Women were and still are discriminated in Society
Discrimination, in a general sense, simply means making a decision based on
some distinctive factor. It involves making decisions on treating people differently based
on prohibited discrimination factors such as race, age, sex, color, disability or national
origin. Throughout history, the most common discrimination we hear about is the race of
people. Thus, no one really takes into consideration of how woman are discriminated
because of their sex, and how they are treated lower because of what their roles were
traditionally. Therefore, by what one knows about discrimination, one would ask why is
discrimination directed towards women?
Throughout most of history women generally have had fewer legal rights and
career opportunities than men. Wifehood and motherhood were considered as women's
most significant professions. Women were long considered naturally weaker than men,
fastidious, and unable to perform work requiring muscular or intellectual development.
"In most pre-industrial societies, for example, domestic chores were relegated to women,
leaving "heavier" labor such as hunting and plowing to men. This ignored the fact that
caring for children and doing such tasks as milking cows and washing clothes also
required heavy, sustained labor" (Ryan 81-82).
Wifehood, the natural biological role, has been regarded as the major social role
of women, as mentioned before. The resulting discrimination that "a woman's place is in
the home" has largely determined the ways in which women have expressed themselves.
Traditionally, children (girls) tend to learn from their mother's that cooking, cleaning,
and caring for members of the household was the behavior expected of them when they
grow up. "Tests made in the 1960s showed that the academic achievement of girls was
higher in the early grades than in high school. The major reason given was that the girls'
own anticipation decreased because neither their families nor their teachers expected
them to prepare for a future other than that of marriage and motherhood" (Ryan 10-11).
Women, they say, are encouraged to be good mothers.
They need, therefore, to first attract a man to depend on; they are expected
(by our culture) to be giving, emotional, unstable, weak, and talkative
about their problems; they are valued for their looks or charm or smallness
but not their strength or brains; they are considered unfeminine ("bad") if
they are ambitious, demanding, and tough or rough; they are expected to
follow "their man" and give their lives to "their children," and on and on
So basically, women are expected to serve others, to sacrifice their desires and
personal needs in order to please and care for others.
These myths and facts of how women were naturally inferior have greatly
influenced their views of how they see themselves. That is why, in the 19th century,
women began working outside their homes in large numbers, mostly in textile mills and
garment shops. Since they "supposedly" didn't have any skills or experience, these were
the only jobs they can start out with. "They worked in poorly ventilated, crowded rooms
and worked for as long as 12 hours a day. It was not until the 1910s that the states began
to pass legislation limiting working hours and improving working conditions of women"
It was in the 1960s when the federal law started passing laws to improve the
economic status of women. One of these was The Equal Pay Act of 1963. This required
equal wages for men and women doing equal work. The second one was The Civil
Rights Act of 1964, which restricted discrimination against women by any company with
25 or more employees. Even in 1967, a Presidential Executive Order prohibited
discrimination against women in hiring by federal government contractors (Appleby,
Brinkley & McPherson 567-568).
These laws that were passed to help women from discrimination, was a failure.
Female workers were still underpaid, overworked and exploited. In addition to the
problems, women also suffered from the heavy burden of discrimination based on their
gender. "They were assigned to the least skilled jobs, given the fewest possibilities for
advancement, and treated as the most expendable members of the workforce" (Chafe 67).
Discrimination then persisted in other fields. Department stores would not let married
women have their own credit cards because they think that since the man of the family
was the supporter, they should not be allowed to own one. Similarly, divorced or single
women often found it difficult to obtain credit to purchase a house or a car (Compton's
Interactive Encyclopedia). Laws that dealt with crime and prostitution also displayed
discrimination against women. Discrimination in crime existed in some areas of the
United States. "A woman who shot and killed her husband would be accused of
homicide, but the shooting of a wife by her husband could be termed a "passion shooting"
(Filene 194). "Often women prostitutes were prosecuted although their male customers
were allowed to go free" (195).
As of now, in the 20th century, women have professions such as doctors, lawyers,
preachers, teachers, writers, singers, etc. The medical profession is an example of
changed attitudes in the 19th and 20th centuries about what was considered as
appropriate work for women. Prior to the 1800s there were almost no medical schools,
and practically any ambitious person could practice medicine.
However, on top of all this, specific discrimination against women started to
develop again. Women now, constitute more than 45 percent of employed persons in the
United States. Although the number of women working as managers, officials, and other
administrators has been increasing, in 1990 they were outnumbered about 1.5 to 1 by
men. Workingwomen often faced discrimination on the mistaken belief that, because
they were married or would most likely get married, they would not be permanent
workers. But married women generally continued on their jobs for many years and were
not a transient, temporary, or undependable work force (Gutek & Morasch 57).
Despite their increased occupancy in the work force, most women still have a
major amount of responsibility for housework and family care. Even though they are
workingwomen in society, they don't seem like they can ever escape the fact their
expected roles will not change. Women are still discriminated to be the women they
once were, which was wifehood and motherhood. "The wife who worked from nine to
five and who was still expected to be a full-time homemaker experienced difficulty in
resolving the conflicting priorities in her life" (Chafe 200).
Perhaps the most important thing is that women tried to change the traditional
views of their role in society. One can definitely say that if women weren't discriminated
in the past, they would not have been discriminated today. Although the discrimination
of women has been better in the present days, no matter what, it still exists. No one can
change the way people thought traditionally, no one could now.
"Discrimination." The Columbia Encyclopedia: 2000 Sixth Edition.
Ryan, M.P. Womanhood in America: From Colonial Times to the Present. London:
New York, 1979.
Pogrebin, L. C. Family Politics. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.
Appleby, J., Brinkley, A., & McPherson, J.M. The American Journey. New York:
Chafe, W.H. The American Woman: Her Changing Social, Economic and Political
Roles. Oxford Press, 1990.
"Discrimination of Women." Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia: 1994
Filene, P. Him/Herself: Sex Roles in Modern America. New York: Harcourt Brace
Gutek, B., & Morasch, B. "Sex-Ratios, Sex-Role Spillover, and Sexual Harassment of
Women at Work." Journal of Social Issues 38: 55-74, 1982.
"Woman Labor Force: A Case Study in the Interpretation of Historical Statistics."
American Statistical Association Journal March: 71-79, 1960.
Blau, F., & Hendricks, W. "Occupational Segregation by Sex: Trends and Prospects."
Journal of Human Resources 14: 197-210, 1979.