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A Limit to Reflexivity : The Challenge for Working Women of Negotiating Sharing of Household Labor
Peter Walters and Gillian Whitehouse Journal of Family Issues 2012 33: 1117 originally published online 19 December 2011 DOI: 10.1177/0192513X11431566 The online version of this article can be found at: http://jfi.sagepub.com/content/33/8/1117

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A Limit to Reflexivity: The Challenge for Working Women of Negotiating Sharing of Household Labor

Journal of Family Issues 33(8) 1117–1139 © The Author(s) 2012 Reprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0192513X11431566 http://jfi.sagepub.com

Peter Walters1 and Gillian Whitehouse1

Abstract Unpaid household labor is still predominantly performed by women, despite dramatic increases in female labor force participation over the past 50 years. For this article, interviews with 76 highly skilled women who had returned to the workforce following the birth of children were analyzed to capture reflexive understandings of the balance of paid and unpaid work in households. Alongside a need to work for selfhood was a reflexive awareness of inequity in sharing household labor and dissatisfaction with the ways in which male partners contributed around the home. However, in parallel with this discourse of inequity was one of control, manifest in perceptions of male partners’ inability to competently complete household tasks. Although the discursive aspects of women’s understandings of inequality in the home can be understood as manifestations of reflexive modernization, participants’ general incapacity to effect everyday changes is better explained by the more fully socialized feminist reading of Bourdieu’s conception of embodied practice. Keywords housework, unpaid household labor, late modernity, reflexive modernity, Bourdieu
1

The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia

Corresponding Author: Peter Walters, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia Email: p.walters@uq.edu.au

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2007). rather questionable —Goffman (1977. 2006. and relative financial resources (e. is virtually unanimous in the view that women. Miller & Mulvey. including housework and child care. Giddens. Miller & Garrison. J. The aim of this article is to provide insights into the ways in which women reflexively understand and manage a persisting gender bias in the division of unpaid household labor in conditions of reflexive modernity. 2012 .sagepub.g. carry a disproportionate load of unpaid work at home compared with their male partners (e. the imbalance is often attributed to an enduring legacy of gender ideology and its deterministic power over the fate of women in families and the fact that many women saw it as a duty or essential gender role to manage and maintain the domestic sphere (e. or changes in. 2000. P. The first goal is to examine the extent of reflexivity.. I take it. with some exceptions that will be detailed below. 302) The literature on the sharing of domestic labor. Wright. Dempsey.g. their ability to reflect on their own domestic situations. has been large-scale quantitative work focused on objective measures. 1996. family arrangements. The article takes as its starting point analysis of the data from the perspective of women’s own subjective understandings of their household roles according to the insights provided by theories of “reflexive” modernity and investigates whether this Downloaded from jfi. 2002. and the second is to “test” the limits of that reflexivity insofar as it affects actual outcomes in the home. women’s reflexivity. Coltrane. 2008). 1998. and Lash (1994). Where research has addressed women’s subjective accounts of unpaid labor. p.g. The women were from professional and managerial occupations and were relatively well-resourced. The relative lack of interpretive research on gendered inequality in the home has meant that the literature has little to say about the extent of. Oakley. W. Baxter. Research has also provided a comprehensive view of the persistence of this imbalance over time and the resistance of the gender allocation of household work to changes in other variables such as women’s labor market participation.. 2002). We use semistructured interviews with 76 Australian women who had returned to the workforce after the birth of a child.1118 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) That our form of social organization has any necessary features is.. Hewitt. 1982. and their place in the institution of the family in conditions of late modernity. despite the level of paid work undertaken outside the home. Paulsen. Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS]. as anticipated in the work of Beck. This level of unpaid work for women in the home only increases with the birth of children (Baxter. & Haynes. 1974). Most of this research. 1998.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7.

