Advocates for women's rights have made astounding progress throughout history. Women can vote, work outside the home and own their own property. They hold positions of power in political, medical, educational and legal institutions. Yet they still are not awarded equal pay and continue to be victimized by gender-based violence. The fight for equality has not been won, and inequality within the home is one of the biggest battles yet to be conquered.
Traditional Gender Roles
Consider how you and the members of your family meet the expectations of gender norms, as well as their effect on the household dynamics. If your spouse is the primary source of income, his worth might be considered greater than that of yours. Your son might be encouraged to play football more than your daughter is her interest in mechanics. Femininity has typically been perceived as soft, passive and pleasing, while masculinity is expected to appear rough, aggressive and strong. When women do work outside the home, they tend to be nurses and teachers. There is nothing inherently wrong with these roles. The concern is the pressure by society to fulfill them, as well as their deemed value. In her book, 'Speaking of Sex: The Denial of Gender Inequality,' Deborah L. Rhode reasons, "The problem is not that we exaggerate the importance of gender. It is rather that we do so selectively and simplistically in ways that disadvantage women."
Examine the ways in which household tasks are assigned and valued in your home, and make adjustments accordingly. Take turns with your spouse on garbage day, appoint your son with dish duty and your daughter that of washing the car. Even if chores are not always separated equally, they should be recognized as equally vital to the functioning of the family. According to Julie Brines in "Economic Dependency, Gender, and the Division of Labor at Home," although men meet housekeeping responsibilities more than ever before, it is still primarily managed by women -- even when women are also working outside the home. Moreover, she finds that the more men depend on their wives for financial support, the less likely they are to complete household tasks.
Pay attention to who cares for the children when they are sick, takes them to the doctor, and to who disciplines them and coaches their sports teams. Make adjustments if you feel you and your spouse conform too rigidly to gender norms. Modeling gender equality will teach your children the same. Rhode asserts that children are informed by gender stereotypes beginning in infancy -- "Boys' activities celebrate heroism and involve rough-and-tumble activities...Girls' activities make romance and domesticity a far more common theme..." One of the first places they learn gender is at home, by watching the actions and behaviors of their parents.
Require access to bank accounts, tax records, mortgage, insurance, retirement and pension information. Participate in financial planning and withhold from making large purchases without first consulting the other. Despite which of you manages the domestic realm, parenting or finances, when working economically toward gender equality in the home, both of you should be fully informed of family economics and share decision-making power. As far as money symbolizes power, Brines contends that the primary earner -- often male -- is in a position to exploit the "dependent" -- often female. Essentially, economic support is "exchanged for labor."
- Speaking of Sex: The Denial of Gender Inequality; Deborah L. Rhode
- American Journal of Sociology: Economic Dependency, Gender, and the Division of Labor at Home
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