In the course of history, society has proven to have had unequal gender roles with a constant segregation in the division of labour. Traditional norms, values as well as the influence of religion have prevented egalitarianism in the family life as well as society. Traditional gender roles consisted of men being the breadwinners and women being the homemakers. Men had the advantage of education, paid work, a voice in society and dominance over their wives.
However, modern family life has demonstrated that we are in a new day and age growing closer to equality. Gender roles have become more officially equal, with men no longer seen as superior to women. The occurrence of changes in laws, including the sex discrimination act, equal pay rights as well as the right to vote has resulted in the majority of the female population in paid work as they feel they will be treated fairly. The feminization of the workplace has directed women into the position of better well payed jobs they wouldn’t otherwise have.
It has also encouraged men to take more responsibility around the house as Gershuny stated that women working full time is leading to a more equal division of labour and has also resulted in women less financially dependent on men. This is a massive improvement in egalitarianism, however women are now expected to take on a dual burden where they take responsibility for the housework and a job, and this suggests that the roles have become more equal in terms of work but not necessarily in family life as women are still taking control of housework.
The division of labour according to Parsons is based on biological differences that results in women naturally taking on the nurturer role and men are taking on the breadwinner role. This therefore suggests that women are capable of taking on the dual burden because of their biological differences with men. Some sociologists agree that women actually take on a triple shift this includes three areas of responsibility, the bulk of domestic work, paid work and emotional support to the rest of the family.
Again, Parsons suggests that the emotional role is not much of a task but a natural characteristic woman have. The commercialization of housework has made it easier for women to complete the domestic work but also to get it done quicker so that they can focus on their careers. Improved technology such as freezers, microwaves and washing machines as well as services such as the NHS and child line has taken the pressure off of women to be the ‘nurturer’ and provide emotional support but has also made housework a lot more practical.
Schor believes that the commercialization of housework has decreased the burden and the death of the housewife role has occurred. However it could be argued that the burden has only really been taken off of middle class families who can afford the new appliances. Social attitudes have changed enormously over the past 50 or more years. Traditional gender roles no longer seem to exist in the wider society. Men and women are portrayed differently to how they were in the 1950’s through the media this has caused for younger boys and girls to see themselves as equal in society.
Magazines are a great example that men are no longer the soldiers and women no longer the happy housewives, at least not the way media has portrayed them. The decline in secularization has also had a great impact on the younger society, religion is no longer reinforcing traditional gender roles as it used to. Many activities that would have been considered as ‘sinful’ 50 years ago such as abortion, is no longer frowned upon. These changes particularly effect the younger generation who are being raised not to sex-type careers, activities etc and to produce an equal society.
This is in accordance with Young and Willmott who believe that these trends are moving from segregated conjugal roles towards joint conjugal roles. This change also proves Young and Willmott’s claims about the symmetrical family being more common among younger couples. Furthermore there has been a crisis in masculinity for many working class men. Mac and Ghaill believe that this is due to the new position of women in the workplace. They believe that the labour market is becoming more feminized and men are lacking the qualifications for employment in other skilled areas.
This has resulted in a loss of self esteem and feeling of dominance that men considered as their identity. In many ways the crisis in masculinity is a big cause of domestic violence and child abuse. On the other hand, postmodernist Beck believes that unemployment in men has enforced them to spend more time on child care and being a father to fulfill their identity. This is positive impact in equality of gender roles with both parents contributing to child care and socialization.
In conclusion, we are working to more of a sense of egalitarianism as technology and advances are made. However this improvement will never truly mean complete equality as Parsons has stated that men and women are different because of biological differences. For the running of society segregated conjugal roles appears more practical and provides children with a sense of stability. Roles of women and men in the workforce is likely to continue improving but what is not definite is the improvement of relationships in family life.