Most families today are dual-earner, as many women have entered the workforce, either because of financial needs, or because of their wish to pursue a career and to be financially independent. While the gender gap is closing on the labour market, at home, the patriarchal ideology is reaffirmed by means of the division of household chores. Whereas men had to assume a share of the household chores, in most families, women continue to perform most of the chores which have been traditionally assigned to them. The purpose of this paper is to analyse how the current gender division of labour in the family reflects the changes in power relations between husbands and wives. The paper argues that the patriarchal power relations continue to impose traditional gender roles in the family, which affects the division of labour in the family, and women’s capacity to purse a successful career. The paper discusses the following sub-issues: 1) the unequal division of labour as a manifestation and reaffirmation of patriarchal power and 2) the impact of patriarchal power relations in the family on women’s career choices.
In the society, the patriarchal ideology is threatened by women’s firm affirmation of their right to pursue any career, even in traditionally masculine fields, such as politics or the military, which have been beyond their reach for a long time. However, patriarchal ideology is reinforced at home, where women continue to perform most of the unpaid work. While the gender division of labour in the family has been affected by the increasing participation of women in the labour market, males’ contributions continue to be less significant than females’(Forste & Fox 2012). In other words, women continue to maintain the majority of household responsibilities, even when they work as much as men. Gazso-Windle & McMullin (2003) argue that the division of labour in the family is affected by two primary factors, namely the pragmatic strategies and patriarchal dynamics. Pragmatic strategies refer to the fact that, the more money a person brings at home, the less time this person will spend on domestic chores. However, in the case of women, this theory is competing with the patriarchal dynamics, according to which, domestic labour is one of the mechanisms through which gender continues to be constructed in the society. Consequently, renouncing the division of labour in the household according to gender would be a radical step in the direction of complete rearrangement of these roles. This is a very slow and even painful process, as most men and women are not ready to give up their established roles.
Moreover, the society continues to put more pressure on women because when household chores are unsatisfyingly completed, women are blamed more than men, regardless of who works or earns more in the family. Consequently, even when couples choose freely to share the household tasks, “as long as blame is laid on women for having a dirty house, the structure of gender will confine true choice”, Gazso-Windle & McMullin (2003, p. 343) argue. This way, the society continues to pressure women to adhere to the established gender roles, by undertaking the routine tasks, such as cooking, cleaning and washing. Men are more likely to perform infrequent household tasks, such as occasional cooking, or maintenance tasks, and they are involved in childcare by playing with children (Forste & Fox, 2012). Schober (2014) argues that performing these tasks by women contributes to the reaffirmation of patriarchal ideology. From this perspective, women typically perform 2 times more routine chores then men, and once they become mothers, they perform 3 times more tasks than men. Furthermore, women are more likely to assume the greatest workload at home in families where patriarchal power relations are strongly maintained, whereas in more egalitarian families, the division of labour is more equal.
While it is easy to assume that the influence of patriarchal ideology upon couples depends on class, this does not necessarily correspond to the reality. As Warren (2003) claims, in Britain, a substantial proportion of middle-class couples are identified as dual-earner or weak male breadwinner, based on the fact that women contribute more to the couple’s total earnings. In addition, in working class families, there has been a proliferation of female-earner families, where the male is unemployed due to the decline of traditional jobs for males (Warren 2003). However, within families, patriarchal power relations continue to be maintained by means of the division of labour in the family. As Warren (2003) further shows, women continue to be charged with most of the domestic chores in dual-earner couples and even in working class female employed/male unemployed households.
In middle-class dual-earner families, the time problem that women may face due to the increased demands is solved by paying for domestic help, or buying ready-made meals in order to save some time. Therefore, part of the money that women bring home is spent on solving household chores, because men continue to be unwilling to participate. However, where the woman is employed and the man is unemployed, role-exchanges have been noticed, with males being more likely to assume non-traditional roles, such as cleaning, cooking or caring for the children (Warren 2003). Therefore, the level of education, the type of job that the woman performs or the time she spends at work is not necessarily a predictor of egalitarian chores distribution. More likely, the negotiations which take place within the household, and the larger influence of cultural factors may explain the differences which appear from family to family.
Thus, in some western cultures, the patriarchal power relations are asserted more strongly than in others. In countries where the patriarchal ideology is rejected in favour of more egalitarian gender roles, chores tend to be divided more equally between spouses than in countries where the traditional gender roles are strictly followed. However, in more egalitarian societies, there are also more domestic conflicts in relation to the division of chores (Nordenmark 2013). In countries such as Germany, Switzerland and Austria, the social policy encourages the preservation of traditional family norms, whereas in Nordic countries such as Denmark, Norway and Sweden, there is a more egalitarian gender regime (Nordenmark 2013). As Nordenmark (2013) argues, in countries where the patriarchal ideology has declined in favour of an egalitarian ideology, women’s dissatisfaction in relation to the household chores division is higher, and conflicts are more likely to emerge.
This proves that, while in countries where the patriarchal power relations are well-established, women rarely ask for a fair distribution of chores, in more egalitarian countries, women often demand more involvement form their partners. It can be argued then that even in these countries, men tend to avoid assuming a fair share of chores, but women here tend to perceive this attitude as unjust. Therefore, they are more likely to challenge the patriarchal power relations. Accordingly, Kluwer (1998) states that, in cases where the division of labour in the household is perceived as unjust, this division is negotiated and renegotiated by means of demand/redraw interactions. After conducting a study in this respect, Kluwer (1998) found that husbands are likely to reach their goal of preserving the status-quo, whereas wives are unlikely to accomplish their goal of causing a change in the household chores division.
