Before the start of the twentieth century, the lives of women in Britain were characterized by limited opportunities and gender inequality. Most women were expected to stay at home raising children and taking care of their husbands. The opportunities available to these women were few. However, the situation changed starting from the late nineteenth century. This paper will discuss how the possibilities available for women changed from the late nineteenth century through the start of the Second World War.
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A major cause for the increase of opportunities for women was the political activism by women during this period. Bronstein and Harris observe that by the end of the 19th century, politics was a male-dominated field (111). Women were not given the chance to participate in the political world. However, this changed significantly between the late 19th and 1938. During this period, women became involved in general politics and social reform campaigns (Bronstein and Harris 168). They took part in movements that focused on their own oppression as a sex and set out to challenge gender based inequalities. This led to women getting representation in the formal political arena. Successful entry into politics made it possible for women to achieve significant changes in their social position.
Another cause of change was the availability of birth control measures for women. Before birth control measures were widely available, women were burdened by unplanned or unwanted pregnancies. Birth control made it possible for women to engage in formal labour consistently (Bronstein and Harris 118). The ability of women to engage in formal labour was limited following birth since the woman had to engage in exhausting domestic labour. With birth control methods, the woman could avoid getting pregnant until she was ready to deal with the burdens of child care. Birth control contributed to the decline in family size. These decrease led to a change in the possibilities available for women. By the start of the Second World War, the family size in Britain had decreased to an average of 3 children in a family. Women could therefore dedicate more time to other activities such as politics and economic opportunities.
The demand for labour in Europe especially after the First World War led to more employment opportunities for women. As more men went to the battlefield and the demand for industrial products increased, there was need for more workers in British factories. Bronstein and Harris document that these factors were associated with the growth of female employment (168). Involvement in paid labour gave women economic freedom and their independence was therefore increased.
The leisure and recreation activities of women increased from the nineteenth century to the start of the Second World War. To begin with, women had more free time due to the reduction in family size. In addition to this, the ability to engage in income earning led to more women participating in leisure activities (Bronstein and Harris 115). By 1940, England had 4,800 cinemas and many working women were able to attend these entertainment venues.
The 20th century marked many important and positive changes in the lives of women in Europe. This paper has discussed the changes that led to an increase in the possibilities available to women from the late nineteenth century through the start of the Second World War. The paper has noted how political activism increased the social position of women. The large-scale introduction of birth control gave women more control over their reproductive abilities. Greater employment opportunities increased the independence of women and enabled them to engage in more leisure activities. As such, women had more opportunities available to them by the start of the Second World War than they had had at the end of the nineteenth century.
Bronstein, Jamie and Harris Andrew. Empire, State, and Society: Britain since 1830. NY: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. Print.