Before the 20th century, there was enormous growth in the suffrage movement in the United States. Women were struggling to attain their political equality right, to vote and to choose their leaders. Even an independent woman was not accorded the right to vote neither did she have any autonomy over her life. In the book -Women and Madness in the 19th Century--by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, it clearly shows how women are driven to illness through societal oppression which was dominated by men. This statement indicates that women were forced to perform the role of being submissive and subservient to men. They were expected to be dutiful and not to demand any equality right from the man. According to this author, women were just victims of circumstance in the society.
In the Edith Whartons novel The Age of Innocence, the main characters May Welland and Ellen Olenska clearly shows the representation of women in the 19th century, and it reveals how the society was oppressive to women. Ellen's husband is cruel and abusive and he goes to an extend of stealing her fortune. May and Ellen represent two contrasting female identities in the society. In the play, the people cast Ellen out of New York society, and this reflects the fact that women had to suffer betrayal and social punishments. No woman was allowed to challenge the social culture and whoever tried to go against the customs was regarded as a betrayer and could be cast out of the society.
According to Jo Freeman, feminism movements played a major part in delivering women from the oppressive society that was dominated by male. Women had got sick of living the strict lifestyle that they were forced to live. They had become bored of staying in their houses, and so they wanted to go outside and do what they were capable of doing. They decided that enough is enough and that they should get equal opportunities that men receive. It is evident from Freeman's words the most prominent characteristic of all Bitches is that they rudely violate conceptions of proper sex role behavior that male got rights and this, in essence, means that women got little rights or none from the oppressive society.
Susan Glasspel wrote the book -Jury of Her Peers-and this described the reasons as to why women need to join together hand in hand to overcome the constraints placed on them by the patriarchy dictated society. Minnie in the play did not even have the right to control her body out of her husband's reach. This means that her husband could control her life, and this reflects how women in the 19th century the society treated them. Through her play Trifles and short stories; Glasspel wanted to bring to light the real side of women against the patriarchy that had long controlled the society. Women never had their right to live the way they pleased, and neither were they given education as men.
The beginning of the 20th century witnessed changes of women in almost every aspect of their daily lives ranging from their domestic to public spheres. Women had now begun to be recognized equally as men. The women movements had fought a successful battle in trying to bring equality to women as those of men. During this period, there was the rise of female artists and other professionals who propelled into the workforce, and this transformed the status quo, traditional patriarchal social structure in America and other parts of the world. By the mid of 20th century, women roles and concerns had been fully recognized and hence marking a revolutionary change in the social functions of women in the society.
Events such as civil rights movement contributed largely to the spread of feminism ideologies in the United States. In early 1960s, feminists joined other anti-racial Crusaders to push for non-discriminatory legislations which led to the enactment of Civil Rights Act. Feminists welcomed Civil Rights Act and viewed it as a gender friendly piece of legislation although the intention of the Act was to bring racial discriminations to an end.
While concluding it is important to note the contribution of literature in highlighting the plight of women in the 20th Century, this activity has led to the enormous contribution of women empowerment in the United States and the world as a whole. Feminism movements ensured that many individual women lives were transformed throughout the 20th Century.
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