When discussing the different roles of women and men within contemporary society, there are many issues that have to be taken into consideration. In order to gain a better understanding of a stated problem, this part of the paper will provide general information on dissimilarities between men and women. It is acknowledged that both men and women take on different roles within society, where they both have their own responsibilities.
As well as this, it is assumed that because women are generally the most caring, their responsibility usually lies within the home and/or around the family, by taking care of the children, cooking, cleaning, and carrying out other domestic duties to earn a living. Whereas men on the other hand, are often regarded as the more strong and powerful, therefore take on the role of breadwinner for the family, and carry out the jobs that are more manual and physical based.
In addition to this, men and women are taught to behave in certain ways, to help show a clear distinction between femininity and masculinity, where females tend to be dependent on the dominant male, suggesting that they are weaker and less able. This implies that genders, due to the well known fact, are not only different in biological appearance, such as for example brain structure and its usage, body strength, metabolism, body build or genetic expression, but also in their skills, abilities, behaviour and aptitude. Sayers (1982), in her book asserts
When one examines these supposedly purely biological accounts of gender roles one finds that they are rooted in appeal to social, not biological, considerations. This is true not only of recent biological analyses of sexual divisions in Society but also of the analogous biological explanations of these divisions advanced in the nineteenth century. Having looked at the brief description of gender, Sayers states that biology is crucial when it comes to showing differences between men and women, and also that the understanding of social backgrounds and social behaviours throughout the centuries is a critical factor.
The roles of women and men as well as their behavioural attitudes are the result of a long historical process and much longer evolutionary one, such as for example division of labour into female gatherers of plant food and male hunters (Archer, On-line). Archer explains that there is another, more recent division between women and men that is when domestic issues are to be focused on.
To achieve a greater understanding of the complex nature of femininity and masculinity in this field, and also to show their main differences, this essay will discuss one of many important issues connected to the changing roles within the family, of females and males starting with the Victoria era and finishing in our times. Therefore cross-centurial matter of marriage , and the way men and women had been functioning within it, and also its political associations in Britain are the main issue to be examined.
Firstly, marriage and the roles of both partners within it, in the Victorian era, will be discussed in this part of the essay. Hall (2002) in her studies implies that independent identity of a married woman was entirely considered as possession of her husband. She also points out that females had no right to enter into legal contracts nor had them their own property which by law in the Victorian era meant that woman’s property was in the hands of their husband.
Very often husband with a various addictions, such as alcoholism or gambling could have spent all money on his favourite activity without even asking for permission of his wife nor considering whether they would have a sufficient amount of money to purchase food supplies in order to feed their children or pay for accommodation so that the entire family could live at their own place. Having mentioned children within the marriage, Hall also indicates that offspring was entitled to their fathers not mothers. She states that no matter what heavy faults the male parent would have, he would still remain the ‘natural’ guardian of his children.
Taking into consideration another matrimonial issue, such as the actual male violence in the nineteenth century, women were not able to take any legal steps against their husbands. Due to the legislation on helping victims, passed in 1878, and the Matrimonial Causes Act women could find protection, judicial separation in the Magistrate’s Court, and also to have the legal right to their children (Hall, 2002). The above statements and examples show that in the nineteenth century men could basically do whatever their minds craved for.
Following this, this part of essay will look at how roles of women and men have actually been handled within society of the twentieth century Britain where marriage evolved its form, but similarly to the previous century, men remained in control over women. Women were still regarded as physically the weaker sex. The Age of Marriage Act from 1929 implied that the legal marital age of a person was sixteen (Abbott, http://books. google. co. uk). Abbott also writes about the fact that before 1929 girls could get married at the age of only twelve and boys as young as fourteen what indicates a problem of inequality within two genders.
Not long after this act came another on 26 August 1920, once again improving the status of femininity, stating that women have the legal right to vote though on the same terms as men (Lewis, http://womenshistory. about). During another period, lasting from 1939, roles of women and men in terms of British society changed once again. Constant bombarding, problem of starvation and uncertain future made Great Britain an unsafe place. The Second World War disrupted existing sexual lives and provided, in some cases, new sexual opportunities: men went into in the forces, mothers and children were evacuated, women directed according to labour needs Hall, 2000:133).
What is more, Hall tackles the problem of social disturbance, constant anxiety and insecurity when family matters were to be considered. In addition, British Government performed an important action that involved evacuating children from large cities and sending then to the countryside. This is well explained in a book written by Magorian ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’. In her piece of writing, Magorian describes the situation in which small boys and girls had been separated from their parents in order to stay alive. Having their offspring in a haven, women and men of Britain had to undertake different roles.
Women had to overcome old prejudices of being hopeless and powerless. Since men were fighting at the front, women went to work in places considered as applicable only to men, for example in big factories like weapon works. What is more, due to the siege, they were offered jobs in farmlands as ‘landgirls’, and to general astonishment, they were very successful (Charman,1999:131-137). Charman (1999) states that the position of women enhanced once more because they proved to have been very good at doing their work, for instance on the railway or even fighting in forces.
They were working, handling home issues, and also taking care of their children. Arm in arm with their men colleagues, women were not paid the same amount of money as men, but that was soon to have changed in the next years to come. Finally, the epoch of a new millennium have brought, and is still bringing, transformations to the roles conducted by women and men in contemporary British society and for that reason, not many historical work or researches has been done.
Nevertheless, some facts are easily observed when it comes to social changes. For example, Hall (2000) in her work affirms that women status in the legal, social, and economic field changed since the nineteenth century’s Britain. What is more, she points out that rights to education, employment, property holding and managing, and also permits to openly entangle in the political matters and processes had improved the position of females throughout epochs.
The variety of jobs currently available for women, personal independence within marriage, legal rights to bring up or adopt children, and also the fact of more men staying at home and taking care of children instead of working, indicates great changes when division of roles between men and women throughout centuries are taken into consideration. All in all, within modern societies, patriarchy still seems to be prevalent, but is gradually changing for better, where women are gaining more power and becoming independent. In contemporary British society, it is socially beneficial that both men and women are making progress to becoming equal.