Time to Reevaluate Family Structures?

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While feminism as a movement has only been around for a couple of centuries, it has seen steady progress while graciously expanding its scope and reach. In such a light, it is a riveting exercise to explore early feminist thought and evaluate in retrospect how far we have come. 

This article is not a historical analysis of the modern feminist movement; I would like to appreciate the directness of some of the literature I came across. For example, John Stuart Mill, in 1869, published the text The Subjection of Women with his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill.

They argue that women’s inequality in the family was incompatible with their equality in the broader social world. They evaluate the consequences of “the self-worship, the unjust self preference” nourished in boys growing up in male-dominated households in which “by the mere fact of being born male he is by right the superior of all and every one of an entire half of the human race.” He, therefore, asks the question, How will such boys grow up into men who treat women as equals?

The simple answer is that they cannot unless the family structures are seriously reevaluated. Way into the first quarter of the 21st century, most families are based on an unequal division of labour. Women continue to perform the great majority of domestic labor worldwide, tending to the house and raising and caring for children. 

In such a light, the traditional role of women in the household restricts their ability to pursue careers and compete for demanding jobs. As a result, women remain economically dependant on the family male and highly vulnerable in the event of a divorce. Studies have that in case of a divorce, within one year, the husband’s standard of living is seen to be increased by a whopping 42%, while the wife’s standard of living drops by 78%. 

Gender hierarchy in our society is unjust? The structuralisation of work and opportunities are uneven, while sexual domination and violence are also significant factors that contribute to the lack of gender equity in our society

There are more extensive connotations of increased economic dependence. First, the economic dependence leaves women with an asymmetric ability to exit the marriage, which gives the husband considerably more power and bargaining advantages in the relationship. Not only that, uneven power scales leave women more vulnerable to physical, sexual, or psychological abuse by their husbands/male partners.

Also Read: How Family Whatsapp Groups Reinforce Patriarchy

As the Mills argued, women’s inequality in the household can not perpetuate equality in the broader social world. With less regard for gender equity in the home, it is undeniable that even young girls and boys grow up with different expectations of how they should behave. Children are bombarded with powerful cultural cues about sex-appropriate qualities and behaviours from their parents, school, peers, and the media. There are adjectives attached to being a woman such as nurturing, self-sacrificing, non-aggressive, and attractive, and indeed, care is a feminine quality. These traits add to the inequality against women as “nurtures are generally not good leader, therefore, there are less women CEOs, politicians, generals.”

In addition to that, after reaching a certain age, there is the anticipation of marriage and child-bearing that gets associated with women. 

Also Read: Data shows Female Breadwinners don’t always get Economic Independence

You wait for this to get better, but it does not. Women earn 75% of what their male counterparts make for comparable work in our economy. In such a scenario, girls become the rational choice to withdraw from the workforce in anticipation of child-bearing. In addition, child care takes a lot of time, and people who do it alone are unlikely to pursue other things like school or strenuous professions. Moreover, once women withdraw, they would only fall behind in both experience and lack of skill development. 

This gives us a lot of grounds to agree on. We can agree on the fact that that the gender hierarchy in our society is unjust; the structuralisation of work and opportunities are uneven, while sexual domination and violence are also significant factors that contribute to the lack of gender equity in our society. In all that, whether the family structure is a primary or a contributing cause in women’s social and economic inequality is debatable; however one thing is sure, families cannot be viewed apart from that system or in isolation from it.