Conservatism and change : the refashioning of gender relations from 1870 to 1914 : a case study of East London

Vernon, Gillian Noël (1998) Conservatism and change : the refashioning of gender relations from 1870 to 1914 : a case study of East London. Masters thesis, Rhodes University.




This is a case study of East London from 1870 to 1914 with gender as the critical analytical category. The focus is on change in the structure of gender relations, evaluated in terms of the recognition of the rights of women and their status in society and women of all race groups are dealt with. A feature of the source material has been the use made of oral history where interviews were conducted with the descendants of women who lived during the study period. There were many indirect factors which had a retrogressive influence on progressive change in the rights and position of women. The initial small size of the population and unbalanced gender ratios, the few natural resources, a small and limited port and periodic unpredictable natural disasters gave rise to a 'boom and burst' economy with very little industry. The result was that initially the women were very conservative and unwilling to make social changes. The military occupation and the outbreak of hostilities in the late 1870s affected social and racial attitudes detrimentally. The entrenched patriarchal system, under which both black and white women lived, and the legal controls, particularly in the marital situation, reinforced the subordination of women, making the system difficult to break. Further conservative forces were at work with the European class system being well entrenched, with most women working for upward mobility, gentrification and respectability. Wealth was critical in determining status and those women from the working class, who had achieved some degree of wealth and status, were not prepared to challenge the system. Religion was important for nearly all white women and converted black women, but was a retarding influence in the growth of feminist consciousness. Little progress was made in improving the condition of women who transgressed the law, the non-respectable women, and ethnicity made no difference. Progress was made in gender relations for women in some fields. The reduction in family size and the improvement in health, gave women more time and energy for public affairs. Participation in sport helped women discard the image of being weak and frail and also improved health. Educational opportunities allowed some to get tertiary training and obtain proper qualifications to earn a living for themselves. Xhosa women who came into the town, made a major break with traditional society and many became independent. The major impetus for change came through women's associations, where women actively worked together and achieved some positive results. Middle class white women could earn an independent living without losing respectability, although it was accepted that women should give up paid employment on marriage. Black women broke traditional ties and many urban women became independent. Conditions for working class and non-respectable women changed very little. A deduction is that many women, both white and black, had sympathy for one another and they created a fund of goodwill on both sides of the colour line.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Uncontrolled Keywords:Women, South Africa, East London, Women's rights
Subjects:H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
H Social Sciences > HQ The family. Marriage. Woman
Divisions:Faculty > Faculty of Humanities > History
ID Code:2840
Deposited By: Ms Chantel Clack
Deposited On:22 May 2012 08:29
Last Modified:22 May 2012 08:29
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