The changing roles of men and women in families in Britain over the past half century

For much of the long history of human civilization women and men evolved to assume different roles within the family and larger society.  But in most societies, women were made to take a subordinate social and domestic role to men.  This situation has gradually changed in the last fifty years and there is more equality between the statuses of the two sexes.  Two important circumstances have made female emancipation possible.  Firstly, as works of female authors started to get published, societies got exposed to the feminine perspective on various subjects.  Secondly, events such as the Second World War had radically altered women’s roles by bringing them out of their homes and into factories.  The women suffragette movement that took place in the early decades of the 20th century and the Women’s rights movement of the 1960s were also instrumental in bringing about substantial change in the status and role of women (Allan & Crow, 2001, p.21).  These changes were not restricted to Britain, but have occurred simultaneously in many countries, especially in West.  While the role of women has seen remarkable change over the last half century, the same cannot be said of the role of men.  Some of the specific areas where gender roles in Britain have morphed over the recent decades are discussed in this essay.

There is no doubt that women have steadily taken a prominent role in the workplace and that their participation in it has increased gradually over the last five decades.  Half a century back men were deemed the sole bread-winners for their families and women were confined to domestic work and bringing up children (Morgan, 1990, p.15).  But today’s Britain is a far cry from what was the case in 1960s.  Since the circumstances of the Second World War forced women into taking up roles that were conventionally restricted to men, there has been no looking back in terms of their economic independence (Davies, 2004, p. 260).  Previously, women had to put up with abusive husbands due to their economic dependency on the latter.  But as more women became financially independent, their freedoms in regard to interpersonal relationships also grew.  It should be remembered though, that despite possessing equal professional qualifications, work experience and skill sets, most women tend to get paid less than their husbands (Walters & Avotri, 1999).  For example, we find that despite progress in many areas, the gender wage gap is a clear-cut sign that women still have some way to go before achieving an equal status to their husbands.  What is worrying about the persistent gender wage gap is the fact that women don’t feel as indignant about this issue as they do in other areas of inequality (Allan & Crow, 2001, p.21).  In addition to this, British culture and history have stereotyped what comprise feminine qualities.  The following observation from research team of Chichilnisky et. al. further elucidates this point:

“notwithstanding the fact that today’s women and men share the same starting point for becoming equally productive in both the home and the workplace–current beliefs about earnings may be “historically biased” in favour of stereotypes. This reasoning leads us to argue that persistence of the gender wage gap in developed societies can possibly be explained by a self-fulfilling “history bias” in beliefs.” (Chichilnisky et. al., 2008, p.299)

But beyond the “history bias”, there are other factors that contribute to gender wage gap within the family.  While the absolute percentage of women participating in workforce has increased, the stereotyping of feminine qualities has restricted the domains in which they could specialize.  As a result, women and men are segregated occupation-wise, where there is wage-disparity between occupations.  There is also disparity between women and men of the same age-groups due to the fact that the former lose a few years for maternity and child-rearing which holds back their career’s progress. So while economic opportunities for women have expanded and consequently their roles within the family have changed since the 1950s, it has not propelled women to a state of equality with men today. (Walker, 2005, p.32)

We can learn useful insights about gender roles in Britain by studying the foundation, organizational structure and other facets of the British Association of Barbershop Singers (BABS) – a popular musical organization that has worked with leading charities during the last half century and has also given performances in leading media outlets such as the BBC.  The BABS is almost exclusively comprised of men, and the quartet music that is its highlight is sung by four talented men vocalists.  When BABS is compared with its equivalent organization Ladies’ Association of British Barbershop Singers, we see that both these associations conduct elections to pick their executives and administrators.  The elected members in turn report and give an account of their activities to a national council.  Duties such as serving as judges in musical competitions, offering musical education, are taken over by another music team – the Music and Judging Committee in the case of LABBS and Guild of Judges in the case of BABS (Garnett, 1999, p.115).  Both of these barbershop organizations print and distribute newsletters, retail sheet music and release albums.  The importance of this symmetry in organizational structure and functioning is that

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