Almost every day I wonder how to effectively fight male domination in the so-called western societies. I pay attention directly to sexist behavior and words, I do not hesitate to comment on discriminatory abuse or paternalistic attitude, but my individual actions are still not enough. Of course today we can observe a new wave of feminism. In the same time on the Internet and other media, we have a great interest about the feminist-movement and we also protest on the streets. However, I think that raising public awareness by this text will not hurt anyone. After all, we are still living in a patriarchal world… Have you ever wondered where it all came from? Where are the roots of the traditional division of roles in western societies? What are the “public” and “private” spheres? When did they come into being? Why do men “rule the world”?
This text will answer the questions that you may have already asked.
Orvar Löfgren, Swedish ethnologist, describes shaping the aforementioned division into the “public” and “private” spheres in the context of the transformation of Swedish society. He compares the perspective of the Swedish bourgeoisie of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the situation in the 1930s and 1940s. He discusses how attachment to family values influenced the construction of the household — in terms of space, but also the socialization of children, the division of labor based on sex and rituals shaping everyday life. According to Löfgren, it was precisely at that time that the division into “masculinity” and “femininity” crystallized (2003, pp. 143-144).
Then such constructs as “femina domestica” and “homo economicus” appeared (Cominos 1973). The first one refers to a woman who, through social and cultural conditions, emphasizes the role of a man in the public sphere, and creates a friendly atmosphere at home, constituting a kind of remedy for men’s ills, whose causes can be traced in relations with the outside world. “Femina domestica” creates a space in which a man is influenced by his actions (Ibidem, pp. 147-148). On the other hand, “homo economicus” refers to a man working outside the home, responsible for the family in an economic sense and rationally reasoning; he is placed in opposition to a woman (Ibidem, p. 147).
The Swedish townspeople of the late nineteenth century expected their female partners to make their home the most important area of life, and the idyllic and harmonious place from the house itself (Ibidem, p. 147). The household served as a representative — it was an exhibition of wealth and high social status, and on the other hand it was also a refuge from the impact of the outside world. The series of spatial boundaries, designated by various entrances, passages and doors, separated within the house the public sphere from private, household members from guests, as well as children from their parents (Ibidem, pp. 144-145). The man who came back home after a full day at work, was able to afford emotions that he could not show in the public sphere (Ibidem, p. 147).
It was women who created the house in a practical sense — with proper order and rituals. In modern times, the concepts of home, femininity, privacy, feelings and moods are intertwined. The home was connected with emotions and emotional warmth, with security and harmony, and finally inseparable with the woman. The male was connected with the sphere of production — differences between representatives of a given gender were based mainly on the organization of work.
Is there a family?
The division is also described by Jane Fishburne Collier, Michelle Z. Rosaldo and Sylvia Yanagisako in an essay Is there a family? (2007). According to the authors, the concept of family, known from anthropological literature, combines with the division of the above-mentioned spheres — the association of women with home, children and reproduction, and men with social progress and the “out-of-home” sphere. They argue that the contemporary perception of the family in western society is largely shaped by a symbolic opposition to the sphere of work and interests; to market relations and capitalism (Collier, Rosaldo, Yanagisako 2007, p. 70). “After all, it is the market where we sell our work and negotiate contract-based business ties, we associate with competitive, limited time and accidental relationships that must be supported by law and legal sanctions” (Ibidem, p. 70).
The family model — and consequently the femininity — is based on the reproduction of the mentioned division, which is reproduced by the discourse of the nuclear family. Collier, Rosaldo and Yanagisako postulate the perception of women as “important actresses in all social fields” and Families as an ideological construct with moral assumptions (Collier, Rosaldo, Yanagisako 2007, pp. 67-73).
It sounds obvious, but I definitely postulate the same. Moreover, I strongly encourage you to fight binary divisions in our societies.
- Löfgren, Orvar (2003). The Sweetness of Home. Anthropology of Space and Place: Locating Culture.
- Collier, Jane Fishburne, Michelle Z. Rosaldo and Sylvia Yanagisako (2007) Is there a family? New anthropological views, trans. A. Ostrowska. Gender. Perspektywa antropologiczna, vol. 1, Organizacja społeczna, ed. Renata E. Hryciuk, Agnieszka Kościańska, Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego.
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