Historically, women were perceived as “second-class” citizens in contrast to men. It was considered that women could not accomplish great deeds as virtuous and meaningful as those of men. To be sure, the wife generally remained subordinate to her husband, and only in exceptional cases could she run the “domestic government” in her own name. Nevertheless, in the analogy between home and state, she shared the “governmental power” over children and household staff.
Women’s work was considered less valuable because of social and gender inequalities that assigned women secondary roles and subordinate positions.
Traditionally, women’s work was less valuable because women were perceived as weaker, more passive, and more dependent creatures. Men ruled society and rejected female rationality. Also, the majority of women were less educated than men and could not read and write (Gleason et al 33). These assumptions were based on religious doctrines that God intended for women to be in the government of the church or the state. For a woman to engage in public affairs was not only a breach of the order, but it was also almost an act of effrontery. Women should preach and baptize only in cases of emergency when there were no men present to do so. As for the rest, women’s subordination to their husbands’ power remains unlimited: All women, as “daughters of Eve” were subject to male control, a control that can be tempered only by the requirement for love and community between spouses.
Women’s work was considered less valuable because they could not perform complex tasks and physical work similar to men. “Many women changed jobs frequently, particularly if they lacked scarce skills” (Frager and Patrias 36). Social space for women within the household appeared to have been indifferent to the larger issue of their civic identity. The ways in which their attitudes toward women were implicated in their more general theoretical doctrines and approaches based on religious and social values and historical traditions. Following Gleason et al: “northern pre-industrial rural settings is the image of the farm woman as nurturing caretaker of the domestic sphere Though her work was tiring and she was often incessantly busy, hers was an existence bounded by walls and sheltered from the coarser” (51).
The 19th and 20th centuries changed the role of women in society and work relations. In Canada, the exclusion of women from suffrage when the vote was extended to all adult men called into question the notions of universalism and popular representation that underlay the democratic system as it was being shaped in the West early in the 20th century. Increased participation of women in the political life of Canada influenced their labor relations, social inequality, and equal pay issues. Indeed, this demand usually seems to be linked to other forms of intervention: men and women’s affirmation of individual rights, or, in the framework of a collective emancipator process, such struggles as the civil rights movement (Gleason et al 38). If, throughout most of the Western world, women are now considered full-fledged citizens, the ways in which they acquired the vote are very different and strictly dependent upon specific historical circumstances. Social reforms and regulations improved the position of women: “Middle- and upper-class female volunteers in reform associations had prepared the way for paid female social workers by invoking gender ideology about women’s maternal responsibility” (Frager and Patrias 64).
This movement included women in the political life of Canada and helped them to fight for equal pay and protection from exploitation. The demand for recognition of women’s civil rights in the 19th century actually open the way to their political recognition and enfranchisement. the legislation stipulated the main criteria for women’s work: “Night work for women was prohibited, and their working hours were restricted to a maximum of ten per day and sixty per week” (Frager and Patrias 105). This complex internal process of broadening female citizenship was further complicated by the immigration of women who brought with them American, British, or French experiences and ideas that were to play an important role in the debates. Contemporary with the development of that new model of government, women’s demand for equal pay provides a striking picture of the ascendant ideology of democratic modernity (Gleason et al 76). That demand exposed the ambiguities of a political ideology that aimed at inclusiveness yet practiced exclusion, that sought to establish equality while basing it on differences, and that produced several types of citizenship: passive and active, social and political. Fight for freedom and equality pits the individualism and universalism associated with the fight against the male oppression implicit in the expression of differences and lies at the heart of the crisis of labor laws.
Frager, R.A., Patrias, C. Discounted Labor: Women Workers in Canada 1870-1939. University of Toronto Press, 2005.
Gleason, M. et al. eds. Rethinking Canada: The Promise of Women’s History, Oxford University Press, USA; 4 edition, 2003.