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

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

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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) css.edu

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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.

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41 Comments

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41 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 NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Kalahan Larson

    I think that this post is extremely important to look at in order to see how much our lives as women have changed over the past few centuries. Women were always assumed to be the caretakers and the housekeepers and slowly we have moved forward from that to where we are today, but many people don’t see the changes that we have made in this movement. I understand, as a woman, that yes, there are still some things that need to change, but I also can appreciate how far we have come. This article is important to look at the growth between generations, and is often something we do not think deeply about when we communicate with our family members. We have all grown up being raised in a way that our families have chosen, but our families have had to adapt to the new surroundings of our society.

  2. Nouqouja Yang

    I bet the stories your grandmother and mother told was very interesting. It’s amazing how things change so much throughout time. I know that for my tradition and culture (Hmong), the women were seen as housewives. This meant they had to cook, clean, fetch water, garden…etc. One very interesting thing I found out was that the Hmong women had to cook and set the table for the men. They could only eat after the men have eaten. This upsets me because of how unfair it was. Now, we don’t follow that eating tradition and women also eats at the same time. I’m relating this to your article because it’s interesting to see how different traditions rank their gender. It’s kind of similar but also different.
    I like how you said that we take it for granted on how far we’ve come. I totally agree with you because sometimes, I catch myself forgetting how much people went through for us today. Thank you for the reminder and such an amazing post.

  3. Molly McCusker

    It’s crazy to think about the differences in today’s schools in comparison to high school in the 1950s and 70s. I wasn’t as surprised to hear that your grandmother ran into gender differences in classes, but was more surprised to read that your mother experienced very similar issues within her school experience. My small high school offered several welding and wood work classes, and a majority of the students in the classes were male; it shows that even in today’s society, gender roles exist and are prevalent. In recent decades, but particularly in recent weeks, women have been active in their fight to change and eliminate these roles to ensure a more equal opportunity for every individual. Do you think women are on the right path in working towards a more equal representation, or do you think it is being pushed too far?

  4. Trevor Schwartz

    This post is very interesting to me. I’ve never had a conversation with my grandma about what her life was like growing up nor my mother really (About sexism). I’m going to ask them next time I see them. I am thankful that I’ve never really viewed it as guys do this and girls do that type of thing. I’ve always been taught do whatever you want in life, not what your gender tells you. My parents taught me that and I’ve viewed it as that because in my household growing up, both of my parents help each other with everything like dishes, yard work, and taking care of my sister and me. From this, I feel like times have definitely changed to how terrible the sexism was back in the 50’s and 70’s to today’s society where most of us are taught to go where ever life takes you, whether you’re a man or a woman. Times have come such a long way and we must be thankful for those who had to suffer from sexism.

  5. Alexa Lee

    I agree that women’s lives in America have changed tremendously, and we have a lot to be thankful for. I also believe, though, that there are very specific people to thank, and that would be the second-wave feminists (aka our ancestors). I think what some people don’t realize is that this type of change that you write about doesn’t just happen over time. It happened because many humans decided something needed to change to make equality more prevalent in society. I think it’s so great that you’ve had the opportunity to have a conversation with your grandmother and mother about family dynamics and the lives of women during each generation. It goes to show that what we teach younger generations has a serious impact on how they view the world and what they expect of themselves. My hope is that people are not so thankful for how far we’ve come, that we forget how far we still need to go.

  6. Sheila Iteghete

    I am so glad there are people we can look up to of today and understand the different lifestyles of the past. I appreciate you sharing stories of this such because it allows one to reflect on the past to remember how far we have come as a society, but also notice how much that still needs to be done as a society. Although we have taken such great steps into accepting the different genders of our society, people still struggle to determine what roles others can take on without the disapproving stares of the people they are surrounded by most of the time. All these changes are as result of the actions taken on by the generation following that time based on their stance of the happenings of their time. It also should be the effort of the society or it will not work towards a better and engaging society.

  7. Dylan Brovick

    This is a very relevant article for what is going on in the world today. Over the past 100 years women have been able to do so much and bring about a lot of social change. This can be seen at the marches back in the day for women’s suffrage, and just this past weekend all over the world women had their voices heard. It is through marches and protests like this that America and other countries have been able to change the perception of gender roles, and also show that women can work and do the same things that men can. The women of the past that had to go through their lives being the stay at home parent or the person who cleaned the house would be happy to see some of the things women are able to do now and the things they are accomplishing.

