In his classic study of marriage, Dempsey shows the level of work required to negotiate power and inequality within heterosexual relationships. While both men and women noted that marriage has some specific advantages for men and women, overall, the participants noted that men’s power was more overt when it came to doing unpaid work, personal autonomy, and how they managed their leisure time outside the home. Different patterns emerge in studies of homosexual couples.
“When weighed together, full-time working women spend 6.4 hours more per week working inside and outside the home than full-time working men. Averaged across the year, this means a 332 additional hours (or two weeks of 24-hour days) of work.” – Leah Ruppanner, sociologist, on The Conversation.
Housework, like the organisation of paid work and other institutions, is inextricably linked to gender inequality.
Sex roles describes the tasks and functions perceived to be ideally suited to masculinity versus femininity. Sex roles have converged across many (though not all) cultures due to colonial practices and also due to industrialisation. These roles were different prior to the industrial revolution, when men and women worked alongside one another on farms, doing similar tasks. Entrenched gender inequality is a product of modernity. It’s not that inequality did not exist before, it’s that inequality within the home in relation to family life was not as pronounced.
Read more about the social construction of gender on my resource, The Sociology of Gender.
The idea of “emotion work” recognises that our feelings are shaped by society. Our culture determines how we understand, discuss and act out our emotions. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild has conducted decades of research on how emotion work impacts our jobs. For example she studied how flight attendants are expected to remain calm while irate passengers are rude and make excessive demands. Flight attendants are not paid for this emotion work. They are expressly paid to provide customer service. The additional emotion work is taxing on their personal health and psychological wellbeing. This type of invisible emotional labour affects people in different jobs, but especially impacts women.
Hochschild writes in the journal Contexts:
“Over the last 40 years, the number of service sector jobs has grown. By my estimate, some six out of 10 of those service jobs call for substantial amounts of emotional labour. This work doesn’t fall equally upon the two genders; roughly a quarter of men but half of women work in jobs heavy in emotional labor. Emotional labour has hidden costs, and these fall more heavily on women.”
The work that individuals put into managing their own and other people’s emotions is therefore gendered. Women are conditioned to remain calm, placate others and even smile as clients take out their frustrations on them. Customer service workers are dehumanised because their job expects them to put up with abuse. This type of work takes a heavy emotional toll on women, especially in caring professions.
Office settings also involve a level of emotion work; we see in the way we treat others. The TV show How I Met Your Mother humorously depicted “the chain of screaming,” which is how each level of the management hierarchy yells at their subordinates to alleviate personal grievances instead of dealing with problems in a constructive manner.
In this video, an American entertainment reporter has confused Samuel L. Jackson with Laurence Fishburne. Rather than letting him off politely, Jackson riffs on him: “We don’t all look alike! We may be Black and famous, but we don’t all look alike!” The reporter tries to laugh it off but Jackson says, “Hell no!” After speaking about his role on Robocop, the reporter mentions the other cast members. Jackson says: “Make sure you don’t confuse them with those *other* White actors.” Continue reading Why We Shouldn’t Excuse “Casual” Racism