Gender roles have always had a major role in history. As long as civilizations have existed, there have been expected roles for both men and women. While there have been a few people who have challenged these expectations over time, the industrial revolution was the first time that these societal norms were challenged on a mass scale.
As the Industrial Revolution progressed, much unskilled labor was needed to work the machines and equipment that produced the manufactured goods that now had a place in the market. To fill this need, companies began hiring women. While some women did work outside of the home before the Industrial revolution, it was typically in positions such as school teachers or nurses, roles generally viewed as feminine or motherly (National Women’s History Museum). The number of women employed grew exponentially during the 19th century in response to the job openings in factories. Companies actually preferred to hire women, but it wasn’t because their nimble fingers were more capable of operating the machinery. The gender roles of society made it okay to pay women workers way less than the men who did the same jobs. In Japan, women who worked in the silk industry were practically slaves (Bridging World History).
Another downside of factory jobs were the working conditions. Manufacturing centers were dirty, crowded, and unsafe. In the historic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, 145 workers died because of a lack of safety equipment in the factory (History). The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire was a tragedy, but it did lead to legislation that protected workers and ignited many worker’s unions to continue fighting for the rights of laborers.
The success that worker’s unions had in achieving protections inspired women to fight for their rights, too. This movement was met with much more backlash (NWHM). Working conditions in factories was a fairly new issue, with no expectations yet set in stone, so they were easier to challenge than the centuries old expectations on the role of women in society. Some ground was eventually made in the fight for women’s rights, but it wasn’t until 1920 that they won the right to vote in the united states. Even today, in 2015, women are still fighting for equal rights and men in most countries. In countries that have not yet experienced industrialization, the disparities between women and men are even deeper.
The Industrial Revolution ignited the feminism debate, one that is still being fiercely discussed across Europe and North America, illustrated by this Pinterest Pin .
The rights of women was important in the industrial revolution because fair employment and rights could empower a woman toward independence. This issue is still important in the world today as gender roles continue to be challenged and changes are beginning to be accepted in industrialized nations.