12 Facts about Gender Inequality

Evidence from Kat Banyard  (2010) The equality illusion– the truth about women and men today, Faber and Faber.

book-equality-illusion

Today it is normal for women to worry about their looks. Girls have starkly different relationships to their bodies than boys – they put greater emphasis on how attractive their bodies are to others – for boys physical prowess – what he can actually achieve is more important than looks. Banyard cites the following evidence to support her view that women are more concerned about their looks than men –

1. 1.5 million people in the UK have an eating disorder – 90% of them women and girls

2. A survey conducted by Dove of 3000 women found that 90% of them wanted to change some aspect of their body with body weight and shape being the main concern.

3. One in four women has considered plastic surgery.

4. An analysis of animated cartoons shows that female characters are far more likely to be portrayed as physically attractive than male characters and those who are attractive are far more likely to be portrayed as intelligent, employed, happy, loving and involved in kissing and hugging.

5. In 2007 a survey of Brownies aged 7-10 were asked to describe ‘planet sad’ they spoke of it being inhabited by girls who were fat and bullied about their appearance.

6. A survey conducted in 2009 found that a quarter of girls thought it was more important to be beautiful than clever. – Youngpoll.com

7. The more mainstream media high school students watch,  the more they believe beauty is important according to the American Psychological Association.

8. The media furore over Susan Boyle was mainly because she didn’t conform to the female stereotype of beauty.

9. In 2009 the Bank of England held a seminar for its female employees called ‘dress for success’ – where they were informed, amongst other things, to ‘always wear make up’, there was no such equivalent for men

10. Some studies have shown that the more a girl monitors her appearance, the less satisfied she will be with her appearance.

11. Two thirds of women report having avoided activities such as going swimming or going to a party because they feel bad about their appearance while 16% of 15 -17 year olds have avoided going to school for the same reason.

12. One experiment found that female students performed worse in maths tests when wearing a swim suit compared to regular clothes while boy’s performance doesn’t decrease under the same conditions

Analysis – what Banyard actually thinks is wrong/ harmful about this situation…

‘The existence of a suffocating ideal of beauty has persisted and it has remained a gendered phenomenon. Women are judged on their ability to conform to a beauty ideal – there is a cultural pressure to manipulate their bodies to fit into a pre-existing ideal – to treat your body as an object that will be consumed by an observing public (This is known as objectification)

While some Feminists argue that the Feminine pursuit of beauty is simply a matter of choice – women freely choose to do it (Baumgardner) others (Jefferys) argue that the practise of beautification reflect and perpetuate gender inequalities – women put effort into displaying their femininity/ sexuality because they are relatively powerless – and those women that do engage in the practise of beautification perpetuate the idea that a woman’s value is in her beauty.

Millions of girls and women begin their days with beautification rituals because their sense of self hinges on the gaze of others. If your sense of self esteem depends on what you think others think of your appearance, can you really be said to have freedom of choice? Also, can you really say women are equal to men in this respect?

One of the reasons for the persistent problems of body image faced by females is that girls are taught from a very young age that their physical appearance is a reflection of their worth and value, and treated accordingly.

Feminist Perspectives on Society – A Summary Grid

feminism definition

Topic Area

Summary

A2 Main Ideas

Feminism the Basics:

  • Gender inequality primary lens for analysis

  • Gender is socially constructed

  • Patriarchy is one of the root causes of sex inequalities

  • Feminism is a political movement

Liberal Feminism

  • Socialisation main cause, not structures

  • What change within the system

  • Seek to eradicate discrimination and stereotyping

Radical Feminism

  • The structure of Patriarchy

  • Patriarchal ideology

  • Rape and Violence as tools of control

  • Radical Libertarian Feminists/ Radical Cultural Feminists

  • Political Lesbianism and Separatism

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism main source of oppression, capitalists the main beneficiaries

  • Women reproduce the labour force

  • Women take the shit

  • Men more dependent on wages

  • Ideological conditioning

  • Working class and women should work together

Difference Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Sees Feminists theory – essentialist and part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Look at discourses and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – a destabilising theorist

Research Methods Implications

  • Liberal/ Marxist – Prefer quantitative research – trends and bigger picture

  • Radical – mixture of qualitative and quantitative/ also consciousness raising and activism

  • Postmodern – Deconstruction and critique of male language/ researching and celebrating diversity to challenge gender norms.

