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Introduction to Patriarchy and Gender Roles


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Changing Forms of Patriarchy, public and private patriarchy


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Sylvia Walby in Theorising Patriarchy advances the view that society has developed in the last 100 years from private to public patriarchy. Although this development improved to an extent the position of women, society is nonetheless still patriarchal and still discriminates against women. In private patriarchy women are denied all access to paid employment. They are necessarily dependent on a man as husband or father that is, as patriarch. In public patriarchy women are allowed access to paid employment but are subordinated within the public area that is, they are segregated from men and given lower status and paid less. First-wave feminist victories enabled women to break out of the system of private patriarchy. Women gained political citizenship, the right to vote, access to education and the professions, property ownership and the right to leave marriages. Walby advances the view that the move from private to public patriarchy has arisen as a result of (a) a capitalist interest in employing women who supply a flexible pool of labour and work at a cheaper rate; (b) a powerful feminist movement. In fact, in her view it turns out that there is a conflict between capitalism, which is a patriarchal structure, and private patriarchy. In the absence of a feminist movement, for example, in the third world countries, women who are employed effectively remain under patriarchal control in the family and gain no additional freedom. The opposition of patriarchy to the employment of women is expressed by pre-war restrictions on the period of work of married women and restrictions on the employment of women as a result of opposition by male craft unions. Modern patriarchy expresses a compromise between these two forces of private patriarchy and capitalism by allowing women into paid employment but segregating them once they get there and discriminating against them. The development of public patriarchy was fastest in the post-war period when there was a severe shortage of labour. Ivan Illich in Sexism and Economic Growth argues that modern industrial society has replaced traditional male/female roles by a more brutal form of sex-discrimination. He calls the earlier form of socialization vernacular gender. In it male/female roles are sharply defined and social taboos prevent either sex from crossing over from one to the other. However, whilst a woman, therefore, could not do a man's work, equality between the sexes was possible precisely because the roles were so clearly defined. Women did not have to work more than men as such, and their work was not inherently oppressive. Modern economic sex is a pure discrimination based on sex alone. In other words, women are discriminated against purely because they are women. The economic sex discrimination is motivated by the demands of capitalism, which requires an under-class. The sex-role is not confined purely to women, men can occupy the same position, but the position is in fact almost wholly occupied by women. In other words, the discrimination is in a sense purely arbitrary, so whilst it is a sex-discrimination it makes no acknowledgement of femininity. There is nothing feminine about being in a subordinate role. He makes two important additional observations: (a) Unreported work, or the black economy. Illich argues that women are discriminated against by also being excluded from this sector of the economy. The discrimination is comprehensive. "Women know that they are excluded from desirable jobs in the growing arena of illegitimate work even more so than from the taxed wage labour while their housework is a form of bondage." (b) Shadow work, which refers to work that people, who are generally women, do in order to turn a consumer good into a good that can be consumed. Although, for example, we have food in plastic containers, we still have to shop for it and still have to put it into the microwave. This shadow work is oppressive because (i) it is additional to other work, and is essentially unpaid; (ii) it is boring, lonely, dull, impersonal and polluting. Illich comments that "I expect that automated production will decrease the overall volume of wage labour and lead to the marketing of commodities requiring more, not less, unpaid toil by the buyer/user." It is in shadow work that women are more intensely discriminated against. Illich also claims that "the total volume of shadow work rapidly surpasses the total volume of available production-associated work or ritual. No matter how you compare a money equivalent to housework, its total value exceeds the volume of wage labour."
Contents of
Introduction to Patriarchy and Gender Roles

1 Sex and Gender
2 Sex difference, cultural and integrated perspectives on the relationship between sex and gender
3 Patriarchy and Marxism, Engles, The Origin of the Family
4 Radical feminism and the Marxist interpretation of patriarchy
5 Changes in the Patterns of Women's Economic Dependency
6 Women's low incomes
7 Women and Lifetime earnings profiles
8 Women in the contemporary labour market
9 Sue Sharpe: Just Like a Girl
10 Changing Forms of Patriarchy, public and private patriarchy
11 Gender Role and Choice, the National Longitudinal Survey

Related articles: (1) Introduction to Marxism, (2) Introduction to Patriarchy and Gender Roles