A cartoon image of a young black woman doing laundry in her house

Introduction to Week 3: gender inequality at home and in society

In this week we explore gender inequality at home and more widely in society. Gender inequality in the home is interesting because it is a comparatively private sphere when compared to the workplace, and not protected by the same forms of legislation. In society at large we will focus particularly on the gendering effects of the media and the role of women in politics to understand the general social attitudes towards gender differences and inequality, and the influence women have in society.

Taken together this week is focused on understanding how the everyday lives of women is impacted by gender inequality beyond the workplace. The distinctions here are somewhat artificial and we need to recognise that all of these aspects inform each other. As we have already seen when exploring the workplace – the gendering of roles, and the extent to which women can participate in the workplace is partly influenced by their responsibilities outside of work, and likewise their capacity to engage in activities outside of work is influenced by their work responsibilities. Ultimately we need to weave these issues together to get the bigger picture.

What do we mean by the home?

By ‘the home’ we are including domestic responsibilities, such as housework, shopping and childcare and also other caring responsibilities – for example caring for ageing relatives. The boundary of the home therefore extends beyond the physical boundary of the home to include relationships and activities that span that boundary. Exploring the gendering of the home means understanding the nature of the unpaid work undertaken and who takes on certain roles. It also captures the decision-making processes, such as how and who makes decisions in the household.

What do we mean by the media?

When exploring the media we are focusing on how women are represented in the public arena. By media we include any media, such as films and television programmes, posters and televisual advertisements, the news and increasingly social media. Media is important as it send messages about what is considered to be appropriate or even ideal behaviour and appearance, for example. The way people are treated in the media sends clear messages as to the possible reactions to or consequences of choices and actions. In other words who is praised, who is ridiculed, who is found attractive and who is found unattractive sets out some of the norms that we can anticipate experiencing in our everyday lives. The media plays a crucial role in forming and reforming our opinions, understandings and consequently our actions over time. Media offers us the most immediate insight into prevailing attitudes and how these are changing. Whilst historically largely driven by large organisations, the rise of social media means that these opinion forming ideas are also coming from the population at large and increasingly span the globe in their effects.

What do we mean by politics?

Here we are not addressing politics as a workplace, but the implications of women’s representation in positions of political power. The more frequently that women secure positions of power the more opportunity there is to have their perspectives reflected in and influencing government policy. Whilst we have to be careful to avoid essentialising the experiences of women and assuming that women in positions of power necessarily means that the diversity of women’s experiences are adequately captured, it is clearly better to have women represented than not. As we have already touched on when exploring intersectionality – we also need to consider the intersection of class, race and so on to fully get the breadth of experiences in government and of course all women’s experiences are different. But having women in positions of influence is a crucial part of increasing gender equality.

The introduction of gender mainstreaming has also influenced gender equality. Gender mainstreaming is a strategic focus requiring organisations to consider gender equality in all their activities, such as the development and implementation of policies, allocation of resources and legislation. This requires consideration of the interests of both men and women in policy-making.

This week we will

  • Review the discussion from last week
  • Explore the gendering of the home and domestic roles through a contemporary and historical lens.
  • Consider the role of women in politics and why occupations of with power matter
  • Explore representations of women in the media, and their stereotypes

The focus is on the experience of women rather than men, because it is typically women who are disadvantaged overall. However, we also need to recognise the impact the gendering of society has on men’s choices and how they are represented. To that end we will touch on this a little throughout, but the main focus will remain on the experiences and inequalities of women.

But before we do that we will return to our discussion at the end of last week.

Share this article:

This article is from the free online course:

Understanding Gender Inequality

University of Exeter