Freedom for Females: Can technology change social structures?

The technology of the late nineteenth century had strong implications for social structures and dynamics. One of the most notable effects was on the role and power that women were able to wield. For young girls, the telephone and new modes of communication became ways to escape the harsh supervision of their parents. In the image below it can be seen that female switchboard operators got to know the men on the other end of the line. In one instance, it even resulted in a father threatening his daughter’s life because he was so appalled at her flirting with multiple young men (Marvin, 74). The romantic landscape was completely transformed by communication that allowed both privacy and intimacy from long distances.

Female operators at a telephone switchboard in 1880. They would flirt with men on the other end of the line, one of the many example of their freedom.

This new media also gave young women confidence to move outside the constraints of typical obedient behavior that was expected of them. Girls were now allowed to attend shows without a male companion, referred to as matinee girls, and they were perceived as unintelligent, obsessive, and creatures of fleeting interests (72). These women closely parallel the fan girls of today who worship men they barely know and dedicate their lives to following the cult of their music. Electric communication in the external sphere was deemed as something for males, however, in the internal sphere it was something for women as well (81).

One of the original perceptions and goals for electricity was that it would eliminate the idea of separate spheres, something very prominent in early women’s history in England. Instead, in an article for Penn State “Has technology made life easier for working moms?”, it is concluded that technology does not create free time but instead fills it with stuff that may not always be meaningful. While technology did have positive implications for allowing women more freedom and independence, it still today has not erased the separate spheres perceived for women and men.