Effects of Gender Roles on Women
Although the life of a women’s has improved greatly since the early 90’s, women still today experience great disadvantages compared to a man. What hasn’t changed in this country is gender roles associated with marriage. There are many movements and groups whose main goal is to empower and support women but, gender role stereotypes are reinforced in women which make them feel obligated to occupy the role as the homemaker in heterosexual marriages. The male breadwinner and female homemaker family structure is problematic because it perpetuates negative behaviors for women which can lead to many mental health issues and marital issues.
In the post-Civil War era of the United States women rarely worked outside of the home. The only time they did work out of the home was to occupy a job as a servant but this was a last resort to try to support the family financially if the husband wasn’t making enough money or if she was a widow. At the time it was generally understood among women that their role in life was to work in the home, prepare meals, clean and do laundry, and care for kids. Women were expected to raise children with moral values. Many boys if privileged enough went to public school while mothers taught their daughters all the skills a woman needed to work in the home. Only the few girls privileged enough went to school. In the nineteenth century marriages were less about intimacy and love but more about status. As a woman you were expected to be married to then serve your husband. Women also weren’t allowed to attend universities; they weren’t allowed to be involved in politics, vote, or work because they were irrational, emotional, and self-sacrificing. (7). All of these restrictions made women more dependent and subservient to their husbands for everything.
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It wasn’t until the twentieth century that Congress started passing legislation that prohibited some of the discrimination against women. Only on August 18th 1920 was the nineteenth amendment ratified which allowed for women to vote legally. The new amendment to the constitution also gave women more accessibility to education, more favorable status in child custody battles and relaxed the total control husbands had on woman’s lives. When World War 2 came, many men were forced to leave the household to go fight the war leaving their families and their jobs. In order to compensate for the deficit of men in the workforce women had to occupy these positions their husbands had left. The infamous “We Can Do It” poster came out during the war hoping to encourage and boost female worker morale. Around 6 million women joined the workforce during the war. Some 310,000 women had joined the military to serve in non-combatant positions. For many women this was their first glance at economic freedom from their husbands an experience that would not be forgotten. Being apart of the labor force was a new experience for women who filled their husbands role extremely well. For these women it was not a detriment to have to take on this new role, they felt obligated to do it for many of the brothers and husbands who were risking their lives. When the men returned from the war women were reluctant to give up their jobs to have to go back to working in the home. Around this time we also began to see a rise in dual-earner families where both partners worked.
About a decade after World War 2 ended there began to be a growing number of women collectively concerned about the exclusion of women from politics and questioning traditional gender roles. This was the time when the feminist movement began to catch wind. The feminist movement had begun about a century earlier in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention where a group of women discussed to discuss the “social, civil, and religious condition and rights of woman.” (7) These women were bringing to light the condition of the women at the time where they were excluded from most major institutions, had lack or representation, they could not vote, barred from getting a college or university education. They also raised the issue of dependency on their husbands; married women had no property rights, husbands had legal control and responsibility over their wives and could even beat them with impunity, and child custody laws favored men. (7) Women also weren’t allowed to occupy many of the jobs that men could hold and they would work for a fraction of what a man would make when they worked. (7) Some even compare the condition of women at the time to slavery.
Although now women could vote and have access to education and work, and could divorce their husbands if they wanted too they were still discriminated against and this is what the feminists were protesting against. This period of history in the United States was called the Sexual Revolution and the Women’s Movement were recognized as the second wave of feminism. Scholars attributed the second wave with the “clash of gendered expectations of domesticity placed on women and increased participation in the labor force and education”. (7) The traces of the second wave can also be linked back to the civil rights movement where many women participated in protest against discrimination of African Americans because in a sense they could also relate to the feeling of discrimination. (7) Women were challenging traditional gender roles and the movement encouraged women to challenge the double standard. They protested conformity by seeking higher education and joining male dominated occupations. They called out the media for sexualization of women’s bodies and sexism.