  8. Kathleen Reicher

    It is almost scary to think about how women were viewed such a short time ago. We have been lucky to have grown up in a time when we were taught that women can do whatever we wanted to do. I took shop classes in middle school and high school, and I was one of few women in those classes, but no one treated me differently or told me I couldn’t take those classes, and for that, I am grateful. Obviously, not all of the issues with women’s rights are solved, but you are right when you say that we have come a long way, and I think we should be proud of that. So far in my life, I have not been told I couldn’t do something just because I was a women. Nor have I been forced to do something because I was a woman. That’s a big step in the right direction. Thanks for sharing, Abbey!

  9. Elaina Wald

    I think that college-aged students, surely myself, view women’s rights movements and true injustice as a thing of the distant past. This excerpt does well to remind us that as recently as our mother’s high school years, the world was riddled with gender segregation and practices that would be considered unjust by today’s standards. To that point, we are still living in an unjust world and our children will reflect on our youth and think the same things. The most thought-provoking piece for me is the attitude each generation adopts toward the inequity. While I live under the naive assumption that our generation is fully aware/active, are there some things that we accept as a norm and neglect to realize the real gravity? Our grandmothers accepted their role as housekeeping cooks because it was the norm. Our mothers understood that girls took home economics and boys took auto mechanics and shop without a great deal of resistance. It makes me think that perhaps a few firebrands of our generation will make change that will seem ridiculously obvious to us in hindsight.

  10. Isabella Restrepo- Toro

    I thought this was really interesting as I believe gender roles have a huge impact on norms as well as how society,and history are interpreted. I was actually surprised to hear that both your grandmother and mother had gym classes that were separated by gender, something that you apparently didn’t have, as even though i graduated high school only three years ago 80% of my gym classes were also divided as teachers believed it would increase all of the students performance as one wouldn’t be semiconscious about ones body doing physical activity around people from the opposite sex.
    I have actually seen different trends in my family, my dad for instance knows how to sow way better than my mom does, and I remember he was usually the one that fixed all of my stuffed animals when i had damaged them after an intense game. However, this could also be an experience he gained in medical school, as sewing a person in principles is not that different from doing so in a toy. I have also seen that the cooking is not done by my mom if my dad is around, as they enjoy to do this activity together. And I would have to agree that in my family both of my parents share the responsibility of raising my sister and I, even if they have jobs and other responsibilities which they also share.
    I agree with you in saying that society has come far “but yet we stand in the same place as our predecessors still, unless we continue to discuss societal issues that need to change.”

  11. Michaela Campbell

    I think the content of your article was published at a great time in our current history. Recent events of our 45th President’s inauguration and the Women’s March across globe show very different examples of progress. I am glad that you took the time to ask and listen to what your mother and grandmother had to say about what high school curriculum was like as they were growing up in the 50’s-80’s. I cannot imagine a time when girls could not wear shorts to school (and from what I remember of my high school days, there were many limits on length of what you wore, etc.) You make a great point at the end of your article about sexism and the need to openly discuss societal change. I believe that we cannot improve the mistakes of our predecessors unless we challenge the ‘norms’ of society that help some but hinder others. Great piece, I hope to read more of your views/experiences.

  12. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing your story, Abbey! That is very interesting that even your mother had gender based classes. In my high school career, I did take a woods class that I seemed to be one of the few girls in my class and I knew it was not normal to be in that class. I did show some of my wood working skills off that my dad had taught me in his shop and it impressed the boys and the teacher. I think it is at times like this we need to make a stand and show others that a woman can do a some manly tasks. Our society today still thinks that a woman cannot be a mechanic, wood shop instructor, etc., and it is and will continue to be a slow but gradual climb to reach the point where no one see gender differences. As we can see from your family’s generations, not much has changed. Yes, a little but it is a slow process for both your family and society.

