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Motherhood and Labor

In the life of every woman, motherhood is typically the focal point of her life. Having children and taking care of the family is one the major responsibilities of a woman. On the other hand, the man is generally responsible for working and earning to provide for the whole family. Such situation is the stereotypical form of gender responsibilities allotted for males and females. However, due to various circumstances such as financial needs, women also need to work along with their responsibility of taking care of the children and the whole family.

Nevertheless, as men are built as physically stronger than women, there are certain jobs that are only open for men. Although there are available jobs for women, gender is still an issue faced by working mothers. In the book Home to Work- Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States, Eileen Boris highlights the different political and institutional problems of women during the 19th and 20th centuries regarding working at home and still providing monetary means to their family.

In the United States, although many are currently liberated and are very much open to the changes which had occurred during the 20th century, many traditionalists still renounce the idea of working mothers. True enough, the concept of working mothers is one of the most contradicting words ever made during those times as Boris stated, “ To a nation that still associates mothers with the home, the specter of mothers journeying to other places threatens social disasters.

After all, mothers care for children; nurturing has not placed in labor market” (1). In reality, there are women who cannot exchange work for home because the males cannot fully provide for the means of the whole family. In order to have a decent life, the mother needs to work in exchange for stretching out her time to fulfill her duties and responsibilities as a mother.

In New York in 1885, a statute was imposed wherein the highest courts banned cigar-making in Brooklyn and New York City tenement houses wherein families sleeping, cooking, and doing normal, daily activities lived. Due to the unconvincing statements regarding public healthcare, the court of appeals utilized the measures of free labor and argued that “a man’s property and personal liberty could not be taken away without due process of law” (Boris 21). However, the law was interpreted in a different manner, suggesting that the law was gendered.

In fact, one cigarette maker was asked by a judge to affirm his paternalism in the family stating that: “It cannot be perceived how the cigar maker is to be improved in his health or his orals by forcing him from his home and his hallowed associations and beneficent influences, to ply his trade elsewhere” (Boris 21). Thus, this justifies the idea that men could do work at home in order to supervise his family. However, the courts did not see that at home, men were able to make their wives or children work for them as laborers of their own little industry in the house.

Therefore, with such reasoning, Jacobs set the legal boundaries in order to regulate home work. The legal boundaries framed the discussion regarding dirt, disease, as well as mistreatment under which the conflict over industrial homework took place throughout the final decades of the nineteenth century. After such, the decision of the courts shed light the relationship of ethnicity, class, gender in public policies and law. In one of the negotiations in labor standards, Jacobs presented the general understanding with regard to gender that had been standing along the issues of labor and capital.

Such issue also conflicts with the concerns regarding division of classes, ethnicity, sex, and skills in Gilded Age America. As cigar-makers, women and the daughters and wives of cigar makers had fought actively in order to make a better working condition for their craft. Although women are not the direct agent in cigar-making or the main participant in such craft, they were the ones who inspired the creation of Jacobs. Boris described women as, “The degraded opposite of the craftworker, she was both the object and beneficiary of working-class masculinity.

” (22) White males, while doing home work have farther separated themselves in the issue of equality with women workers moreover; they neglected women while fighting for their rights to have a family wage. Male workers argued that working at home have undermined the values of the American family. One of their major arguments is the role of women in society to which her dedication must be focused on the family and not with industrial work. In addition to the inequality of gender, homework is regarded a form of slavery in the industrialized labor force.

Samuel Gompers, a labor union leader during those times stated that, “the manufacturers say that they have inaugurated the tenement system for out benefit and at our request […] Yes, as the slave kneels and holds up his hands for his shackles” (qtd. in Boris 23). Gompers was able to associate industrial labor work force with the concepts of dependency, weakness, and loss of masculinity. In addition, Gompers utilized the ideologies of racism, nativism, and male masculinity in order to secure the limited visualization of the working class.

After sometime, the labor force in the tenement was joined with new competitors—less skilled women and Chinese laborers who then targets man’s freeborn rights through competition. On the other hand, women laborers made an effort to claim equality of natural rights. However, their quest of having “self rule” was not fully push forward due to the concept of domesticity (Boris 23). Therefore, free labor was personified during the Fourteenth Amendment. The amendment created a division with gender stating that: “Free labor contrasted with slave labor; to be slaw was to be unmanly, a dependent, and like a woman” (Boris 23).