2010. P. e. to build boundaries around their families and to direct their own energy and emotion inwards toward their children. for information on ongoing gender gaps in labor force indicators).com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. The dramatic increase in the presence of women in the labor market has meant that expectations and norms for women in the public sphere have changed. 2012 . the advancement of women’s status in the workplace in the West has been steady and mostly positive. 2007). These norms of woman as mother and homemaker were perhaps at their zenith in the postwar years. reinforced by popular cultural and media stereotypes of the mother as nurturer and custodian of a safe and caring home (see. Wright. 1998. 2006). 1982. Jamieson.. the empirical reality behind these stereotypes has been steadily eroding in the years since World War II. However. 2002. 1998. particularly mothers. in particular the persistence of the gendered nature of unpaid household labor. and increasing distance between workplace and the home solidified the nuclear family and the sharp division of gender roles in the household that persists (Gilding. 1999). at least in comparison with the persistent inequalities that these same working women with partners and children have generally experienced in the home with regard to the sharing of unpaid household labor (ABS. 1993. Baxter. the increasing mobility of the labor market. the breakdown of premodern social structures. In what Jamieson (1987) calls the “classical account” of the strict gender roles of the nuclear family. Ferber.g. 2006. Gilding. Although the achievement of gender equity in the labor market is clearly not yet realized (see. household labor refers to those tasks that are “low control” (Riley & Kiger. Miller & Garrison. The advent of suburbia. J.. Robinson & Hunter. with few occupations or professions still closed to women (Blau.Walters and Whitehouse 1119 reflexivity about household roles was translated into greater equity in the home for working women. & Winkler.g. The move by many women from the private sphere of the traditional nuclear family to an increasing involvement in the public realm of the labor market coincided with the emergence of the debate about women’s concurrent role in the home. e. Miller & Mulvey. work that must to be done by Downloaded from jfi. For the purposes of this article. 1987). 2008). World Economic Forum. W. 1993. Paulsen. Literature Review The idea of the housewife or homemaker as part of a nuclear family coincides with full industrial modernity. the social processes of modernity strengthened the propensity of parents. that is.sagepub.

2001. at an intersection of the constructed fields of gender and the family where differing gender ideologies dictate. influencing them to reproduce the traditional gender roles of the nuclear family characterized in modernity (Allen & Webster. washing. 2000) or. 2001. housework is seen as repetitious and mundane. ironing. Kan. Hakim. have an inability to negotiate better outcomes for themselves (Mannino & Deutsch. Veltman argues. or in some way advances the cause of humanity. Veltman argues that in comparison with tasks such as the project of raising children. 2006. These ideological factors have been Downloaded from jfi. 1976). Voicu. using Beauvoir’s (1949/1972) classic portrayal of immanence and transcendence. Although paid work by no means guarantees transcendence. Looking at research from the last decade.” we use the distinction to clarify our analytical focus and seek evidence on participants’ perceptions about this kind of work and the ways in which it is shared in the household. on the other hand. There is a significant literature on the continuing and seemingly intractable inequitable division of household labor that in the main argues that the conduct of housework is not an essential condition of gender. particularly where it concerns the “dual-career” couple (Rapoport & Rapoport. allows the expression of individual creativity. particularly for those whose work involves any degree of discretion or creativity. beginning with the innate or cognitive qualities of individual women who either consciously choose a traditional role and remain at home to care for children (Dempsey. it still holds that possibility. 2007. Nordenmark & Nyman. Gill. Although arguments might be mounted about the classification of household labor as “immanent. Transcendence. 2008. This ideology is also expressed as a gender imbalance in familial resources and consequently diminished negotiating power for women in marriages (Evertsson & Nermo. 2012 . argues that such housework is an immanent task for which there is little intrinsic reward. Kroska. food shopping. and routine preparation and picking up after others. Tasks include house cleaning. in a more constrained fashion. 1971.sagepub.1120 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) someone and for which there is little flexibility in how or when it is done. 2003). Gupta. inequity in housework has been analyzed across the sociological spectrum from the individual to the societal. Voicu. can be achieved through work or activity that has a durable legacy. the behavior adopted by women and men respectively. 2000. merely serving to perpetuate life and the status quo. 2006. 2007). 2007. Veltman (2004). 2004). 2007) and as based on men’s vested interest in maintaining the status quo (Singleton & Maher. more deterministically.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. Dempsey. & Strapcova. 1993. 2004. A second strand of research incorporates the social. Evertsson. Gupta. The research literature suggests a broad spectrum of causality behind the persistent imbalances and trade-offs in families.

