Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Bourgeoisie and Women

Hobsbawm thoroughly describes the development of bourgeois society, or the middle class, and how many of these ideas came from the influence of capitalism in Great Britain. Economic growth in the mid nineteenth century meant that the middle class were in reach of the successful, and they had the ability to encourage a less formal, more privatized lifestyle. Who would have thought that more construction of suburban homes would be such a big deal? The old bourgeoisie consisting of independent artisans and small shopkeepers was quickly being replaced with the new workers in office, shop, and subaltern administration. By 1900, the middle class was already larger than the working class in the USA.

I personally found the chapter about women rather interesting, especially when I read the very beginning to find that this drastic change was only taking place in the upper and middle classes and not at all seen in the peasant societies. To continue on this idea, women in the “developed” world had notably fewer children during this time period, but the birth rate in the Third World remained constant. The political and non-political debates of sexual liberation were interesting because it meant a future for women in which they would have equal rights, treatment, and opportunities. No longer would marriage, housekeeping, and motherhood be their primary career. Women began to stop marrying, but surprisingly this was not to just simply prove a point because they wanted to work the same jobs that men did. With certain expectations in place about a woman’s job in the household, they could not possibly work with the combination of these demanding jobs.

Back to the bourgeoisie, I personally found the section about the developments that encouraged a less formal and more privatized lifestyle rather intriguing. Hobsbawm referred to four specific developments: the democratization of politics, the loosening of connections between the bourgeoisie and puritan values, the loosening of the structure of a bourgeois family, and the growth of those who belonged to the bourgeoisie itself. I understand how they mobilized influence rather than followers to retain political power, how women and the youth before marriage became more important, and how the essentially domestic lifestyle of the middle class developed, but I was confused about the meaning of the second part. Hobsbawm talks about this relationship between the bourgeoisie and puritan values by mentioning that the relatively less affluent began spending for means of comfort and entertainment. I’m a little lost on what the connection would be here.

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