The Original Boss Babes: Women’s Strength and Resilience revealed in the Revolution
I think talking about women and sex roles can be a heavy topic in any generation. Today, we certainly face unique challenges among gender equality. Many of the same problems and misconceptions about women and their roles that were present in subsequent times still exist today. Fortunately, the American Revolution served as a catalyst in showing how women can adjust to hardships, change, and take control. Contrary to what society thought, during the American Revolution women were able to rise to the table and show how powerful women can really be. Even similar to the world we live in today, women’s original roles, capabilities and folly before the revolution were not definite, but rather the result of society’s norms and standards. Thus, women’s lives began to drastically change because of changes made in society and ideas of morality. The American Revolution sparked social and moral changes which empowered women to be rise above inferiority, be knowledgeable in their thinking, become active partakers in patriotism, apt for self-sufficiency, and be great revolutionary mothers.
Since the earliest of time, even looking back to the time of Eve, women have always been considered to be the weaker vessel. I think Berkin does an excellent job of emphasizing this idea in Revolutionary Mothers. Women’s roles were simple—be good housewives and helpmates to the husband. Thinking about it, one would think this makes sense—a woman should go about life doing her womanly civic duty in the house. “Chief among a woman’s truths was that God had created her to be a helpmate to man and Nature had formed her for this purpose. Her natural inclination was to obedience, fidelity, industriousness, and frugality” (Berkin 4). This would have been common and normal to say before the revolution, though almost hysterical to say now. However, as the revolution arose, this significantly changed. Both women’s and society’s realization of women’s inferiority was one of many things that sparked a social and moral change.
The fact was that because of women’s inferiority, this persuaded society to see women as not being capable of retaining and using knowledge effectively. However female intellectuals argued that “these defects were not the fault of women’s natural weaknesses or limited capacities; instead, the problem could be traced to the poor education their sex had received” (Berkin 152). Thus, it was finally realized that women were not naturally unable to think logically. Rather, they were formed into uneducated persons because of their circumstances and social norms. However, the way education had impacted women was quite possibly the single most important thing that affected them. A female scholar, Murray, “earged education in order to make women competent, independent, and self-reliant.” Thus, the thirst for knowledge and threshold of wisdom certainly made women more capable of being active partakers in patriotism. Furthermore, the influence of female education would also be useful in domestic life.
Moving past the idea that women were to only be dutiful housewives, many women were fearless when it came to partaking in patriotism, social change, or campaigns. Many were very eager to participate in these. One of the most incredible examples to me of this was when women decided to mask their identity in order to actively serve in the army. “Women who crossed the gender line, posing as male soldiers, were greeted with more ambivalence. Often a women’s motivation seemed to make the difference between admiration and contempt” (Berkin 59). Berkin’s last statement I think is especially important to note. As men and society started realizing women could indeed have good motivations to participate, they started letting them gradually make their way into political and social circles. Not just in terms of getting involved in more campaigns and finding a political voice, but women also greatly contributed to patriotism by sacrificing their resources and houses to soldiers in need of care. More importantly, women were now able to be active participants in politics. “During the war itself, women worked as nurses, spies, army cooks, and occasionally even soldiers” (RAP 151). Thus, we can see that gradually women were not only able to, but had the courage to participate. Their roles expanded beyond civic house duties and shifted to finding meaningful roles in the new republic.
In the midst of all the great positive social and moral changes that were happening in women, there were also some setbacks. Women who had been mothers and wives faced many tragedies and challenges including deaths of children, deaths of spouses, and extreme loneliness while their husbands were away. In their perspective, life was fragile. However, during this struggle, women not only learned to be self-sufficient, they also gained superiority in understanding. “Many women experienced a devastating sense of loneliness after their husbands and sons departed…women faced the challenge of managing on their own” (Berkin 31). As a result, they not only had to continue housewife duties, but also take on difficult tasks that their husbands would usually do. Furthermore, they were left alone to face the harshness of war. Though it was very difficult, these were only a few of the challenges that allowed many women to become resilient and self-sufficient after the American Revolution.
Despite all of the important roles that women had played during the war, perhaps one of the most important, meaningful and lasting roles of women was being a revolutionary mother. “In stressing the importance to the republic of a mother’s role in socializing the next patriotic generation, they made motherhood a civic imperative, too important to be rejected by any woman” (155). Thus there was less emphasis on housewifery, and more emphasis on mothering, being a virtuous example, and influencing the next generation with their new knowledge. Though this kind of political involvement was indirect, this political role was one that was meaningful and had a lasting effect on revolutionary generations to come.
After studying the roles and treatment of women in history, it is easy to see how the value of women has increased. The incredible ways women were able to campaign, fend for themselves and take care of others was finally seen by society. They were like heroes without capes. It was finally realized—if women could perform great civic house duties and take care of themselves while husbands were away, then what would prevent them from also being able to participate and perform well in social and political circles? Thus, both from circumstances and from change of thought from scholars, women became empowered to rise above their original gender roles, become well-educated citizens, participate in social and political circles, and be self-reliant. What left the most meaningful impact however, was their role as revolutionary mothers. This shows that though women can have meaningful contributions to society and politics, they can also have an equally or even more meaningful contribution by simply being a mother. I think both during the revolution and in the twenty first century, it also shows that not all women must have the same contributions—some can participate in politics and social circles, some can participate in house duties as mothers, and some in both. Nonetheless I think this can be a good example of the change that occurred—that wherever a woman wanted to participate, she could bring meaningful contribution and value.