How they understand family life

  • Liberal – Inequality is primarily to be tackled through improving equality of opportunity in work, politics and education, not the family

  • Marxist – the nuclear family structure and women’s oppression with in it primarily benefits capitalism, and stems from capitalism

  • Radical – The heterosexual nuclear family is one of the main structures through which men oppress and control women – through everything from the dual burden through domestic violence (see Germaine Greer as an example)

How they understand underachievement in education

  • Liberal – The gender gap in education is one of the strongest pieces of supporting evidence for Liberal Feminism

  • Marxist – Gender stereotypes in subject choice still result in a gender pay gap in later life as women go into lower paid jobs

  • Radical – Gender Regimes still make up part of the hidden curriculum – sexual harassment for example often goes unchallenged in schools (Kat Banyard)

Topic Area

Summary

How they understand crime and deviance

  • Hegemonic Masculinity is one of the fundamental drivers of crime (Messerschmitt)

  • Violence against women is one of the primary sources of control of women

  • The courts fail to prosecute and put the ‘victim on trial’ which perpetuates violence against women

  • Cultural norms around sexuality serve to control women – The Beauty Myth and the sexual double standard

Key Studies and Examples to use to illustrate

  • The correlation between economic growth and gender equality in wider society supports Liberal Feminism, and criticises Marxist and Radical Feminism.

  • The Equal Pay Act, Divorce Act, Equality Act and Maternity and Paternity Acts are all good examples of policies which liberal feminists support.

  • The gradual trend towards gender equality in the UK supports liberal feminism

  • The Gender Pay gap – and lack of women in control of Corporations supports Radical Feminism

  • The prevalence of the Beauty Myth supports radical Feminism

  • Stats on anorexia and ‘planet sad’ support radical feminism

  • Stats on Domestic Violence tend to support Radical Feminism

  • Stats on harassment from the Everyday Sexism Project supports radical feminism

  • The link between poverty, sex-trafficking and prostitution supports radical feminism

  • ‘Slutever’ is a case study supporting difference Feminism

  • Documentaries on ‘sex work’ support Difference Feminism

  • Bake off supports difference Feminism (and criticises Liberal Feminism

Evaluations

  • Liberal – Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

  • Liberal – is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.

  • Radical – The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

  • Radical – Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example

  • Difference – Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  • Difference – Dividing women into an infinite number of sub-groups which weakens the movement for change.

Key Concepts

  • Patriarchy

  • Patriarchal ideology

  • Gender scripts

  • Hegemonic masculinity

  • The Beauty Myth

  • Dual Burden/ Triple Shift

Key Studies/ Evidence

  • The global gender gap

  • DV statistics

  • The Everyday Sexism Project

  • Pointlessly gendered products

  • The gender pay gap

  • Only 1/5 MPs are female

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on Society (Summary Sheet)

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

A Liberal Feminist Perspective on the Family

A Radical Feminist Perspective on the Family

A Feminist Perspective on Education

Liberal, Marxist and Radical Feminist Perspectives on Society: An Introduction

Most Feminists would balk at the idea of generalising Feminist theory into three basic types because part of Feminism is to resist the tendency towards categorising things. Nonetheless, in A Level sociology it’s usual to distinguish between three basic types of Feminism – Liberal, Radical and Marxist, each of which has its own general explanation for sex and gender inequality, and a matched-solution.

Liberal Feminism

Liberal Feminists believe that the main causes of gender inequality are ignorance and socialisation. They do not believe that social institutions are inherently patriarchal. They believe in a “March of Progress” view of gender relations. This means that they believe that men and women are gradually becoming more equal over time and that this trend will continue.

As evidence, liberal feminists point to various legal reforms which promote sexual equality such as the sex discrimination act (1970), the fact that girls now outperform boys in education, the fact that there are now equal amounts of men and women in paid work. Liberal Feminists are especially keen to emphasise the beneficial effects which women going into paid work has had on gender equality – as a result, women are now much more independent than in the past, and women are now the main income earners in 25% of households.

Within the family, evidence shows men are doing a greater share of domestic labour (housework, childcare), decision making is becoming more equal and that male and female children are socialised in a much more similar manner with similar aspirations.

