Gender Roles and Power

One of the most common arguments husbands and wives have is “who is going to clean up this mess?” The division of household labor plays a role in how couples get along and manage their home.

Most of the research on the division of labor discusses how women today are working more but still doing most of the household chores. To entice a new conversation, I had my students read two academic journal articles–one about the macro-level influences and the other about father equality.

Fuwa (2004) reviewed data on 22 countries, taking a macro approach towards the issues of household chores. In other words, while previous research has focused on the couple, Fuwa contends that macro level effects are convincing people to do household chores. Macro meaning society, politics, community, and religious views shape, contribute, and encourage people to do household chores, not just the individual couple. Specifically, Fuwa demonstrates that macro-level influences such as how egalitarian a country is, as well as its economic development, female labor-force participation, gender norms, and welfare states effect who does more household chores.

Wells and Sarkadi (2012) talk about Sweden in relation to gender power, also from a macro level (a country which Fuwa, as well as Wells & Sarkadi, cite as one of the most egalitarian countries in the world). Wells and Sarkadi argue that there are many barriers to father involvement, even when a country has parental leave, citing that the work place, maternal gatekeeping, and finances all encourage fathers to continue working, while encouraging mothers to use the paid parental leave. Additionally Wells and Sarkadi discuss the Swedish Child Health Centers, where nearly all Swedish children between 0-6 go to have regular health check-ups and where parents go to learn parenting advice. However, they argue that since mothers form relationships with the nurses during the infant’s first year (since the mother is at home breastfeeding and therefore taking the child to the health center), mothers continue to be more knowledgeable about their child’s health and feel more comfortable taking their child to the nurse, compared to fathers. This, from the start of birth, starts disconnecting fathers from their child due to the biological factor of breastfeeding, which fathers can’t take part in directly, leaving fathers to feel like a secondary parent.

In other words, gender roles and power in relationships are dynamic and change, not only by the couple, but also by how the society, government, religious organizations, politics, community and other macro-level institutions affect families.

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