With such, the gender relation and association of work was highly observed. With such interpretations of actions and the concepts in the society, many workers refuse to accept homework. Still, the fight against cigarette making in tenement houses within the law and in their workplace was a vital moment in shaping the masculinist voluntarism and racialists of the American Federation of Labor. Through the experience of the Cigar Maker’s International Union and Gompers, they have developed an understanding of class, race, and gender.

This battle was often fought by men in an attempt to resolve the connection of work place and home and the promotion of the activities which should be segregated to various people (immigrants, male or female). Even though there were realizations and learning from the men’s point of view, the women’s voices as well as the immigrant workers were still unheard. Despite the skills that women have, in labor force, wives still see men or their husbands as the head of the cigarette making groups. Convinced that men are more dominant that women, most of the families are still in the Old World—patriarchal family setting.

Numerous women still continue to do household duties and maintain a greater responsibility at home. As a result, women still are not acknowledged as equal to men, therefore making these women secondary in men in terms of labor force. On the other hand, the maintenance of the division of power caused unionized cigar-makers to celebrate. Boris stated that, “From the very beginning, the organized cigar makers’ campaign against thee tenement house system combined a discourse of horror and disease with an ideology of gender that resembled Victorian notions of womanhood, manhood and homelife but was rooted in artisanal culture” (28).

During the World War I, it was witnessed by many that homework had been changed through the rationale and the introduction of new voices within the debates. In addition, the promise of having federal regulation throughout the times of World War I diminished which led the issue regarding homework to be left to the state, causing homework to continue. However, the officials of Control of Labor Standards for Army Clothing predicted government parameters of home labor as well as the systems of industrial relations of the New Deal.

Also, because the United States is at war during those moments, gendered regulations have influenced labor standards as well as industrial democracy in general. Accordingly, during those times, the issue with regard to race, gender, and class is added with issues of citizenship and patriotism. Both of the new issues being debated about are very connected during the moment of war. Due to all the actions and evidences that Boris provided there are few inconsistencies which I have seen in the book.

Although there are said to be protests regarding the neglect of women in the labor force, other women who were interviewed do not see themselves as people who are being maltreated. Instead, they believe that they are contributing to the needs of the family. Even though there are women who are eager in the task to create equality among men and women and protesting against not being acknowledged and given proper attention, there are women who are very practical and do not desire to lose their home jobs. Homework is not only a sensible work wherein they could work but also women take care of their children and give them financial help.

Similar to what Nancy Burns, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba stated in their book The Private Roots of Public Action, due to gender roles, women do not tend to be political or open about issues of gender and equality. Rather, they tend to disregard such concept and choose practical ideas to help their family (Boris 198- 218). Women are acknowledged to be great laborers and skillful individuals who are very much capable of doing everything. Women can handle different tasks all at the same time while balancing work and family.

Homework has been a problem for many industrial companies as well as the laws and public policies in the United States. However, in reality, homework was able to help surviving immigrants to have income while the head of the family did not have permanent work. In conclusion, all the details that are provided in the book were well researched and well organized in terms of time and issues regarding women and motherhood. It is appealing to know that during the 19th and 20th century women were also forced to work in order to make a living and provide for the family.

However, the book gave me the impression that the analyses and the thoughts of the author are focused on the idea of motherhood and its relation to work. Although both are separate roles, it must be taken into consideration that work is needed by women in order to provide for her family’s need. Motherhood seems to only be limited with the home and family, but providing monetary funding is also one of the household needs. It is also disappointing that the book focuses on gender rights and not motherhood per se. The first chapter of the book was only focused on gender inequality and the unrighteous disregard of the hard work of women.

Although I know that equality must be attained by everyone, a family is still a family. Both the father and the mother each have their own duties to fulfill. Just like in factories, there are groups that wrap and collect the goods while the others create products. If a worker will be able to do it all, then he or she would not need any person to help him or her to finish the work. In addition, due to certain characteristics that men and women have, most women are undeniably more nurturing and passionate when it comes to taking care of the family. On the other hand, men tend to be more active and stronger.

Setting the situation during the 19th century and the 20th century, it could not be concealed that hierarchy and patriarchal system is deeply absorbed by women. Although seen as the other half of their husbands, they also greatly contribute to the increase of production of various goods. Works Cited Boris, Eileen. Home to Work: Motherhood and the Politics of Industrial Homework in the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Burns Nancy, Kay Lehman Schlozman, and Sidney Verba. The Private Roots of Public Action. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2001.

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