The division of labour across gender lines is transmitted from generation to generation, as children are socialized, often from an early age, to understand and obey the patriarchal power relations in the family. Thus, it is customary in many families for female children to be encouraged to participate in household chores which are often powerfully associated with feminine tasks, such as cooking, washing and dusting, whereas male children may help their fathers with household maintenance or agricultural work(Punch 2001). Particularly when children of both genders are available in the household, parents are more likely to distribute their tasks according to traditional gender roles (Punch 2001). In the underdeveloped world, where children’s work is essential for the survival of the household, parents place more burdens on children’s shoulders, and children learn to take over some of their parents’ responsibilities as they grow up. However, in developed countries, children’s responsibilities are symbolic and have the role of socializing them towards their assigned gender roles (Punch 2001). This socialization starts from an early age, with the help of gendered toys.
The unequal distribution of labour within families also affects women’s evolution on the labour market. The influence of the patriarchal power relations within the household affects women’s chances to ascend to leadership positions, or to pursue a career in a field which demands more of their time, such as corporate jobs. In other words, because men do not agree to participate fairly to household chores, and because they continue to assert more power in the family, women are more likely to choose careers that demand less of their time, or to make compromises in one way or another. Traditionally feminine jobs include nursing, teaching or administrative roles, which are perceived as appropriate for women due to their resemblance to traditional roles in the family. Carrier & Davies (1999) explain that the labour market disadvantages women and reasserts the power relations in the society. Thus, men and women are segregated in particular female and masculine jobs, and feminine jobs are paid less, and are less prestigious than masculine jobs.
Critics argue that feminine jobs are paid less because they tend to offer shorter working hours, and to involve more flexibility, in order to allow women to complete domestic chores as well (Carrier & Davies 1999). Carrier & Davies (1999) claim that “working in jobs that are devalued, that afford few rewards and opportunities, may reinforce assumptions about women's perceived "natural" abilities, strengthening the expectation in them that they should assume responsibility for family work instead” (p.40). Therefore, there is a strong relationship between the socially accepted roles for women in the labor market, and their expectation to perform household chores as well. By encouraging women to choose feminine jobs, the society supports the maintenance of patriarchal power relations within the family.
Apart from choosing typically feminine careers which reinforce gender roles at home as well, women tend to make career compromises in order to be able to perform their expected duties. Thus, women are likely to spend less time than men at work (Carrier & Davies, 1999), which diminishes their chances to advance in their careers. For example, many women have atypical jobs with flexible schedules, which allow them to spend less time performing paid work. Kreimer (2004) shows that many more women are likely to perform atypical jobs than men. In Austria, 75% of all employees hired in atypical jobs are women (Kreimer 2004). However, the salaries in these jobs are typically low, and there is a higher risk associated with these forms as compared to traditional jobs.
Many women choose to work part-time in order to be able to cope with household and parenting responsibilities as well. Woking part-time allows women to feel more satisfied because they both contribute to the overall household income, and they manage to focus on maternal duties. This is particularly true since many women who work full-time feel guilty because of neglecting household responsibilities and maternal duties. This guilt is also a result of the early socialization of girls in their roles as mothers and homemakers. Webber & Williams (2008) state that, according to their study, career-oriented women who decided to work part-time in order to have more time for maternal duties also felt less empowered to demand their husbands to contribute to household chores. On the other hand, housewives who decided to take part –time jobs in order to contribute to the family income felt more empowered to demand domestic help from their husbands (Webber & Williams 2008). However, in both cases women’s motivations not to pursue a career were related to the domestic duties of parenting and housework, and also, were associated with less contributions of the husbands in these spheres.
Another type of compromise made by women who feel pressured to fulfil the majority of household chores, is self-employment. Self- employment often involves women working from home, thus allowing them to combine parenting and household duties with a career. However, as with employment in other atypical jobs, self-employment entails the risk of failure, and it has the disadvantage of not including paid medical leave and welfare protections (Craig, Powell & Cortis 2012). However, even when it comes to self-employment, there are differences in the way in which men and women work from home. Thus, Craig, Powell & Cortis (2012) argue that women are more likely than men to use self-employment as a way of juggling among work, household and parenting responsibilities. In the study they conducted, Craig, Powell & Cortis (2012) found that, when they were self-employed, men never cited childcare or household chores as a reason for their self-employment, and non-family reasons, such as being autonomous, were most likely the reason. On the contrary, when women were self-employed, they spent less time working, and more time being engaged in household activities (Craig, Powell & Cortis 2012). Therefore, in this case as well, women’s domestic duties represent a real limitation in developing a successful career.
This paper shows that the patriarchal power relations lead to an unjust distribution of household chores even in those families in which women work full time. Men tend to contribute less to chores and parenting, and their contributions are occasional. The gender division of labour in the family is maintained even when women earn as much as their husbands, perhaps as a way of protecting the image of traditional masculinity. Unable to cope with a challenging job and domestic responsibilities at the same time, many women tend to pursue careers in traditionally feminine fields. They may work in flexible positions, in part-time jobs, or may become self-employed. All these career choices affect women’s possibilities to advance to high positions of authority and to develop successful careers.
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