Lennon & Rosenfield. although clearly the subjects of inequality in the home. Mead recognized the social basis of all language. Oakley. The Sociology of Housework. It is against this backdrop that the concept of reflexivity is introduced in this article. there was very little evidence that women thought that someone else should be doing this work in their place. It was Mead. 2004. 1991. Mikula. Wright. Blair & Johnson. Mannino & Deutsch. & Ratcliff. 1992. For better or worse. research on household labor tends to be based on large-scale quantitative methods and is less likely to be able to capture changes in the ways that women subjectively understand and accept or reject these imbalances (Wilkie. 1974). 1974) and had little reflexive awareness of themselves as in any way oppressed or part of any systematic socially constructed gendering of roles. can be traced back to George H. 2003. A third strand “widens the lens” to incorporate a more macro-structural view of the problem. Dempsey. Mead (via Hegel) and symbolic interactionism. 2003) rather than demonstrating a reflexive awareness of the ideological roots of inequities in the home. 2000. 2002. 1994. in which she found that although many of the women she interviewed were not enamored with the mundane nature of housework. This literature provides a comprehensive view of the resilience of imbalances in household labor in light of the changing variables of women’s labor market participation and family composition. 2007. Ferree. the concept has been applied by authors such as Giddens (1991) and Beck (1992) to Downloaded from jfi. Nordenmark & Nyman.g. 1998). 2007. From this perspective. 1998).. O’Connor. or the idea that one has the capacity for self-awareness and reflection on one’s own actions and experience. 1998. In more recent times.sagepub. 1990. 2006.” who socialized the theory of mind.Walters and Whitehouse 1121 found to vary with age cohort and levels of education and the birth of children (Baxter & Western. In other words. 1998. With some exceptions (e. De Vault. tend to justify it as the fulfillment of an understood gender contract (Baxter. that humans could have conversations with themselves and that this has an important part to play in the taking of roles (Outhwaite. using Hegel’s idea of “self-consciousness. Coltrane.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. 2007). Ferree. 1999. women felt a “high or medium” identification as housewife (Oakley. Nordenmark & Nyman. Research that does reflect these subjective understandings tend to perpetuate a view that a significant proportion of women. imbalances in unpaid household labor are attributed to persisting gendered norms in the paid labor market and wider constructions of the “ideal worker” as enablers or barriers to women forging meaningful careers for themselves outside of the home (Fuwa. 1996. 2007). they viewed themselves as housewives or homemakers. 2012 . acknowledging the public and private realms. Voicu et al. This view was well illustrated in Oakley’s (1974) landmark study. Reflexivity. Fuwa & Cohen.. Dempsey.

in this case. has been required to develop an ability for “reflexivity” or the ability for self-awareness and reflection on one’s own actions (Beck et al. & Soloff. The Study The fact that household gender inequality exists across the socioeconomic spectrum is well established empirically (Baxter. The women were drawn from a group of 100 who had been recruited from respondents to the 2005 Parental Leave in Australia Survey (PLAS. n = 3..” where people. where the future was “mapped out” as a function of one’s social standing or position. & Johnstone. where the life course progressed unreflexively.sagepub. this article draws on the qualitative analysis of in-depth semistructured interviews conducted in 2007 with 76 women with children living in three major Australian cities in order to capture changing understandings and challenges faced by contemporary women in managing this inequality. such as exist in the nuclear family. The analysis presented below assesses the extent of reflexivity among respondents as well as providing a “test” of the idea of reflexivity and the extent to which women’s ability to reflect on their own situation in the home and at work affects the ways in which household labor is shared. Put differently. This requirement for reflexivity was not evident in traditional modernity. 2012 . Diamond. PLAS surveyed the infant cohort of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (n = 5. which was designed to be a nationally representative sample of children born between March 2003 and February 2004 (Soloff. were unambiguous and unquestioned and proceeded. as a means for the construction of a future course of action.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. 2002). and where expected roles and obligations. are able to form intimate relationships for the sake of the relationship itself. to cope with the rapidly changing and fragmenting nature of social institutions such as the family.107). such as family and career. progressively freed from the expectations and strictures of traditional institutional arrangements. Lawrence. Downloaded from jfi. Acknowledging this strong empirical basis. is what Giddens (1992) describes as an inexorable progression in conditions of late modernity toward the “pure relationship. Baird.” The expression of reflexive modernity in intimate relationships. 2005). reflexivity is the ability and need to reflect back as an observer on the course of one’s own life. according to established “gender scripts. 2007).573) to participate in detailed interviews (Whitehouse. 1994) in order to arrive at satisfactory outcomes. 2000.1122 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) distinguish a break from modernist conceptualizations of stable social structures and to explain a feature of “late” or “reflexive” modernity in which the individual.

