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A Conservative Folklorist on Social Class and Gender Roles (1852)

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Something similar holds true among proletarians performing manual labor. Male and female day laborers for the most part engage in the same occupation. Among factory workers, men and women, children and old people often perform the same work.

Only among highway robbers and common thieves does the wife help in the business; among refined crooks, the man usually pursues his occupation alone.

Here it should also be noted that the distinction between occupations becomes increasingly blurred not only by sex, but also by age, the lower down we go to the poor and uneducated strata of the population. Among poor small farmers, the schoolboy already has to take over half of the work from the father. The work of the wife, of adolescent children, and of domestics is one and the same. In the cities, children have their own unique dress until they have grown to be young men and women. In the villages, the five-year old boy is already dressed in miniature water boots and his father’s miniature frock. In this droll dwarfish masquerade he calls to mind the old truth of natural history that only the highest forms of organic life contain within themselves the most varied and most defined subdivisions. The undifferentiated occupation of the sexes is a sad legacy of poor and wretched folk, and we do not wish to vie with the worms and the mollusks for undifferentiated, abstract citizenship.

The differentiation of the two sexes in their occupation, which has already begun in the more developed peasant societies, continues in stages among urban dwellers. For the cobbler, the tailor, and the tavern-keeper – for the small trades as such – the wife is still a full-fledged journeyman in the business. But in the larger trades, and fully so in the intellectual professions, this female participation ceases entirely. The government minister's wife can no longer help out in the cabinet as the shopkeeper's wife can in the store. The higher the professional category, the more separated is the activity of man and woman.

Source: Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, Die Familie, 2nd ed. Stuttgart and Augsburg: J.G. Cotta, 1852, pp. 29-31.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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