We live in a society that is constantly evolving with changes having to be made to accommodate the present time realities. A society is defined as an “enduring and cooperating social group whose members have developed organized patterns of relationships through interaction with one another” (Merriam-Webster dictionary).
Our society is defined by the differences in roles played by the various members who constitute the society. These roles are based on cultural views, traditions and in most cases, these roles are differentiated by gender.
However, these gender roles are not static and they have experienced significant changes in the last few decades. This paper shall set out to articulate the roles that women play in modern day society. These roles shall be viewed under the backdrop of the roles that women played in traditional times so as to demonstrate the differences and similarities in the same. The reasons behind the apparent differences or similarities shall also be provided.
Classifications of Women
The changing of roles for women from the traditional ones can traces its roots to the colonial period. It was in the colonial American era where the traditional role of women was reinvented due to the realities of the new world. Prior to the colonial era, the roles of women were greatly limited by the traditional attitudes of women as the “weaker sex”.
As the “weaker sex”, their roles were restricted to taking care of the bringing up the family and settling household chores. These previously clearly defined roles began to be blurred mostly as a consequence of the labor deficit in colonial America which led to a state where the contribution by the women was most vital for the survival of the family.
The roles of women in today’s society are therefore more diverse and include both traditional and non-traditional roles. Women’s role in today’s society can be classified under 3 broad categories which are: the housewife, the working women and the entrepreneur.
The prevalence of women in each of these 3 categories has changed significantly with there being a shift from the prevalence of women in the housewife role to more women joining the working class. As such, modern society is characterized by a scenario whereby women are increasingly joining institutes of higher learning and joining the work force at higher rates than ever before (Carter, Corra & Carter, 2009).
Roles of Women in Society
There have been significant changes in the roles of women in society over the last few decades. The reasons for these changes have been varied ranging from affirmative action to the economic realities of the time.
The changes have resulted in more equality between the sexes and women are no longer restricted to some roles or stopped from participating in some activities as a result of their sex. Giele (2007) theorizes that the move towards equality which is predominant in modern society is as a result of the realization that equality is a necessary unification force in our highly complex society.
A significant change in the role of women has been the increase in the number of women in the working class category. The women who fall under this category include the married, unmarried and divorced women who can be with children or without women. The reason for the significant increase in the number of working class women has been the greater acceptance of women in the workplace by the society.
However, women are still restricted mostly to the lower levels in organizations and top positions remain dominated by men. Eich-Krohm (2007) suggests that the reason for this is that women are underrepresented in senior-level positions which results in less support for promotion of other women to positions of power.
While participation of women in the job market has increased significantly in the last few decades, women have still continued to play a supportive role to the careers of their husbands.
As such, despite the empowerment that women seem to have obtained in terms of higher employment rates, the husband’s career takes precedence and becomes more important than the wife’s over time (Eich-Krohm, 2007; Hardill, 2002). When choices have to be made that will favor one of the two party’s career over the other, the man’s career is given priority.
This is a fact that is corroborated by Eich-Krohm (2007) who demonstrates that the career of the man takes precedence over that of the woman and in a family setting, the woman may be forced to change locations regardless of her career if the man’s career is at stake. Such moves are because the wife’s role is to support the husband’s career and ensure that he is able to focus on his wife even if at the expense of the wife (Eich-Krohm, 2007).
The role of women in marriage has also experienced significant changes I the last few decades. Traditionally, marriage was not an equal partnership and women were expected to play a complementary role to men who were the symbolic heads and superior powers in the relationship. However, women have in the last few decades become more equal partners in marriage.
This trend has been as a result of changing values which have resulted in people no longer subscribing to the traditional notion of husbands as the breadwinners and women as the home makers. Giele (2007) proposes that the reason for this is the new life experiences for women which have resulted in more education, fewer children and the participation in the paid labor force by women.
This has empowered women to be on an equal footing with men therefore making the role of women in marriage just as significant as that of men. The role of marriage has also been adjusted through the years. Eich-Krohm (2007) notes that whereas in the 1950s and 1950s marriage meant an end to education and any prospective at a career for the woman, this view has significantly changed.
Women have taken up the role of political leadership and are increasingly contesting for public office side by side with male contestants. This is a dramatic shift in affairs since traditionally, politics were restricted to men and women were not expected to aspire to hold public office.
However, all this is changing and a research by Scott Carter, Corra & Carter (2009) demonstrate that there has been the adoption of liberal attitudes with regards to politics by the society in recent times. In the last few decades, women have increasingly participated in politics with numerous successes. Their participation has not been restricted to the local scene but also to the national spheres with women contesting for the congress seats and even the country’s presidency.
The role of women as mothers and home builders has continued to perpetuate itself even in the modern era where women are increasingly taking up office work and political office like their male counterparts.
Eich-Krohm (2007) states that even in a society which champion’s equality between the sexes, women are constantly taking career breaks after childbirth so as to take better care of their children as well as reducing their work hours so as to dedicate more effort to their homes. Women have therefore continued to be the home builders responsible for taking care of the children in the family.
Another role that women have played in the society is as immigrants. Women constitute half of all migrants demonstrating the fact that women play a crucial role in the economies of the countries that they settle.
