What distinctive features can you identify about men and women’s work in Britain

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There are many distinctive features about men and women’s work in Britain. The ones I have identified are, gender roles, the division of labour, women working inside the home and men working outside the home, with paid and unpaid labour, all of which I will define in later paragraphs. There is an expectation that men and women will undertake certain roles in and out of work. So in order to fully answer the question, I will define the term work and explain the ambiguity that surrounds this term and discuss what forms of employment women are entering, in comparison to men.

To demonstrate the changes and continuities of men and women’s work in Britain I will give a brief historical account of family life pre industrialisation, I will not be using this period as the egalitarian model for British society, merely a comparison to how the family economic dynamics have changed through the period of industrialisation. I will discuss how this period not only brought changes to the family structure, but also altered the working environment and set the patterns of segregation on which current gender divisions are founded. Current divisions are not as extreme as they were in the early part of the twentieth century.

Pressure groups and recent legislation have improved the opportunities for women and I will attempt to explain why this is, but generally women are still playing a secondary role to men in terms of equal rights in and out of the workplace. I will present evidence to back up this claim and show quite clearly the inequality between the majority of men over the majority of women in and out of work. To understand what is meant by the term work I want to look now at what might be perceived as a common sense definition and then go on to explain what it might mean within the realms of sociology.

Work would normally be referred to as a remunerated activity which would be carried out at a certain place,(factory) within an allotted time scale(nine to five). This definition may seem straight forward enough but sociologists such as Worlsey would see this as a very ambiguous term. He argues that an artist or a sports person (wether paid or unpaid) may see their particular activity as work, whereas others outside this area of interest may perceive it to be a hobby or a leisure activity. (Worsley 1970 p274)

These are examples of disagreements in defining what constitutes ‘real’ work. Other disagreements focus on its physical exertions and wether work is paid or unpaid. Housework is one example of the unpaid but very physically demanding variety (although there are others such as voluntary). This is a task still carried out mostly by women as recent research has shown. The results from this survey confirmed that British women who were also in full time paid employment contributed fifty-six hours a week to household duties compared to the thirty-one hours afforded by British men.

For British women who did no paid work the figure was even higher. This group spend seventy six hours per week cooking, cleaning, caring for children and other duties associated with the home It must be stressed that there are some men who contribute more to the home than these figures would suggest but on the whole it is generally left to women to perform most of these tasks. Housework by having no remuneration package or recognition on any official statistics is undervalued and by definition is not recognised as work.

Oakley argues that “housework has become an ideology that benefits the economy, as the housewife services the wage earner at no cost to the employer”. (Joseph 1986 p123) So if it is benefiting the economy as Oakley states it must surely be deemed ‘real work’. Having defined what is meant by the term work I will go on to identify some of the features within paid employment. Even in paid work women have predominantly occupied jobs within specific areas of employment. For example nursing, cleaning, retail and manufacturing many of which are indoor activities.

These jobs would have lower wages, poorer terms and conditions and no prospects of promotion than those of their male counterparts who would be indulging in heavy industry jobs for example construction, ship building, mostly carried out outdoors. This can be seen in a survey carried out by the equal opportunities council whereby British women were earning seventy two percent of male earnings for the year 1997. (E. O. C 1998). This raises the question of why work and working conditions of men and women became so divided.

One possible reason could be that the modern organisation of work into paid and unpaid work emerged with capitalism. The two main classes dividing into those who own the means of production (Bourgeoisis) and those who have only their labour to sell (Proletariat) To help in the understanding of this concept I will now give a brief history of pre industrial working life. This period was a time where whole families would work together as a unit, wether it be in agriculture or in the production of textiles. It was a time of patriarchy, whereby the man was head of the household by definition of birthright.

Clear gender roles were established. (women spun and men wove) The money produced for their labours was considered a household wage as opposed to an individual one. This gave all the family a sense of worth in contributing to the household economy. Mechanisation (the system of mass assembly line production) separated home from the workplace and pushed workers into factories. There was a withdrawal of women into domestic life, although this did not mean women stopped working, many of the working class women had to work to maintain the household as male earnings were low.

They did so by taking in middle class families laundry and sewing. There was a feeling at the time that women would somehow be corrupted by outside work and would prevent them from being good homemakers. This attitude would suit the capitalist system as it would keep wages low and produce more profit. Indeed functionalism would argue that it is essential for women to service the physical and mental needs of men in a complex industrial society. (Abbot 1997 p198) In other words wages were determined by how much it would cost to replace an employee.

An advantage to the employer would be to have a worker refreshed and ready to work the next day at no cost to themselves. From a Marxist perspective the woman would be enhancing the growth of capital. More recently some of these distinctions have continued in that women continue to have the largest proportion of household tasks and work within the service sector, thus continuing the division of labour between the sexes In discussing the divisions within the labour market it will be helpful to define the difference between sex and gender.

