Evolving Gender Roles Explored at Anne Roe Lecture

11/24/2008 12:15 PM

Women have come a long way in the past 50 years. Today, women are getting married later and giving birth later in life; they make up 50 percent of the work force and also have tremendously shifted the roles in families. “There have been dramatic changes in how men and women look at their lives and what they are doing,” said , director of the Community, Families & Work Program at Brandeis University, speaking at HGSE after receiving the 2008 Anne Roe Award on November 17.

Barnett’s lecture, “Women’s Journey toward Equality: Where We are and the Path Ahead,” discussed how traditional have changed, subsequently freeing women to engage in life outside the home. During her presentation, Barnett provided much data on men’s family and work roles, women’s multiple roles, quality of marital relationships, and what the future holds for women’s equality.

“Women’s lives today are dramatically different [from] those of their mothers and grandmothers. Women are making choices that will prepare them for longer lives, significant labor force participation with marriage and children, knowing that they are contributing to their own economic well-being, getting more education, and proving themselves in well-paying employment,” Barnett says.

On the same note, men’s roles have also changed in the past 50 years, she said. Men have more responsibilities in the home and in caring for the children – and the majority of men now rank having free time with family as one of the most important factors in [choosing] their employment. “There are very dramatic changes for men and women in how they look at their lives in terms of what’s important and what they do with it,” she said. “The changes have been positive but we still have a long way to go.”

Barnett noted that, although many of the traditional gender gaps between men and women are closing, there are still many struggles that lie ahead. In particular, Barnett highlighted that women’s salaries have yet to catch up to those of men, with women earning about 65 to 80 percent of what men earn today. But, she also noted that many areas like science, education, and media coverage tend to hold on to old notions of gender roles and stereotypes. Barnett shared dozens of studies with the audience that debunk popular gender myths like women aren’t biologically predisposed to do well in science, that husbands are resentful of wives who earn more, and that men are genetically incapable of being sufficient caretakers.

Barnett focused on the media’s role and fixation on “retro” gender stereotypes by routinely publishing stories about women choosing to be stay-at-home mothers or overemphasizing the notion that working women climb the corporate ladder only to jump off it into motherhood. “Seventy eight percent of mothers with graduate or professional degrees are in the workforce and three times as likely to work full-time or part-time,” she said, noting that over the past 15 years, the majority of women with college degrees have not been out of work more than six months — even following childbirth. Barnett said the media’s coverage contains “proliferations that women can’t hack it” despite the wide publications of studies proving otherwise.

In closing, Barnett shared results from a Gender Gap Report where the United States ranked 27 out of 130 countries in economic, legal, and social aspects between men and women. The results further demonstrated a continued need for America to advance in this area. However, she also highlighted many bright spots in gender like women’s recent active role in politics, a growth in scientific research that is sound and provides real data on gender differences, and the fact that the U.S. ranks first in women’s educational attainment.

“We expect these trends to continue into the future because of increased knowledge being obtained about gender similarities and gender differences…however the path ahead, like the path behind, is not likely to be a smooth one,” she said, noting that this requires biological determinism and the media’s willingness to report new discovered gender similarities as it does differences. “A nation’s competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it educates its female talent to maximize its competitiveness and development potential, each country should strive for gender equality.”

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  • Megan Locicero

    In response to Barnett’s discussion on gender inequality in the Western world, I think that she made relevant points about women ‘catching up’ in America’s professional work world and I appreciate her comment about the road ahead not expected to be an easy one, for women still have a long way to go.
    I would have liked to hear more about gender identity and how the American public develops and perceives it. The public has a tendency to look at gender as being a male/female issue. What about equal rights for transgendered individuals? Also, what about the issue of class and race when it comes to women’s rights? These elements are intricately intertwined into the issue of women’s oppression.

