For centuries, the role of women in society has been carefully defined by a patriarchal sociological system. Up until the 1960's it was considered a woman's national duty to reproduce and her primary function in life. To consciously limit the number of children that they had meant not only were women going against their natural function, but failing in that national duty (Currie & Adamson, 1977). Women have had to fight for the right to vote, which only occurred in Australia in 1902 (Currie & Adamson, 1977), and were denied the right to education, especially tertiary education. Even after this right was won, there were still fears being voiced about the bad effects on girls at school from bending over desks and being strained by thinking (Currie & Adamson, 1977). This strength should be saved for motherhood. Even today, women are still a disadvantaged group. Expectations on what a woman's role should be, especially in the family unit, still influence choices that women make, and the importance of their personal preferences are diminished.
In Australia, women were brought to essentially service the sexual needs of the males in the colony, and were then condemned for their behaviour (Summers, 1975). In the 19th century, debates continued over whether women were legal 'persons', able to own property, have custody of children, or receive formal education. Many of these arguments reflected specific Western assumptions that to be a 'person', was to be a 'rational' individual, and women were seen as essentially emotional (Reiger, cf. Kellehear, 1995). Women were then compelled to rely for their social status on the position of husband's and fathers in society. Still, women receive 30-40% less pay than men if employed (Doyal, 1996) and remain unpaid for work within the family unit. Women may be revered as mothers, or as guardians of morality, while also being regarded as 'sickly', neurotic, polluted, or just fundamentally less valued than men.
According to functionalist theory, women are constrained by a set of 'social facts'. These facts can be interpreted in the traditional role of woman as housewife and mother. Functionalist theory sees society as an organism which has specific needs for it to survive, mainly being the establishment of social order, and each individual is subject to the social facts that are necessary to maintain this social order. Functionalists believe that within societies there is a broad agreement or value consensus on the main norms governing human behaviour, which is backed up by positive and negative sanctions (Krieken et al, 2000). In relation to women, norms accompany gender status which define how people occupying that status are expected to act, generating a specific role for them to perform. This role is reinforced by social institutions, in the case of women, mainly by the institution of family. In a functionalist society, the woman becomes a mother, and stays at home to care for her children. The man works to support his family, and this system reproduces children with the same prerequisites to carry on to their own children (Krieken et al, 2000). This is a system which is based on the social agreement that has been passed down through the generations as a successful means for solidarity within society and therefore its ultimate survival.
In a very contrasting view, radical feminists have claimed that society is divided into two classes, male, being the ruling class, and women who are the subject class (Krieken et al, 2000). Radical feminists define society as patriarchal, or dominated by men, and as a result of this, women are exploited because they undertake free labour for men in the form of childcare, housework, and emotional and sexual 'servicing' and are denied access to positions of power (Krieken et al, 2000). According to Kate Millet (1970) political relationships of dominated subordination can exist at work where a man instructs his secretary to make a cup of tea, or in the...
References: Doyal, Lesley. (1995) What Makes Women Sick: Gender and the Political Economy of Health. Macmillan Press Pty. Limited.
Currie, Wendy., & Adamson, Margaret. (1977) Women of Australia ? Shaping our History. Macmillan Education Australia, Pty Limited
Encel, Sol., & Campbell, Dorothy. (1991) Out of the Doll 's House: Women in the Public Sphere. Longman Cheshire Pty Limited.
.Kellehear, Allan. Ed. (1996) Social Self, Global Culture; An Introduction to Sociological Ideas. Oxford University Press Australia
Krieken, Robert Van., Smith, Philip., Habibis, Daphne., McDonald, Kevin., Haralambos, Michael., & Holborn, Martin. (2000) Sociology, Themes and Perspectives. Pearson Education Australia Pty Limited.
Summers, Anne. (1975) Damn Whores and Gods Police ? The colonization of women in Australia. Penguin Books Limited.
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