Gender Roles, History, Family – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – by Abbey DeLisle. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Gender Roles, History, Family – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – by Abbey DeLisle. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


There is no doubt that things were much different in 1948 compared to 2017. My maternal grandmother was in high school from 1948-1952, during the height of the domestic scene for women in America. No boys were found in sewing or cooking classes, boys and girls had gym class separately, girls wore dresses to school every day (no shorts allowed for girls!), and only boys were allowed to take auto mechanic class. Although very irritating to me, pretty predictable. But my grandma elaborated on many more things and informed me that boys took typing along with girls and girls had shop class for 8 weeks. How intriguing! Just as I was condescending the 1950s for sexism, conversation allowed me to see complications I had never thought about before.

Moving on to the next generation, my mother, I thought I had it all figured out. My mother went to high school from 1977-1981, a time I forgot was also much different than the current time. My mom informed me that gym class was still separated by gender, boys didn’t take sewing, shorts at school was not allowed for girls, and girls didn’t take auto mechanics. Arbitrarily it appears, girls had to take foundry (shop, gardening, and woodworking), basically what is taught to boys and girls in current curriculum. My grandma jumped in and said she was shocked when my mother didn’t make my father’s lunch everyday like she had, and admitted she made her daughters clean every Saturday but not her son. I was beginning to see the distance that time and societal changes had created between the generations.

In the 1950s, it was largely assumed that the women’s place was in the home and they “didn’t talk about that stuff” (referring to social issues). But as easily as I forgot about the struggles of sexism in the 70s and 80s, my mother didn’t question the norms. We take for granted how far we have come but yet we stand in the same place as our predecessors still, unless we continue to discuss societal issues that need to change.

Abbey DeLisle, NSR Staff Writer, is a Junior Biology and Peace & Justice double major; The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, Class of 2018

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


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64 responses to “Gender Roles, History, Family – Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell – by Abbey DeLisle. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Tessa Lowry

    thank you for sharing your story with us, I do still think there are gender roles around today. Although they are still around they are nowhere near as prominent as they were. If you look at the mechanic field there are not many women in the profession, not because they aren’t allowed but just because of how its viewed. I believe strongly that a female can do anything a man can do and especially at home a job should not just be expected because of your sex. My grandparents are not like this and I am very thankful that I have not had very many experiences with anyone like this.

  2. Madina Tall

    Thank you for this interesting article abbey. It is very strange and difficult for us to imagine a time that we can only envision through oral and written histories. Although it may be difficult for us to take in, i think it’s still very important for us to accept the past and learn from it. We have indeed come a long way but there is much more that we must work on. I think it is always best to look back at what has been done wrong and right so that we do not repeat the same mistakes as history told us not to do.

  3. Shelby Olson

    Thanks for sharing! It’s very interesting to learn about the various school experiences your grandmother and mother went through and how it was different for the boys and girls during the time each were in high school. This definitely makes me want to bring up the topic to my family as it is something that I have never discussed with them. I’m glad you mentioned how we often take for granted how far we come and also address the need for us to continue to discuss issues so that we can continue making improvements towards becoming a more just society. I think that while people are currently able to choose their classes regardless of their gender, there is still an underlying idea similar to that of the past where one gender may be more prevalent in a specific class. I think that a lot of this stems from the way we are raised, so I think it is important for parents (or just people in general) to be more empowering and encouraging of young people so that they feel more comfortable branching out to take classes that they may not have been allowed to take in the past based off of their gender.

  4. Tamer Mische-Richter

    Looking at the education of your grandmother compared to education of today is contrasting. While gender roles are still alive today, they are sometimes less obvious or pronounced. This is why I believe it is still an issue. Men are taught to be masculine and not involve themselves in emotional values and it truly pisses me off. I think of myself as lucky in the way that I was raised by my parents as I still catch myself tearing up at seemingly smaller issues. Yes, my Mom taught me how to sew and cook, and my Pop taught me how to woodwork. The culmination of the entire education that I received was not focused on how to be a man. My parents focused on how to be a good person before everything else.

  5. Cassandra Mahlberg

    Abbey, I think this article is really interesting to read in 2019, because even in 2017, we were still more likely to cling to traditional gender norms than question them. I am seeing a change now, however, with the acknowledgement of a broader spectrum of genders as we also embrace the idea that anything one human can do, almost any other can do (and if they can’t, we should be accomodating and innovating so that they can). It was really cool to read about the way your family has developed and seen the change in gender roles over time, but also frustrating to see how much things haven’t really changed. I think having choice in what electives kids are choosing is important, but also destigmatizing people who don’t conform to traditional gender norms while choosing classes or hobbies will play a critical role in making change. Looking at the rate of progression of societal acceptance of gender nonconformity over these generations, we can see that there is still a lot of change to make in the years to come.

