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The new gender essentialism - domestic and family 'choices' and their relation to attitudes

The British Journal of Sociology
Volume 56 No 4 December 2005
pages 601-620

Abstract

This paper critically examines two strands within contemporary gender essentialism - that is, the argument that men and women are fundamentally different and that it is this 'difference' that explains the continuing social and material differences between the sexes. The first strand we examine is Hakim's 'preference theory', which has argued that persisting sex differences in employment patterns are an outcome of the 'choices' made by different 'types' of women. We next examine the claims of populist conservative feminism, that has argued that women (and men) in partnerships will be happier if they adopt a gender role traditionalism in the domestic sphere. Our empirical findings suggest that neither of these theoretical explanations are supported by our data, which is derived from the samples of six countries participating in the International Social Survey Programme Family 2002 module.

Keywords: Gender essentialism, gender roles, traditionalism, employment, choices

Rosemary Crompton and Clare Lyonette
Department of Sociology, City University

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