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A System of Society in Which Men Have Most or all of the Power



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    In order to examine the multiple roles, which most women can expect to experience over the course of a life-time, it will be necessary to firstly acknowledge the dominant ideologies which shape societal expectations of women’s roles and consequently the experiences of all women. These will then be discussed in relation to the Welfare State and social policies, which serve to maintain the assignment of women to specific roles and perpetuate the inequalities and disadvantage that is a strong feature of women’s daily lives.

    The impacts of these issues will be examined, before briefly considering the contribution of feminist theories. Historically, the perceived roles of women have been shaped by the dominant ideologies of Patriarchy and capitalism, which have both served to subordinate and undervalue the position of women in a number of ways. Patriarchy, which is defined as a system of society in which men hold most or all of the power, is an ideology, which has prevailed in many societies for many centuries if not thousands of years.As such it has informed the perception of what it means to be a man and a women and underpinning the way in which societies are structured and subsequently function.

    Family has played an important role in maintaining patriarchy, defining women in their role as providers of care and leading them, through childhood socialisation to expect and accept specific gender roles. When considering capitalism as an influencing factor on the roles of women, it is worth noting that prior to capitalism, women were involved in a variety of tasks, which contributed to the household production of goods for domestic use, and for sale.Therefore the home was where various types of work were undertaken and, as such the difference between paid work and unpaid work was less distinct. However, the development of capitalism saw the separation of paid jobs from the home to factories and workshops.

    Leaving the tasks of feeding, clothing and earning for the family in the home, as unpaid work. ‘In a capitalist economy this work has increasingly been given less value than paid jobs, because it does not directly produce goods for sale’ Madoc-Jones & Coates, Introduction to Womens Studies, 1996, p88.Consequently women have been associated with unpaid work in the home. Over time the long term dominance of patriarchy coupled with capitalism have culminated in the assumption that ‘there is something distinctive for a women, in being a carer, simply because ‘caring’ is an activity which is culturally defined as being ‘natural’ for women’ Finch & Groves, A Labour of Love, 1983, p3.

    It has also been argued that in assigning these roles and characteristics to women, ‘caring’ becomes a central element of the social construction of femininity ‘against which masculinity takes shape’ Chodorow, 1978 in Finch & Groves, 1983, p17.Consequently the feminine domain is based around the household and family, while masculinity is constructed within the area of paid work outside the home. This locates the majority of women’s work in the ‘private’ sphere and as such it remains invisible and undervalued. Hilary Graham in Finch ; Groves, 1983, p21 suggests that; ‘Non-work labels like ‘child-care’ and ‘keeping house’ tend to be attached to the contributions which those in subordinate positions make to society: ‘work’ and in particular ‘skilled work’ are terms reserved for the activities of men.

    This sexual division of labour, means that ‘men relate to their families breadwinners’ McDowell & Pringle, Defining Women, 1992, p122, this subsequently has many impacts on women’s experience in a number of areas, but perhaps most importantly it has characterised the way in which women and the roles that they are expected to fulfil are developed by the state. The development of the modern welfare state was based ‘largely on the maintenance of a familist organisation of social reproduction’ Sim in Ungerson, Gender and Caring, 1990, p81.Women were viewed primarily as mothers or wives, and the state presupposed that certain aspects of welfare should continue to be provided by them, in the home as opposed to public provision. This could include a number of roles, from child-care to care of an invalid-husband and elderly relatives.

    Landes suggests that ‘welfare state policies have ensured in various ways that wives/women provide welfare gratis, disguised as part of their responsibility for the private sphere’ Landes, Feminism, the Public and the Private, 1998, p256.This situation, coupled with the widespread acceptance of the notion of men as breadwinners has served to perpetuate assumptions about women’s economic dependency on men. This finds embodiment in a social security system, which places strict limitations on a married/co-habiting women’s ability to claim benefit in her own right. An example of state social policy, which highlights both the perceived caring role of women and their dependency on their husbands, is the Invalid Care Allowance, which was introduced in 1975.

    It was paid to men and single women who had given up paid employment to care for a sick relative, disabled or elderly person. Married/co-habiting women were ineligible for the allowance. This exclusion of married women from entitlement on the grounds that they are ‘natural’ carer at home is demonstrated in the discussions of the 1974 White Paper ‘where the proposal for the exclusion of married women is justified ‘ as they might well be at home in any event” House of Commons, 1974, p20 in Finch ; Groves, 1983, p152. Welfare policies also have other implications for women, which dictate how their time is spent.

    If one considers evidence that relates to the way in which social services are allocated, it suggests that allocation is partially based on ‘assumptions about sex roles’ Hunt, 1970 in Finch ; Groves, 1983, p47. For example men living alone are more likely than women in the same position, to be allocated a home help and the evidence also suggests that those with sons rather than daughters stand a higher chance of receiving help at home. Discriminatory social policy, alongside domestic and caring commitments has serious effects on women’s social and economic position.As such it places women at a disadvantage in terms of paid work and curtails their opportunities.

    Although women can be found in most occupations, jobs tend to be segregated in much the same way as they have been for the past 50 years. Women’s jobs continue to be most often those which are low paid, low in status and categorised as low skill. Where women have managed to enter professions previously dominated by men, they continue to be paid less than their male counter-parts. Ungerson ; Kember, Women and Social Policy, 1997, p51-53.

