In the past it was obvious that woman did considerably more domestic work than men, this being mainly due to traditional views taken by society. The husband was seen as the breadwinner and protector whilst the woman was seen as a housewife and child carer. This view is known as the traditional Nuclear family (not including the offspring). In recent years it has become apparent that woman were not happy with this ‘traditional’ system so began to try and change it through a movement known as Feminism. The basic principle of the movement is to work towards equality of the sexes (In most forms of Feminism anyway).
By comparison things have changed quite dramatically in recent times. The fundamental view is that woman and men are equal. This is not seen by many as entirely true. However the roles have become far more equal, for example a woman now has a much better chance of being in a well paid professional career and therefore gaining a higher status in society. Women also have the right to vote. One of the major areas where feminists are unhappy is the conjugal role. Women believe that they are still doing the bulk of domestic tasks and this is the area that I will be investigating.
Baxter and Western were two sociologists who claimed that there are segregated conjugal roles in the family, they studied why this is. They believe that women who see housework as part of being a good mother a quite happy to do it, this is known as the ‘housewife experience’ and is quite a plausible theory to support the reasons for so much inequality within marriage and the family. The theory then goes on to how it is difficult for men to do domestic tasks as they have ‘inflexible and demanding work schedules’. However Baxter and Western then counter this argument by stating that men have more control over their leisure time.
Paid employment is normally regular fixed hours whilst housework needs to be done constantly. This argument also rejects the idea of a symmetrical family stating that woman do the housework and domestic chores for the reason that it simply ‘suits men not to do it’. One of the articles from the sheet also suggests that the family is not symmetrical. It is form Sociology Review written by M. Jones. He is a functionalist and believes that the question of ‘is the family symmetrical’ to be irrelevant, as he believes that it is not important ‘who does what’ but focuses more on the family sharing their social time together.
He writes how his study indicates ‘inequality rather than symmetry is the defining characteristic of the majority of present day marriages’. Wilmott and Young carried out a study in the 1970’s believe that the ‘symmetrical family’ is actually in development. They believe that there has been a change from segregated conjugal roles to joint conjugal roles because of the wife withdrawing from her relationships with her female kin and because the husband is then drawn into the ‘family circle’.
So this is in direct conflict with Baxter and Westerns idea of segregated roles still being visible within the family. So Wilmott and Young do not believe that it is already shared equally but feel that it is getting that way and will be so in the future. In their research they found that the work difference between men and woman was not that great. Other independent research backs up this theory as it found that men do help more than they used to but we will actually have to wait until 2015 until total equality of domestic tasks.
Oakley criticises Wilmott and Young and says that their idea of ‘symmetry’ is based on inadequate methodology. As she claimed that their theory was based on only one survey question which was worded so it could exaggerate the work done by men. The Guardian also published information that suggested that domestic tasks were unequal. They found that full-time working mothers with children under 18 were doing 56 a week on housework, and part time working mothers do 76 hours a week. If you compare this to the Fathers 31 hours a week you can see the dramatic difference and inequality in domestic tasks.
More specifically if you look at washing and ironing the mothers do 21 hours compared to the father’s 8 1/2 hours. The only task on which husbands spend more hours is, gardening, which is 4 hours a week only an hour more than woman. Louie Burghes also wrote a report which supported the idea that domestic tasks was becoming equal, it speaks of how ‘fathers are taking an active involvement in the emotional side of child rearing’. Obviously this article only looks at one of many aspects of domestic labour but still must be considered.
It speaks of how men continue to be the main providers but are spending more time with their children, the time that they spend with their children has increased fourfold over a generation between 1961 and 1995. This obviously supports the theory that domestic tasks have become more equally shared between man and wife. Devault carried out a study on ‘feeding the family’. She found that this aspect of domestic work involved a lot of ‘invisible work’ basically in planning and staging the meal.
As woman are primarily responsible for this work it is seen as increasing the amount of domestic work which they do and men do not. As such this does not support the claim of equality between the sexes. Duncombe and Marsden found another element of invisible work to woman’s domestic work, namely ’emotional work’. Many woman in their study were found to be unhappy with the amount of emotional work which the male was putting into the relationship, as they (the husbands) did not believe it needed to be done to make the relationship work.
They believe that this can result in woman doing what they refer to as a ‘triple shift’. This triple shift consists of the woman not only having to be in paid employment but also having to carry out emotional work as well as doing the majority of domestic tasks. To add my personal view to the argument I would have to say that from looking at both sides I believe that there is still quite a gulf between the amount of domestic work that men do and the amount woman do.
I do not believe that marriages are at this moment in time symmetrical, though I do not believe it is fair to rule out the chance of marriages becoming symmetrical in the near future. There is strong evidence to suggest that men are doing many more domestic tasks than they used to, and are continuing to do more all the time. I believe that Dunne sums up the argument well when it is suggested ‘That an equitable domestic division of labour can be achieved. However, it is hard to achieve in a culture that still differentiates so clearly between masculinity and femininity’.