Assess the view that gender roles and relationships have become more equal in everyday life

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Assess the view that gender roles and relationships have become more equal in everyday life
Gender roles is a term used to describe social and behavioural norms that males and females
are `expected to play' within society. Many sociologists believe that this division of these roles is
becoming less apparent in modern family life, but some disagree.
The nuclear family is a term widely used to describe a traditional family consisting of a
husband, wife and two children. The mother would always have the expressive role, according to
Parsons, in which they provided the family with emotional support, and the father would carry out the
instrumental role where he would be the breadwinner and provide the family with financial support.
This idea opposes to gender equality within the family, Parsons suggesting that men and women are
naturally suited to this division of labour. Willmott and Young disclaim this theory, arguing that men
are actually taking a greater share in the domestic tasks whilst women are increasingly scoring
careers (making them dual income families), supporting the idea that modern households are becoming
more equal.
Bott's idea of conjugal roles within the family are now more commonly joint, contributing to
the March of Progress within the household, leading to an increase in symmetrical families where men
and women share household tasks. Willmott and Young found that joint conjugal roles and symmetry
are more common amongst younger couples who are geographically mobile. Other findings assisting to
the rise in the symmetrical family include geographical mobility and time-saving devices such as white
goods that eliminate time spent doing household labour and enable shared leisure time, thus leading to
higher standards of living. These goods are widely available to families in which both adults work
(enabled by the change of woman's' position within society), providing them with adequate resources
to afford these products.
On the other hand, Feminists disagree with the view of recent changes in housework. Ann
Oakley felt that Young and Willmott exaggerated the amount of `symmetry' in conjugal roles. The
mothers she interviewed still felt the housework and children were their responsibility and were
grateful for any `help' their partner's gave, showing a lack of genuine symmetry. Her findings showed
that 25% of fathers participated in childcare, but a large amount of mothers that she interviewed
defined their husband's help with childcare as simply `taking an interest', and only the more enjoyable
aspects of care were adopted, leaving less for the mothers and thus more time for housework. She
stated "One occupation in particular, that of housewife, is exclusively feminine. In Britain, 76% of all
employed women are housewives and so are 93% of non-employed women." Oakley also argued that
Parsons' view on gender roles is not natural, and instead a social construct matched by the financial
dependence women have upon men.
A different concept towards equality within couples was inferred by Dunne's study of
homosexual couples in 1999. He argued that society has deeply ingrained gender scripts, contributing
to the inequality seen in heterosexual families, as opposed to homosexual couples who show greater
evidence of family symmetry. He found that lesbians were more likely to share housework equally and
give equal importance to both partners' career, mainly held responsible due to the lack of segregated
conjugal roles based on gender. This enforces the feminist belief that relationships are not equal due
to differences in gender reinforcing asymmetrical roles (gender scripts).
Evidence supporting a trend towards equality within modern relationships was found by Pahl
and Vogler's study of the share of resources within families. They found that the allowance system of
money (whereby men would ration out their earnings to their wives) has been declining and pooling
(where both partners have joint responsibility and access to income) is on the increase. Comparing a
sample of 1,211 couples to their parents, Vogler found an increase in pooling by 31% and a 24%
decrease in allowances in 1994. Edgell also found in 1980 that more couples are sharing very
important decisions such as those involving finance and career change, as opposed to the former
circumstances where the wives would only make minor decisions like the choice of home décor and
food. Evidence suggests that this increase in female importance with regards to decision making could
be a secondary effect of women increasingly occupying high sought-out professions, giving them more

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In a more negative perspective,
this may also be leading to the escalation of dual burden, and even triple shift, whereby mothers are
becoming more bound to the emotional and homemaking aspects of the family as well as their paid
work, instead of males acquiring some of this work to compensate.
Moreover, a significant lack of equality can be seen when exploring the `dark side' of relationships:
domestic violence.…read more


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