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A 4 Pages Term Paper on Homemaking from a Sociological Perspective

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Homemaking from a Sociological Perspective

     Definition of sociological theory can be said to emphasize on as culturally defined way of behaving which can be classified as a norm, with rewards for conformity and punishments for deviation. These sociological norm theories have been used to study a variety of phenomena, such as housing (e.g., Morris and Winter, 1978) and mate selection (e.g., Burr, 1973). As such certain norms have been set by society which if distorted raises an eyebrow so to say.

Homemaking Definition

     There are no particular parameters or restrictions on what is classified as “homemaking or housework.” It has been drilled into minds of men and women since they were children that certain tasks are accomplished by “boys” and by “girls.” This conditioning is provided not only by parents but also by schools and market training. The men of the family should specialize in household repairs and family finances, whereas women are most likely to do the cooking, cleaning and child rearing, etc.

     Since this has become so prominent in our daily lives that it eventually leads to specialization in the household. As such, this is considered good in a market place where a person is looking for a job but it is not the same when these specialized duties are forced upon. These specializations have been stressed on so much since the dawn of time that they have become norms in our society.

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Gendered occupation

The question posed here is of "difference"—gender difference between female and male. As such "gender" can be specified as socially acquired characteristics of femaleness and maleness, as difference from "sex," the biological attributes of women and men.
Homemaking is normally associated with a woman mainly a married woman and a stay-at-home mom. Gender stereotyping has become very common in our society. As such, a study conducted in 1950’s showed that if a husband was found in the kitchen cooking a meal, a gender norm was violated and would result in informal social sanctions such as ridicule.

     Similarly, norms have been set on performance standards as well. For example, if dust were visible on furniture, a performance norm would be violated, and social sanctions, which could result in a lecture from a mother-in-law.  As such police would not be called to correct these types of mistakes but more so through the socialization process, which would effectively internalize punishment, so that a person would experience mental anguish at the thought of having a guest see a dirty house. Norms over a period of time do change.  A 1993 survey of 500 adults found that "... 84 percent of women and 80 percent of men can tolerate a certain amount of dust in their homes." (Varkonyl, 1993)

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In 1966, Barbara Welter, published "The Cult of True Womanhood." This book had an account of how ministers and other male moralists made an effort to impose the concept of "true womanhood" in the mid-nineteenth century. They classified women’s virtues as: piety, purity (meaning sexual purity), domesticity, and submissiveness. Her analysis should have included materialism--the notion that women were uniquely destined for motherhood. This ideology functioned on in the urban middle class – thus defining parameters of respectability for women. And whoever deviated would be punished by being branded as "unfeminine." Welter showed that women were encouraged to internalize their subordination and that the conception of femininity served as a means to keep them in line. Historians now describe her work as demonstrating pressures on women both physical and social leading to sexual differences. In other words, “gendering” it.

By the mid-1970s many women historians started disputing the consequences of "true womanhood" for women. The article " The Female World of Love and Ritual" (1975) by Carroll Smith-Rosenberg's article was one of the first. Smith-Rosenberg looked at the same phenomenon as Welter but in another aspect. She highlighted that the male and female spheres— particularly women's domesticity—gave women independence that their own space. Her work showed the control women had over their households and how they groomed it to perfection.

Even if men are found to increasingly share household chores and child care with their wives (or partners) – more so in some countries than in others – the pervasive picture of women doing more unpaid work and less paid work than men has not really changed. Goldscheider and Waite in 1991 in their study of the transformation of the American home found that wives are deviating from the pressures of double burden that is of employment and housework, while husbands often “run away” from household chores. The authors speculate that in the future an interest in sharing parenting and home life may become a competitive advantage for men in looking for a partner.

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Homemaking as a daily experience

     Varieties of women even today are unpaid but their labor was and is still very essential: housework, farm labor, needlework, healing, cooking, child raising, baby-sitting, etc. As such they are groomed to specialize in household work since their childhood. If a journey is taken into a lower class woman’s life, she as a daughter is expected to help her mother in the daily work like dusting, cleaning, taking care of her little sisters and brothers. As she grows older, her responsibilities increase with added burden in the family. When she gets married, she is expected to take care of her household and other members in the family. As such, if one thought that she was doing a lot in her father’s home, her burden has increased three folds in her husband’s house.

     It was different in the white and elite class where the lives of a minority of prosperous housewives who employed servants. This emerged from the Victorian era that hard work was considered unfeminine – child-care and housework were invisible forms of labor; they appeared rather as emanations of love and of a female nest-making that was instinctual, not learned or laborious. This illusion was distorted by historians, which demonstrated that the majority of American women did not lead privileged lives and that all except the wealthiest women worked.

