Women in Society

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The role of women in society has always been an issue throughout the ages and throughout Western Europe, and more or less all over the world. Before the age of the Enlightenment, or the Dark Ages, women were always seen as secondary to men in all aspects. Most reasons were religious while others were just the way life was then. By the late 18th century, at the time of the French Revolution and the continuance of the Enlightenment era, the role of women in society began changing drastically as the lights of the world were now open with this brand new enlightened era. Women began holding jobs, yet still did not receive the same privileges as men. By the time the Industrial Revolution came along in the 19th century many more jobs were opened to a woman in the work force. Reforms began in all areas throughout the 19thand early 20th centuries as women were gaining more and more rights and acceptance into everyday life. By the time the 20th century rolled around and throughout, no longer was it thought that women belonged in the home (although few still feel that way), yet many women began serving professional jobs as doctors, lawyers, and politicians. Now today some of the most successful people in the business world are women, as women have even began there own companies.

Many changes occurred during the Enlightenment period of the late eighteenth century. For instance, more and more emphasis were placed on the family as the eighteenth century passed. There were three groups of urban women in the eighteenth century, lower-class, middle-class(the Bourgeoises in France), and the upper-class or the aristocracy. The work of married women differed if you lived in the city or in the country. In the country the women could be seen as literally carrying the heavy weight of the plantation for her husband. In the city a wife of a merchant may run the household finances and might even take part in her husband's business. In France women fought alongside men in urban revolutionary activities. It was the job of women to buy food for the family, and when they became unable to do this, the situation became intolerable. For Bourgeois women there were many changes. Marriages that had been arranged in the past became more of a romantic relationship as well as economic. Mothers stayed at home and cared for their children more. Female education and the intellectual pursuits of females became more accepted and common. Although Men were more likely to be literate than women were, more than one quarter of French women could read at the beginning of the eighteenth century, and toward the end of the century that number had doubled. Now that women began to read more a vast number of books were available to them such as; some teach-yourself books, fanciful romances, and books of moral instruction. With the increase of female literacy, the overall rates of literary also increased as women began to teach children to read. As a result the leisure time of bourgeois women increased greatly and more entertainment and literature were available to them.

Domestic life also began to change. In the past, marriages had been based on economic partnership and a means to carry on lineage. Husbands still ruled over their wives and made all of the family decisions. Even in the middle of the eighteenth century, the "rule of thumb" was passed; it said that a husband could legally beat his wife as long as the stick was no thicker than his thumb. During the second half of the eighteenth century, all of this began to change. Although economic elements of marriage were still very much a factor, many other elements came into play. A new desire for individual happiness, romantic and sexual attraction developed into a factor in marriage. Courting became a more common occurrence as prospective partners could dance, dine, and converse with each other to determine compatibility. Young people were now able to search for their own marriage partners and could...
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