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Changing Gender Norms and Gender Equality
A Brief Introduction
In recent years, women have become increasingly liberated, which has allowed them to strive towards reaching their full potential and contribute to the development of society. In the society, a move towards gender equality has been shown to go hand in hand with changes in gender norms, where both men and women are engaging in tasks/activities they did not involve themselves in before. For instance, women today enjoy same status and can achieve their full human rights while men are helping with such tasks as cleaning and cooking in their families more. A variety of economic, social and political factors have been found to contribute to these changes and consequently to gender equality across many regions. Here, I will discuss the changes in gender norms/roles in the family, and what this means for gender equality.
Changes Over Time
While a change in gender roles has become evident in Western nations, it is also the case across the world. In addition to the changing gender roles, there are also changes in family patterns. According to Laura Den Dulk (2009) "it is nowadays more reasonable to talk about "families" rather than "family" as the variations in family patterns has become so immense, with cohabiting couples, married couples, stepfamilies, single-parent families, and same-sex couples". One of the primary causes of Varying family patterns (married couple, same sex marriage, cohabiting couples etc) is that there has been an increased female labor market participation in Europe and other Western nations. This goes to show that the ability of women to work and earn has brought about a new dynamic to the gender roles in the family. For instance, this has significantly contributed to declined fertility rates and rising divorce rates among other demographic changes. With increased female labor market participation, women no longer need to stay at home and wait for men to provide for them. This has significantly contributed to the varying family patterns since women today have more power to bargain their position in a family. In this case therefore, women can simply walk away from marriage if they feel like they are being mistreated, and even raise children on their own because they have the means to do so. On the other hand, the growing labor markets participation of women in Europe has been associated with significant decline of fertility rates. This proves that women are increasingly becoming independent, and no longer need to get married early. Apart from declined fertility rates, many more women are also raising children on their own, ensuring that the get a good education without any financial assistance from men, which shows that they have the capacity to provide for their homes. Among most families with children in Europe, both parents are also earners contributing equally to the family. This has seen both parents contributing to buy a house, pay bills etc. In this case therefore, men are no longer expected to be the sole providers (traditional role of men).
Carmen Knudson-Martin (2012) also introduces an important perspective that shows how gender equality has developed in the society we live in today. Martin uses the term relational responsibility to refer to the efforts that people make in order to maintain their family connections and build their relationship bonds. This has resulted in the willingness of both partners to be influenced by the other, become responsible of their needs, their interests and perspectives. It is for this very reason that men in today's society have accepted to be influenced by women (in their relationship) and thus share housework. This has been shown to be highly predictive of relationship stability and success. On the other hand, money has generally been shown to be a source of power even within relationships. As a result of the power disparities that occur in cases where wives/female partners earn more than their husbands/male partners, marriage unhappiness has been shown to increase, which in turn results in increased risks of divorce particularly among women with financial resources to do leave. This shows that women today demand to be treated as equals in relationships. Here, Martin shows that it has become essential for men to accept being influenced by women if a relationship/marriage is to work. This means that men are increasingly helping their female partners with house-- hold duties such as taking care of the baby, doing dishes and cleaning the house among other tasks. While women are still doing a bulk of the housework it is evident that men are also contributing, and assisting their wives/female partners to carry out such tasks.
Here, it is important to note that traditionally, it was the role of women to take care of the home (clean, take care of the children etc) while men were the primary providers. However, with women becoming more and more independent (given that they also work and earn) men cannot simply control their wives as they so will, but rather find themselves assisting them with house- hold duties to ensure that their relationships work. In cases where women attempt to dominate and control women (particularly across Western nations) women will often leave, calling for separation or a divorce. This proves that women are no longer inferior to men, but rather equal partners, who demand to be treated as such.
Over the past few decades, women, like men have been working hard as the pursue higher education and careers. This has resulted in shifts in family structures given that women today are getting married later and even having children outside of marriage. According to Livia Sz. Oláh, Rudolf Richter and Irena E. Kotowska (2014) the new trends and patterns being seen today have been paralleled by changes in gender roles. This, in particular has been shown to include "an expansion of the female role to include economic Provision for a family, and lately also transformation of the male role with more intense involvement in family responsibilities, especially care for children”. Work and family lives greatly influence each other, which has resulted in the changes of gender roles we see today. While it is true that women, particularly in the West are taking up employment opportunities more and serving at the same capacity as men, it may be important to note that this has also been to the advantage of some couples.
According to a Pew Research survey in 2012, 79 percent of the participants rejected the idea that women should return to their traditional roles in society. In another Pew Research survey in 2013, 67 percent of the participants agreed that the fact that women work and earn makes it easier for families to earn enough amount of money and live. These findings show that a majority of men have a positive attitude to their female partners working and supporting them. This has also come to mean that in relationships/marriages, both men and women are involved in making decisions concerning the family. Given that women also work and contribute to the family, they are also involved in decisions concerning the number of children they will have, the type of house they will buy and how to use their savings among others. At the same time, men have found themselves assisting women to take care of the children and homes. It is for this reason that such companies like Google and Apple among others allow male employees some time off work or flexibility at work when their wives give birth. This allows the men to help around the house for a few months until proper arrangements have been made.
According to another Pew poll that was carried in 2011, 66 percent of the women said that a high paying career/profession was one of the most important things in their lives. Overall, a majority of both men and women agreed that working hard would ensure that they would be great moms and dads. The findings also showed that the shifting gender roles actually presented significant benefits for families. While it created happier homes, where women felt that they were getting support from their husbands, it also allowed women to concentrate on their jobs, and in turn support their husbands.