If negotiating these outcomes is an ongoing problem for this group.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. This overrepresentation of educated and professional women provided the opportunity to access the understandings and meanings associated with unpaid labor at the more privileged end of the occupational and income spectrum. among whom we selected women in managerial. with higher echelon jobs should have the discursive and institutional resources both at home and at work to negotiate particular outcomes. a group of women who are well educated. Interview Sample: Employment Characteristics of Mothers Employed in the 12 Months Prior to the Birth of Their Child Mothers Employed in 12 Months Prior to Birth of Their Child Sector Public Private Employment contract Permanent Fixed-term Casual Self-employed Occupation Manager Professional or associate professional Clerical Manual Total employed interviewed Number Interviewed 28 53 61 7 14 12 9 67 16 1 94 The group selected from PLAS for detailed interviews reflected the response bias in the wider PLAS sample. Downloaded from jfi. among the 100 detailed interviews conducted. a set of cases that allows for a degree of confidence in theoretical generalization about the issues under investigation to other similar or less advantaged cases. In addition.sagepub. we focused only on those who were employed and who were working in relatively high-skill occupations. Table 1 presents information on the 94 interviewees who were employed at the time of interview. serving as a “critical case” (Flyvbjerg. and semiprofessional roles (n = 76). In other words. professional. 2006)— that is. which included an overrepresentation of mothers who had completed higher secondary education and who had undertaken further tertiary education or training and an underrepresentation of women who spoke a language other than English in the home. then it might be inferred that less well-resourced women would face equal or greater difficulties. 2012 .Walters and Whitehouse 1123 Table 1.

which reviews women’s perceptions about their limited capacity to achieve greater equity in household labor. it is useful first to establish the nature of women’s competing roles. Analysis took place using an interpretive categorical approach.1124 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) Participants were interviewed for approximately 1 hour by researchers from the project team. However. On a small number of occasions the participant’s male partner was also present and participated in the interviews. 2012 . which reflects on the apparent incompatibility of the first two themes. with coding according to three emergent themes that were selected on the basis of their salience to an overarching theme of women’s level of reflexivity about their household roles.sagepub. who then tended to construct the care of the home and children as a calling in itself (Oakley. The interviews were conducted according to a brief interview schedule comprising four main questions designed to elicit the participant’s account of her domestic and workplace experiences leaving and reentering the workforce following the birth of a child and her perspectives on how satisfactory those arrangements were for her. Interviews were professionally transcribed. which illustrates the extent to which respondents recognized and expressed dissatisfaction with unequal divisions of labor in the home. Although financial considerations played a role in the reasons why women returned to work after the birth of children. by nature of their professional or managerial occupations. and (c) the limits to reflexivity. 1974). there was also a very strong desire to be defined by more than just motherhood: Downloaded from jfi. Almost all interviews were conducted face-to-face. but occasionally in her workplace. and transcripts were managed using NVivo qualitative data management software. or in a public space such as a café during the day. (b) accounting for the persistence of gendered household roles. had a clear alternative. her life partner. The following sections are organized according to these three main themes: (a) the grounds for reflexivity about household labor. our respondents. and her family.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. Following these accounts of women’s understanding of paid work and the barriers they faced in balancing their work and home life is a discussion of how and why women’s reflexivity influenced their acknowledged outcomes in the home. mostly in the participant’s home. Earlier work on the gendering of household labor has been limited by a lack of “transcendent” alternatives for women. The Grounds for Reflexivity To investigate the grounds for dissatisfaction with an unequal burden of household work.

Walters and Whitehouse 1125 But I think when you look at the bare facts. 2007). But then we got a gardener so [husband] doesn’t have to anything now and with me working three days a week [he] sees it as my job to do everything inside. so I thought.” (183) For most participants the problem had not resulted in overt conflict (although this did occur). I wanted to stay in touch. they saw this by no means as their destiny: Once [baby] came along I didn’t help outside much and so [husband] sort of did outside and I did inside. but I asked him one night and he said with two days off a week I should be doing everything. When asked questions relating to the distribution of household tasks. an almost unanimous view that although they had finished up with responsibility for the bulk of household labor and domestic management. and more education typically have access to greater resources such as greater bargaining power in the workplace. However. and dealing with adults and using my brain and that kind of thing. For example.sagepub. in the home environment. I have worked. which is what I wanted to do. larger incomes. This active construction of self as worker and professional led to the identification and articulation of a problematic contrast between work and home. (353)1 Participants also felt that they had an important role to play in providing a role model to their children. Women with better skills. in keeping with previous research outlined above. which is what I wanted to do. including a sense of resignation in fighting a losing battle: Downloaded from jfi. . one participant felt “very proud to be able to tell my children about the sorts of things I do and contribute. “Oh okay that’s interesting.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. . that women could be defined by more than just their traditional role as homemaker. there was a remarkable lack of satisfaction among these women with the choices available to them about the sharing of unpaid household labor with their male partners. it was rather a differing ideological position from their male partner on how a household should be managed and by whom. . 2012 . there was. I have been around for the kids. With echoes of Hochschild and Machung’s (1989) Second Shift. and probably greater choice about whether to work at all. I wanted to feel like I was a lawyer again. more flexibility with hours and location (Kangas & Rostgaard. and in my particular role [as an engineer]” (275). this participant reflected critically on the dilemma. We’ve had discussions about it. I mean.