While migrant women in most cases have little education and therefore provide only low skilled labor, there are instances whereby the women are professionals and serve as expatriates (Eich-Krohm, 2007). Women also accompany their husbands to the host countries and play a supportive role by taking care of the family and ensuring that the children adjust favorably to the new conditions.
Eich-Krohm (2007) reveals that while this supportive role that women play may be disregarded by some as less important, it is of great significance since in cases where a wife feels that the host country is not favorable, she can cause the whole family to relocate back to their country which huge implications on the working ability of the husband. Eich-Krohm (2007) reveals that women migrants face challenges since they lack the social support network of family and friends in the unfamiliar environment that they work in.
Reasons for Adoption of New roles
Some of the roles adopted by women have been as a result of the realities of the time. For example, women in the black community are at times forced to seek employment since they are the sole bread winners in their families. They therefore have to discard of the traditional role of women as housekeepers and fend for themselves and their families.
Women of both the black and white races have also had to join into the workforce so as to supplement the husband’s income and therefore increase the economic power of the family. This scenario has resulted in a significant rise in the number of dual-earner families in the United States. Scott Carter, Corra and Carter (2009) assert that the perceived liberalization and freedoms are born out of necessity than any other single factor.
Race has had a significant impact on the attitude towards the changing roles of women in our society. Scott Carter, Corra and Carter (2009) document that different races hold different attitudes towards the adoption of nontraditional roles by women. These attitudes significantly influence the adoption of some roles by women within the races and with time, by the entire society.
Research by Scott Carter, Corra and Carter (2009) showed that there was general acceptance by Black males of women adopting non traditional roles and participating in the labor force. Such an attitude by one race group can produce differential shifts in attitudes for other social groups as well therefore bringing about change.
Religion has been proposed to play a major part in gender role expectations in a society. A study by Bang et al (2005) demonstrated that religious fundamentalism had a huge bearing on the gender role ideologies that individuals held.
In particular, fundamentalism related with traditional role expectations between the genders and as such, greater religious commitment resulted in more traditional role expectations (Bang et al, 2005). Women who are fundamentalists are therefore more likely to discontinue their work from the moment they have children until the children are grown up so long as the husband plays the role of bread winner in the family.
Reason for Women Reverting Back to Traditional Roles
In the present times, there have been various reasons as to why women have become stay at home mothers. One of the reasons is migrations which sometimes results in women having to quit their jobs or interrupt their careers since their husband’s have received assignments in foreign countries.
Eich-Krohm (2007) notes that in such instances, women may find it unable to find jobs in the host country as a result of the restrictions imposed by the law or lack of relevant skills or competition by the local population. Women may also decide to use the break obtained from migration to have children or carry out home building.
Traditionally, women have been forced to make a choice between having a career or having a family and being a mother. While this may seem to be an occurrence of the past which has changed with society’s acceptance of working class women, there are still communities where women cannot play the role of mother and office worker simultaneously.
In some Western countries such as Germany, the system does not encourage women to work since a woman is obligated to either pursue a career or take up parenting. The lack of child daycare centers and other facilities mean that women are forced to choose between working and taking care of their children.
Without a doubt, the new roles for women have resulted in women becoming more economically successful. This has resulted in some women opting to revert to the traditional role of full-time homemaking. Giele (2007) documents that there is an “opt-out revolution” among successful women who feel that the career successes they have accrued are not worth the sacrifices required of their children.
This phenomenon is confirmed by Eich-Krohm, (2007) who documents that women are inclined to consider their children’s well-being when making career decisions and they may in fact neglect their career development for the sake of their children’s welfare.
This paper set out to illustrate the various roles that women play in the society. This paper has demonstrated that these roles are not static in nature as they keep changing to attune themselves with the realities of the time.
From the discussions presented herein, it is clear that while the roles that women play may vary, no one category of roles that women fulfill can be considered to be better than the others since each role is important and makes a positive contribution to society. Furthermore, there are instances whereby women perform multiple roles such as being a homemaker and maintaining a part-time job to subsidize the family’s expenses.
This paper has also revealed that in as much as women have been empowered and have taken up positions in the workforce, they are still inclined to perform the traditional role of home making and taking care of their children even at the expenses of their careers. From this paper, it is clear that the interaction among the various roles that women play is essential to the success of women and of the society as a whole.
Bang, E., Hall, M., Anderson, T., & Willingham, M. (2005). “Ethnicity, Acculturation, and Religiosity as Predictors of Female College Students’ Role Expectations.” Sex Roles, 53(3/4), 231-237. doi:10.1007/s11199-005-5681-7.
Eich-Krohm, A. (2007). “Make It or Break It–Women’s Career Interruptions in the Age of Professional Migration.” International Journal of Sociology, 37(2), 75-93. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.
Giele, J. Z. (2007). “Homemaker or Career Woman: Life Course Factors and Racial Influences among Middle Class Americans.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 393-409
Scott Carter, J., Corra, M., & Carter, S. (2009). “The Interaction of Race and Gender: Changing Gender-Role Attitudes, 1974–2006”. Social Science Quarterly (Blackwell Publishing Limited), 90(1), 196-211. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6237.2009.00611.x.