Why recruit women?
Gender ideology and the System of Industrial Labor


Saying: “It is easier to find a hundred women workers than it is to find a hundred dogs.”
Chinese Contract Boss description

Nature of work:
In many cases, a nation in the process of industrial development has heavily relied on the labor of women. Their recruitment plus the types of work they were engaged reflected deep seated assumptions and attitudes about the fundamental nature of women as opposed to men. For example, the idea that women are more nimble-fingered, dexterous, careful, and meticulous than men meant that woman were sought out for work in the garment industries and for technology assemblage. These perceived attributes made women desirable employees in areas of work where they had worked for generations, in agriculture, service, needlework and textiles.

Recruitment literature also cite women’s natural steadiness and docility as key factors making them ideal employees. The fact that women could be paid less than men further added to their value. The idea was that women would not work as long as men, would be more part time, and thus could be paid less.

Even in jobs held equally by males and females, women’s earnings were always lower. They were unlikely to have access to supervisory positions or promotion ladders. And, when male jobs were threatened, it was women who were told to retreat to their homes.

The historic nature of gender hierarchy that held sway in the work force in many countries meant that women usually submitted to such work without complain. They were praised when they exhibited attitudes of docility and when they showed that they knew their place. Accustomed to a patriarchal world in which male authority ruled, and with few alternatives for work, women took whatever pay and conditions offered in order to feed themselves and their families.

Who worked and who did not: This gendered system of labor of course varied in different places. Social notions about womanhood dictated the extent to which women were recruited for the work force. A woman’s age, married status and social status might affect her acceptance into the world of work. In some societies, for example, it was acceptable for single women to go out to work, in others not.

Concepts of appropriate work for women were sharply defined with the development of a distinct middle class. Within the middle-class family, the wife was the center of the home. In this world she was supposed to be the perfect lady, the perfect wife, the perfect mother. A lady was defined as someone who does not have to work outside home. The harsh, outside world was a sphere from which she should be “protected.”

While working-class women worked out of necessity, in the middle class family, the man became the “bread winner.” No respectable middle-class businessman could permit his wife to engage in an occupation outside the home without risking a loss in social standing in the community. Since the husband became the only income producer, the rest of the family became more dependent on him than he was on them; a woman’s vaunted role as wife and mother essentially lost status. This major shift in the balance between husbands and wives was major. Gender inequality was thus enforced for both the women who were recruited for factory work, and for those whose status demanded that they stay at home.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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Women in World History Curriculum