The second half of Ruth Schwartz Cowan’s article, “From Virginia Dare to Virginia Slims: Women and Technology in American Life”, dissects women’s interaction with technology throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Cowan focuses on the way in which society conceived of women as homemakers and as antitechnocrats. While technology transformed the way housework was approached, it also reemphasized the importance of a woman knowing her “place” in the home (Cowan, 58), as women were not the inventors and innovators of technology used in the home, but were the ones that used this technology on a daily basis.
Technological innovations made certain chores faster and easier around the house, but overall created a new standard of cleanliness that women had to strive for. Societal expectations regarding cleanliness grew due to the increase in technological convenience, which created more work for the woman each week (Cowan, 59). Although homemakers no longer needed to drag out the rugs to beat them after the vacuum was invented (Cowan, 61), its invention created a new standard for carpet cleanliness which caused women to have to devote more time every week to household chores. With each technological perk came added pressure for the woman of the house to perform her role as a subservient and dutiful homemaker. A housewife’s devotion to cleanliness became a signifier of status, and her ability to maintain the home was a statement of her family’s success.
These changing expectations for women did not substantially alter the relationship between housework and men, who remained the driving force behind new expectations and technologies. The technology used in the home was created by men and lacked the input of the people that would be the ones using the products. Women were left out of the conversation entirely, and their interaction with domestic technology started and ended with it’s use in the home. Cowan states that men were the ones who created and innovated, and women were the ones who inhabited and submitted (Cowan, 62). The late nineteenth century and twentieth century marked an era of innovation for men, while submission and confinement to the home was reaffirmed for women.
Word Count: 355
Cowan, Ruth Schwartz. “From Virginia Dare to Virginia Slims: Women and Technology in American Life,” Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology, Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Jan., 1979): pp. 51-63. August 8,2017. https://canvas.vt.edu/courses/56760/files/folder/Women%20and%20Technology?preview=4499408