Women’s place before and after the revolution was no different. They were regarded not as masters of the house nor the maternal backbones of great men, but they were almost possessions of husbands, property no more or less valuable than slaves. According to Forrest McDonald, the generation after the Revolution saw the first gains for American women, but those who lived through it saw no significant improvements in their lifetime.
His argument relies on the words used during the construction of the new government as being masculine words such as “Republic” which formal definitions of at that time excluded slaves, non-property holders, children, and women. Men at the time of the Revolution, asserts McDonald, subscribed to a theory by a popular political theorist of the seventeenth-century, who claimed that men should cultivate their land, as well as their homes. This notion disagrees with some of the arguments that Elizabeth Fox-Genovese put forth, that women took care of the home and family and men took an active role in the public sphere.
Fox-Genovese believes that women had established a different perspective of themselves after the war, that they were seen less dangerous or deviant and more as mothers of patriots and respected for the work they put in raising the children and taking care of the household while the men fought the war. While this may or may not be true, judging how mass social perspectives change in this case is not easy. For example it is much easier and reliable if today we wanted to see how peoples perspective on the role of women in the workforce has changed.
We could look up Gallup polls conducted over the past fifty or more years and be able to see a definite concrete assessment of how people’s opinion over the years has changed. Today women are interchangeable in almost every profession that men occupy, but in the 1950s and early 60s a good majority of the American population still believed that women’s place was in the home. But in the 18th century they did not conduct Gallup polls, and to assert that men’s perception of women changed in any significant way is going far out on a limb.
Women could have gained more respect after the revolution, but was it necessarily a result of the revolution, or perhaps they just riding a wave of social enlightenment that was happening all over the world at this time, not just in the Americas. This may have indeed been the case, also one must ask was anything significantly gained for women during the revolution that has some concreteness, something written in law or legislature. Maybe it would be correct to say women gained from the revolution if there was something written in for women in the Constitution.
The fact of the matter is women before the revolution had no rights, and the new “free” republic formed after the revolution still had no formal clause granting women citizenship, or any guarantees to the rights protected by the Constitution. The Revolution itself did little for women, it was a war fought by men for men who believed in an ideology that was constructed by men. At the time of the revolution there were no factories, or large manufacturing plants in cities where large numbers of people could be employed.
This was a characteristic of the Industrial Revolution, which started more than half a century after the Constitution was written. The Industrial Revolution also saw large exoduses of people from the farms to large cities, where the factories were located. But during the revolution, the majority of the population lived far away from cities. They lived off the land they cultivated by hand and sweat. They were farmers. They owned their land and profited from the things they made or grew or raised.
This meant that going to work was as simple as going out the front door on to the large corn-field to plow. The men were always home, so there was not a need for women to take a dominant role in taking care of the day to day duties of the home. If the man viewed himself as the head of his family, then there was no need to make women in charge of the home because he should already be in charge of the home himself, with the children and wife subjugated below him. The man at this time raised his children, controlled his wife, and basically was the dominant figure in the household.
It is noted by Fox-Genovese that Abgail Adams, Sam Adams’ wife wrote to her husband and asked him to “remember the ladies. ” But that is not all she wrote, she also warned in that same letter that arrived to her husband during the construction of the Constitution at the Continental Congress, “If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice or Representation. Even with this message in mind, Sam Adams did not fight hard enough for his wife in order for there to be any rights or priveledges guaranteed for women in the Constitution. I think that it is important to note that, because the threat that the wife posed was not strong enough there was nothing done for women in the Constitution. It was not strong enough because at the time women could not strike, for what would they stop doing?
At that time they were not the sole responsibility of taking care of the house, nor did they work for one particular industry at all. Women at the time were not much better off than slaves, often uneducated and unable to perform any time of skill that would get them employed. They were basically just there to bear children and help their husbands. And unfortunately that would remain the case for years to come.
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