Howard Zinn’s chapter, “The Ultimately Oppressed,” paints a sad picture of gender inequality in the 18th and 19th centuries. The treatment of women as lesser is rooted in the societal norms that our country was founded on. According to Zinn, “societies based on private property and competition, in which monogamous families became practical units for work and socialization, found it especially useful to establish this special status of women, something akin to a house slave in the matter of intimacy and oppression, and yet requiring, because of that intimacy, and long-term connection with children, a special patronization, which on occasion, especially in the face of a show of strength, could slip over into treatment as an equal” (Zinn 2245).
This arbitrary status of women in society was fluid at times. Notably, women held very different responsibilities during war time. During the American Revolution, women expanded their role in the economy, garnering influence in traditionally male-dominated sectors of life. For example, women held positions in newspapers, tanneries, taverns, and other skilled, middle-class industries that had previously been restricted to males. As a result, women received more education. Between 1780 and 1840, literacy among women doubled (2536). This educational growth led to a growing number of female teachers in primary schools.
It also fueled female involvement in various political movements, including the antislavery and temperance movements. That said, the women who are mostly highly regarded for their involvement in political action came from privilege. This disparity was felt throughout the feminist movement; much of the progression that women received was disproportionately granted to the upper classes and there was very little trickle-down effect.
Significant progress was made in the struggle for gender equality, but this problem still persists today, in many respects. Women make up 4% of Fortune 500 company CEOs and hold 20% of elected positions, despite accounting for the majority of university students. Even female dominated industries such as the medical field and education are disproportionately male in leadership roles. Sadly, these disparities do not seem to be going away anytime soon.