The place of women in society has changed significantly in the last centuries. In many countries and communities throughout history, the central role of women was believed to be one of a wife and a mother. The 19th century saw an upsurge in the feminist movement that demanded equality for women. However, the stage for the campaign was set up much earlier. This essay will contrast the role of women during the American Revolutionary War to that of contemporary women on the example of Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence written by Carol Berkin.
The book provides many examples of women conforming to or rebelling against the traditional gender roles. During the Revolutionary War, women were forced to assume many of the tasks and jobs traditionally delegated to men. For example, farmwives began to mend fences, purchase farm equipment, be responsible for the payment of hired workers, and buy and sell slaves (Berkin). Berkin notes that the war played a significant role in demystifying gendered work roles in women’s eyes. Today, specific jobs, for instance, mechanics, can still be viewed as gendered by some. Nevertheless, women are offered more career opportunities and have more freedom in choosing their profession.
The traditional role of being a wife and a mother is discussed throughout the book, with several illustrations of women conforming to it or rejecting it. For instance, at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, some women decline marriage proposals from colonists loyal to Great Britain (Berkin). The refusal to marry men who applied for a stamped marriage license by the brides-to-be is an example of the women’s rejection of their traditional roles of wives (Berkin). In order to show their support for the cause of independence of the American states, women rejected their traditional role in parallel to the colonies rejecting the status-quo of being dependent on Britain. Nevertheless, many women, such as Martha Washington, resorted to their traditional roles of wives and homemakers, who spent their time at home, waiting for their husbands to return from war (Berkin). Unlike other women during the Revolutionary War, Martha Washington could afford not to work and had slaves tend to her house.
In contrast, today, women in most countries are free to choose whether to become a wife and a mother, with the refusal not being viewed as a rebellion against society. It is becoming more widely accepted that women may opt to focus on a career or choose not to have children due to personal choice. Nevertheless, the role of a homemaker is still primarily attributed to women in many communities, even though it can be combined with nontraditional roles, such as one of a professional or a breadwinner. Thus, even though women have more freedoms than in the 18th century, they are still often expected to assume some aspects of women’s traditional roles.
Moreover, the book offers many examples of women being discriminated against based on their race and ethnicity. For example, black slave parents were often separated from their children if their owners decided to move to another state for safety (Berkin). Thus, black mothers were separated from their children, similar to how many Mexican mothers are separated from theirs on the U.S.-Mexican border. However, during the war for independence, children were left in an active warzone and town, often invaded by British soldiers, while the children today are taken into the country that is deemed as a safer one by the parents themselves. Furthermore, as a punishment, some slave women were sold away by their masters when they became pregnant (Berkin). If the patriarchy praised white women for delivering and raising children, black women were punished if the future child was of no use to their master.
During the Revolutionary War, the position of Indian women in society and their tribes also changed significantly. They experienced racism and sexism as their voices, important within their tribes, were not heard or respected by the American governments (Berkin). This ignorance on the part of the government led to a gradual disregard for the voice of women shown by their fellow tribesmen (Berkin). Thus, the view of women displayed by the European settlers was acquired by the Native Americans. It can be stated that today the voices and opinions of women are more respected and held in higher esteem, with many women becoming leading experts whose opinions are valued. Nevertheless, it can also be argued that women’s voices are still not being heard in some communities.
In conclusion, the book showed that women played a pivotal role in the Revolutionary War both in supporting men and acting of their own accord and protecting their homes. It was surprising to learn how strong of an influence white settlers had on the Indian community, substantially changing the place of women within the tribes. It can be asserted that the role of women today changed significantly, with them being granted more freedoms in their personal and professional lives. Nevertheless, many similarities remain, including the separation from their children being used as a punishment by slave owners in the 18th century and the American government today. In addition, women are still expected to adopt some features of the traditional role, although they might be combined with other roles.
Berkin, Carol. Revolutionary Mothers: Women in the Struggle for America’s Independence. Vintage, 2007.