Feminist promulgation on labor usually relies on the demonstrably false presumption of feminist responsibility for women’s entry into the workplace. That, in turn, relies on ignoring women’s pre-WWII labor, as well as the conditions which, during the war, led to women temporarily filling some work areas that were previously dominated by men.
Not only have women always worked, when they so chose (and backed that choice with initiative, accountability, and passion like men do) women have created their own jobs, run businesses, built and controlled great wealth, and left lasting legacies. They were involved in the industry that transformed the American labor force from being mainly family labor and apprenticeship to wage labor: The textile industry. They were also involved in areas we now think of as traditionally male. The divide wasn’t between male workers and female, but between manual labor or working class employees, and the professional class. Only when women themselves complained about facing the same working conditions as men did anyone step in to create change. An account from Great Britain, Parliamentary Papers, 1842, Vol XVI shows that at least one politician, an upper class position, investigating because of such complaints, was appalled to see working class Welsh girls and women facing the same conditions as men in English coal mines. Further down that page a woman describes the work and goes on to state that it was even harder to do while pregnant (or “in a family way,” as she put it.) This is by far not the only example.
Because their population spread out into multiple nations and interacted with multiple cultures, Jewish history is also an interesting source of information on historical patterns of women’s labor and professional careers. The Jewish Women’s archive points out in their article on entrepreneurs that there are records of female property owners as early as the fifth century B.C.E., and they provide examples. The article further points out that within the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend (referencing both the Mishnah and the Talmud) writing reflecting Jewish life styles from the first century C.E. to the sixth century c.e., assumed that most women worked. It goes on to describe the phenomenon of women working in several of the various cultures within which Jews have lived, from the perspective of Jewish historians. The writing shows that while the female side of the legal division of financial responsibility in the home differed from today, the phenomenon of women working, earning incomes and using them for various purposes has existed worldwide for centuries.
Women’s sex didn’t stop them them from working. Society didn’t arbitrarily stop them on its basis, and feminism has never been needed to provide women with a pathway into the labor force or the professional world.
Women’s work isn’t about liberating ourselves from some phenomenon of dastardly or careless male oppression. Women have always had the same reasons for working that men do. This can be anything from our families’ need of our income, as is true of lower and middle income families, to passion for a particular field, a sense of community responsibility, or having been raised, as boys generally are, to see work as a fulfillment of our lives’ purpose. As with many men, many women pursue their careers to earn wealth or prestige, or to leave their mark on the world. These are manifestations of strength, ingenuity, aspiration, and accountability, and feminism stains the legacy of working women throughout history with the narrative that women were somehow trapped in the homemaker role until their savior Rosie the Riveter came along.
That narrative could not be further from the truth. Lower income women weren’t choosey about which jobs they took, because they were poor, and couldn’t afford to be choosy. Upper class women didn’t seek out jobs in coal mines and textile mills, take positions serving other households, or otherwise subject themselves to harsh labor. They stayed at home because they could, or they engaged in activism, wrote, or sought education, earned credentials, and took higher end, higher paying, more prestigious or more interesting jobs.
Rosie the Riveter wasn’t about freeing women from anything. She was about women stepping up to fill jobs vacated by men who were drafted or volunteered to fight in the war. The effort was not so much a feminist initiative to change women’s roles as it was a social response to suddenly changing labor needs, and it occurred because of something completely unrelated to feminism: The Fair Labor Standards act of 1938, which dramatically altered the dynamics of the labor market. The law established a 44 hour work week (later shortened to the 40 hours we know today) and outlawed oppressive child labor practices. The need for large numbers of women to enter the manufacturing labor force was in part created by the shorter work week, which increased the number of people it would take to produce the same results, and in part by the removal of children from the work force, which left women as the default replacement for those men who went off to war.
Outlawing child labor, though a needed and obviously right step for the U.S. government to take, was not a response to feminism. Support for the movement to end child exploitation in the work force was partly due to concern for children’s welfare, and partly a result of the shrunken Depression Era job market, and pressure to reserve jobs for household-supporting adults.
Unless feminism caused the stock market crash of 1929 which led to that pressure, and started the war which pulled men from factories in the early 40s, feminists can’t really claim credit for even that expansion of women’s roles in the workplace, Rosie or not.
To justify such false claims of credit for women’s ability to make independent career choices, we now face a very public, vehement demand that women be viewed by society as dependent on feminism.
It makes it almost an exercise in irony to remember that the first printed copies of America’s Declaration of Independence were published by respected Revolutionary War printer and postmistress Mary Katherine Goddard, as is explained in the article Enterprising Women: 250 years of American Business, published by Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
What is the basis for feminism’s lies about women’s work history?
They engage in cherry-picking, using a data set that excludes the working majority to focus only on women who have had the option to not work. They discuss the natural results of women’s individual choices as if their causes are entirely external, or worse, imposed on them by the men around them.
They treat gender differences in professional and job-seeking choices as if women do not determine their own interests and that determination is never based on their own aptitudes and their desire to build on or shape them. Instead, they presume women’s interests and aptitudes entirely subject to manipulation by social pressures and the demands of their families.
They treat women’s choice of professional pursuits or job entry, their interest in work-life balance, and their resulting career paths as if the woman involved were shuffled into place against her will by these pressures.
In short, they completely ignore women’s agency, while inflating men’s agency to account for any choice a woman makes that is not feminist-approved.
Because of this, when a family has a single income earner who makes enough money to unilaterally financially support the household, if that earner is not the wife, and the couple chooses to be a single-breadwinner couple, feminists see the wife as a victim… even when the choice was mostly or solely hers to make. They do not consider the husband a victim of anything, should the wife choose to rely on him financially instead of working, even if he would rather not be the only breadwinner for their household, and in fact, even if she’s kicked him out of it. Men are routinely ordered, following divorce or the birth of a child out of wedlock, to accept employment, to not be picky about said employment, and even to earn stipulated amounts of pay from such employment, or face jail time, all based on a mandate to make payments to mothers who more often than not, have chosen to raise their children without the father in the home. Feminist complaints that prioritizing work-life balance over value provided to the employer shouldn’t lead to adverse results for the employee when women do it vanish when the worker in question is a man with a child support or alimony obligation. She has rights; he has responsibilities.
Feminists excuse their victim narrative by using that agency shuffle, usually combined with ignoring the side of any particular imbalance where men are adversely affected. You know the list: jobs involving dangerous, difficult, dirty, or distressing work, the expectation that they work longer hours, be more flexible in their availability (including willingness to work nights and weekends,) or that they take less time off, and perform the heavier, more laborious, dangerous, dirty, or distressing parts of any job at which they have female coworkers. Men are also uniquely expected to accommodate the sensibilities of their coworkers of the opposite sex. The accountability gap here is not subtle, but a wide chasm that all too often swallows men whole, not because employers are uniquely unfair, but because the workplace is not exempt from exhibiting the higher expectations and greater demands which are placed on men in every aspect of society.
Are dynamics like work-life balance, work environment, and fair compensation issues that merit a discussion among the general public?
Is there potential for reform?
Quite likely, yes.
Are these gendered issues? Well… maybe… but certainly not in the way that feminists would have you believe.