Sociology- Roles and relationships

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  • Created on: 06-05-13 13:03

Roles and Relationships

Sociologists are interested in the extent to which gender roles and relationships have changed within families and households.

  • Functionalists such as Murdock and Parsona view traditional gender roles as functional. Parsons claimed that it made sense for women to care for the children they gave birth to in an expensive, domestic violence, while men went out into the world as breadwinners- the instrumental role.
  • The New Right also welsomes women taking this role, supported by a responsible male worker.
  • Post- modernists are interested in the way roles have been questioned and changed since the mid-twentieth century, suggested that people now have freedom to forge their own identity and life course regardless of gender and other characteristics.
  • Feminists see gender roles as much harder to change and oppressive to women. They have examined domestic division of labour between couples, decision making and power relations.
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Domestic Division of Labour

In The Symmetrical Family (1973), Young and Willmott described conjugal (married) roles in the contemporary family as joint. Women as well as men were wage earners, so men helped with domestic work and child care, unlike in earlier times when women were full-time housewives and roles were segregated. Joint roles were described as symmetrical, as both partners did paid work, housework and childcare, though often in different proportions, as the new man was more likely to work full time. The family was supposedly democratic.

Feminism Ann Oakley (1974) claimed that Young and Willmotthad exaggerated men's domestic role by rating even a small chore as contribution to housework. She found that only 15% of husbands helped with this to a substantial degree, and only 25% with childcare. Middle-class men participated more in both than working-class respondents, but this was vastly outweighed by the average of 77 hours per week of domestic duties done by women. Even with new household gadgets, this labour was repetitive, isolated and taken for granted. However, critics have suggested that Oakley's questions to women were loaded.

Graham Allan (1985) also criticised Young and Willmott's methodology, as thir sample of couples aged 30 to 49 excluded younger women with small children who probably would have spent longer on housework. Jo VanEvery (1995) points out that older children are often trained to help in the house and their subsequent role in the division of labour complicates conjural roles.

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Dual roles and triple shift

As more women have undertaken paid work, researchers have studied the role strain they experience trying to do it well while still shouldering most of the domestic responsibilities. This is the dual role or double shift. Marxists Feminists described tham as being exploited by men at work and at home. Mary Boulton (1983) found that in over 80% of the families she studied, wives took the main responsibility for children, taking time off work when their offspring were ill or, otherwise, feeling guilty. She viewed this as more crucial than the number of hours spent on particular tasks by men and women. Allan (1985) found men willing to do enjoyable tasks such as taking children to the park and irregular jobs such as repairs, leaving women to do daily mundane chores, suggesting a power inbalance. By 1996 Elsa Ferri and Kate Smith still found it rare for men to take primary responsibility for children or look after them when they were ill, even where the mother had paid work outside the home and the father did not.

Jonathan Gershuny (1992) compared hours spent by partners on domestic work in 1974 and 1987. There was a small increase in men's share of cleaning and cooking where women worked  full time, but, taking paid and domestic work together, these women still did over twice as many hours as their male partners.  Similarly to Boulton, Janet Finch (1989) and Hilary Graham (1990) identified an add itional responsibility of women- emotional support and day-to-day organisation of the lives of other family members and kin. Together with paid work and domestic tasks, this creates a triple shift.

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Less conventional households

According to Mansfield and Collard (1988), there is a far greater emphasis on equal ahring of tasks and power in cohabiting households, especially where there are no children, as the couples take pride in creating a relationship that is different from marriage. Gillian Dunne (1999) found this was even more the case with lesbian couples.

Reconstituted families are likely to have complex and varied divisions of labour where parents are trying to maintain relationships and responsibilities for more than one set of children. The gendered division of labour is irrelvant to the growing number of single-parent families. In these the parent with whom the children are living may be primarily a carer, living on benefits or maintenance, or the parent may work and rely on a relative or paid carer to take the domestic role.

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Decision Making

Stephen Edgell (1980) found that middle-class women were happy for husbands to make major decisions, such as whether to move house, as they were the main breadwinners. Wives were responsible for minor daily decisions about food and children's clothing.

More recently Irene Hardill et al. (1997) interviewed 30 couples where both partners had professional careers. Even there, in 19 couples the man's career came first and he decided if they were to move area to advance it. In only 5 households did the woman's career take precedence. The couples usually made joint decisions, though, about which house to buy or rent.

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Control of Finances

Jan Pahl (1989, 1993) studied how couples with at least one child under 16 managed their money. She found that most commmon arrangment was for them to pollit but for the husband to have a greater say in how it was spent and to spend more on himself. In just over a fifth of the couples, usually where the husband had the main or only wage, he had total control of the finances, giving his wife a house-keeping allowance which she had to stretch tobuy regular household items This is indicative of male dominance. Just over a quarter of couples, usually where the woman earned more than the man, had wife-controlled pooling, the most egalitarian system as both partners tended to share decision making and personal spending was fairly equal.

Laurie and Gershuny (2000) compared data from 1991 and 1995, which showed a movement away from house-keeping allowances to shared money management. There was an increase from 65% to 70% in both artners having an equal say in big finsncial decisions, and this was most likely where women were in professional roles with high earnings. Nevertheless, women's progress in the workplace is often not reflected in the division of labour and economic power in the home.

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Domestic Violence

  • In England and Wales there are, in any one year, 13 million seperate incidents of physical violence or threats of violence against women from partners or former partners.
  • Women constitute 89% of all those who have experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence.
  • 54% of UK rapes are committed by a woman's current or former partner.
  • On average 2 women a week are killed by a male partner or former partner.

This 'dark side of family life' can be cited as an example of continued patriarchy. Men who are violent towards female partners often abuse their children too, physically, sexually or mentally.

Evaluation As a counter argument to the above, there is considerable evidence of female violence against male partners, especially by women suffering from pre-menstrual tension, but men are often unwilling to report this. In No More Sex War: The Failures of Feminism (1992), Neil Lyndon disputed men's violent image and dominant role, arguing that women are now favoured in many ways, for example in custody battles after divorce. However, the solution for both sexes is cooperation. Society should allow parents to wor half a week each while their children are young do they can both bond with the child,share the domestic roles and neither will have to take a career break.

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