Labor Divisions: Gender Based or Gender Biased
By Myranda Grecinger
Gender-based divisions of labor are fairly obvious in most civilizations and various types of economies. The separation between men and women is clearly evident in most cultures based on the differences in what is expected of them and unfortunately, these expectations often result in limiting their perspectives roles within a given society. Sometimes these divisions are the result of long standing tradition and are actually a method of ensuring equality between the two genders and fair treatment of each, other times they simply act as a barrier to progress. Men and women are biologically different, there is no question regarding that fact, but can two biologically different people conceivably preform the same or similar tasks or even different but equally important tasks and both receive the same recognition and enjoy the same benefits for their efforts? There are cultures with in this world that defy the common schools of thought when it comes to gender division and could be exactly the type of model that all civilizations would benefit from and while some would say that western societies such as the U.S. have come far in gender equality others would say we have a long way to go.
The book Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective discusses a tribe that is about as equal in terms of labor division as it gets. In the Agta Negrito tribe women are able to share in societal roles such as hunting and trading in the same manner as their male counterparts, earning them also the ability to participate in social comradary right alongside the men. They are able to control land and food supplies which give them equal status and value within the community. These women are able to accomplish this by sharing the duties related to the care of small children with other relatives and planned pregnancies which prevents them from being tied down to the home front. Due to their ability to show that they are capable of doing the same work as men, there really are no divisions between men and women in Agta Negrito society (Brettell & Sargent, 2009).
The Agta Negrito people are a perfect example of a society that does not place emphasis on gender or a division of labor. In their culture this is highly beneficial being that they are hunter/gatherers and having both men and women providing for the families ensures a higher yield. Thus a happier and healthier tribe emerges from a productivity and nutritional standpoint while the arrangement also prevents unnecessary feuds because both men and women are considered equally important, equally respected, and equally needed. Certainly these are a people worthy of further study as little information was provided on the divisions that arise between girls and boys prior to adulthood and therefor no assumptions can be made on whether or not the children of the tribe experience any differential or even preferential treatment or bare expectations based on gender, there is no lack of evidence elsewhere on the globe, however.
In the U.S. “Gender segregation in the labor market is high, fueled by gendered and discriminatory practices and assumptions. Research consistently has shown that women do the lion’s share of unpaid labor within households. Although this inequality has decreased in recent decades, the household division of labor remains highly gendered, at the same time, gender segregation in the labor market remains high” (Cohen, 2012). So clearly the gender-based division of labor continues to persist in western societies despite industrialization, enlightenment and education, even the women’s rights movements in early America failed to raise awareness of true gender equality. The fact is that earning the right to vote or obtain a divorce simply does not equal equality, true equality would be an across the board acceptance that both genders are capable of all of the same tasks and should earn equal pay and respect for completing them, it would mean an understanding that both men and women are equally responsible for their actions and supporting themselves as well as equal expectations for all children, somehow that does not seem like something that will happen any time soon.
It is intriguing to say the least that a culture with so little technological innovation could be so very far ahead of an industrial nation but it is clear that they are. Gender-based divisions of labor serve as gender barriers preventing growth and suppressing the talents and abilities of those who simply do not fit the expected mold. While males and females are biologically different there does not appear to be any clear benefit to placing different expectations on each and placing them in different societal roles, rather it seems that this practice only leads to disrespect and belittlement as each determines that their roles must be the superior one. Gender based divisions are just another term for gender bias divisions and that must be eliminated before a truly equal nation can emerge and once it does there definitely must be some power behind that.
COHEN, PHILIP N. (2012) THE GENDER DIVISION OF LABOR “Keeping House” and Occupational Segregation in the United States
Brettell, C.B., & Sargent, C.F. (Eds.). (2009). Gender in cross-cultural perspective (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.
© 2012 Myranda Grecinger