This paper makes and effort to present how the role and the social status of the women
changed from the start of the twentieth century to the end . How the women participated in the
world affairs and ultimately became a progressive force in the modern society.
The Changing Role of Women
The 21st Century represents an era with a tremendous amount of rhetoric regarding persecution, and/ or myopic bigotry. The obvious irony is that the roughly 200 nations on Earth, roughly 905 of them have established constitutions or commitments to the rights and privileges of their citizens (Chafe & Chafe, 1991). Although established in the 20th Century, the United Nations has even established that there are basic human rights. All of the said efforts are a direct response to the collective historical precedent of centuries of discrimination and varying forms of state-sponsored segregation.
Each group has been constituting some pithy, albeit deadly form of rudimentary tribal warfare. Whether the conflicts have been between nations, demographics or literal tribes, the conflicts have rarely been justifiable when juxtaposed with more immediate issues, and they rarely, if ever, create a solution without generating a new issue to be resolved. One group’s enemy is another’s friend and developing democratic consensus to move beyond such violent writhings remains a goal.
One consensus that the world has unfortunately agree upon, is the persecution of women. Geography, political and religious preferences and/ or affiliations, economic success or limitations have has little causality in recognizing the systemic and institutional prejudice that women have had live under. Amongst all the micro-level conflicts in different societies about poverty, race,and cultural affiliations, there has been a consistent, and un-written agreement to not address the oppression of women.
The 20th Century is arguably the mark in history that brought the world from a collection of discrete peoples to a global community. The global economy and increase in technological communications and transportation abilities shrunk the world and made people more aware of problems in other parts of the world. No longer was turmoil a distant, irrelevant thing for other people, the entire planet was now capable of suffering consequences of peoples’ strife.
Europe represents one of the most contested regions in the world. Since Europe began forming itself into sovereign nations, there has been cultural conflict. Despite the close proximity, there are extreme differences in culture. The 20th Century was wrought with war and shifts in those knitted cultures.
Women served a paramount role in the progression of human rights in Europe and the world as they were constant victim and voice of oppression amongst the mutating and transient conflicts of nations (Chafe & Chafe, 1991). Despite wars and the changing political excuses for international and cultural conflict, women remained oppressed and/ or marginalized as a group that transcended race, religion, creed, color, or national boundaries. The result of the persecution created some of the most eloquent and meaningful work the world has seen.
Europe is marred by a battle of tradition vs. progress. Europe is home to some of the oldest cultures still in existence and many of the world’s functioning monarchies. Arguably, Western Europe is the cultural group that pioneered the lasting effects of bringing the world together with its colonial efforts, for better or worse.
The very same tradition has had direct implications on women and their social mobility.
Other than during wartime, it was rare that women could participate in the professional sphere outside of the home. There was a cross-cultural expectation and limitation of women’s ability to serve as a professional in any capacity.
During the first part of the 20th Century, there were political efforts to remove official sponsorship and limitation of women in Western European nations. Mirroring their American counterparts, England’s gender equality efforts began to manifest themselves publicly. Women began to be allowed to serve as police officers and participate officially in the legal system, and other civil service roles.
The early part of the twentieth century witnessed change in the role of women from the domestic to the public front. The demand for equal right for women witnessed the emergence of competent women all walks of life and professions. Women with visions in all professions emerged and established themselves slowly and firmly, and they also began to assert themselves. The two wars witnessed significant contributions of women in the factories and they proved their worth along with the men. Subsequent to this, their further demands for rights and the demand from the men to contribute equally became more pronounced. Expectations surfaced that men should also participate in the jobs which were previously the exclusive domain of women. Women wanted a change in the way the world looked at them, and they detested the concept of the feminine tag as a delicate, demure silent and a domesticated servant. Sometimes such protests were aggressive and they were categorised as suffragists.
