Women in Society
Traditionally, women were seen as a source of human life as they were seen to lack intellect and were a source of temptation and evil for men as according to Greek mythology. In the twentieth century, there is a turn in this thinking however as women’s suffrage begins and women begin fighting for power and politics, for their rights to be taken from their husbands and fathers and given to them directly. Suffrage also underpinned all ideas surrounding women’s rights to work and their right to vote – essentially, they just wanted to become involved in the society in which they lived in.
However men were not willing to give up their control over women as they weren’t seen as logical beings and so they didn’t want them to get involved in politics. Alternatively, some people just didn’t want to break tradition. Another traditional idea of women in this time was that they were more moral than men. Women were seen to be more religious as they were the majority of church congregations and so were given the role of upholding the morals in the family.
Women in the Family
When the play opens with the Birling family celebrating an engagement, the audience witness a display of Edwardian etiquette rules as the men were seen discussing serious and complex matters such as business, and the women congregate together away from the men. This signifies the idea that upper class women are too sensitive to hear about these issues, which we see again when the inspector arrives, and Mr Birling wants Sheila to leave.
This patronising practice stems from the idea that women are incapable of making important decisions (hence why they didn’t have the vote). Sheila later contrasts this view by comprehending and appreciating what they as a family had done to Eva, and this is also seen when she is first to recognise that Eric is the father of Eva’s unborn baby. In short, Sheila represents a lot of women, by being far more than what her father gave her credit for.
Women in the Work Place
Eva, as a working-class woman, is at the hands of her employers. She goes beyond the expectations of a woman in the Edwardian society by asking for more pay (which was a masculine demand) and so, is sacked. When she works at Milwards she is perfectly capable of her job but is fired as the result of a customer’s comment. When finances are really slim for Eva she becomes a prostitute as a last result and then is exploited by the men who employ her which Eric confesses later to.