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Case Study on Gender Roles

Sample Case Study on Gender Roles

It has long been recognised that men and women have significant differences, physical, social, emotional and intellectual. The roles they take on in regard to family life are, or have been in the past, directly dictated by their gender. Men and women are involved in roles in almost every aspect of life, from the social groups they join as children, to which position that they will potentially fill within a home. In conjunction with roles, we are expected to take a certain behavioural pattern. We have come to label this behaviour within stereotypes of the typical father ‘the provider’ and mother ‘the domestic labourer’ in post or pre industrial families. I shall be mainly focusing on western families as western gender roles differ somewhat to eastern traditions. Although these roles are fairly clear cut and socially reproduced, it is fair to say that each generation are to some extent forces these roles to evolve to better suit the social and cultural climate. This essay will set out to broadly define roles within the family and how throughout recent history these roles have been, and still are being forced to change and conform to shifting cultural and economic demands.

Even before you are born, your pre determined gender role is in formation. As soon as a child is born he or she begins to form their identity and so their role in society. Identities is unique, everyone has one without exception. You begin life within one of a few blank ‘moulds’ or ‘social jackets’ either you are male or female, black, white or Asian everyone begins life reasonably physically similar. From around the age where you begin to make decisions your individual identity is for you to develop and form.

Male and female roles begin to come in to practice within schooling and family activities and are then constantly developed and refined through life. Personal and collective Identities constantly evolve through experience and are reproduced within the home. Gender roles are first applied in the home; they are picked up alongside with manners and other social tools as children develop. Children learn a great deal about roles from their parents by merely observing their behaviour. Finer points of gender roles are defined by cultural background, tradition, geographic location or your family’s economic position. Economic status I believe has most bearing on future gender roles because the richer the family that a child has, more choices and opportunities are available.

Families before the arrival of the industrial revolution and more significantly, capitalism, were a far more communal unit than today. Collectively taking care of household jobs, childcare and chores to sustain their existence. Farming, hunting, fishing, preparation of food, cleaning, weaving, reproduction and many other responsibilities were all mainly conducted within the same ‘sphere’, the family home. The average pre industrial revolution ‘peasant’ family would have many more people active within it than today. All immediate family members would usually be included, mother, father, children, perhaps aunties, uncles, grandparents or other relatives and wider depending on the economic position or needs of the unit, such as serfs or apprentices for trade and production. However, trade and production did not operate in the same way as today, importance was placed of a level of reciprocity between neighbouring communities. The roles within family units were clear, the father and uncles and sons would mainly take responsibility for the bread winning and more aggressive aspects, such as either hunting or hard physical labour in farming as they simply were, or are better suited to undertaking these tasks. Also the family would look towards these figures as leaders and decision makers who additionally provided a level of discipline and authority for members. Men also were within the position to administer punishment to members when necessary. Women within these families also had reasonably clear roles, although all members were expected to contribute towards the household economy even the children. Women were deemed to be better suited to house making, taking care of the household chores such as washing, cleaning, food preparation, weaving, child rearing and reproduction. Families within this period were not very orientated towards child ‘care’ as such because each member of the family as long as physically able was expected to contribute their efforts, even young children played their part. This centralisation of both work and home life at this time was concentrated around the home, which is reflected within the structure of living space within the period. Homes were built to accommodate large families with spaces to perform many household tasks under one roof. At this point, around the seventeenth century both men and women were both working in unison for the maintenance and safeguarding of the community. Families communally undertook responsibility for child rearing however men and women developed different roles in the tasks they employed. Again men usually did the physical labour and women the domestic labour, both equally valued.