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     African Americans could not be classified into the category of the non-laboring woman. As history reveals that firstly they were as slave women for men. It laid emphasis on the cruelties experienced and the injustices done to them. Jacqueline Jones and Deborah White have shown that the heavy labor required of slave women. These slave women were not only were responsible for field- and housework for their masters, but also for the family life of the slaves— after the hours owed the master—in cooking, spinning, weaving, sewing, cleaning, nursing, child care, educating. In later years many black feminist scholars emphasized that because of the independence and strength of these women led to resistance towards slavery.

Behaviors differ sharply in other ethnic groups. Irish women are in this day and age going towards late marriage and more economic independence. Where as they have been misrepresented as domestics and as labor organizers. By contrast, the greater paternalism of Italian men, and traditions of strong chaperonage of women's fidelity, kept Italian women more homebound.

In a recent study of Swedish couples with and without children (Ahrne and Roman, 1997), it was found that men participated to a greater extent. As such, the household work, which men aided in was food shopping, cleaning and washing dishes, while in most households women take more or less the whole responsibility especially when it comes to cooking and doing laundry. But it was also found that in ¾ of the households women did all or almost all the cooking. Thus stating that in a relatively gender-equal society like Sweden the majority of women are willing to give preference to the family (and the children) rather than a working life.

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Benefits or extrinsic rewards

     Women who plan to stay home and take care of their children and run a house do in this and age as a choice. There are no monetary benefits or extrinsic rewards in comparison to a working in a company where a fixed salary plus bonuses, medical benefits etc. are provided. The pleasure that wives and mothers seek is all intrinsic; pleasure from taking care of the house – running it like a well-oiled machine. Pleasure from seeing one child growing – their first smile, first word, their first step, first day in school, etc. All the extrinsic rewards become at one point in time meaningless when such happiness is present.

Hours and working conditions

Homemaking happens to be a 24 hours job, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. As one can imagine, the working hours are long, never ending, exhausting without any “vacation”, etc. The working conditions are what one makes of them. If the lady of the house keeps the kitchen and the rest of the house clean then they are excellent but if she falls sick then the only person she can count on is still she. So as a wife and a mother she cannot take time off from their house and kids.

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Contributors to the economy

     There has to be someone in the background for men to actually venture into the market and achieve their responsibility that is taking care of the family in monetary terms. A woman not only becomes a supporting pillar to her man but also aids in educating her children, who in turn contribute to the economy.

In has been generalized that men make money where as women spend it. Women contribute by purchasing local made items, which in turn supports the industrialization of the country. There was a time of recession where people especially women had stopped buying American made products mainly because they were expensive in comparison to products imported from other countries.

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     Historians have debated the origin of the definitions of the feminine—to what extent they have been imposed on women, to what extent invented by women. Evidence has been found both of cross-cultural and trans-historical patterns in women's experience and of immense diversity in women's experiences--by class, race, ethnic group, religion, sexual orientation, family status--indeed, by a probably endless variety of factors.

Toward the end of the century, as some women won access to higher education, women's history became more sophisticated. Scholars began writing "social history"; that is, they attempted to describe the lives of the majority of women, not just the elite or the exceptional, and doing so meant they used a great variety of sources to describe women's daily lives, work, health practices, cooking, etc.

This is clearly related to the fact that the subjects of women's history—women—are themselves changing fast, discovering new possibilities in themselves and for themselves, and restructuring their individual versions of what it is to be a woman.

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Ahrne, Göran and Christine Roman (1997). Hemmet, barnen och makten. Förhandlingar om arbete och makt i familjen (Home, children and power: Negotiations about work and money in the family). SOU: Stockholm

Cott, Nancy. (1990). The Grounding of Modern Feminism. New Jersey. E-Book.

Freedman, Estelle B. (1979) Separatism as Strategy: Female Institution Building and American Feminism, 1870 – 1930.  New York: Feminist Studies 5

     Degler, Carl, (1964) What Ought to Be and What Was: Women's Sexuality in the Nineteenth Century. American Historical Review 79, no. 5: 1467 - 90

Hemström, Maria (1998) Gender differences in pay among young professionals in Sweden. In Inga Persson and Christina Jonung (eds.): Women’s work and wages. London and New York: Routledge

Sahli, Nancy, (1979) Smashing: Women's Friendships before the fall. Boston: Frontiers.

Shelton, Beth Anne (1992). Women, men and time: gender differences in paid work, housework and leisure. Westport: Facts on file.

This article has been reprinted in several anthologies, including Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct, pp. 53-76; and Cott and Pleck, A Heritage of Her Own, pp. 311-42.


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