Unbending Gender Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 26 May 2017

Unbending Gender

Domesticity is a “gender system” that delineates organization of market work and family work and the “gender norms that justify, sustain, and reproduce that organization”. This is how Joan Williams defined domesticity in her book entitled Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It. Domesticity arose in the nineteenth century and it still remains entrenched in many forms in American Society today. This way of life separated market work and family work in both space and time.

It sets up a system that market work is the realm of men while women are delegated to the sphere of “home making” and “parenting”. As a gender system, domesticity has two defining characteristics, Williams wrote. The first is that “organization of market work around the ideal of a worker who works full time and overtime and takes little or no time off for childbearing or child rearing”. The ideal workers in this system are those that can work full time, or in most cases with plenty of overtime.

“Caregivers” or those assigned to the childbearing and rearing (women) cannot, therefore, perform as ideal workers given this structure. Thus the second defining characteristic of this system is “providing for caregiving by marginalizing caregivers, cutting them off from most of the social roles that offer responsibility and authority” (Williams, 1). This system of structuring market work and family work sustains the ideology of the defined roles of men and women. Men, who are supposedly aggressive and highly motivated, “naturally” belong to the market work.

Women characterized as weak and soft belong to the home. Men provide for the needs of the family, taking very little time to participate in child rearing, leaving this mostly to women. This structure perpetuates the gender norms that define the role and performance of men as “breadwinner”, and women as “homemakers”. Before the nineteenth century market work and family work is the not isolated from each other. The rise of industries, businesses, and professionals, however, also created a new definition of the American middle class.

It also brought forth new ideology about the home that arose from the new attitudes toward work and family. In article The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood the new middle class family is said to be different from the preindustrial family that may partly be the roots of this new ideology. These are: 1. A nineteenth-century middle-class family did not have to make what it needed in order to survive. Men could work in jobs that produced goods or services while their wives and children stayed at home. 2. When husbands went off to work, they helped create the view that men alone should support the family.

Men belong in the public sphere or the world of work, and a woman’s place is the private sphere or home. 3. The middle-class family came to look at itself and at the nuclear family in general, as the backbone of society. (From The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood) The emergence of the market economy separated work away from home. Unlike before, the home is no longer seen as an economic unit in the community but rather as a self-contained unit separated the “rough world” of work. This new order of things created gender norms especially on women’s performance of duties as homemakers.

They are expected to create a special place, “a refuge from the world where her husband could escape from the highly competitive, unstable, immoral world of business and industry”. Dubbed as the “Cult of Domesticity”, it espoused that True Women cultivate four virtues: piety, purity, submissiveness and domesticity. The virtue of piety is based on the belief that women are more religious than men. Religion is within the women’s sphere. Modern young women of the nineteenth century were also expected exercise purity in words, thoughts and deeds. Woman’s sexual purity is highly valued.

Virginity is seen as the greatest treasure that a woman can bestow on her husband. Good women are also expected to keep in control men’s sexual needs and desires. The natural order of things also requires women to be submissive to fate, to duty, to God and to men. The Young Ladies Book summarized the passive virtues necessary in women: “”It is certain that in whatever situation of life a woman is placed from her cradle to her grave, a spirit of obedience and submission, pliability of temper, and humility of mind are required of her” (qtd. In The Cult of Domesticity and True Womanhood).

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