The result was more pronounced in the war era. Jobs previously segregated for white males were now offered to white women also. In time women emerged as an equally competent workforce, and they were mentally prepared to face the harsh realities of the outside world. Contributions from working women were seen more as a national necessity and a patriotic duty to their country. Women workforce was seen as a national necessity and a patriotic duty. The media and government propaganda worked to convince women that they could retain their femininity and still hold men’s jobs. The political setup supported this through their political propaganda and encouraged it (Chafe,1990). This era was termed as the ‘Progressive Era’. Changes and innovations extended gradually to the way women dressed, talked, reacted etc and in effect started doing everything most things that nineteenth-century women previously were barred from doing. However, this transformation was not evident in case of women from Hispanic, Asian and African origins. The seeds of women empowerment was sown in the early twentieth century and the effects are for all of us to see on the present day.
Europe’s was torn by world war and the role of women changed. Women were quickly thrust into more significant roles. War brought a need for manufacturing and medical and administrative support. Women participated in droves. Women began to serve as nurses, and in a public sphere of professional manufacturing that had yet to be seen. War in the 20th Century represented a shift in warfare, and that shift meant that a new need and dependency on a volume of arms. Whosoever could produce more, would be the victor.
There is a duality with the effects of war on a society and women’s efforts. Whereas women have to leave the home and begin participating in roles that were foreign during peace time, there is pressure to rebuild the population and women must also cope with the ensuing baby-boom after war comes to an end (Marcinkeviciene, 2005). As a result, women’s contributions are paramount both to war, and the rebuilding of said war.
Unmarried women however, navigated European society in a far different way. Single women worked in domestics and there was little-to-no upward mobility. European culture was heavily divided by class and avoided critique of a class-based culture as a result of historical tradition. Women who were not married were limited in the right until the 20th Century. Even after the end of the 19th, personal bigotry and unwritten social mores were glass ceilings that limited what women were able to accomplish.
The bigotry was a consequence of the ensuing wave of justice that was set across the Atlantic. The Western world has historically shown to move together, but the trends set by the United States in addressing and removing the feudal system provided an intellectual precedence that Europe later adopted. The women’s suffrage and equal rights movements in the United States, and documents like the Seneca Falls document, provided a social framework, and literary inspiration to help guide other nations.
The socialization of gender. . .assures that girls are made aware that they are unequal to boys. Every time students are seated or lined up by gender, teachers are affirming that girls and boys should be treated differently. When an administrator ignores an act of sexual harassment, he or she is allowing the degradation of girls. When different behaviors are tolerated for boys than for girls because 'boys will be boys', schools are perpetuating the oppression of females.. . socialized in ways that work against gender equity. (Gender Bias in Education, 2013, para. 4)
European culture is known for establishing and altering popular culture at the same time as being a staunch supporter of unmitigated tradition. As a continental culture, the diversity is tremendous. There is a stark juxtaposition of the hyper-conservative and religious groups in Eastern Europe, and the liberal, Western nations (Gender Socialization). Women have has specific roles in the evolution of this conflict.
During the first quarter of the 20th Century, women were prohibited to wear certain clothes, and reveal certain parts of their body. Another manifestation of a believed tradition, women were held to an increasingly archaic Victorian social structure. Europe was clinging to its feudal past while being thrust into the 20th Century.
Women were no longer feeble dependents of a patriarchal society. Instead, women were being given greater access to leadership roles in society and as a result, the old rules of society were eroding and giving way to greater equality. The blooming murmurs of equality spread beyond the private, and professional spheres of society, and began to alter the self-perception of women as a whole across Europe (Marcinkeviciene, 2005). Women began to address their sexuality and their desires for independence and social mobility. Women were no longer tolerating oppression under the guise of tradition.
When there is inequality present, the natural reaction of any gender, or species for that matter, is to do what is necessary to achieve and secure what is needed. The female gender has developed dyadic power to use to meet the needs that are generated from a lack of equality.