Even relatively positive assessments of their male partners were somewhat lukewarm and underlined issues such as the need for direction: Yeah. (253) The perception is thus that. (349) For some. I think we just live with it. there’s that kind of thing. using empirical research. making sure their hats are in. just the man issue and yeah you’d be prompting: you need to put the washing on. . but now he’s a bit more of a self-starter.00 p. Facilitator: That’s the standard split I think.1126 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) Yeah. this was expressed as partners “trying” but clearly falling short of an ideal: Facilitator: And then in terms of domestic work is that evenly split? Interviewee: He does try at times. and believe there is no acceptable justification for being deprived of desired outcomes. (335) We both had issues. You know. So I don’t know.m. 2012 . have a high standard for comparison. packing their bags. like every night. it’ll be 8. You know that stuff? And I just think. I’ve still got packing lunches for the next day to do. In Thompson’s view: Women sense an injustice if they lack some outcome they desire. Interviewee: He does try. and I’ve talked about it. I mean he does most of the outside work. I mean he is capable of cooking a meal for everybody and he does vacuuming and stuff around the house. it definitely feels unfair. despite good intentions. To understand Downloaded from jfi. I understand he needs that but I’ve still got the laundry to do. when the kids are in bed. he’ll [husband] turn off. .com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. Their sense of inequity was based primarily on what Thompson (1991). labeled “between gender” comparisons.sagepub. I often think well. and that’s his downtime then. men have failed to achieve what women might reflexively understand to be a fair distribution of household labor. or things like that. I’ve got to say—well I probably do the majority . We should have a rule: if one of us is working [at home]. my husband is pretty good. (219) Participants’ views suggested awareness of a (yet to be realized) ideal in the sharing of household labor. a bit of prompting. both of us should be working—and that’s not going to work because he couldn’t keep up with me.

rather.Walters and Whitehouse 1127 women’s sense of fairness. and often well remunerated. reflexively. 181) In our study. or biologically determined. 2002. and they were in no doubt. According to the accounts provided by the women in this research. This situation was compounded for participants who saw their own paid employment as a rewarding. However. and particularly that of Giddens (1991). varies according to the woman’s social and educational level” (p. a cognitive ability for reflection did not neatly translate into the sort of liberated outcomes that Giddens implies. Downloaded from jfi. is that it assumes a creative agent who is able to act individually on her or his own environment or circumstances (Alexander. 1996). Accounting for the Persistence of Gendered Household Roles By demonstrating the ability to reflect on their own positions in the household. we found little evidence that women were seeking equity compared with women in other families. that their situation was unfair. career rather than as a mere supplement to household income. (b) between. (p. their focus was on their own male partner. Despite the ability of participants to reflexively recognize and articulate inequities in the home. some other competing constructions and norms were in play that worked against these aspirations. One of the major criticisms of theories of reflexive modernization. 2012 . Traditional justifications for household inequity such as the man’s more important work outside of the home or the relative absence of married/partnered women with children in the workforce (Oakley. Giddens. 1991). and (c) gender-specific justifications for men’s small contribution to family work. the explanatory model implicit in this theory falls victim to its own weaknesses. 1974) were no longer relevant for these women.and within-gender comparison referents. and to aspire to a better outcome.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. 56). participants were engaging in the sort of reflection about their biographies that is characteristic of reflexive modernity (Beck & BeckGernsheim.sagepub. the participants believed that they were under no culturally constructed. researchers need to consider (a) valued outcomes other than time and tasks. obligation to manage their household. Beck and Beck-Gernsheim (2002) acknowledge women’s increasing reflexivity and that “the degree to which expectations are conscious and the degree to which they are expressed and fulfilled. and to question the structural inevitability of women and mothers as homemakers. on one level at least. Ideologically.