  • Denise Husbands

    I beg to differ with Ms. Barnett. Women’s persistent quest to go against their God-given gender roles have led to total dysfunction of the families. This is especially true of Western societies. Women have forsaken their “God-given” roles to be nurturers, chase keeper of their homes and to marry and love their husbands and to teach their children to do likewise have led to a total breakdown of the family unit. Boasting of the number of women in the workforce is not a plus for women. What has happened is that women are now doing the jobs men traditionally did and have taken on the role of being providers for their families which is completely opposite of what God appointed. Now men are uncertain of their roles and cannot find employment because women now have taken their jobs. Out of despair and hopelessness men are driven into lives of crimes and total confusion. Look at the prison population. Delaying childbirth and opting instead for corporate careers is not a plus for women. As a result of women’s failure to follow their “God given” roles to bear children we now have further gender confusion where men now want to have children and we now toot it as such a “Wow” thing and we now have same sex marriages and same sex couples wanting to have children. So how about this for progress. It is evident that we need to get back to the “God ordained” gender roles surely our society is no better because of some women’s obstinate quest to prove that they are equal to men when indeed they are not. What women should seek and pursue is equal respect. Respect for the work they do within their “God ordained” roles. It is indeed time that we get back to operating within our “God ordained purposes. What a better place this world would be.

  • Amanda Dobson

    I think this is a great read, would love to read the papers she has to debunk all the scientific studies that say women arent able to perform as well in certain areas biologically.
    As a successful professional who absolutely does not believe in gender roles and believes a man is just as capable and just as good at being nurturing, caring and a great home maker and stay home parent and I hope that I see the day that we find that balance in the world and will offer whatever i can to help get the world there.
    The world will be more peaceful, men will be happier, women will be happier as everyone will be able to explore all parts of themselves instead of being restricted by gender roles.
    I really do hope we see the day when the media are not allowed to show women only as homemakers and parents too.

  • Angela

    Amen!!!! I am in total agreement with your statement. I have been saying that for years!

  • Henise Dusbands

    What a better world this place would be without religion. Religion has been the cause for far too many deaths and wars. It is completely ignorant for anyone to think that their one faith is right over all others. [Editor's note: This comment was truncated by the moderator.]

  • Xrebeccalee

    what you wrote is so ignorant. religion was not made for you to justify things falsely. you are making use of religion inaccurately and if you really truly believed in operating within “God ordained purposes” then you would not be pushing for inequality amongst people based on their gender. Because of people like you many prejudices and injustices still exist in society.
    Please go educate yourself.

  • Hadassah Crawford

    Believe me, if there were no religions in this world people would STILL find a reason to get into wars and kill others. Gang violence is just one of the many examples of things that kill people other than religion.

  • anonymous

    Some people need to become a little more cultured. Many of these comments seem ignorant. Crawford, I do like your comment :)

  • Ileana

    That’s just a bit ignorant, don’t you think? I like my philosophy better. Personally I’m Catholic, a practising Roman Catholic, and I follow this little teaching called the Golden Rule – it’s in the holy book of every religion.

    “Do to others as you would have them do to you”

    Doesn’t that sound nice? So rather, I believe the world wouldn’t be a better place without religion, but it would be a better place if everyone actually bothered to learn the teachings of their religion correctly, and to obey them instead of misinterpreting them to mean whatever they want them to mean. People like you who bash religion in general obviously never bothered to educate themselves on how amazing faith can be, when understood properly, and practised under the guidance of the proper mentor, so, for me, my parish and groups like the Disciples of Jesus Community and the Focolare Movement, or the Work of Mary. These groups preach love and acceptance, as do all Catholic Churches, and if you actually read the bible and catechism, it teaches that men are not superior to women, merely different. Look at the readings, it says wives obey your husbands, and husbands love your wives as Christ loves the Church. So basically it’s saying women, let your husbands love you and adore you.

  • Ileana

    I think the main reason women are generally the homemakers is because they’re the ones that nurse the children, a man can’t exactly breast-feed a child :P women also tend to be more nurturing by nature, it just happens that way.