  6. Alexis McCort

    Thank you for recounting this story about your family and the gender roles they hold through generations. I think it is so unbelievable to think about the way our view of what men and women can do has changed. Through only 2 generations you can see such drastically different views of what feminism and gender roles mean to people and it is truly fascinating. It reminded me of the gender roles in the ancient Roman Empire that we are learning about. In Tignor it says that the paterfamilias (the patriarch of the family) “had nearly total power over his dependents” (p. 266). I realized reading this that this was not far off from the power that fathers had (and often still have) in families! It is so interesting to think about gender roles over time. Thank you for sharing!

  7. Tessa Erickson-Thoemke

    Hi Abbey,
    Thank you for sharing this information about gender roles. It is interesting to compare gender roles from years ago to what they look like today. I agree that we have made progress regarding equality of gender roles, but we do still have obstacles to overcome. However, thinking about even longer ago, we can see that women used to be more restricted still. For example, women in Assyria between 911-612 BCE had almost no control over their own lives. Women were required to wear veils and could not interact with anyone outside of the family. Also, all inheritance was passed through the male line (Tignor, 2018, p. 132). Learning about the lives of women from this time period makes me feel relieved that norms have changed since then, and we can still see them changing and progressing. Great article!

  8. Natalie A Johnson

    This is a very well written article filled with interesting ideas. I have had conversations similar to this one with my grandmother as well. The times seem so different that our time now. As women, we have made a lot of progress in our world, but you’re right we still have more progress to make. There are countries around the world where women are still restricted from certain rights.

  9. Elizabeth Ericson

    Thank you for sharing your experience and conversation with your mother and grandmother. I also find it incredibly interesting how far our world has come in terms of social norms. My grandma was always in the house cooking and cleaning while my grandpa was working on the farm. In the book “Worlds Together Worlds Apart” it was stated that in history men had nearly all of the power over his dependents (Tignor et al., 266). I believe that for the most part, our grandparents grew up experiencing the same beliefs. I am very happy that our world is starting to evolve to a more gender equal environment. Thank you again for sharing!
    – Liz

  10. Kasey Kalthoff

    Thanks for sharing, I am glad that you were able to have good conversations about this topic. It is amazing how much we have advanced in women’s rights in just a decade. Reflecting upon the last century, the comparison with now is almost night and day. In my history class we are reading the textbook “Worlds Together Worlds Apart”. The textbook briefly talked about women in Assyria. I quote, “Women in Assyria were far more restricted than their counterparts in the earlier periods of Sumerian and Old Babylonian Mesopotamia” (Tignor et al., 2018, p. 132). It is great that our current world is focused on making gender equality a priority.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Kasey K.

  11. Tanner Egelkraut

    Thank you for sharing this very informational conversation you had with your Grandma and Mother. I too have had conversations in passing with my relatives who lived back then about how society was very different back then. One passage from my textbook that reminded me of this was this: The authoritarian paterfamilias (“father of the family”) headed the family. Legally speaking, he had nearly total power over his dependents, including his wife, children, grandchildren, and the slaves whom he owned (Tignor, et al. 2018 p. 266). Back during the Roman times, the man of the household had complete control over what his family, including his wife, did. She did not have rights like women do today. This would be a very sad time for women to live in. I hope that we continue to learn from our mistakes like this.

  12. Lydia Liubakka

    What an interesting way to go about research. It was eye opening for you to see how different your mother and grandmother were just through the process of interview. As I read through some of the comments, I found writers using “sex” and “gender” interchangeably. I want to thank you for using the term gender in your article; that distinction is an important one we must make today. While you state that women have made much progress today compared to the past, it is also important to consider intersectionalities. Many women of color or LGBTQ+ women would disagree about the level of progress that has been made regarding the gender roles and expectations they face.

  13. Anna Becker

    This topic of gender roles is kind of remarkable in how it has evolved over time. Needless to say, a lot has changed. It is important to learn about these past situations though, for they allow us to recognize and be grateful for our capabilities throughout the independence that was fought for by our elders. This day in age, we have developed a lot of freedom to be able to develop our own beliefs behind “gender roles.” This in turn, provides us with the knowledge that some people enjoy and prefer to take part in stereotypical gender roles, while others do not. It is also important to recognize that at various locations throughout the world, people do not have the choice to determine what they want their gender roles to be. The topic of gender is not an easy one to discuss, it will continue to evolve over time just as we will evolve. But I look forward to seeing where the journey of knowledge behind gender and gender roles will take us.
    Thank you Abbey this was a wonderful article to share,
    Anna Becker

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