  13. Francesca Do

    Thank you for sharing this interesting story with us. I believe that gender roles can play a big part in any culture in the world. I come from a very traditional Vietnamese family that believes in specific tasks that must be done by a specific gender. My grandma grew up with traditional gender roles, therefore it was hard for her to accept me to go to college, instead of marrying young and starting a family. For in her time women did not need an education because they are meant to be at home, raising the children. My mom somewhat agreed with my grandma, but she wanted me to go college to meet someone, then become a home mom. However, I believe that I have the capacity to be something much more than a home mom. I am thankful to be living in the present, for I have an opportunity to be education to fulfill my dream career.

  14. Der Yang

    Getting to know information about the past, specifically genders roles and discrimination, will always bring both supporting or negative feelings to the table. Personally, sexism makes me feel oppressed and like an subordinate being. Being a female, I of course have gone through intentional and unintentional actions of sex discrimination; it did not leave a very good perception about gender roles… However, I am glad that children of today are coming to realize the importance of unity and how much progress our nation have achieved. Yet again, we all still have so much work to do attain a life of equal status. Whether that exists or not, is a topic of discussion between experts.

  15. Caroline Grube

    I was unaware of the social norms and how sexist they were during the 70s and 80s as well, until I read this article. I am very thankful that we have broken a lot of those norms and roles down today. I could not imagine living in a world where I could learn how to fix a car if I wanted to. Or wear shorts! I am so glad that we have created a better and much more equal (though not as equal as it could be) society that we get to live in today.

  16. Paige Perreira

    I think your grandmother’s story was very interested. I had a mindset very similar to yours before I read this. I was under the impression that during her time, there was a serious divide between men and women and there was simply no middle ground. I was surprised to learn that boys and girls took similar classes that may seem to be assigned to the opposite gender. I know that when I was in middle school, everyone, boys and girls, were required to take a cooking and sewing class, and also a shop class. Everyone found benefit in both types of these classes. I’ve heard from my younger brother that they stopped requiring the classes, which is such a shame.

  17. Mariah Koenig

    I found this story very interesting. Really up until know, I didn’t realize that there was still gender separation in schools throughout the 70’s. I expected the 50’s to have those kinds of norms, but not the 70’s. I couldn’t imagine not being able to take a class I want at school just because I am a girl. When I was in high school, I took a shop class that was just under half girls! One thing that surprised me was how your grandmother would have her daughters clean on Saturdays, but not her son. It is interesting to think about that being a norm in society, even at home, gender roles were divided. Although there are still some things that can be improved, I am very happy about how far our culture has come in gender equality. Thank you for learning about your mother and grandmother’s experiences and sharing them with us.

  18. Kalley Friederichs

    Thank you for sharing this story with us Abbey! A few weeks ago, over Christmas break, I was talking to my mom about sport and how they played such a big role in who I am today. My mother told me that I was lucky, because even though we are just a generation apart sports were not very popular for girls when she was growing up. They were available, but not like they are today. When you look back on the changes of gender roles over the last hundred years, it is amazing to see how different they are compared to the common gender roles we have today.

  19. What a time for you to post this! I have always had a great appreciation for the women who came before us. Especially recently I am so glad to have had the women in our history who have let us go and march for our rights. If it weren’t for them, we may not even have any rights to fight for. Your grandmothers story is something that I adored as I used to have talked like that with my grandmother. I do however see where this country and others around the world have far to go with women’s rights and the fight for equity.

  20. I always enjoy hearing about stories that take place multiple decades in the past, like the story about your grandmother! I enjoy them because it can very easily show the vast differences between then and now. 60 years ago your grandmother was in high school and boys and girls were very much so separated in large parts of life. Now, only 60 years later men and women are equal across the board. 60 years is not a large amount of time, this shows the ever changing ways of our country.

  21. Kendra Brunn

    Great post, Abbey! I knew that gender roles back then were very different, but I was not aware that boys and girls were actually separated in school and forced to take different classes. Even now, I notice that males are usually the ones doing yard work and females are often the ones cleaning the kitchen. It seems like most people just do it without thinking twice. I love you last sentence where you discuss how far we have come but we still have a ways to go. More people need to realize this and try to make a change.