Solutions to remaining gender inequalities

Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.  The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Thus from a liberal feminist perspective, all the major barriers to gender equality have been broken down over the last century and since women now have equal opportunities to enter the workforce and politics, we have effectively achieved legal gender equality in the UK and there is very little else that needs to be done.

Only relatively minor changes need to be made to advance gender equality further, such as more flexible working hours for mothers, challenging gender stereotypes in subject choice and in children’s’ books.

Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives

One criticism of the liberal feminist view is that it is ethnocentric – it only really reflects the experiences of white, middle class women.

Marxist Feminism

Marxist Feminists argue the main cause of women’s oppression is capitalism. The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

From a Marxist Feminist perspective, the traditional nuclear family only came about with capitalism, and the traditional female role of housewife supports capitalism – thus women are double oppressed through the nuclear family and capitalist system. Women’s oppression within the nuclear family supports capitalism in at least three ways:

  1. Women reproduce the labour force – through their unpaid domestic labour, by socialising the next generation of workers and servicing the current workers (their husbands!)
  2. Women absorb anger – Think back to Parson’s warm bath theory. The Marxist-Feminist interpretation of this is that women are just absorbing the anger of the proletariat, who are exploited and who should be directing that anger towards the Bourgeois
  3. Women are a ‘reserve army of cheap labour’ – if women’s primary role is domestic, and they are restricted from working, this also means they are in reserve, to be taken on temporarily as necessary by the Bourgeois, making production more flexible.

Key thinker – Fran Ansley (1972) argues women absorb the anger that would otherwise be directed at capitalism. Ansley argues women’s male partners are inevitably frustrated by the exploitation they experience at work and women are the victims of this, including domestic violence.

Marxist Feminism – solutions to gender Inequality

For Marxist Feminists, the solutions to gender inequality are economic – We need to tackle Capitalism to tackle Patriarchy. Softer solutions include paying women for childcare and housework – thus putting an economic value on what is still largely women’s work, stronger solutions include the abolition of Capitalism and the ushering in of Communism.

They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

One Criticism of Marxist Feminism is that women’s oppression within the family existed before capitalism and in communist societies.

Radical Feminism

 Radical Feminists see society and its institutions as patriarchal – most of which are dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class and women the subject class. Gender inequalities are the result of the oppression of women by men, and it is primarily men who have benefited from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

Against Liberal Feminists they argue that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

Rape, violence and pornography are also methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. (Andrea Dworkin, 1981). For evidence of this, Radical Feminists point to the ‘dark side of family life’ –  According to the British Crime Survey domestic violence accounts for a sixth of all violent crime and nearly 1 in 4 women will experience DV at some point in their lifetime and women are much more likely to experience this than men.

Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.
  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

 Solutions to gender inequality

Radical Feminists see the traditional nuclear family as particularly patriarchal, and advocate its abolition and the establishment of alternative family structures and sexual relations.

The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and matrifocal (female centred) households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

 Criticisms of Radical Feminism

  • Ignores the progress that women have made in many areas e.g. work, controlling fertility, divorce
  • Too unrealistic – due to heterosexual attraction separatism is unlikely

Signposting and Related Posts

I usually teach this as part of my introductory block in the very first two weeks of A-level sociology.

Students should read this introduction to Feminism post first of all.

Semi-Structured Interviews to Research Education

Semi-Structured interviews are the most common primary qualitative research methods used in education. There are many studies which employ them. Here I focus on just one, which is adapted from ‘Sociology Since 2000’.

Class, gender, (hetero) sexuality, and schooling: working-class girls’ engagement with education and post-16 aspirations by Louise Archer, Anna Halsall and Sumi Hollingworth, 2007

Context

Working-class girls may not be doing as badly as working-class boys, but a significant number are leaving school at the age of 16 with few or no qualifications. In order to explain this, feminists have drawn attention to two processes. While at school, working-class girls may engage in subcultural forms of resistance to schooling by behaving in a hyper-heterosexual manner. This behaviour – which is focused on sexuality, dress and appearance – often results in teacher-pupil conflict as teachers interpret this behaviour as deviant. Second, a number of studies have suggested that the choices of working-class girls are structured by the expectation of leaving school at the age of 16 to work locally, settle down in a heterosexual relationship and have children.

