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History of Gender Roles Research Papers

Research papers on the history of gender roles show that the last half century found a degree of change in the established gender roles relative to American suburbia.  The onset of these changes began in the 1950s and remains active in today’s society. Reserach papers that document these changes prove that they are the motivation of other changes associated with the American urban growth precipitated by an increasingly advanced economic system. The previous generations were instilled with preset values and customs typical of the early culture of a young nation. Beginning in the 1950s, a push for a reversal of these traditional roles originated.  The biggest motivator in the gender role reversal movement was equality for women in both the home and business world. History of Gender Roles

The middle class white female of the 1950s was riddled with conflict and contrasting values from the older generation to the younger generation.  Mothers of young daughters emanated a virtual contradiction of traditional roles.  While attempting to be fulfilled with traditional family purpose they also were compelled to view the expanding opportunities offered to their daughters.  Struggling to find their own position in a fast changing society they were unable to adequately instill in their daughters the new gender role defined for them in the profound social transitions of suburbia. Changes in gender roles in American suburbia can be said to originate from the dismissal of double standards presented by the new housewife of the 1950s.  Their sense of conflict, although they could not break free from it, allowed their daughters to press on for a movement of liberation that would eventually evoke the necessary changes from generation to generation in a continual advancing society.

The younger generation of women in the 1950s instituted a gradual change in gender based attitudes due to their observations of their own mothers that possessed a contradicting sense of female values.  This culminated in dramatic changes in roles and behavior by the 1970s, of the urban female.  It can therefore be determined that the greatest influence on the shift of social gender ideology was that of the suburban housewife of the 1950s.

Changes found in the female role from 1950 to 1970 could be found in all areas of social interaction. 

  • Changes in marital status was one such shift. 
  • Rather than embracing the view that females were incomplete without a husband, more women remained single. 
  • This also influenced the traditional role of being dependent on a man for economic reasons.  More and more women were now entering the workplace. 
  • This altered the female perspective of the past that they needed a husband and family do be completely happy. 

By the 1970s the past disdain for ‘old maids’ was now unthinkable.  Opportunities for women were broader than ever and this fueled the onslaught of continued changes in gender identified roles.

Another area of change was that of a sexual revolution among the women of suburbia.  The previous views of the older generation of mothers was to instill a fear or rigidity into their new generations of daughters.  In order to remove women from the sexual impasse placed on them, marriage was viewed as the only way around this.  This only added to the sexual frustration of women by only allowing them to submerge their sexual tensions in motherhood.  Sensing the threatening upheaval of sexual values, experts began to purport the ways for happy marital relationships through good marital sex with a concentration on orgasm.  This they felt would stabilize the middle class family.  Unfortunately sexual ignorance was abundant in the generational conflicts of the 1950s.

By the 1970s a sexual revolution evolved for the urban woman.  No longer content with the legacies of their mothers, this new generation of women felt the surge to assert themselves, not only outside the parameters of the home but also in bed.  This can possibly be attributed to several changes over the ensuing decades such as education.  “The greater educational attainment of the younger generation is of course a critical factor in these changed attitudes and in marriage and childbearing patterns.”

Another substantial factor determining the changes to female values was the views women of the 1970s had about their mothers’ marriages and happiness.  Most of these feelings were based on negative attitudes.  Mothers of the 1950s were perceived to be a negative model for happiness.  This instituted the younger generation of females to look towards other avenues of fulfillment.  Examples of their mothers’ unfulfillment transcended into feelings of depression.  According to Betty Friedan in her book, “The Problem That Has No Name” women counseling with her spoke of the felling of incompleteness. 

One such story of a young housewife from a Long Island development reads as such, “I seem to sleep so much. I don’t know why I should be so tired.  This house isn’t nearly so hard to clean as the cold-water flat we had when I was working.  The children are at school all day.  It’s not the work.  I just don’t feel alive.” This resonates what the younger generation viewed as they grew into their own sense of womanhood.  And it is for this exact reason that they chose not to embrace the social limitations placed upon their mothers.

Gender roles significantly changed from the 1950s to the 1970s. The attitudes of dependency adopted by the older generation and the generation before them was no longer enough for the younger generations of women.  Now more educated then their mothers’ this generation of women could see the endless opportunities presenting themselves to male and female alike. If the opportunity was not there, this generation of women fabricated the opportunity.  Wini Breines suggests early on in her book, “Young, White, and Miserable: Growing up female in the Fifties” the certainty of this gender revolution, “the young, white, middle-class women who grew up in the midst of these contradictions were ‘dry tinder for the spark of revolt’ and that their revolt surreptitiously began in the fifties.”

The social and traditional cultures that held women captive for generations no longer hold the female identity prisoner.  The negative pictures drawn from the ambivalence of earlier motherhood instilled in women along the way a sense of urgency for a liberative movement. This movement led the way for changing gender-identified roles and the removal of gender specific identities. Today’s women can view the woman’s liberation movement as an intervention in allowing a smooth transition from the 1950s motherhood to the female of the new millennium. 

In today’s atmosphere of free gender identity, especially in American suburbia, one can not lose sight of its origination.  The pursuit of happiness, equality, and democracy should cross gender lines. The daughters of the ideal middle-class urban family can be thanked for erasing the lines of confinement.

Along the road to changes in gender roles was the economic and cultural changes that made conditions for women to participate more equally, outside of the predetermined roles of their grandmothers, possible. Free from economic constraints and male dependency, women were now able to explore and expand the opportunities offered in the ever-advancing society of America. These opportunities have given way for women to possess an individuality all their own separate of the expectations placed on the female role of previous generations. 

Changes in gender roles in American suburbia can be said to originate from the dismissal of double standards presented by the new housewife of the 1950s. Their sense of conflict, although they could not break free from it, allowed their daughters to press on for a movement of liberation that would eventually evoke the necessary changes from generation to generation in a continual advancing society.

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