  22. Kendra Brunn

    Great post, Abbey! I knew that gender roles back then were very different, but I was not aware that boys and girls were actually separated in school and forced to take different classes. Even now, I notice that males are usually the ones doing yard work and females are often the ones cleaning the kitchen. It seems like most people just do it without thinking twice. I love your last sentence where you discuss how far we have come but we still have a ways to go. More people need to realize this and try to make a change.

  23. Joel Scheuerlein

    I do see that in the 1950’s their was some sexual bias that was occurring. That is a fact I will not argue because it also took place in my family tree as well. As far as the separation of gym classes, I do not see that as a separation of gender in a sexist way, but rather a concern for safety. My high school still has a division and separation when it comes to gym classes, girls play with girls, and guys with guys. I do not see this as a sexist act, but rather an act for safety. For instance we played a game in gym called speed ball, it is a combination of football, hockey, and soccer. In this game the guys would continuously body check each other into brick walls, or bleachers, and even tackle each other. Scientifically, the female body would be in much more danger then the males body undergoing this type of impact. Because of this, it would be safer to have that division of gender in gym classes. As far as sexism in todays society, it is not as prevalent as everyone states. Men and women do make the same amount of money, and I can prove women do not make $0.73 to the mans $1.00, but rather they are paid equally.

  24. Hanna McLevish

    This is a very interesting article. In class we talked about how gender roles have changed over time. Way back when, they expected women to do so much around the house and I think this reflects well with your article. They have changed quite a bit over time, but the sad truth is they are still around today. It is really sad how terrible it was back in the 50’s, and it is nice to see that they have kind of changed a little bit.

  25. McKenna Holman

    I really enjoy that you wrote this article around the time of the Women’s March. It is the things like women not taking classes such as shop still shows that women are not seen as equals, many years after the fact. There are still people who believe women are equals, but when really looking at the facts we are not. I hope we only continue to make strides towards women’s rights in the future and more people continue to see the issues that stand in the way of equal rights. Thank you for this insightful article!

  26. Andrew Bailey

    Abbey, thank you for sharing your families’ story as well as your own about evolving gender roles in our society. The changes that have been made over time like you noted have certainly placed women in a better place in societies view (most recently), but there is still a long way to go for change. I think it is necessary to talk about societal issues like you said. I also think that it is important that I (as a male) listen to the women’s right movement, and that an open dialogue is had between males and females to cause this change. I think the biggest problem throughout history is that people have failed to listen. The Women’s march on Washington is an example of exercising this voice, now our nation just has to listen and respond appropriately.

  27. Ellen Hansen

    I truly appreciate this recollection of gender progress throughout your family history. The fact that your grandmother seemed shocked by your mother’s cooking habits shows how quickly societal ‘norms’ can shift. It is important for people to note that, while progress has been particularly fast-paced over the last century (at least in American history), there is still plenty of development to be made if true equality is to be achieved. It is easy to look back and say “this is so much better than it was before,” but that doesn’t eliminate the gender inequities we see today. It is also important to remember that, given the speed in which these issues progressed, there is nothing stopping history from taking a u-turn and beginning to regress. Because of this, we should learn to remember stories like yours as we move forward, in an attempt to prevent future injustice through remembrance of past.

  28. Very interesting information about social/societal gender norms. How did this conversation with your grandmother and mother come about? Did you ask to sit and “interview” them, or was this a previous conversation that came up that you were inspired to write about? Did they speak at all to how women and the workplace were associated during their youths? I would be interested to hear the differences. You are right that we have come a long way in a very short amount of time in eliminating many negative societal gender norms, but we still have a long way to go to end sexism and create systemic equality. I think having conversations like these with our elders can teach us a lot (very valuable thoughts, feelings, and general facts) about history and also about the present, and it is important to continue having these conversations! Thank you for sharing!

  29. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing. It is always amazing to see what can change in a decade or even just in a year. Reading your story about your mother and grandmother we can really see how things changed but how things can also stay the same. I feel like we are constantly making progress when it comes to the idea of gender roles. I am lucky for being able to grow up in a community and family where women and men where able to break some of the arbitrary rules of gender roles and make their own paths instead of being forced to do a certain role by society. Yes we have come a long way but I feel like as a society we are still farther away then we think.