  • Anonymous

    Perhaps you should return to the 50′s. You are aware that it is now 2012, right? People like you, who carry this unrealistic, stereotypical view of what women are supposed to do and what women are not supposed to do, are the reason there is so much hate, discontent, and gender-bashing in this world. If you are o.k. living your life, being told what to do by some man who thinks he owns you, then you go right ahead and you live your life that way. But do not try to force your “god appointed” crap at the rest of us! What the hell should it matter who wants kids and who raises kids? As long as the kids are being raised and taken care of. As long as they are getting all of the love, affection, and attention they need… who are you to bash whoever raised them? Are you aware that children of same-sex couples have less domestic issues as adults than children of heterosexual couples? Are you also aware that according to the American Psychological Association, research as shown that children who are raised by fathers have stronger social and emotional development as opposed to children raised in homes where the father is rarely around (APA, 2012). As a Psychology student myself, I have been doing a lot of research into the changing roles of caregivers and all of my research has pointed in a positive direction with the changing roles. However, every now and again, a bible thumping, holy rolling, honk if you love Jesus, screamer, such as yourself, comes along and tries to drag this country back 50 years because you are not happy with the progression of modern day society. The changing gender roles in relationships and the raising of children is not what is destroying the family unit. Perhaps you should consider educating yourself a little better before you go using religion to justify your own prejudices with modern society.

  • si

    I had expected the article to look at gender role changes of both sexes, yet your essay is another article on cisfemales getting closer to formally male gender roles. As ever there are incentives to help females toward male roles, but never initiatives to break down societies’ dislike of gender variety and the transgendered, or even letting males take long term paternity leave backed by federal laws (like females have ) whilst keeping their jobs open. I cannot fathom societies desire to keep men expressivly and emotionally in chains.
    Best wishes, s

  • si

    “Do to others as you would have them do to you”
    This is not nice. It is sinister. E.g I don’t want you to like gays, so I won’t let you like gays.
    I prefer “do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law so long as it harms none”
    Now then, don’t feed the troll:)

  • si

    I cannot add more to this except praise. Well said.

  • si

    Not strictly true because trans women can breastfeed. Unsure how successfully though;)

  • Chase Schroeder

    Can someone please answer this question for me? -

    Do you think that the frontier experiences of plainswomen continued and
    supported the “Cult of Domesticity” principles, did their
    experiences add to this cultural phenomenon, or did these experiences
    challenge and eventually modify the influence of this belief system
    on American society?

  • Silent_knight

    who cares, let women do what they want. Religion, customs, rules, norms w/e. At the end of the day we are all still human and not one statement on this forum applies to everyone. In fact all human statements cannot be applied to everyone only the sample not the population. Its a paradox to thing so.

  • agm24

    is there a video of this discussion?

  • Newseditor

    Hello. Unfortunately there is not. Thank you, though, for your interest.

  • Shilah

    So, what your saying is that women were born to serve their
    husbands and families without any concern for themselves? That they are bred
    for the simple activity of staying home and cleaning the house, cooking meals,
    and taking care of the kids? No! Women and men– it doesn’t matter. What
    matters is that people grow up to be who they want to be. If a women wants to
    go to college and get her career started– BE IN THE WORKFORCE– then she
    should have the choice without being scrutinized. I realize that women do have
    that motherly role and that men have the fatherly role, but that’s for when a
    mature couple sits down and discusses it and is ready to sacrifice BOTH of
    their careers and lives for a human being. So, no, it’s not just the man’s role
    to get a job and provide for their family, it’s both. And if a woman decides to
    stay with her career and keep working, doing what she loves, then that’s her
    deal. I just think that the gender roles to some people are so defined that
    they won’t come to any conclusion except that women should stay home and do
    their “God given” “God ordained” roles and produce
    babies until their bodies physically can’t do it anymore. It’s sexist and
    horrible and I wish others would just let people be who they want to be.

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