People were entering marriages with greater sexual experience and confidence than in the past, and as a result the issue of marital satisfaction became of great importance to women. (6) As before marriage had been more about obtaining a status recognized by society marriages had shifted to become more about love and intimacy and partnership. Even men underwent a shift in gender role understanding and they started to view relationships through a more egalitarian lens. (6) Another result of this would be an increase of divorce rates in the country. Advances in birth control technology also allowed women to participate in more sexual activity without the risk of unwanted pregnancy. In 1960 the first oral contraceptive was made commercially available. (6) Younger woman desired to live a less constrained life than their mothers had. Mothers still encourages their daughters to follow traditional gender roles but secretly felt a lack of professional fulfillment themselves. Through these movements women were able to be activists for themselves and gained lots of self-confidence within the process. They helped create a culture of protest and activism and challenged the social norms of what it meant to be woman.
The Sexual Revolution movement started to fade in the 70’s when religious and conservative groups started electing new politicians who would pass more sexual conservative legislation. The feminist movement found a way of sustaining itself since it’s beginnings in the 1960’s and no other movement has been able to produce the number of organizations still prevalent and thriving today like the feminist movement was able to do. The movement has been studied to be a number of social change activities led by women helping to create an extraordinary number of organizations that focus on addressing problems women face in various ways. The organizational survival is important to note because, in the face of these movements women experienced sexism and marginalization from organized antifeminist organizations and many others.
An issue that plagues the quality of marriages for both partners is the notion that women are responsible for certain household tasks. Women who depend on their spouses for income tend to have less bargaining power in terms of determining the division of household labor. Even in relationships where women make more than their spouses you can still find women doing more household activities to balance that sense of norm violation they might think their spouse experiences. Typically, partners try to divide labor in the household by choosing activities that confirm their gender identities. This is why men typically choose to do chores such as lawn care, auto repair, hanging up picture frames or shelves. It also explains why women choose to do more cooking, cleaning, laundry, and childcare. Income does not play a significant role in the division of household labor as stated before; the chore gap is strongly associated with gender norms.
The type of relationship a woman is in can be linked with their level of income. Women who find themselves in more traditional style relationships usually experience having fewer resources or capital. Women who find themselves in more egalitarian style relationships usually experience having greater resources or capital. A possible explanation for this relationship could be that economic strain in the relationship might limit the woman’s ability to be able to work a job because the spouse works constantly and doesn’t earn enough income to enroll a child in childcare so the wife has to stay at home with the child. In a study that measured family satisfaction in traditional style relationships, they found that satisfaction increases when partners “divide family responsibilities between the homemaker and breadwinner roles in a context of economic development, rather than both partners having to juggle work and family roles under a context of economic strain.” (1) In relationships where women find the division of labor to be unequal they tend to be less satisfied then their spouses to find their marriage satisfying because they do less housework.
Relationships exist where men are happier than woman because they end up doing less of the housework, but they cannot make this distinction because their belief is that this model is correct which is problematic. In particular, men in traditional relationships find themselves more satisfied and they do not believe that they should be more involved in housework. Men tend to believe that the partner most involved in the work force has the least responsibility to help out around the house. This sort of attitude displayed by men in many American relationships reveilles the egotism in male culture. That behavior reflects poorly on their partners because it assumes that the women’s role is less important. This connotation is a partial to where the theory of toxic masculinity originated from where men place themselves to a higher standard and woman to a lower standard because of where society has placed women on the social scale. This treatment of women has resulted in unhappy marriages, increase in divorce rates, anxiety, depression. In opposite roles where women are earning more than their male partners they still stay involved in housework to try to eliminate the feeling of norm violation that the man might be feeling.
With all the negative things said about male bread maker and female homemaker family structures these type of relationships can actually produce happy relationships when men can shift their viewpoints or try to stand in a woman’s shoes. The “doing gender” theory states that through performance of “relational interactional labors such as housework and childcare” that men and women find what they feel is acceptable to do according to their perceived self-image. (1) Some observations that might provide explanation for these findings is that women’s is that the attitude they face towards gender roles are changing faster than men’s because of feminist movements and women movements. In the study an overall conclusion found that people in traditional relationships are found happiest when spouses have greater involvement in childcare and housework. Women also found that men who feel that men should be more involved in housework and childcare found greater satisfaction.
