Learning through the Marriage Bar
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Understanding Gender Inequality
The lack of use of this legislation is suggestive but it is worth recalling that this legislation came out as the country was entering a period of war, so the usual patterns of life were disrupted. Women had to take on work left by men as they went to war. This demonstrated that they were capable of this work, but some argued that this should only be a temporary arrangement until the men returned to their positions. Furthermore the legislation accepted that permissible reasons could be given to support the necessity of employing men for certain roles. The arguments against women, and particularly married women working, coupled with the capacity to make exceptions in favour of men may help explain why this legislation was so underused. It was also clear that the government didn’t see it as grounds to enforce gender equality, as evidenced by a debate in the House of Commons in 1921 where it was noted that the government could not compel a local authority to employ a married women if they chose to enforce the bar (HC Deb, 1921).This led these married women to become dependent on men for their financial security, reducing their own economic power, as well as withdrawing possible sources of stimulation, satisfying collegial relationships and the capacity to develop and maintain a work identity. It was also a loss of talent and ability for the economy. For some women, having to give up work may have been a preference, although it is difficult to be sure whether this was a freely made choice given the strong socialisation and expectations around a married women’s responsibilities at home.In contemporary society the pressures to be an ideal parent may lead some women to consider it impossible to be a good parent and a good worker, leading some to choose to give up on work (Stone and Lovejoy, 2004). The reasons for this are complex and go beyond those of biology. For example, last week we discussed the gender pay gap. As long as men are paid more than women, it remains financially prudent for the woman rather than the man to give up work if a parent is required to take on a childcare role.In the story behind the marriage bar we can see how attitudes towards women working are sustained and endure, and how – although the bar itself is no longer practiced – many of those attitudes inform current thinking on women in the workplace and at home, and the endurance of certain assumptions about men and their relationship with work.“A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation”
ReferencesHouse of Commons (1921) 22 June Debate, vol 143 cc1395-6WStone, P., & Lovejoy, M. Fast-Track Women and the “Choice” to Stay Home. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 2004; 596, 62-83.Further InformationYou can hear some of the stories of women who had to give up work due to the marriage bar in the video below
This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.
Understanding Gender Inequality
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