(293) Because men were seen to set naturally lower standards around the home. Although lamenting the lack of help their male partners provided them in the home. anyone can do it (Cox. 2012 . were nevertheless in many cases unprepared to fully resolve this imbalance. then for those with the resources Downloaded from jfi. The wife has to step back apparently and not be involved in the running of the household and just not see the pile of clothes in the corner. although proclaiming a clear sense of gendered inequity in the home. (97) Because men are not designed for that multi-tasking thing. It doesn’t sort of bother him. a need to retain a degree of control in the home and a need to retain some of the role boundaries that have defined the nuclear family in modernity. 1994).sagepub. rather than in opposition to. so I sort of assumed that I would have to clean [the house]. they can’t do it. (183) Views of the intrinsic immanence of housework reflect judgments that it requires little skill or training so that. in effect.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. It thus delivers little sense of accomplishment or self-development. that doesn’t bother him either. But participants.1128 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) It would be misleading to represent the level of dissatisfaction that participants felt. and they run a household very differently. Once they’ve got into it. He does do that sometimes but you know he’s a male he doesn’t see it and you know stuff like that rubbish on the bench doesn’t bother him. or even the nature of the household labor they undertook. He doesn’t see it like I do and he’s happy to leave the washing up for I don’t know a week. there was also an accompanying discourse of innate male incompetence around the house: I knew fundamentally that his standards were not my standards. it’s not bad. And I think if I hadn’t vacuumed for a week. as an unequivocal case of gendered dominance in the home. The critical reflexivity we have recounted existed alongside a more traditional discourse that did not quite return women to a position where housework was a natural role but did disparage men’s capabilities to a point that this could have been implied. just not see any of that. If this is the fundamental problem with housework. the brain’s wired differently. this participant felt forced to provide a bridging service between what her male partner saw as an acceptable level of household order and what she herself felt was acceptable: Like taking out the rubbish and stuff like that. Narratives of an imbalance in the home existed alongside. you know until he runs out of plates.

Although the reflexive theories of Beck and Giddens might adequately account for the fact that women could reflect on gendered roles in the household. a reflexive awareness of the inequity of one’s position in a field of practice (in this case Downloaded from jfi. comes from a particular interpretation of Bourdieu. “you can see it. It speaks of a certain powerlessness.Walters and Whitehouse 1129 the choice may be to outsource the problem. you do it. sorry that’s a boy’s job. He’ll come home and go what are you doing? I go.sagepub. 2005) and preserving. a sense of a hegemonic gendered norm: I’m not a nagging person. despite a refined sense of the nature of the problem. One of the more effective responses to this disconnect. So we decided then that he was happy to pay for it so we paid for a cleaner back then and that saved all the arguments.” (106) Similarly. 198) is insufficient to account for the more embedded and embodied roles that go toward a full understanding of gender identity and therefore fail to fully account for the way in which women are required to perform as social actors. For Bourdieu. Adkins (2004) uses the work of Bourdieu to criticize the reflexivity described by Beck and Giddens as excessively cognitive and individualistic. 2012 . Wilson & Lande. and one that might account in some part for the dissonance in evidence here.” I shouldn’t have to say it. in this case. This “self-conscious fashioning of identity” (p.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. they fail to fully account for why these reflexive understandings and actual practice did not align. so if I notice the grass is getting a little bit too long. There are some things that are just boy’s jobs and if he doesn’t pull his finger out well I go and get the lawn mower man to do it. this participant was able to justify the employment of a household cleaner on the basis that it would save both of them time in the house as well as retaining the conceit of gendered competence: He really isn’t very good at it [housework]. avoiding further erosion of household harmony (Bittman. 1998. “well you haven’t mowed” and he goes “well why didn’t you say something? I could have done it on the weekend. (167) The Limits to Reflexivity The relative ease with which participants felt that male partners were able to avoid “pulling their weight” around the home and the related constructions of incompetence sit uncomfortably with many participants’ reflective understanding of the nature of the injustice in the division of household labor.

1130 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) the family in its institutional form) is made possible when one senses a lack of fit between “the feel for the game” (the habitus) and the game itself (Bourdieu. . This rendered the possibility of transformation or the detraditionalization (Heelas. (378) The outcome of this is that even if reflexivity has become a “habit of gender” (Adkins. (40) As this participant recalls. “just brush their teeth” or something. albeit an undesirable one.sagepub.” [I say] “All right. manifest in a particular preconscious habitus. 198) is an unconscious or prereflexive and highly socialized component of women’s habitus and in direct conflict with the reflexive need to establish oneself as an individual: I wouldn’t want [my husband] to take care of a child. if I’m going to do cleaning you have to do the washing and you know. 2004. “the game” can be a serious impediment to one’s ambitions: Yeah look we’ve battled with it over you know time. women’s “conventional expectation of being there for others” (Adkins. I’m probably more mellow about it now but you know I’m the “fairness queen. 1990). “she’ll be right. I’ve tried to basically get him to do more stuff and the cooking. unlike the disembedded subject of reflexive modernity. p. and so there is a lack of corresponding transformation in actual practice. 1996) of gendered household roles less certain. The normalization of time pressures and related stresses also became a habitual practice and reflected a certain inevitability about participants’ roles. 1977). Men and women are very different. or set of dispositions (Bourdieu. However. it cannot be “separated out” from unconscious identity. 2004. that sort of thing. Not anything bad but you know what I mean? I think it’s a lot different. but he’s just not into it. 202). Lash. . . Because he’s grown up where his mother’s done everything for him so yeah. Even now it’s like you know. This “habit of gender” could be seen to be working through practices of gender inequity as discursively expressed by participants. Although dissonance between the game and the feel for the game potentially open up space for transformation. Bourdieu’s subject is embedded in fields of practices. including the characterization of males as inadequate around the home. 2012 .com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7.” it all had to be 50/50 when we were first married. & Morris. he used to do cooking. Before kids it was like well you know. Downloaded from jfi. p.” Just things like that. I’ll do it. [he says] No.