In American culture it is common for women to leave work after their child is born to take on the responsibility of nurturing the infant, although not as common men might take on this responsibility as well. Many women have to face the ultimatum of wanting to start a family but having to put a hold on their career. For some, coming back to the workplace is not realistic after having a child. Women with more egalitarian views experienced greater psychological distress among housewives who returned to work part-time rather than those who returned working fulltime after childbirth. (5) Many humans need a sense of accomplishment or fulfillment is needed to be considered successful in society or at least that is a sub-conscious notion many have. A career in American society is attributed with success, which is an ideology that could be said was created by men. This association has contributed to an attitude that brings a woman’s self worth down. Among the women in a study it was found that, “traditional homemakers are least likely to be treated as very successful and mothers who give up career opportunities to raise families are most likely to come to feel that their lives have been limited by traditional gender roles.”
It doesn’t directly have to do with their children, they love their children it’s essentially that they can’t do anything because they owe all their time and attention to the child and home. From early on women are instilled with gender stereotypes to believe that they are more nurturing and that in one point in there life it’ll be necessary for them to leave the workplace in order to care for a child. On the other hand boys are never taught that they are going to have to leave the work force so they never consider the implications it might have on a women’s well being. This is problematic because it makes men less considerate of the sacrifices and it also teaches them that they cannot be loving and nurturing just like women. There’s a link between women who feel that their only option or the best option for them when wanting to start a family is to give up aspirations of a respectable career this has negative consequences with women’s sense of accomplishment which plays a role in mental health issues.
Gender roles can be associated with many negative things, and with all the factors that constitute this concept some of the effects that women experience as a result of this is poor mental health, anxiety, limited opportunities, and loss of sense of fulfillment. Lack of division of labor might not be a primary factor that determines satisfaction. It is the feeling derived from this observation that women associate with less satisfaction. Women feel that men who do not aid in division of labor are inconsiderate of the time consumed of the work and this can result in feelings of power inequities, lack of opportunity and exploitation of power. The feelings that mother experience can be linked to daughters where a study showed “Female high school students who reported that they believed that their fathers wished that the girls were male or that their fathers believed that a woman’s place is in the home were found to be particularly likely to report depression combined with somatic symptomatology, disordered eating, and preference for thinness” (4). Somatic Symptom disorder is characterized as a focus on physical symptoms like pain or fatigue that cause major emotional distress and problems functioning.
Traditional relationship ideologies manifested by men have direct impacts on women but also daughters who observe these manifestations through their parents. Children especially young girls are most vulnerable at young ages and influenced by their parents who they will learn many of their values from their parents. Sometimes reinforced by their mothers, “Girls who see their mothers enacting roles that afford them relatively little prestige, power, or financial security may come to associate femaleness with lesser status or limitations” (4) When young girls experience biases or limitations placed on them because of their gender they start to believe in these limitations and develop negative images of themselves. These limitations they start to believe have greater consequences for their future like an increase of not completing school or not going to college, working low wage jobs, more of an inclination to need to be subordinate to men. Although these limitations are not only placed on women in the home they are reinforced in many major institutions like the media and school. Women who said they more aligned with traditionalistic views were associated with having poorer mental health. (4) In households where there I an unequal division of labor, women feel that they have less spousal support. (4)
Feminism is about pushing for equality for both men and women and everyone but through a scope of a woman. To understand the women’s plight and pushing to empower women and help rid the world of negative connotations that limit or discriminate against women. Feminism means to empower women and not limit them by stereotypes created by society. Feminism is also about educating men about inequalities and disadvantages women face compared to men that might not be so noticeable. There are four types of feminist organizations that can be categorized. The first are self-help groups who aim to help women support one another. These organizations have been most effective in law and medicine with systems in place like rape hotline, rape crisis centers, and demonstrations such as “Take Back The Night”. These groups and organizations have helped advocate for policy change and how to appropriately respond to women’s needs.
The male breadwinner and female homemaker ideology may have existed in peace at one point in history but today devastates heterosexual marriages and has many negative consequences for females. When feminism gained attention it helped women realize they are more capable than what societal norms limited them to. It also helped women gain equal rights to men to compete and show each other what heights they could reach. As a consequence women entered the work force occupying many jobs deemed to be for men, women became more involved in politics… Although the life of women has improved, gender roles are still prevalent today which restrict women in a very important part of life, marriage. Many major institutions in the U.S. like the family, school, media reinforce the idea to young women that they are responsible for childcare and at some point in life might have to stop working in order to fulfill that role. Depending on the resources in the family partners with more resources follow more egalitarian values because they experience less economic strain but families with less resources follow more traditional values because they experience more economic strain.