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Division of Labour Post Industrialization in the US
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Division of Labour Post Industrialization in the US

The narrative of monuments in the United States corresponds to structural and economic systems developed at the onset of industrialization (late 18th c.) that favored male labour, promotion, esteem, and leadership while devaluing domestic labour which became largely the realm of women.

The narrative of monuments in the United States corresponds to structural and economic systems developed at the onset of industrialization (late 18th c.) that favored male labour, promotion, esteem, and leadership while devaluing domestic labour which became largely the realm of women.

Separate Spheres of Labour

At this time in history, women were in support system roles and therefore less likely to be commemorated as a general, or a governor for example. Why was this and was it always this way? Historians have looked into this question and traced the shift to what is known as separate spheres of labour – at the home, known as domestic labour or housework, and outside the home.

Prior to the rise of industrialization in the late 18th century in Europe and the United States, labour was centered around the home. While a gendered division of labour existed, women and men worked in close proximity and often cooperatively, both contributing essential components of household production. The work of providing for one’s family was shared and the labour of men and women valued.

Post-Industrialization Labour Shift

With industrialization and a shift from agrarian to capitalist economies, labour outside the home became increasingly available and monetized. The value of labour became defined by money, “work” became associated with wage labour, and women’s household labour was recategorized as something other than real work. The majority of women remained at home where they continued to raise children, produce and preserve food, clean, sew, and provide other essential household labour. Thus the meaning and value ascribed to provisional tasks shifted, not the worth or necessity of the tasks themselves.

The Cult of Domesticity

To make it worse, Victorian era rhetoric gave heightened status to female domesticity and aligned it with female virtue, creating a cult-like ideal of the domestic as a woman’s sphere, where she reigned with grace and self-sacrifice. Domestic work, child care, all of the work entailed in sustaining a household was defined as something that came naturally to women, part of a God-given skillset, but was not viewed as equivalent to productive wage-earning labour.

This ideology of domesticity described the lives of some white, middle-class women, however, poor women and women of color worked as domestic servants and or laboured in mills. Even there, their jobs were seen as less skilled than those of the male workers, although the working conditions were sometimes equally dangerous.

Women Undervalued

As women gradually entered the non-domestic workforce, this domestic ideal continued – and continues – to wield cultural power, with household work, child-care and other home-based caregiving remaining undervalued economically, and the many skill sets involved uncredited and undervalued.

Division of Labour by Gender Persists

Throughout these eras, whether in domestic labour or in the wage-earning workforce, as well as in volunteerism, women filled support system roles with little to no possibility of advancement into management positions or higher tier leadership positions. Male privilege, the division of labour by gender, and the undervaluing of women’s work transferred into the wage-earning workplace and persists even today in most countries in both domestic and non-domestic spheres of labour.

Learn more by reading an article on Gender, Family, and Productive Labour: A (Very) Brief History, an overview of Industrialization, Labour, and Life or read about Eleanor Leacock’s take on History, Development, and the Division of Labour by Sex: Implications for Organization.

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