  30. Amanda Sullivan

    It is interesting to see how far we have come as a society yet how much farther we still have. During this particular time, it is worrisome for women and what the next few years will hold for our rights. Thank you for sharing you and your family’s story. How interesting that overtime it was the smallest of social norms that changed and formed the norms we know of today.

  31. Siji Gonzalez

    I really do thank you for sharing this. It is really interesting to know how things have changed in our society. And to compare it to your family is very interesting. I think every one should take into consideration that we are changing and that whats normal now may not be in a year maybe even a couple months. Now we have trends and such that we sometimes forget where and how things really started. What we should be doing is looking back at our ancestors stories to see how they lived and really think if what are the normal things to do back than to now.

  32. Megan Bingham

    This article was very interesting! I love hearing how old times were. I think it is crazy that women were not allowed to have a job because they had to take care of the house. I am so happy to see that society has changed their ideals. I am thankful that there were women in the past that stood up for women rights. People are still doing this today. Just a little over a week ago we had the annual march on Washington. These women are standing up for equal rights and we should all be thankful for that! Nobody likes to be the “underdog”.

  33. Emily Bugni

    Back in the day things were very different from the way they are now. Women have made many advances throughout history and will hopefully continue to progress. We have finally crawled out of the corner that we were put in an we are accomplishing so much. Yet, we are still behind males in the work environment. We still get paid less than the average male for doing the same work and it is proven that men who apply for a nursing position are more likely to get the position over a woman. Why is this the case? We do the same work, so why are we getting short end of the stick?

  34. Sarah Plankers

    I really enjoyed that this article tied in so many personal elements to allow us as readers to connect with the material. Even today, I think that gender roles are tough to talk about and even recognize by some people because a lot of them have become so normal and part of many cultures. I find it important that you wove in a couple different generations into this article because it helps give perspective on the matter, which is so vital to understanding the past. In regards to gender roles, I think its easy for us to criticize the past and think of present times as so wonderful and evolved but what if 15 years from now our future generations are skeptical of how we’re living? The future can have an entire array of social and gender developments that we couldn’t even fathom nowadays.

  35. I certainly find the differences between now and then pretty fascinating. Women have fought for so many rights, and society has changed very much in many aspects. I have never talked with my elders too much about this topic. My grandma would likely tell her experience growing up in earlier times. Their life back then compared to now shows how much we can change the world if we want to. Women had to work hard, but the changes that were made are almost immeasurable.

  36. William Brennhofer

    I think it is so interesting in how close to our time it was that such ideas where still in use all around us. The idea that classes had to taken by the gender you were born with is shocking to me, because i feel like my education was so much better by having everyone in a classroom fro all the different ideas to be shared. I honestly cannot wait to see what our kids have to say abut how our system is, and how different it will be. The idea that in just the last 20-30 years we have changed this much is amazing. With the more advanced things we have today it should change even more now then it did before.

  37. Hattie Meyer

    I have never thought about asking my grandmother and mother what school was like for them. What classes they had to take. What they could and could not wear. What I find intriguing is that even though todays girls can wear pants to school, other problems and rules have surfaced. That a strap or knee could be to distracting for a boy to learn in class. It makes me question what has changed with woman’s rights in a positive way and what has changed in the way of oppression in a different form from the 50’s. For the classes that a girl or boy could take has dramatically opened in opportunities, there is still the judgment from the pears around them if they take a class that was once geared to the other gender. Hopefully this idea of what it means to be a man or woman will soon change.

  38. I agree with the other comments about how we are experiencing a very different time in our current climate. Recent events have revealed, like you said, how time and societal changes have created distance between generations. Although your mother didn’t question the norms growing up, enormous progress and change has been made. Views are shifting, women are more aware of events of the past and are willing to come forward to make progress.

  39. amanda greene

    Although I do agree that the restrictions for women have changed dramatically, we still see sexist societal standards today. I like how you brought up the point that we need to keep talking about them. It is important to understand what has changed throughout the years and what needs to continue changing. Even in my high school, I had similar experiences to your mother and grandma. We were offered classes like wood shop and cooking classes. Although there were no restrictions to what classes girls could take, I found an overwhelming majority of girls in cooking class and a very little amount of them in wood shop. I am happy with the turn we are taking in society to make many things, like wood and cooking classes, gender neutral.

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