The Gender of Breadwinners: Women, Men, and Change in Two Industrial Towns, 1880-1950

Book Report

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In The Gender of Breadwinners, Joy Parr makes a thought-provoking analysis of the social and economic behavior of two small Canadian industrial towns. In her book, Parr explores struggle relating to gender, ethnicity, and economics by illustrating the contrast between the Paris and Hanover, the two industrial towns, situated in Ontario. Despite widespread recognition that gender, as well as class, shapes industrial society, few historians have fruitfully integrated the discussion of these two fundamental relationships. With The Gender of Breadwinners, Joy Parr compares a “woman’s town,” the textile center of Paris where the workforce was mostly female with a “men’s town,” the furniture-manufacturing town of Hanover where few women worked for wages, Parr shows how gender interrelates with class in factory, home, community, and even political economy. Like others influenced by post-structuralist theory, she stresses the shifting and multivalent meanings often obscured by dualisms.

The book Examines complicated crosscurrents that mixed capitalist and non-capitalist production, waged and non-waged labor, public and private life, masculine and feminine roles. The most vital contributions of the book are its explorations of the persistence of non-market activity in family nourishment, the complexity of divisions of domestic labor, and the way of gender on males’ as well as females’ lives. Parr gives gender and class equivalent roles in her analysis but downplays ethnic influences.

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