Methods

The researchers used a multi-method, mainly qualitative, approach. First, data was collected from 89 pupils aged 14 to 16 using semi-structured interviews. Six London comprehensive schools were selected, chosen because they served working-class areas suffering from severe economic and social deprivation.

The sample of 89 pupils was made up of pupils who had been identified by their schools as being at risk of dropping out of schooling at 16. The sample included boys and girls from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, although over 50 per cent were White.

Discussion groups were set up with an additional 36 pupils. Third, eight female pupils were asked to complete photographic diaries, focusing on their everyday activities and interests. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 19 members of staff and a small sample of five parents.

Findings

The researchers found that most of the female pupils were keen to be seen as ‘desirable’ and ‘glamorous’. They spent a great deal of time and effort working on their hair, make-up and dress styles, in order to construct what the researchers called a ‘sexualised hyper-feminine identity’. This ‘work’ was regarded by the girls as far more important than the academic work demanded by the school. The primary importance placed on appearance was highlighted in the sample’s photo-diaries, which included pictures of their favourite glamour products.

The researchers observed that the girls constructed their appearance by combining a range of styles taken from diverse sources such as sport, Black culture and global brands. For example, girls often combined elements of Black, urban US styles (notably ‘bling-bling’ fashion) with various items of sportswear (e.g. Nike trainers and tracksuits) and hyper-feminine ‘sexy’ clothes, make-up and hairstyles. This construction of a hyper-feminine identity gave these young women a form of cultural power, which they used to resist school rules about uniform. This capital also led to the acquisition of status from their peer group and boyfriends.

However, this identity often led to conflict with the school. For example, girls were frequently reprimanded for their failure to conform to school-defined standards of appearance. Teachers often confronted them about the application of make-up or the maintenance of hairstyles during lesson time.

Interviews with staff suggested that they saw the girls’ construction of appearance as the opposite to what they interpreted as a ‘good pupil’. Working-class girls’ appearances were generally seen by teachers as inappropriately ‘sexual’ and a distraction from learning. On the other hand, staff saw middle-class pupils as ‘ideal pupils’. Middle-class girls were interpreted as high-achieving, hard-working, rule-following and respectable.

The researchers noted that peer-group pressure was mainly responsible for the construction of working-class femininity. Appearance was bound up with this because girls’ inclusion in, or exclusion from, their peer group was based on their conformity to particular performances of style and appearance. Most girls wanted to avoid being ridiculed, mocked and called a ‘tramp’ for wearing the ‘wrong’ brand of trainers or style of clothing. Many girls indicated their desire to leave school and to start work in order to earn the money required to continue performing fashionable identities. Boyfriends, too, had a profound and negative effect on girls’ engagement with schooling. Girls with boyfriends had low aspirations and attainment and many expressed the desire to leave and to live with or marry their boyfriend.

Evaluation

The strength of this study is its multi-strategy approach to gathering a range of qualitative data over a significant period of time. The longitudinal nature of the research allowed trends over time to be identified and the development of pupils to be regularly monitored in terms of their interaction with teachers and their peer group.

The sample appears to be representative of ‘at risk’ students in the London area. However, further research would be required to find out whether or not the findings are generalisable to other parts of the UK, as the cultures and types of deprivation found in London may be qualitatively different to those found in other places.

The qualitative nature of the data obtained from both the teachers and the pupils suggests that the researchers managed to obtain the trust of both parties. For the pupils, guarantees of anonymity and confidentiality contributed to this. However, although extensive qualitative data resulted from the group discussions, we need to be aware that the validity of the data can be affected by peer pressure and fears of ridicule and exclusion. If these discussions were not properly managed by the researchers, some pupils may have imposed their interpretations of schooling on the others.

Gender Norms and Stereotypes – A Visual Representation

Men are simple and straightforward: they just want quick sex with porn-star lookalikes, exaggerate the number  of sexual partners they have to gain status and need women to give them space to get on with the important matters of  football, beer and sleeping.

Women are more complex. They prefer wining, dining and love-making, feel the need to downplay their number of sexual partners for fear of slut shaming, and their ultimate goal in life is to manipulate a man into giving them the babies they have an obsessive need for.

Or maybe not…

In a recent book ‘Man Meets Woman’, visual artist Yang Liu presents some binary pictograms depicting the roles, relationships, and clichés of male and female experience.