But, the use of dyadic power also has the consequence of a lack of skill or ability to overcome the anxiety that is present (Curry, 2005). All of these contributing factors creates a Macbethian, self-fulfilling prophecy of capability, anxiety and performance, which effects both male and female genders and their often associated biological sex.
It would be a fallacy to describe the social progress and tolerance and equality of women in 20th Century Europe as night v. day and that all nations moved at a similar pace. Even as the 20th Century encroached upon the 21st, many nations vehemently protect the rigid social hierarchy and segregation of centuries past (Marcinkeviciene, 2005). Instead of making society more malleable, many cultures have demonstrated an inverted knee-jerk reaction to women’s rights and hunkered down in their oppression as a reaction to perceived pressure from Western nations to create greater equality amongst sexes.
The powers of influence can be both good and bad; vain, and authentic. The influence that 20th Century woman have had on the world is an amalgamation of all of those traits. The reason is because as a group, they have lived through the plight and duress of world war, and at the forefront of some of the world’s best thinkers and most feared evil; there is a wisdom to lead, and a willingness to learn through failure that builds trust and generates compassion.
Then meets now
The hypocrisy of having the occasional female monarch in charge of a nation, and all the while limiting the role of women in said society due to some fallacious reason, has never been lost on citizens. To serve ‘Queen and country’ yet claim women as a whole are unfit, or undeserving of fair treatment is a terrible irony that people have identified for centuries. The 20th Century however was the 100 years where those two contradictory ideas were reconciled.
Great Britain and Germany have elected women to the highest political offices and done so mere decades after women were finally accepted outside of the home (Curry, 2005). The influence that Europe has been able to demonstrate with fashion and art, has been seized by European women to show strength and leadership and a resiliency that again outpaces much of the rest of the world. Europe was the last industrialized area in many regards to press for equality, and since they have demonstrated a pioneer spirit.
More so in the 20th Century than in any past, the lives and capabilities of women within European and world society changed for the better. No longer were women being forced into marriage as a culture norm; women were living in increasingly democratic nations and were gaining the right to vote; women were seeing female candidates for public office, and seeing them elected decades after gender integration; different demographics of women were entering universities and authors, artists, actresses and pop. culture icons were developing from every class as the oppression mores of society crumbled (Advertising Difference). Arguably, other than the bondage slave in North America, has there been a single group in a single place move so quickly from tolerated fetters to significant world leadership. And, like minority groups in North America, women in Europe must constantly battle the historical residue of their unequal past. Fortunately, the constant presence and awareness of the turmoil of past generations, remains constant in future decisions.
For ions, segregation, both natural and forced, held each human at both a figurative and literal distance from one another and sometimes because of natural segregation and always the cause of forced segregation, our awkwardness to those different than us, dominated how we viewed and thought about others. Each decision that was made was then grown from suspicion and mistrust, rather than understanding what is common or shared in a heritage. A new heritage is being formed, one of compassion and integrity; this new heritage is what will drive European civil innovation forward, into a new era of leadership, and prosperity.
The truly significant consequence of women in 20th Century Europe is that it serves as a precedent and example of how prejudice can be overcome and how global, human society must acknowledge and cope with evaluations of its own traditions and habits. In order to create a better quality of life for everyone, there must be an examination of prejudice within tradition and an understanding that society must mold and shift as time acts upon the perspective of its citizens. What was once true is not always true, and outdated structures must give way to the new if a society is to survive (Gender Socialization). Europe has emerged into the 21st Century having moved past the precipice of world war, and are now primed to be co-creators of the new world yet again; women will serve an equal role.
The 21st Century has brought new challenges and equality issues to the global culture. Women are still oppressed in many parts of the world, and voices that were once not heard are being heard, and women like Angela Merkel, and Margaret Thatcher serve as primers for what can be done in a short amount of time. What needs to happen for future progress, is the elimination of gender norming (Curry, 2005). There will always be unwarranted assumptions and falsehoods, but that is not gender or race specific. The most effective way to address both of these concerns is to reduce prejudice down to the single difference between men and women: one chromosome.
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