Anne Oakley declares that sex differences are the most basic biological differences which include genitalia and the reproductive systems. When clarifying gender she argues that it is a learned behaviour within the culture of a society. (Bilton et al 1981 p321) Harriet Bradley argues that gender roles are enforced by social institutions such as schools, the law, churches and the family. She goes onto claim that these bodies maintain female subordination and assume that the primary role of women is to be a wife and mother. 1989 p2) Marxists to reiterate an earlier point would interpret this scenario as being of benefit to the capitalist system, the exploitation of the working classes in pursuit of capital or profit. housewives succeed in producing, nurturing and feeding future employees in the quest for wealth. (Bilton et al 1981 p293) Weber on the other hand sees the labour market as more fragmented than just gender or sex. (Bradley 1996 p94) As employers demand more flexibility at lower costs the less skilled worker may become desirable, a category that many British women may fall in to.

It would appear that gender roles are being acted out within all aspects of work as a recent gender occupation survey has shown. Women make up seventy percent of all workers involved in secretarial and clerical work, with only thirty percent involved in plant and machinery, Jobs long established as men and women’s work. (Engender 1999) This is established further by the evidence on housework I produced earlier in this essay. Having established an understanding of gender roles I now want to look at how women and men have been divided by their sex.

Men have had an advantage over women within work through the fact that they do not have to have career breaks due to pregnancy. ( assuming that the women is working ) This biological fact has been cited as one of the main reasons why a women’s place is in the home. It is assumed that because women bear the children they are most ‘naturally’ capable of looking after them. For this reason men will continue in full time employment (assuming it is available ) whilst women will return to low paid part time jobs.

The introduction of the female contraceptive giving women as one eminent feminist recalls control of their own bodies and “freedom from perpetual pregnancy and child birth”, (Harriet 1989 p10) has not slowed the population growth or reduced the numbers of mothers in part time jobs in comparison to their husbands. As a result of this part time status women are fast becoming a reserve army of labour. This Marxist theory refers to the part of the work force that is only hired in times of prosperity and laid off when the demand falls. Bilton et al:345) In other words this ‘reserve army’ can be called upon quickly at lower wages to replace those at a higher wage level. Marxists would also argue that this acts as a tool of discipline over an already exploited work force, as the threat of replacement by these lower paid workers hangs over them. For example In 1996 five women in Britain for every one man were in part time employment. (O. N. S 1996) These jobs are often the worst paid, with the least fringe benefits and least opportunities for promotion.

One of the criticisms aimed at this description of the female work force is that it fails to recognise there would only be certain areas of employment this reserve army could replace. Having now covered gender and sex divisions I want to explore pressure groups and in particular feminism as a tool for Female emancipation. The rise of the feminist movement and other pressure groups has helped gain women equality in many aspects of life. For example legal and political rights along with participation in the welfare state giving them freedom from dependence of a male wage earner.

The role of the feminist has always been “to argue for the same freedoms and possibilities for fulfilment as all men”. Although women have attained legal rights it does not mean they are equal for example in divorce cases it is still assumed that women will care for any children within that marriage. With political rights does not come political equality as the majority of politicians are still men, and benefit cuts are now hitting single parents hard the majority of which are women.

None the less these are all changes for the better. One of the key continuities that has remained throughout these changes is the dominance of the male in high status positions throughout the sphere of work. This patriarchy is an arrangement between men, argues Hartmann, to retain power over women and their movements. (Harriet, 1989, p54) Not the same as Weber’s definition of a household hierarchy but the concept of male dominance remains.

Recent research into employment opportunities at top levels has revealed that seventy two percent of appointments to executive bodies ( responsible for budgets and hiring staff) within the Scottish office in 1997 were men. Women made up twenty four percent of all barristers in England and Wales in 1996. Ninety seven percent of men made chief constable within the British constabulary and eighteen percent of all members of parliament in 1997 were women. ( P. N. S, 1997) Positive proof that women are being excluded from jobs that carry high responsibility and power.

In summary, this essay has concentrated on the womens arguement of inequality within all aspects of work. The reason being that it is this group within British society that appears historicaly and currently to be playing catch-up. The evidence I have provided will clearly show that men and women in recent years have been divided through their sex and learned gender roles. There is of course a concession that women have had many more opportunities recently with changes to legislation but, the question of wether they are in a position to grasp them is still up for debate.

Although some of the evidence I have produced within this essay would suggest that the gap in equality between the sexes is as constant as ever. Patriarchy with the evidence of men in higher status jobs still seems to be continuing. Women are conspicuous by their absence in positions of power and responsibility. The two things I hope to have made clear within this piece of work are, that men and women are still divided by their physical and learned attributes and that men appear to be the patriarchal beneficiary in all aspects of work.

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