Yang Liu says of the project:

“We are living in an age of constant social change, in which the subject of the sexes … is rapidly evolving in people’s consciousness. Each generation re-assesses and questions the role models currently in place…

It is interesting to see how Man/Woman clichés have indeed changed in our daily lives and to what extent the attributes that were assigned to the sexes in the past, often centuries ago, are still relevant in today’s society. And to consider which desirable role models are already rooted in our thinking but are still in the process of transformation”.

Below are some of the pictograms taken from the text, look at them consider the questions at the bottom of the post.

Love and Sex 

love and sex

The Sexual Double Standard

sexual double standard

Sexual Experiences

sexual experiences

Perfect Evening 

perfect evening

Perfect Partners 

ideal partners

Babies

babies

 

  1. To what extent do men and women themselves still conform to the traditional (binary) gender norms (stereotypes) depicted in these pictograms?
  2. What do you think the transformative potential of such visual art is? (How effective a technique is this for getting people to break free of binary-thinking where gender is concerned?
  3. Is it a good thing for women and men to start thinking and acting in more gender-diverse ways (breaking through binary stereotypes.

 

Related Posts

Is the UK really the 18th most gender equal country in the world?

According to the Global Gender Gap Index, the United Kingdom is one of the most gender equal countries in the world, but if you drill down into the statistics, women and men appear to both more and less equal than the headline data suggests.

The BBC’s ‘How equal are you?’ interactive infographic allows you type in any country and see how equal men are to women across a range of different indicators – These statistics come from the latest Global Gender Gap Index, produced by the World Economic Forum which analyses more than a dozen datasets in order to compare gender inequality in 144 countries.

For example in the UK we are told that:

  • The UK ranks 18/ 145 in the world for gender equality.
  • However, women are still not equal to men
  • For every £100 a man earns, a woman earns £83
  • 43% of graduates are male (the only statistic where women appear to be outperforming men.
  • 72% of women and 83% of men are either in work or looking for work (so I assume from this we can imply that women are slightly more likely to take on the caring role)
  • 65% of senior managers and legislators are male
  • 77% of government ministers are male.

The Global Gender Gap Index gives each country a score card – The UK’s Gender Gap Score Card looks like this:

Gender Equality Indicators in the UK
Gender Equality Indicators in the UK

Just a quick glance at the above chart should be sufficient to demonstrate some of the flaws in the Global Gender Gap Index:

  • We rank 68th out of 144 for primary school enrolment – we couldn’t get any better but I’m guessing we’re brought down because there must be 67 developing countries where more girls are enrolled in primary school than boys (making up for years of gender discrimination)
  • We rank 1st for sex ratio at birth – OK I know it’s lower in many developing countries because of female infanticide, but in the many countries where this simply isn’t significant, surely we’re just being rewarded here for very minor ‘luck of the draw differences’ in child sex at birth?
  • We’re 81st for healthy life expectancy – surely here were just being penalised for women suffering from degenerative conditions linked to longer life expectancy compared to men’s? Surely this is a problem of low male life expectancy?
  • Also, if you look at our real ranking success story – we’re effectively first in the world for gender equality in education, the real story is that despite ranking first in the world for gender equality in education, these gains have not been translated into economic, political or health advantages. This is hardly good for women.
  • Our other great gender equality success story is the number of years with a female prime minister – Thatcher in other words. Given that Thatcher = neoliberalism and neoliberalism = increasing inequality, there’s plenty of disagreement over the extent to which this particular indicator can be interpreted as being positive for women.

There’s quite a few other things these stats don’t tell you – for example, there are enormous differences in the gender pay gap by age:

gender pay gap age

 

There’s also been enormous, rapid progress with women moving into Politics in increasing numbers…. The Gender Gap Index hasn’t been around long enough to show you this….

Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015
Male to Female Ratio of MPs in the UK 2015

So how useful is the Global Gender Gap Index?

I’ll be honest, I’m not particularly interested in the issue of gender inequality, so I’m not particularly passionate about tracking down criticisms of data sets related to the issue, but it’s only taken me 30 minutes to find seven criticisms of the validity of this particular data applied to the UK, so I’m left wondering whether these world rankings have any meaning at all?

 

Our waning interest in Pornography and Patriarchy?

