot of changes for women. The suffragette movement enabled women to at least have the right to vote (although France and Greece didn't give women the vote till the 1950s) and with the advent of the World War I, some women found careers outside the domestic household either as nurses or gaining entrance to universities in greater numbers. World War II saw them taking over male-dominated jobs to allow their husbands to go fight. But now they were basically single mothers AND sole providers for their families. But at least, they got the taste of independence even if a lot of them returned to domestic life after the war ended. But some stayed the course and continued on in working life working as office and factory workers or teachers. Men still ran the show but at least now some of them got a paycheque for their efforts.
Even with the right to vote, the chance to work and free education, women still spent the 50s and 60s subjugated to the role of June Cleaver in the home...the "little woman", vacuuming in high heels and being overly attentive to her nuclear family's every need. At least they had electricity and indoor plumbing to make this mind-numbing job bearable.
Bra burning and equal rights protests ushered in the 70s. Feminism was the catch phrase of the decade and it was a label attached to any woman who dared challenged society's gender roles. You couldn't "just" decide to go to work, receive your equal pay without having to listen to accusations of abandoning family values, shredding the social fabric of society and causing the end of the world. Which brings us to the here and the now.
Are we better off? Most working women still don't have equal pay for equal work.And to appease the abundance of statistics (stating that working outside the home will result in a nation of latchkey children on the road to certain drug addiction, social retardation, and deadbeat parenthood) and the abundance of self-guilt, we juggle both work, marriage and motherhood. Is that so far from reality? For any of you mothers who work, who gets the call to leave work and pick up your child from school? Who stays home from work when the child is sick? Who is accused of bad parenting when the job demands a business trip? Not the men, I assure you. And because we do everything humanly possible not to drop the ball in this great juggling act, nothing seems to assuage the guilt and fear we feel that we did make the wrong decision by choosing work and family life.
It's a catch-22 situation. If we forsake the career track and spend all our time at home being doting mothers and wives, we can't guarantee that this decision will keep the nuclear family intact. Divorce can still loom on the horizon and after 10 years or more of being absent from the workforce, we find ourselves forced to get a job anyway and feeling remorse for having stopped in the first place. The best decision we can make is to do what works best for us. Since I am a firm believer of life offering no guarantees, I choose to be a working mother and wife. Whether or not my family is the better for it remains to be seen in about 30 years. As for me being better off than my Victorian Age counterparts...I think I am. At least I got the choice they never had and a little help from General Electric kitchen appliances minimizes my chances of being derailed off the career track.