In 1912 when the play was set men and women had very specific and quite different roles in the family and in society. Priestley – having seen the change from 1912 to 1946 – wants to show that there is still room to change and does this by highlighting the problematic gender expectations set in 1912.
Priestley highlights the change in gender roles by having younger women rebel against the roles society has set for them: Eva questions her boss’s decisions (instead of accepting them quietly), Eva refuses Eric’s stolen money and shows that she doesn’t need a man to save her, and Sheila interrupts her family members and challenges them.
Priestley himself champions the women’s movement as seen in how the play develops:
- He makes the male characters weaker as it goes on whereas Sheila gets stronger
- Sheila rejects Gerald
- Eric is a nervous and lazy man with a drinking problem
- Mr Birling’s authority is questioned
- Sheila develops her own opinions, even if they contrast her family’s, proving that she has learnt to think for herself.