The challenge in those circumstances is to take an emancipatory standpoint when the objects of emancipation are not themselves reflexively critical of their own situations.Walters and Whitehouse 1131 Discussion One of the challenges in representing gendered power relations as ideology has been the problem of what might be called. The idea that household labor is in some way definitive of a normative gender experience for women is something feminist authors have been attempting to expose since at least the middle years of the 20th century (Beauvoir. Johnson & Lloyd. That these constructions have been challenged over the intervening half century was manifest in the voices of the participants in this research who were under little illusion. that it is a construction. An ability to reflect becomes necessary for negotiation to take place at all.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. 174) and construct their biographies as an active project. 1990) characterize as the need for individuals to constantly “reflect on the conditions of their existence” (Beck. for most women.” about the inequity in their own homes.sagepub. Beauvoir’s and her successors’ ideas had become part of everyday discourse. Greer. Participants demonstrated. expectations about unpaid housework are increasingly open to individual negotiation within families rather than subject to unreflexive gendered norms. had few means for articulation or reflection. Beauvoir was a relatively solitary voice. The common message is that the role of women as housewives and guardians of the domestic sphere is not innate. The nuclear family and the institution of work. 2004). 1965. if not practice. In this regard at least. p. and a comparatively recent one that developed along with the modern conception of the nuclear family in the developed West. 1981. Almost without exception. 1994. however. becomes less convincing when held up against the experiences of those women who were less successful in Downloaded from jfi. Consequently. in a Marxist interpretation. on one level at least. the workforce after having children. have become subject to fragmentation and overlap as women remain in. or “false consciousness. Giddens. Friedan. “false consciousness” and the corresponding need to “document women’s oppression so that they may recognize exploitation when they experience it in their daily lives” (Hartmann. 2012 . 1971. This reflexivity from participants conforms to what theorists of late modernity (Beck. speaking of a condition that. 1949/1972. or return to. Reaching back to the 1950s. little propensity to define themselves in terms of the modernist conception of homemaker. these women understood that a gender role demarcation existed in their household and were reflexively aware of the inequities and their implications. 1994. This script of reflexive modernity. once quite separate institutional realms. 387). p.

but in the past these representations have been used by women to construct their unequal burden of housework as fair. The family in these terms is now encumbered. 2012 .1132 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) actually effecting change in their homes than they were in articulating the problem. So discourses of household gendered control and demarcation persisted despite a resistance by participants to describe themselves. as Adkins describes it. rather than manifest as a desire to retain overall carriage of household labor. a measure of control in the household realm. rather than sustained.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. with the very ideology that until now has accounted for its existence. there was also an acknowledgement of the relative inertia of social structure. p.sagepub. as an object for preservation. Many spoke of a need to retain control of household management through the elevation of housework as a task beyond the capabilities of male competence. in light of a perceived innate aptitude for the role (Berk. Gender roles in marriage acted in a straightforward way as an obstacle to women’s desire for greater freedom. 1985. although with new pressures brought to bear. but devoid of its everyday drudgery. Participants’ representations of men’s incompetence or unwillingness to engage in housework have been recorded in earlier research. The institution of the nuclear family as understood in terms of traditional modernity persisted. Komter. but also in a more subtle and pre-reflexive way. manifest in the norms of household roles and the primacy of care. Downloaded from jfi. It is this paradox that lies at the heart of these women’s struggle for balance and highlights the intractability of such a situation when viewed from two incompatible perspectives. or at least as a “more enduring aspect of identity” than “strategic and self-conscious self monitoring” (Adkins. which gives this inequity its current form through the mitigation of their male partners’ culpability. there was what amounted to an endorsement by them of the traditional institutional structure of the family. it was more through a sense of resignation that this was done. and in this context often reverted to essentialist statements about gender difference. or act. The desire to retain some control of household management was reduced to a symbolic significance. 1989). as homemakers. Along with women’s reflexive desire to be free of their unequal share of the burden of unpaid labor. It is here that Bourdieu’s more socialized theory of how structure and agency coexist becomes useful. In this case. because although there was an ability to reflect. 2004. that is. This aspect was well illustrated by those participants who saw themselves as attempting to instigate change not for their own generation but for their children. 198).

