The construction of gender is typical in every society. Admittedly, almost all societies in the globe structure their societies in terms of gender roles. For the most part, men have been portrayed as superior to women. The roles, perceptions, and achievements of women have been continuously shaped by the society, thereby determining the professions and roles that they take. However, women's roles have been changing throughout history. Presently, they can now work in occupations that were earlier considered to be male-dominated.
As indicated by Walsh (2010), the decade of the 1960s witnessed notable changes in women's role in the American society. Earlier in the decade, the media and advertisements depicted women as secretaries, happy homemakers, nurses, as well as teachers. Those who failed to secure husbands were portrayed as unfortunate spinsters and unattractive. They were mainly meant to strive for elegance, beauty, marriage, children, and a good home which was adequately managed.
Notably, the emergence of the first birth control pill in the 1960s widely contributed to the change of women's roles in the American society. As a result of this invention, women had the opportunity to choose when and if they wanted to get pregnant, enabling many of them to enter the employment sector. It should be noted that before the emergence of the pill, women were often busy rearing children (Messina, 2014). Additionally, in 1963, a legal report was released demanding that women be given equality in education and employment opportunities, as well as salaries. According to the report, special support was to be provided to working mothers. For example, the government was to offer day-care centers and maternity leave.
In addition, women in the 1960s actively participated in politics because the government had banned discrimination in the employment sector based on race, gender, and nationality. Women such as Joan Baez and Fanny Lou Hamer actively took part in civil rights groups, and they made tremendous efforts in their quest for equality. Further, an organization such as the National Organization for Women, which was established in 1966 and Women Strike for Peace, established in 1960 brought many women together to influence both social and political policy (Walsh, 2010). Consequently, they worked hard towards advocating for their rights in the American society.
Primarily, a woman's role in the society began to change in the 1960s as the images of women in popular culture and the media started to reflect those changes. For the most part, television shows continued to portray stereotyped female characters. However, movies began depicting women who did not fit into the traditional gender roles. It is during this period that they started to remarkably play critical roles in business, media, politics, as well as other influential sectors. In addition, the achievements of women in sciences, arts, and humanities were also widely evident in this decade.
In the decade of the 1990s, a change in television programming resulted in a shift in the perspectives of women. Television programming at that time paid less attention to traditional networks and focused more on multiple channels that provided the audience with more control and options over what they wanted to watch. This consequently resulted in more opportunities for women to watch television shows that focused on themselves. Female audiences could now watch prosperous, independent versions of themselves anywhere from drama, to comedy to action films. Moreover, pop culture in the 1990s started focusing on intelligent and outspoken women with television shows such as "Pepper Ann" and "Clarissa Explains it All." Such shows enlightened the women of the 1990s that they could work in any career they wanted.
Inherently, there was a considerable increase in the number of women taking part in the labor force which led to a significant increase in their income (Issa, 2016). Most of them were able to acquire formal employment, thus enabling them to provide for their families just like their male counterparts. At the same time, women made significant achievements in politics during this period. An example is Janet Reno who became the first woman in the American society to serve as the Attorney General of the United States.
It must be noted that in the 1990s, the American military fought actively in the Gulf war. Interestingly, many women served in the war, and female pilots were further given the opportunity to fly combat missions. Towards the end of the decade, women were the pilots of warplanes, and they even served on combat ships. In addition to fighting in the military, women also received extensive education in the decade. There were equal education opportunities for both boys and girls, thus improving the literacy levels of women.
The American society views Hillary Clinton as both influential and successful. She is regarded this way mainly because during the decade of 2000 - 2009, she not only served as the first lady of the United States of America but also as the Senator, a presidential candidate for a major political party, and a Secretary of State (Boyer, 2006). Her success in politics is mainly attributed to her aggressive behavior. She has succeeded in a profession that is mostly dominated by men and further managed to become one of the most influential women in politics (Boyer, 2006). During her role as the first lady of the nation, she openly advised her husband and took an interest in the society and politics in general which signified that the role of women in the society was becoming complex. She has successfully shown the world that women can work and, at the same time, take care of the children and the home.
Essentially, if Hillary Clinton were born at the beginning of the 19th century, she would not be considered as important as if she were male. This is because women were not allowed to enter the workforce during this particular period. Their work was primarily to take care of children and the home in general. Therefore, Hillary Clinton would not have gotten the chance to participate in politics. In addition, her race outstandingly affects how people perceive her accomplishments and importance in the society. Being a white person, it is easy for her to achieve success in various professional domains in the society. The American society tends to be more favorable to White Americans.
Markedly, the functionalist theoretical perspective considers society as a complex system made up of different parts that collectively work together to promote stability and solidarity. It affirms that gender roles exist in the society to create a labor division which will, in turn, increase efficiency and resources. According to functionalists, women are in charge of the home, while the men provide for the family. The perspective has been widely utilized as a justification for male dominance in the society. Thus, the theory largely explains why women were not allowed to work in earlier decades.
Following the conflict perspective, social groups in the society that are in constant competition for scarce resources struggle for dominance (Lindsey, 2015). It further argues that gender can be comprehended as men try to maintain privilege and power over women. Thus, men are the dominant group and women are subordinate. However, when the dominant group exploits the subordinate group, social problems may arise. For example, in the perspective of conflict theory, the roles and perceptions of women have constantly been changing over the years primarily because of conflict between the two genders which has led to social change. As a result, women are now actively involved in the employment sector.
According to the symbolic interactionist perspective, social interaction is a process in which individuals continuously change their behavior based on the interaction itself. The theory affirms that the stratification of gender exists mainly because individuals act towards each other based on the meanings they create for one another. The concepts of femininity and masculinity are socially constructed via daily interactions. Hence, they can be viewed as gender identities. In essence, if the society perceives a woman as feminine, that woman will see herself as feminine, therefore, adopting feminine qualities (Lindsey, 2015). The changing roles of women in the American society reflect how women are always changing their behavior based on their social interactions over the years. Gender identities are continuously evolving, thereby enabling women to work in professions that were previously linked to men.
In conclusion, the roles, perceptions, and achievements of women have been continuously changing over time in the American society. As previously mentioned, women in both the 1960s and 1990s started participating actively in the employment sector. At the same time, they began entering into politics and other male-dominated professions. Hillary Clinton is remarkably a successful and influential person in the American society mainly because she has succeeded in politics - a profession that is primarily dominated by men. Besides, the functionalist perspective, conflict perspective, and symbolic interactionism are essential sociological theories that fundamentally explain the changing roles of women in the society.
Boyer, H. J. (2006). Hillary Rodham Clinton: Feminism, Success and the First Ladyship. Florida Atlantic University Libraries, 1-52.
Issa, E. E. (2016, December 22). Women and Credit Through the Decades: The '90s. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/credit-cards/women-credit-decades-90s/
Lindsey, L. L. (2015). Gender roles : a sociological perspective. London, UK : Routledge.
Messina, K. M. (2014). Change in the Role of American Women Through Radio and Television. Education and Human Development Master's Theses, 1-60.
Walsh, K. T. (2010, March 12). The 1960s: A Decade of Change for Women. Retrieved April 03, 2018, from https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2010/03/12/the-1960s-a-decade-of-change-for-women
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