Summarising what we know
This week we have explored:
- Gendering in the workplace (re-capping the discussion from last week)
- Unpaid work in the home and the double burden
- Influences on the gendered home over time
- The Marriage Bar
- The role of women in politics
- The significance of occupations with influence
- Representations of men and women in the media
- The notion of an ideal man or woman
- The portrayal of women in film
Key learning points:
As we have already identified, the roles men and women play in the workplace and at home are intertwined. From this we can appreciate that for gender equality to be achieved we need shifts in both the workplace and home. Opportunities in the workplace for women who are unable to access them due to commitments at home will be ineffective. Similarly having men share the domestic responsibilities at home while barriers to women’s progression remain in the workplace may also result in little change.
If we look at gender equality from an historical perspective – a we do with the marriage bar – we can see that attitudes to women working are influenced by men and women. Women were often against married women working not only because they saw no need for it since no income was required, but because they had concerns about women taking on two jobs. This concern has largely been vindicated by empirical evidence since, although the conclusion that women should be forced to choose has not.
Women who are in paid employment, even when their work is full-time, are still more likely to take on the majority of housework and care work than their male partners. As we have seen this is referred to as the second shift or a double burden. Initially this was alleviated through the introduction of labour-saving devices (technology designed to make certain chores, such as washing and cleaning easier). This reduced the time spent on the task but didn’t necessarily result in a shift in terms of who was undertaking the task. The biggest gain for women here was in having more time in order to undertake paid work, rather than a reduction in their work per se. As long as men continue to play a lesser role in undertaking household chores and care work, women are more likely to experience higher workloads unless they are in part-time work. This leaves them in the position of either having higher workloads or being limited to part-time or no paid work, although some women may choose the latter as a preference.
In other words, just extending the opportunities for women in the workplace is not sufficient for achieving gender equality as long as there isn’t a commensurate shift in the roles played by men and women at home.
Legislation vs Attitudes
What also becomes clear from the exploration of gender inequality at home is that legislation can only go so far in tackling it, and social attitudes and norms play a key role too. Legislation has more impact in the workplace, where processes are comparatively more regulated than in the privacy of a home. The decisions and roles played in the private sphere of the home is primarily to be negotiated between the members of the household, legislated for only in extreme circumstances, such as in the case of domestic violence and abuse. This can include someone using emotional abuse to stop their partner going to work (although in practice it is not as easy to report a partner as it is an employer because of the emotional relationships and dependencies involved). Similarly, the way women are represented in the media is less affected by gender equality motivated legislation.
The media is also tasked with two potentially conflicting roles – firstly that of portraying reality and secondly that of not perpetuating it. Portraying the reality of women’s life experiences can have the effect of normalising it and sustaining it, as well as challenging it. As we have seen with our review of how women are represented – if women are portrayed in certain roles, such as the primary care-giver, or ‘domestic goddess’, this can present an ideal to aspire to or suggest that this is ‘how things are’, sustaining gendered roles unless this is challenged. Similarly, as long as women are disproportionately presented in sexualised, naked, or partially naked images they are more likely to be judged on their appearance than men. How gender is presented and treated, across all media, is an important driver of how gender is perceived and normalised and also (potentially) challenged and deconstructed.
While legislation can therefore set out clear boundaries for behaviour, and assist women’s ability to challenge unfair treatment, it is attitudes that need to shift for gender equality to be achieved. This needs to be reflected in society at large – through media, for example – as well as in the home to enable gender equality to be achieved. Media plays a significant role in shaping, perpetuating and challenging attitudes towards men and women.
The ‘value of women’s…’
As we learned in week two, the roles played by women are typically less highly valued in the workplace, and this is equally true of roles played outside of work. The work undertaken at home is often considered to be less skilled or becomes invisible labour as it is taken-for-granted; women are considered to be ‘taking time off work’ to undertake these unpaid work roles. The lack of payment for such work attaches no economic value and confers limited power as a result.
The types of roles undertaken by women matter, as unless women are able to access and progress in organisations, and have sufficient numbers in significant and influential roles, they are unlikely to be able to change perceptions about their capabilities and suitability for these roles, and to be able to shift attitudes towards women’s unpaid work.
The appearance of a woman is often given more attention than it is for a man. Women are more likely to have their appearance commented on, and for it to influence their appointment and progression in an organisation. They are more likely to be ‘reduced’ to their bodies, leading to accusations of ‘objectification’, particularly sexual objectification. This objectification can become internalised, leading women to become more self-conscious about achieving the ideal body. In extremis this can impact health and well-being.
If women are undervalued and often reduced to bodies and appearance it is perhaps unsurprising that their opinions are not as highly valued. This has implications for the effectiveness of women’s voice and their capacity to influence the status quo. This doesn’t mean that women have no effective voice, but they may have to work harder or do more to have it heard and heeded.
© University of Exeter