What does the position of men and women in the labour market tell us about their broader social positions?
Heidi Hartmann defines patriarchy as “a set of social relations between men and women which have a material base, and which, though hierarchical, establish or create interdependence and solidarity among men that enable them to dominate women.
Men’s control over women’s labour varies from society and across time. In Western capitalist societies and the developing world, this control is primarily exercised through the institution of monogamous heterosexual marriage, female childbearing and child-rearing, female domestic work, women’s economic dependence on men, the state and, and numerous institutions based on male bonding. All these elements explain why men control women rather than vice-versa.
The current sexual division of labour results in the under-employment and overwork of women.
There are some feminist myths about women’s employment. Namely:
- That their employment has been rising;
- That their work orientation/commitment is equal to men’s;
- That childcare is the main barrier to their employment; and
- That their stability of employment is equal to men’s.
That large numbers of women now have occupations of their own has been the key factor in proposals to classify them to social classes based on their own occupations instead of the occupation and socio-economic status of their husbands or heads of household, proposals that have stimulated a lively debate over the practical feasibility, theoretical appropriateness and implications for empirical research.
In various surveys, women are perceived to be less career-conscious, with weaker or no commitment to paid work and hence are less likely to seek training and promotion. As a result, many of them seek part-time work. However, there are also situations where women working part-time may well express greater commitment to their families than full-timers. But it is likely to reflect differences in their family circumstances.
The evidence from all surveys which address the question is that part-timers’ compromise between market and non-market activities differs qualitatively from that chosen by full-timers, so that the contractual employment rights demanded by full-time workers are not given the same priority by part-timers who typically prefer convenience factors over good pay and promotion prospects.
Failure to address sex differentials where they exist has implications. The underlying tension is that women choose to play out their gender roles in their workplace and this is what causes them difficulties in their workplace, and this is that causes them difficulties in the labour force, not necessarily the reason given by feminists.
A modified version of this article was first published in The Statesman in 2002