Cross-Cultural Analysis of Gender Roles

This article that I am writing is a cross-cultural comparison of changing gender roles in North India and Singapore, specifically in the aspect of women. Before we discuss how gender roles in the two different cultures have been changing, we have to first define what these gender roles are.

From the film "Dadi's Family", it has been voiced out that women are traditionally tied down to the household into which she is married. Together with the mother-in-law, these two women are left to the domestic sphere in the household. The clips in the film show this where the women take on household chores like washing, cooking and collecting water. It is also mentioned that in the past, women served their husbands, listened to no one else but their husbands and when a man walks into the room, women have to cover their faces with a veil. If the son of the family decides to move out to build his own house, his wife is expected to do both the fieldwork AND the household chores. From this, we see the expectations of a woman in India after she gets married into her husband's family. She is subservient to her husband and expected to be a good housewife.

In recent times, the degree of which women are subservient to men is changing. She is no longer required to cover her face with a veil andit is acceptable now for her to criticize her husband without the fear of upsetting the gender norms in the home.Although the gender "rules" have changed slightly from the past, expectations are still the same in that the domestic responsibilities are still thrusted upon the women. Also, once the woman is married into the family, there is a risk that she will suffer or feel deprived in the family. In the film, the first daughter-in-law, Darshini, is shown is shown to be crying and complaining to her mother-in-law, Dadi, about unfair treatment in the household. However, she was still expected to fulfill her role in the house. Dadi stated, “Everybody has to do work”. There is a sense of frustration and slight helplessness here due to the status quo of households in India.

In the recent Strait's Times article, "Women Can't Have It All, but Neither Can Men", gender roles are being questioned by senior writer, Wong Kim Hoh. He includes the insights from 2 different professionals about the opportunities available to women after they marry and take on the role of a mother. Writer Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former high-ranking official in the state department, said "women were fooling themselves if they believed they could have a high flying career and successfully care for their children". This has the implication that women can only be successful in one aspect, and that it is not possible to have both aspects successful concurrently. She carries on by saying that "she gave up her position of power as director of policy planning to go back to academia as professor of international affairs at Princeton University because the more flexible hours allowed her to better tend to the needs of her two teenage boys." Because of the expectations placed on her as a mother, true work-life balance would be beyond her reach.

This is similar to the women in India in the sense that there are expectations placed upon them because of their gender - to take care of the household and their children. One main issue that the film and the article address is the idea of gender inequality.

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild, wrote in his work "The Second Shift" that, women work a “second shift” of housekeeping and child care, after the first shift of paid work outside the home; men don’t. In the 1970s-1990s, women worked more than men, taking into consideration the job inside and outside of home. (Hochschild, 1989) It is also a universal and persistent phenomenon that women earn lesser than men, and perhaps this could be an economical force and social pressure that encourages women to give up their jobs if one of either spouse is required to take care of the house or their children.

In the Strait's Times Article, however, US gender expert Laurel Weldon addresses this inequality issue by mentioning that there is a need to acknowledge that "men share an equal role in raising a family" adding on that "studies have shown that a father's involvement is crucial for a child to do well". People are now recognizing that men are now more important in the household when it comes to being a nurturing figure for their child. She also adds that support from the spouse is extremely important for a work-life balance and it will not be easy on those women with no spousal support in the family. In this same article, from the 2012 survey by the non-profit Ottawa-based Vanier Institute for the Family, 49% of men said they would consider changing jobs if that meant more time with their children, and 56% said they would consider taking a 10% pay cut if that meant they could spend 10% more time with their children. (Wong, 2012) This could perhaps be an indication that the scale of gendered responsibilities is tilting towards the males.

Furthermore, in “Dadi’s Family”, it has been brought to the audience’s attention that boys are made to finish their household chores before leaving for school. This attempt to instill domesticity in boys since young points to the fact that gender roles may not be as rigid as before where the females are confined to the household.

From these few sources, we can have a better understanding of how the gender roles in various countries is different; how India have been changing from the past to present, as well as a comparison to other parts of the world in terms of a woman’s status in society. Compared to more developed countries like the United States of America and Singapore, India has a more traditional notion of womanhood with respect to domesticity. Sociological perspective seems to point to the rising statuses of women, as they are able to decide between a successful career and successfully caring for their children, a choice which women in India do not seem to have. Education appears to be an equalizer of the status quo in society, where a platform is provided for women to gain more independence and awareness, that those traditional gender roles need not necessarily be strictly abided by.


References:

Milkie, Melissa A., Sara B. Raley, and Suzanne M. Bianchi.Taking on the Second Shift: Time Allocations and Time Pressures of U.S. Parents with Preschoolers. N.p., Dec. 2009. Web. <http://www.bsos.umd.edu/socy/papers/MilkieRB09.pdf>.

Rathje, Kelly. "Male Versus Female Earnings – Is the Gender Wage Gap Converging?"Economica. N.p., 2007. Web. 10 Sept. 2012. <http://www.economica.ca/ew07_1p2.htm>.

Wong, Kim Hoh. "Women Can't Have It All, but Neither Can Men."The Strait's Times[Singapore] 16 Sept. 2012, The Sundaytimes ed.: 42. Print.

More pages