Before the 1800s, the large majority of men and women in the United States worked in the same environment on the farm or in the family business. Although distinct, the roles of men and women in the family economy of this period were not vastly different.
In response to the American Industrial Revolution, men migrated from working at home to factories and offices, while women became full-time homemakers. Therefore, the woman’s role of homemaker and the man’s role of economic provider were separately defined and different values were attached to men’s work and women’s work.
Over time, the perception of the ownership of these respective roles became more rigidly entrenched in the national value system due to the relentless socialization of both men and women in their respective roles. If women ventured into factories or offices, their roles were perceived as support functions only, and thus they were placed in menial jobs with low pay, status, and power.
Quite the contrary, however, their male counterparts were considered and socialized as the decision-makers in the workplace. 2Although some women entered the labor force under these conditions during the 1800s and early 1900s, it was the onset of World War II that actively pressed massive numbers of women into the workforce. Both married and single women were urged to fill jobs vacated by men who were drafted or volunteered for the armed forces.
Not only did women prove to be highly capable of performing these jobs, but they also enjoyed doing and being paid for valued work. After World War II, women did not return to their previous primary roles as homemakers but rather remained in the workforce low paid low status, and powerless employees. As employees, they experienced both access and valuation discrimination.
In the 1960s, women from all walks of life helped establish the National Organization for Women. Their vision included equal employment opportunities and an end to inequities in the workplace. Also during the 1960s, the Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, and the doctrine of Comparable Worth were implemented to address both access and valuation discrimination. As a result of legal intervention to ensure equal rights of women in the workforce, women not only entered into the workplace in unprecedentedly large numbers but also had access (though limited) to all types of professions.