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From female tasks and male tasks to more equitable ways of sharing work

This was one of the conclusions drawn from the University of the Basque Country PhD thesis in which an analysis was undertaken of the perception and distribution of domestic work amongst double-income couples in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU). The research was based on interviews carried out with twenty couples of various ages and with different forms of sharing household chores.

The author is Ms Raquel Royo Prieto, a sociology graduate and a qualified social worker, who defended her thesis, Household family work in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAPV): a qualitative perspective amongst double-income couples, at the Department of Sociology I of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication of the UPV/EHU. The director of the PhD was María Silvestre Cabrera, of the University of Deusto. For the research Ms Royo spent time at UC Riverside (Riverside County, California), working with Scott Coltrane, and at the University of Loughborough (Leicestershire, United Kingdomo) with Monica Threlfall. Ms Royo is currently working at the University of Deusto as lecturer in and coordinator of the Masters degree in Intervention in Violence against Women.

For this work the researcher introduced herself into the daily lives of twenty couples, their everyday worlds, their daily work, their longings and their struggles. After conducting a number of interviews with these couples, the researcher was able to observe that certain behaviour was due to interiorised inertias but that, at the same time, she noted the appearance of new roles, values, experiences and strategies that question these traditional models of household chores.

These inertias and changes have been classified into five blocks: 1) behavioural patterns, 2) meanings, attitudes, perceptions and tastes, 3) maternity and paternity, 4) employment and conciliation, and 5) experiences.

Equitable sharing of work

As regards behavioural patterns, the researcher observed more equitable forms of sharing reproductive and productive work than the model that obliged women to a double working day — working in and outside the home. Moreover, the socialisation of traditionally female chores was noted – tasks that are also transmitted from fathers to sons — male to male —, in contrast to the transmission by inertia of expectations as a function of gender.

With respect to meanings, attitudes, perceptions and tastes, what was notable was the change taken place in the meaning of domestic work. While inertia produces a perception of household chores as “women’s work”, devalued and private, many couples have a positive concept of this work and consider that it gives autonomy to both men and women. There also exists a way of thinking according to which tastes or preferences are different — male tasks and female tasks; the researcher points out that the displeasure of men with the lack of female participation in male tasks may well serve to influence change in this respect.

Family democratisation

Maternity and paternity has also undergone changes. It was observed that men now participate in the choice of having offspring, attend births and are involved in care and upbringing, to such an extent that the possibility of a less intensive maternity has been opened up. The interiorised meaning that the care of children is something female — the children are the mother’s — is losing force, today’s couples negotiating criteria in which those of the male are incorporated and, in turn, the traditional paternal authority is giving way to a more democratic family.

The perception of maternity and paternity has also changed. The vision of the patient, loving and ever-present mother and the hard-working father is changing to give way to another pattern of more equitable models. The perception of paternity has also changed to one of a sensitive, patient and loving person who cares for his children. Finally, the belief in the equal capacity for both women and men to look after their children has become more widespread.

With respect to employment and conciliation, notable is the significance of female employment as a right in itself, as an affirmation of individuality and economic independence. Moreover, models are arising where fathers are involved and grandfathers and male friends participating in upbringing and care, in contrast to the inertia that results in the leading role of the female in conciliation.

Finally, as regards experiences, the changes point to discrepancies between egalitarian behaviour and the interiorisation of the old domestic order (the idea of the household and love culturally patterned by women).

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