Here’s an interesting correlation between the quantities of books published on Pornography and Patriarchy…

Patriarchy and Porn

This is from Google ngram viewer, which searches the content of five million books. If you take it at face value, then public interest in both pornography and patriarchy peaked around 1995, and have been declining at a similar rate ever since.

wordpress.com doesn’t allow me to embed html – but click here for the online version:

https://books.google.com/ngrams/interactive_chart?content=patriarchy%2C+pornography&year_start=1940&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cpatriarchy%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cpornography%3B%2Cc0

Of course I’m skeptical about whether that’s actually the case, I’ve just been messing around with Google ngrams and wanted to share my pretty graph.

Besides being perty, the above graph is useful to demonstrate the limitations of quantitative secondary  data analysis…

Firstly, public interest in Patriarchy and Pornography haven’t necessarily been declining since 1995 – books may still be written about these topics, but without using these words – So people may be writing about the same things, but just using different words – an important reminder of the limitations of doing quantitative analysis using a limited range of key terms.

Secondly, we can’t necessarily compare over time – this is only a mere book search – I’m damn sure the majority of people who write about the above two topics today do so online, and when did the online writing explosion start – the late 1990, so probably books on everything decline from the mid 1990s!

Thirdly, the above obviously tells you nothing about the quality, tone, ideology of the material being produced. Are these pro or anti-books. Is it that useful to just know merely the topics that people are writing about?

I’d be interested in comments – How much does Google ngrams actually tell us about changing trends in the kind of things people are writing and reading about today?

 

Gender equality in the domestic division of labour

Who does the housework? Men or Women?

Do men and women do equal amounts of housework and child care today or is there evidence of a dual burden for women? What do the trends suggest about women’s empowerment? 

Before reading this post, you might like to read this preceding post: Conceptualizing Gender Equality, which covers some of the concepts sociologists have developed over the years to describe trends towards gender equality in domestic life.

A useful resource for exploring ‘raw survey data’ on who does the housework is the Understanding Society UK Longitudinal Study.

The domestic division of labour has become more since the 1950s.

  • Numerous surveys carried out since the 1950s show a narrowing of the gender gap in the domestic division of laobur.
  • Liberal Feminists and Young and Wilmott would argue that this is because more women are in paid work and families become more symmetrical.
  • Another reason for this is the ‘commercialisation of housework’ – New technologies such as washing machines, hoovers and fridge-freezers (think ready meals) have reduced the amount of housework that needs doing and narrows the gender divide in the domestic division of labour.

Lockdown narrowed the Gendered Division of Labour Gap

A 2020 study from the ONS found that before Lockdown, in 2104-15, women did 1 hour 50 minutes more housework and childcare per day than men, which reduced to 1 hour and 7 minutes per day during Lockdown.

Historic Evidence of gender inequality in the domestic division of labour

Despite the quite dramatic changes with lockdown, historically there is considerable evidence that the Gendered Division of Labour shows a persistent pattern of women doing a lot more housework and childcare than men!

A 2019 study UCL study based on interviews with 8 500 opposite sex couples found that:

  • Women do 16 hours of household chores every week, men do closer to six.
  • Women did the bulk of the domestic chores in 93 per cent of couples .
  • There was a 50-50 split of domestic chores in 6% of couples
  • Only 1% of couples had men doing more domestic work than women.

This work is summarised in this Independent article.

Housework – Gendered Variations by Ethnicity

A 2016 study showed that while women do almost twice as much housework than men in White British and Black British households, women do three tims as much housework than men in Indian households, and four times as much in Pakistani and Bangladeshi households.

The study found that gender attitudes and lack of education were predictors of housework imbalance – more educated women in all ethnic groups did proportionately less housework.

A 2014 survey by the BBC’s Women’s Hour found women devote well over the equivalent of a working day each week to household chores – double the amount undertaken by men. The poll for BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour suggests that women spend an average of 11-and-a-half hours doing housework by their own estimation, while men complete just six.

Source – Chore Wars Poll

Similar findings were revealed in a survey of almost 1,000 users of the Mumsnet website.

  • Changing lightbulbs, taking the bins out and DIY were the only three of 54 common domestic tasks done in more than half of cases by men, with 15 roughly shared and the rest chiefly carried out by women.
  • Most often done by female partners were organising playdates, health appointments, childcare and birthday parties – as well as cleaning and laundry. Parents evenings, school plays and bedtime stories are most often seen as shared activities.
  • Justine Roberts, CEO of Mumsnet said: “One in three working mums is the main family wage earner, a rise of one million over the last 18 years… But despite this, women are still busting a gut back home, responsible for the vast majority of chores and domestic responsibilities. It’s not surprising we still talk about glass ceilings and the lack of women at the top. Most of us are just too exhausted to climb the greasy pole.”

