The purpose of our blog is to discuss topical issues, stories, and situations, as well as to share what we are up to and new ways for you to get involved. We are always searching for possible answers to the question: Why is a girl's worth culturally and historically relative?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Women's History Month "W": Barbara Ward and Working Women


Barbara Ward in 1945.  Kurt Hutton / Picture Post / Getty Images

Barbara Ward was born in 1914 in Yorkshire England, her father a lawyer with Quaker leanings and her mother a devout Catholic.  Because of her father's Quaker beliefs, Barbara was well educated, and after attending a convent school, she went on to study at lycée in Paris, before continuing on to study at the Sorbonne, and then in Germany.  Though it was her intent to study modern languages, her interested changed, and she studied politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford, graduating in 1935.  Her postgraduate work studied Austrian economics, and after witnessing anti-semitism there, Barbara helped Jewish refugees, helping to form Sword of the Spirit, which brought together Anglicans and Catholics who were opposed to Nazism.  During the war, Barbara worked for the Ministry of Information, and traveled extensively to Europe and the US.  After the war, she was a proponent of the Marshall Plan, and she convinced foreign secretary Ernest Bevin to adopt the plan. 

In 1938, at the age of  24, Barbara published her first book, The International Share-out, at which point she was offered a job at the magazine The Economist.  She eventually became foreign editor of the magazine, and left in 1950, though she continued to contribute articles to The Economist.  She continued to publish throughout her life, including Defence of the West  in 1942, India and the West and The Rich Nations and the Poor Nations in 1961, Only One Earth with René Dubos in 1972, and Progress for a Small Planet in 1979.  Barbara  was one of the first advocates for environmental and resource conservation, as well as dealing with poverty around the world, both of which she believed would benefit world economies.  Her beliefs on the environment and developing nations, as well as her stance on building relationships with Asia were well ahead of her time.  As such, she founded the International Institute for Environment and Development to advance her beliefs.  Although she died in 1981, her work and theories are still relevant today.


Our visionary perspective is the true realism--and that is what we must pursue.
~Barbara Ward, British Economist and Writer

I think we have to own the fears that we have of each other, and then, in some practical way, some daily way, figure out how to see people differently than the way we were brought up to.
~Alice Walker, African-American Writer and Pulitzer Prize Winner

Show me someone who never gossips, and I'll show you someone who isn't interested in people.
~Barbara Walters, Journalist, Television Talk Show Host

Make women rational creatures, and free citizens, and they will quickly become good wives; — that is, if men do not neglect the duties of husbands and fathers.
~Mary Wollstonecraft, British Writer, Philosopher, and Women's Rights Advocate

Marriage is a great institution, but I'm not ready for an institution yet.
~Mae West, American Actress, Playwright, Screenwriter, and Sex Symbol


You could ask 100 different people what they think about women and work, and you would most likely get 100 different answers.  There's the glass ceiling, and whether or not women have broken through it.  There's the gender pay gap, and the ensuing discussion about the cause—are women paid less than men because of lower wages, or less time working in a life time (usually attributed to maternity leave), both, or something else?  And then there's “women's work” and all the possible associated meanings: giving birth, raising children, housekeeping, cooking (except professionally), being a teacher or child care worker, and so on down the line of stereotypical gender roles. 

Women and the work they do is a complex subject, due largely to perceived gender roles.  Some jobs can only be done by women—childbirth and wet-nurse come to mind.  But the notion of specific gender roles is beginning to bend. In most of the world, women are expected to work for a wage, and need to do so, in order to support themselves and their families, or to at least provide a measure of independence for themselves.  And though the picture of Donna Reed as the perfect housewife is still an enduring image of the stay-at-home woman, women have actually been venturing out of the home and into the workplace since the beginnings of civilization.  In ancient Egypt, for example, women could own property, sign contracts, and work—though most of an ancient Egyptian woman's personal income came either through bartering or domestic work, though skilled women could weave, be musicians, or be professional mourners at funerals.  Educated women could possibly even have been administrators or other professionals.

In Victorian England, both women and children often worked, though for a lower wage and less regularly then men did.  With large households and a growing life expectancy, many households depended on the wages that women and children could bring in.  Victorian Women tended to go into domestic service (about 40%, or 50% in London, according to the 1851 census), though domestic service was closely followed by the textile industry.  In more heavily populated areas, women also worked in the baking, brewing, or retail professions, worked as inn-keepers, did laundry, or worked as seamstresses.  Because women had limited property rights, it made it difficult for them to own their own businesses, though Victorian women served did  take over their family businesses (in secret or not), and kept books, handled correspondence, and met with clients.

In modern times, women often do work alongside men, and though there are still the perceived gender roles, many women work in fields that have traditionally been considered masculine jobs.  Women and men alike are conscripted into the Israel Defense Forces, and both may serve in combat.  Danica Patrick has proven that women are fully capable and can be very successful racing drivers.  There are currently 11 CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and while 11 out of 500 may not be very high, it wasn't until 1973 that a woman became CEO of a Fortune 500 company (Katherine Graham of the Washington Post Company).  So while women are definitely beginning to be noticed in the upper echelons of the workforce, we've still got a long way to go to break down those gender roles.

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