- Series: Studies on the History of Society and Culture (Book 23)
- Paperback: 415 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Reprint edition (April 18, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520208838
- ISBN-13: 978-0520208834
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.1 x 8.9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,232,700 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Struggle for the Breeches: Gender and the Making of the British Working Class (Studies on the History of Society and Culture) Reprint Edition
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"Deeply researched, scholarly, serious, important. This is a big book that develops a significant new line of inquiry on a classic story in modern historythe making of the English working class. Clark shows in great and persuasive detail how we might read this tale through the lens of gender."Thomas Laqueur, author of Making Sex
From the Back Cover
"In its analysis of gender and class relations and their political forms, in giving voice to the many who have left only a fleeting trace in the historical record, Clark's study is a pioneering classic. . . . It also has a salience for many of our present social and political dilemmas."--Leonore Davidoff, Editor, "Gender and History
"Deeply researched, scholarly, serious, important. This is a big book that develops a significant new line of inquiry on a classic story in modern history--the making of the English working class. Clark shows in great and persuasive detail how we might read this tale through the lens of gender."--Thomas Laqueur, author of "Making Sex
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There were four major themes illustrated within her study of the artisan and textile industry during the early period of the British Industrial Revolution. First, as employers attempted to use women and replace skilled men because businesses paid women and children less the struggle over manhood led to divisions inside the workplace. Her second theme explored how unions and associations (mainly men’s groups) attempted to push back from this intrusion not because of communal bonds, as they argued, but as a means to push back against economic evolution. The next theme took Thompson’s ideas of plebeian culture but noted how gender roles conflicted with moral values that created divisions within the plebian culture. The final theme she explored is how by the 1840s the divisions of gender and society became a political movement pushing back against Marxists historiography of being strictly economic.
Anne Clark writing epitomized the social historiography that examined the impact gender roles played within British society – mainly the common people. Her scholarly examination utilized numerous primary sources such as handbills, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and governmental archival records from Edinburgh, London, Lancashire, and Glasgow. The extensive secondary sources she utilized included works from E.P. Thompson, Iain MacCalman, Patrick Joyce Thomas Laqueur, James Epstein, and Anna Clark. The wide array of historical scholars examined social, gender, Marxist, industrial, race, and sexual issues that were evident during the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century.
Clark’s work is enlightening in many ways for historians and readers of British history. The myth of a tranquil and gender stable society is quickly shown to be false, as artisan men would gather at pubs to socialize and squander earnings placing stress within the households. Even when women and children earned wages in menial tasks it was commonplace for men as the lords of the household to rule over (and waste) those earning needed for food and other necessities. Debauchery, prostitution, and premarital sex were common within plebian society and often time acceptable. While religious leaders attempted to shame and change this behavior it was the gaining of political power within British society that brought about changes in attitudes concerning gender.
The working class’s evolution is well spelled out within the work as Clark highlighted the periodization of the changes within the plebian culture. Social change happened over time and varied within regions of Great Britain. The textile industry of Scotland accepted dual or co-equal participation of women and men at greater rates than other areas. The social revolutionary period from 1780 to 1820 witnessed a mix of American Painite and French Jacobin idealism and how British plebian culture adjusted to those progressive ideas of equality, suffrage, and gender. After the French Terror and the Napoleonic War the economic and social adjustments that happened within the common people explored how the domesticity, ideas of a male breadwinner and earning of a family wage coupled with the demand for political acceptance further impacted and somewhat promoted greater gender acceptance in the workplace. The ills of domestic abuse were also waning as plebian society gained influence – with power comes responsibility.
The study of the impact gender had within a society provided differing perspectives to aid people understand the past. Analysis of how gender roles, sex, and race were viewed by society removes the vial of nostalgia and false narratives of “the good old days”. Gender studies allow for a broader understanding of cultural differences and social norms giving historians new ways to view the past and ask questions that go beyond the Traditionalistic historiography of great men and great events. Gender historiography allows for a bottom up approach to history by exploring the impact events had of people and how their actions impacted the overall society.
The major criticism concerning Clarks work is that while she limited her scope to the artisan and textile industries it does not explore other plebian industries such as shopkeepers, innkeepers, taverns, other smiths and similar trades. This exclusion suggests a generality of acceptance within the plebian culture spearheaded by the industrial revolution’s impact on the textile and artisan sectors. To her credit she does note that shipbuilding and the steel industry remained a heavily male dominated workforce. Even with these omissions, her work provides a very inclusive view of British society and social changes brought about through the British Industrial Revolution.
The authors' evaluation of marital relationships and sexual morality showed a challenging environment often permeated with husbands violently beating their wives because of their "nagging". Popular literature, such as the tale of "The Bold Cobbler" (p. 71) shows that people widely accepted the concept of male domination in this particular "class" of society, thus demonstrating the importance of gender within the family structure, and, because of the occupation of "cobbler", the link to the working class. Sexual morality differed greatly between the working class and the middle class, but the economics of the working class mandated this difference; almost to the point of promiscuity in some working class women. Clark explains this point well when she evaluates the "cock-and-hen" clubs on p. 58. Sexuality was the ticket to continued subsistence for some of these women.
As the title of the book suggests, the author devotes significant attention to the concept of the struggle within the family and society for the economic right to "wear the breeches". Clark explains that artisans and textile workers developed different strategies to address the influx of women into the work force, but both were facing the loss of male "pride" by allowing women to take their higher paying jobs and earn economic mastery within the household (p.119, p. 122). With the invocation of temperance Chartism, however, the plights of women that had long endured beatings administered by their husbands led to a political solution (p. 224). This focus on politics further defined the working class, but seems to have made them more akin to the middle class, when politics was a standard fare within daily life.
In my opinion, the author has demonstrated very well that it was an economic battle between men and women within the working class. She has also done a very good job of defining how the working class was significantly different from the middle class during the I.R. in Britain.