According to a 2011 survey by the Social Issues Research Centre, The Changing Face of Motherhood, there has been hardly any change in domestic division of labour over the last 20 years (since the mid 1990s):

  • In 1994 it emerged that for 79 per cent of couples the woman did most or all of the laundry, with the role being shared in only 18 per cent of cases. The latest survey (in 2011) showed that the proportion sharing the role has only risen by two percentage points. In 70 per cent of houses laundry is still seen as women’s work.
  • In the kitchen, there has been virtually no change in the last 10 years. Women still do the lion’s share of the cooking in 55 per cent of couple households.
  • When it comes to tasks such as shopping for groceries, women’s workload has increased slightly the early 1990s. The picture was similar when people were asked about cleaning and caring for sick family members.
  • By contrast, DIY is still seen as virtually the sole preserve of men in 75 per cent of households – exactly as it was almost 20 years ago

Source.


Analysis – Who does the Housework? Men or Women?

  • Looking at the above statistics it seems reasonable to conclude that Radical Feminist concepts such as the dual burden and the triple shift still apply.
  • We can also conclude that women going into paid work has not yet resulted in total equality in the domestic division of labour.
  • It also seems reasonable to assume that there may be social class differences in the gendered division of labour – the top 10% of households will be in a position to hire cleaners and child care thus reducing the dual burden on middle class, professional women.
  • Another way in which middle class women will be advantaged compared to working class is that because of their husbands’ hire earning power, they will be more able to take time off work to be full time stay at home mums – meaning that they may do more domestic labour, but at least they don’t suffer the dual burden and triple shift.

Related Posts

To what extent are gender roles equal?

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How has women going into paid work affected equality in relationships?

Evidence that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equality in relationships

  • It seems obvious that women going into paid work has resulted in greater equality. As most women are now in paid-work this means they have more financial independence than ever before.
  • Statistics (see the next topic, link below) clearly show that the gendered division of labour has become more equal since the 1950s

To what extent is the domestic division of labour characterised be equality?

Evidence that women going into paid work has not resulted in greater equality

However, Radical Feminists argue that paid work has led to the dual burden and triple shift

One argument used to support this view is that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

Gender and Educational Achievement – Evaluating the Role of Out of School Factors

One of the out of school factors which could explain why girls do better than boys in education is that girls have higher aspirations than boys.  Here’s some recent research which supports this while also suggesting that the relationship between gender and aspiration is also strongly influenced by social class background.

The data below’s taken from  The British Household Panel Survey and is based on a sample of nearly 5000 10-15 year olds. This research found (among other things!) that that boys are less likely than girls to aspire to go to college / university across all ethnic groups. The numbers are especially divergent for the white ethnic group – 57% (boys) and 74% (girls).

Gender and aspiration

However, when you break things down by social class background (NB this is analysis!) things look more differentiated – Basically, boys from professional class backgrounds aspire to university, but those from all other social class backgrounds generally do not, while girls from all social class backgrounds seem to aspire to go to university.

gender class and aspiration

To put it bluntly (OK crudely) what these statistical comparisons suggest is that working class boys don’t generally aspire to go to university, whereas working class girls do.

Strengths of this data

Nice easy comparisons – As evidenced in the perty charts.

You can use it as broad supporting evidence of girls aspirations being higher than boys, with an ‘analysis twist’

Limitations of this data 

Of course the above statistics (this is a classic limitation of quantitative data) tell you nothing about why working class boys but not working class girls do not aspire to go to university. It could be due to parental attitudes filtering down differently to girls than boys, or it may be other factors which have nothing to do with socialisation. These stats don’t actually tell us!

Questions for discussion 

  • Summarize the relationship between social class, gender and educational aspiration
  • Suggest one reason for the above relationship

Extension Question – This information was relatively easy to find, it’s quite easy to understand, directly relevant to the AS Sociology syllabus and gives you some easy analysis points – how many of the new (forthcoming) AS text books would you expect to find this information in?

 

 

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