by: Daria Haner
When we speak about gender norms, we tend to do so through the context of our own lives or through those we are exposed to in the literature we read. However, we must understand that the intersectionality of class and gender plays a huge role in gender roles and what is expected from each member of society throughout their lives.
Especially in times when disparate and extreme gender roles were expected to be upheld, working class women experienced the opposite phenomenon. A notable example of this is during the Victorian age in Britain. The population of working class women was growing as wealth divides increased and factories continued to grow around the country. Working class women were often working more than their male counterparts, as they would need to hold a full time job in a factory or mine as well as taking care of the household. This made them unable to fulfill the upper class womanly role of being the demure and sheltered housewife. This is reflected in poetry such as “Lines to Ellen, the Factory Girl,” by Ellen Johnston, a Victorian factory worker herself. Here is an excerpt:
Had fortune smiled upon thy birth and favoured thee with wealth,
Then, Ellen, I would be content with praying for your health;
But since I know that you, like me, are forced your bread to win,
Exposed to many dangers ‘mid the factory’s smoke and din,
Even though Ellen lives in a society where women are held to the ideal of the perfect housewife, she is forced to work to live. In this case, Ellen strives toward the societal gender norm, but due to her working class status, she must fulfill her gender role and work as well as keep a house.
While consuming literature and discussing topics regarding gender, it is important to keep in mind the intersection between a writer or subject’s different identities, whether that be class, ability, race, or anything else. All of these make up a person as a whole and none can be observed in a vacuum.