It was the onset of the industrial revolution and the rise of capitalism that lead to a division in the home space and the workplace. Activities that were usually conducted at home by men were slowly being replaced with mass production within factories, which in turn offered employment and money in return for their labour. Money, earned by an individual, for his own personal hard labour, then took on a different and new meaning. It became their personal, earned, possession, and the ‘owner’ naturally becomes less willing to distribute it communally for the good of the whole community. The emphasis on communalism was beginning to retract, and the family unit increasingly became removed from the village ‘sphere’ into the private ‘sphere’ of the home where a man was beginning to provide for the family. The meaning of a home at this time is also evolving. When production and services that were once conducted with the family is moved away from the home, it leaves the home to take on a different role. A role that can be developed to better cater for the tired worker that returns from the workplace, to become nearer to what we regard today as the home, a place of sanctuary and privacy from the outside world. The role of the woman is also affected by this shift. The privatisation of the family creates a new philosophy of gender, as differences in expectations of individuals arise. As the man is beginning to be able to provide for the family, the woman takes on the responsibility for looking after the home and the family ‘domestic labour’. This work although it has not changed in nature, it has been devalued due to it not being ‘paid’ work. It is done to maintain existence rather than to contribute to the family earning. Also emphasis and responsibility increasingly is placed on the woman role to reproduce the next generation of paid labour force.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century division between the isolation of family life from the place of work became wider. Concentrated areas where people chose to make their homes were the first examples of suburbia, as we know it in the western world. ‘Suburbs’ grew within the UK around cities and towns along roads and later train lines, so that it became increasingly possible to commute to the place of work. During this period, more and more men worked outside the home in factories, workshops or offices. Many, but not all women stayed at home and worked on maintaining the home. Advances in technology within manufacturing made it possible for tasks that were once a skilled undertaking, to be broken down into repetitive work for unskilled individuals to carry out. The industrial revolution within Britain transferred some women from the house and into the labour market. Both women and children were employed in huge numbers in the northern textile and woollen mills. Women and children indeed had benefits over men as workers, they were easier to control and could be paid less, and production levels were not altered as advances in technology and machinery placed workers on the same productivity level. In 1856, 57% of all textile workers were women, a further 17.2% were children. Working class recognition that employment of women and children for labour cut living standards and de-valued the price of labour. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who shared similar political view points at this time argued that under capitalism the working class family would wither away. The mass employment of women and children in the factories would abolish the economic dependencies of women on men. Gender roles within the home were experiencing distortion. A combination of technology and speculative thought were to bring about the next significant change within gender roles.

During the early twentieth century the principles of the home were put in grave danger due to unrest within Europe. WWI and WWII shook to the very foundations the whole concept of freedom, trade and capitalism, as communist and hard line fascist regimes rampaged throughout northern Europe inflicting their values upon societies. Such a threat brought home to individuals what a ‘home’ represented. After the war was won, and the immediate threat was defeated, efforts were made on a large scale to uphold what the home stood for, shelter, hearth, heart, privacy, roots, abode and paradise. Gender roles after this point somewhat stabilised for a period. Males again settled into manufacturing, farming and providing roles for the family. With vast advances in technology in the work place, work became more efficient, standards were on the rise, the economic climate embraced the hard worker and soon families began to experience a level of disposable income provided mainly by the father. The mother’s role at this time was again to tend to the domestic labour, however, the homes produced within this period promoted and encouraged rebuilding and reproduction of society after such heavy losses. Homes were made to be more comfortable, private and homely. Technology labelled ‘the second industrial revolution’ in the nineteen fifties brought about all manor of consumer durables such as vacuum cleaners; washing machines, television, communication and media became commonplace within the home. Later, the sixties brought with them a new cultural atmosphere that questioned society and laid the foundations for a political and home revolution in connection with gender roles. The nuclear family became the social norm for which most of the western world aspired to be. Conservative attitude to keep sacred the role of the house and the place of the woman increasingly came under fire from women struggling to accept their place in society. Women had proved themselves to be more than adequate workers throughout the dark years of the war and before, within mills and ‘sweathouses’. Assumptions that women are inferior and incapable of surviving without men and families became areas of heated debate and conflict outside and within the home. The evolution of traditional gender roles was again at a pivotal point. Media technologies and information transfer to this day perpetuates evolution of gender roles as it becomes easier and easier to find likeminded people through tools such as television, radio and the Internet. Changing times in culture and society have forced a change rather than men have allowed women to come onto an equal footing. However feminist groups can claim some victories. Individual identity today has greater emphasis placed upon it than traditional gender roles. This is thanks to the breaking down and tabooing of stereotyping and political correctness brought about initially by objective questioning of society, which stems from the sixties. On the other hand, the recent liberation of women in society and the breaking down or separate domestic ‘spheres’ has brought about an increase in divorce and single parent families which seems to be producing far reaching social problems and cultural dead ends. The future holds more questions the answers about the advancement and evolution of our gender roles.

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