Women Workers

Working women

Authored by: Deborah Simonton

The Routledge History of Women in Europe Since 1700

Print publication date:  December  2005
Online publication date:  April  2006

Print ISBN: 9780415301039
eBook ISBN: 9780203969120
Adobe ISBN: 9781134419067


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The world of work changed significantly over the past three centuries. A shift from a rural to an urban society, and a further shift from craft to manufacture and then to white-collar work affected what people were doing, when they did it, how they did it and who they did it with. New ideas and pressures influenced the structures and knowledge base that informed work practices and are reflective of cultural shifts in the notions of work, workplace and worker. Work means a range of things depending on when, where and about whom we are speaking. Sometimes it is a powerful term, other times an indication of drudgery. Probably the most obvious shift for women was when work at home became ‘not work’. This is not only about the location of work, because self-employed persons can work at home and be ‘at work’. It is partly about what the work is, who is doing it and the value placed on that work. Thus domestic roles and relationships with partners and family are central to understanding women’s position in the labour market. Women’s place in society is the result of a complex of ideas about what they are capable of and should do, so that their work, its types, locations and structures are gendered. Similarly, gendered division of labour is historically specific and the relationship between workers is renegotiated as the context changes. But division of labour along sexual lines is not only about dividing work according to ability; it is about power, status, position and gender.

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