Monday, February 21, 2011

Resistance from the Margins: Worsted Spinners

This reading was about how the worsted spinners in Yorkshire were an essential part of the industrial revolution, yet historians tend to completely ignore their influence on society. This falls under the theme of employment and work, and is also very connected to gender.

From the beginning, worsted spinners helped Yorkshire emerge as the "national center of worsted production, securing a prominent place in Britain's manufacturing economy" (221). Even through all the changes of the business of spinning, the spinners always had some sort of employment even if it was minimal. Through the employment of worsted spinners, it was evident that the occupation and employment were very gendered. One example of this is that an employer "refused to recognize most of the women he employed as independent workers" (224). He listed them under their husband's names because he would not see them as their own. The status of spinners was link to gender, and gave it a low status: "In an age when the wider culture increasingly defined work by its links to the market, the ties of spinning to the household and domestic sphere ensured its low status" (224).

It is interesting how jobs are so gendered and how that affects their status. Spinning was once link very closely to the market, but because women dominate the business, it is considered domestic and has a low status. Although if men dominated the business, then it would not be considered a domestic job. Even though it was considered a household, domestic chore, women made the most of their job. Their communities were very close and protected each other. "In a world where people and landscapes were known in minute detail, family ties, neighborhood life, and the experience of work forged deep layers of social cohesion and often, antipathy to outsiders" (237). These women worked hard and did all that they could to "to assert themselves and advance their interests" (226). The worsted spinners of Yorkshire may have been ignored by historians, but they were hard workers and made the most of their employment even though their gender prohibited them from many advantages a the growing world.

1 comment:

  1. I don't necessarily agree with what you said about the business of spinning becoming valued if men dominated it. I think considering the times, spinning would always be linked to domesticity, regardless of who performed it, and therefore be gendered as feminine. Consequently, I think if men actively sought out such a position they were probably be demoted within society for defying the gender roles that were so carefully lined out.
    For example, when we read about the witch trials in Salem and Montaillou (and I'm not just referring to the Hartman article, but all the articles we read on this topic) we learned that those who were deemed witches were those who operated contrary to societal expectations.
    I think there would probably be a much lesser degree of the witch hunts applied to men as a way to preserve establish gender roles if men sought to undermine social expectations.
    I think if we play the "what if" game in this kind of circumstance (ie "what if men dominated the spinning business?") we will find that any sort of conclusive argument on this matter becomes moot. Thus, the way I see it, we can only judge the gendered profession of spinning according to what happened, and if we play the "what if" game we must consider similar situations in different areas of society to determine a conclusion. Because the task of spinning was an inherently domestic task, I don't think men could dominate the business in the sense that women did (although they obviously did dominate it from the business perspective).