with greater choices and more resources. The reasons given by these researchers tend to attribute this to a manifestation of gender ideology. low control. The study of such a group allows conclusions to be drawn about women with an abundance of choice that then might usefully be contrasted in further research with less advantaged groups. The institution of the family however is more problematic. including the mundane tasks that children generate in the home. were burdened with an unequal share of unpaid household labor despite having reentered the workforce following the birth of children. to be able to recognize the gendered inequality that had led them to their current roles. When viewed from the perspective of the status quo.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. who have been investigated. the women interviewed for this study clearly had the reflexivity to realize that they were being (perhaps unreflexively) prevailed on by their male partners. Oakley. that women were living according to a normative gender script by not only competently managing and doing the bulk of household work but also deriving a sense of selfhood from it. in common with previous research on household gender inequality. it is the women at the more privileged end of the socioeconomic spectrum.Walters and Whitehouse 1133 Conclusion There is a certain clarity of purpose or vision when considering the institutions of the workplace organization or the state in giving women more meaningful choices surrounding paid work and unpaid work. Previous research on women and housework has found that in the past many women. 1994). making it difficult for them to achieve greater transcendence in their lives. 2012 .sagepub. It must also be noted that this previous research tended to involve more representative samples. None of them spoke of any subjective satisfaction from domestic chores. 1998. Lennon & Rosenfield. 1974). The women in this study. What was apparent among these women though was an ability to reflect on their roles. In this research. Dempsey. repetitive tasks (Riley & Kiger. although not necessarily enjoying housework. which remained a highly valued role. There is a risk in describing this disposition toward a reflexively considered life as a liberating experience for the well resourced Downloaded from jfi. 1999) associated with the care of children were seen as distinct from the overall project of raising children. bearing in mind these routine. had not expressed a reflexive sense of injustice with an inequitable burden of household labor (Baxter & Western. 1999. including women from a broader spectrum of socioeconomic backgrounds with a broader range of labor market experience (cf.

” which is exactly what women reject for themselves. that is like an attempt to make the nobility the serfs of the peasants. The “taken for grantedness” (Beck & Lau.” Instead. The perceived immanence of household tasks limits the scope to make arguments for greater participation by men simply on a rational basis of utility. the precognitive structures of expectation inherent in both the gendered self.1134 Journal of Family Issues 33(8) (Sweetman. which predict very gradual rather than revolutionary change. particularly the family. few participants would have described them as liberating. for women in their households. 2005.sagepub. 2012 . an option not available to less well-resourced families. as reflected in these women’s accounts. one strategy used by a number of the participants was to outsource this work to a third party. Giddens’s (1991) “pure relationship. or is antithetical to. however. This study has neglected the views of men regarding the inevitable pressures and compromises they face in managing their own involvement in the division of household labor in a family where both partners are engaged with the labor market. a withdrawal from intimacy or a physical separation from the relationship.com at UNIV OF GUELPH on August 7. In conclusion. Marriage. It takes the more structured perspective of Bourdieu to explain this inertia. Further research on men’s perspectives will serve both to highlight the structural considerations in their own behaviors as well as shed more light on the circumstances. 2003). Historically. say. p. relatively speaking. The choices available to the agent in narratives of late modernity were certainly in evidence. such as. The qualitative evidence presented in this article provides a more complex scenario for a group of women who. In the absence of sanctions by women. 528) of institutional arrangements. the institution and the relationships it sustains continue to be influenced by enduring pre-reflexive forces. we call on Ulrich Beck (1992) to summarize the dilemma: The liberation of women from housework and marital support is to be forced by the regression of men into this “modern feudal existence. in traditional modernity still advantages males while their female partners practiced a discourse of inequity. It is this clash between what Bourdieu calls the “feel for the game” and the “game itself” that results in the dissonance between women’s need for greater independence of selfhood and lack of ability to implement change in the household. as the effect of a habitus. and indeed prospects. But men are no more willing than women to follow the call ‘back to the Downloaded from jfi. is perhaps not yet providing the basis for. fall into this category and here the theories of reflexive modernization fail to fully account for the situation faced by participants. but also by the field of family and women’s role as carer. Their reflexivity did not generally translate into action.

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