    Many women choose to work part-time in an attempt to balance caring and household responsibilities, while at the same time securing a limited degree of financial independence. ‘Nearly 1 out of 2 women in employment’ Ungerson ; Kember, 1997, p51 now work part-time, again concentrated in employment sectors that are characterised by low pay. Women in part-time employment face many other disadvantages, which are highlighted by Angela Dale. She draws attention, not only to part-time workers limited earning ability, but also to the lack of employment protection rights and eligibility rights.

    The survey she cites ‘found that 46% of women who were in permanent part-time posts did not fall within most employment protection legislation……. and only 15% of part-timers were contributing to an occupational pension Dale in Ungerson & Kember, 1997, pp 58-60. Another difficulty women face is the lack of affordable child-care, which means that many mothers are expected to care for their children whether they are in paid employment or not. A result of this is that ‘in Britain married women with children have the lowest activity rates of all E.

    U. ountries’ Sim in Ungerson, Gender and Caring, 1990, p92. Sim goes on to suggest that this has a detrimental effect on the financial position of families with small children, many of whom are living just above the official poverty line. In examining these issues of family, home, care, paid employment, etc, the themes of inequality and disadvantage have been apparent, however it is important to consider the implications of these issues on a more personal level, in terms of the ‘cost’ Finch & Groves, 1983 both financial and emotional, which are an inherent part of the experience of many women.

    Firstly, consideration will be given to the financial ‘cost’ of being a woman. As mentioned earlier, the experience of women in paid work is not ideal, but as ‘many women may find that they care successively for children, elderly parents and a sick husband’ Ungerson & Graham in Finch & Groves, 1983, p4, the costs will be greater. Long absences from the labour market leave some women financially dependent on a husband and or state benefits, which increases the possibility of women experiencing poverty.This of course has a detrimental effect at the time, but as poverty during working years is linked to poverty in old age Walker in Finch & Groves, 1983, p5 one must fully expect that the future of many women, will be one shaped by poverty.

    Working part-time may mitigate this situation to an extent, but as discussed previously the majority of part-time women workers tend not to contribute to occupational pension schemes and as such will not be safeguarded against a similar outcome.Secondly, the emotional cost of caring, can literally change a women’s life dramatically, not only the effect it has on the carer’s quality of life, but also in terms of the hard physical work involved, which is described as ‘the daily grind’ Finch & Groves, 1983, p65, and involves monotonous domestic routine. It also has an impact on a women’s self-perception in terms of self-esteem, femininity and sexuality. This is particularly evident in the experience of women who care for sick or invalid husbands; it is the experience of this group of which will be considered in greater detail.

    While other groups may have a degree of choice in whether or not they take a caring role; ‘spouses can be seen as having the least choice of all’ Finch ; Groves, 1983, p73. Oliver suggests that there is a widespread ‘expectation’ by all those involved, medical staff, social services, family and the husband himself that the wife will take on this role. The skills and commitment that this role demands are seen to be ‘bestowed with the wedding ring’ Oliver in Finch ; Groves, 1983, p73.Oliver interviewed a number of women in this group and found that from their perspective it was a sense of ‘duty’, which shaped their attitudes, and many wives also justified taking on such a demanding role by quoting the wedding row of ‘in sickness and in health’ Finch and Groves, 1983, p75.

    Oliver’s research findings also highlighted difficulties relating to the loss of an active sex-life, which may spoke of in terms of being ‘neutered’ or ‘de-sexed’ Finch & Groves, 1983, p78 which impacts on the way they view their own sexuality and consequently femininity.This coupled with a lack of social life and diminished opportunities for personal time, contributed to a general inability on the part of carers to relate to other women and their lives, this heightening the carers’ sense of isolation. Feminist explanations of gender inequality and the multiplicity of women’s roles,firstly assert the belief that gender identity and associated roles are a result of socially constructed characteristics rather than innate characteristics.For example, Simone de Beauvoir said that ‘one is not born a woman but becomes one.

    ‘ in Landes, 1998, p28 Later feminists, for example Millet, Frieden & Firestone have developed this notion and have proceeded to identify the social structures in which women and their capacity to fulfil multiple roles are constructed, ‘They considered the bureaucratic state, capitalism and the patriarchal family to be the three sides of an iron triangle of womens’ oppression’. Landes 1998 p45However, different strands of Feminism, place a different emphasis on the power of each of these social structures in regard to gender inequality. Radical Feminists tend to concentrate on the power of patriarchy, Marxist Feminists view inequalities as a result of capitalism, where ‘men’s domination over women is a by-product of capital’s domination over labour. ‘ Walby 1990 p4.

    The ‘dual system’ theory can be described as a combination of Marxist and Radical feminist theory, asserting that both capitalism and patriarchy are important factors, shaping gender inequalities.In conclusion I would acknowledge that the feminist theories mentioned above, all offer explanations of gender inequalities, which can be located within society and as such are highly relevant when considering the multiple roles of women. As such I would agree and venture that the multiple roles of women are not fulfilled as result of personal choices, but as a result of the many social structures and practices which coerce women into these roles

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