chapter  7
Gender at Work
WithLena Sommestad
Pages 18

Concluding the analysis of the shift in the gender coding of dairy work during the interwar period, this chapter focuses on the actions of women themselves. Over time, dairymaids left the occupation after shorter careers and fewer women entered it. Young women no longer saw this position as carrying a high social status, as they had done when dairymaids were treated as the equals of schoolteachers. The expansion of other employment opportunities for women in urban areas drew them away from the field, while urban men with experience tending machinery entered it. Former dairymaids and dairymen themselves held contradictory views of womanliness and the physical strength that the occupation required. Analysis of the author's interviews shows that individual women and men expressed quite different opinions on the fitness of dairy work for women depending on the temporal and social contexts. Significantly, these paradoxical ideas did not differ systematically by sex but were articulated simultaneously by both men and women, and depended on whether they were thinking within a rural, agrarian, or an urban, industrial frame of reference. Photographic representations of dairymaids and dairymen show that while dairy work became less physically demanding, bodily strength remained an attractive attribute of dairymaids.