Ideology Maintaining Structure; The necessity of gender roles in the public/private dichotomy

- for the Grateful Web

The feminine ideal in American culture no longer embodies a submissive woman kissing her husband goodbye as he leaves for work to earn the "family wage" while the wife/mother hands out lunch sacks to the children. However, these "June Cleaver" images have been very effective in getting women to take pride in their role as a housewife - reinforcing their own oppressive location in the hierarchical structure of American social relations. Capitalism and patriarchy have shook hands, working together in continuing to find new ways to trick the American public that domesticity equates with femininity and masculinity equates with power. These superstructures are at fault for the foundation of female oppression; not only because the sexual division of labor has instinctively put women in a disenfranchised location in the system, but also for the social paradigms that continue to reinforce the basic assumptions/needs of capitalism and patriarchy.


Several theories posed from socialist feminists argue that separation of the private and public spheres on the basis of gender is inherent in a capitalist system creating a society that organizes its structure of social relations around female oppression. The theorist Betty Friedan addresses the social consequences of this public/private dichotomy, namely the way it affects the domestic woman, from the vantage point of liberal feminism. I will use these two very different forms of feminist thought to support my argument that the current ideologies and structures sustaining the sexual division of labor are the main sources of female oppression. The current definitions of femininity and masculinity play a large role in reproducing this detrimental way of life even though it continues to be counterproductive in the movements to cease all forms of oppression, including those of feminist struggle.


Dissecting the public/private dichotomy in both social mind and body should be the most crucial concern on the agenda of every form of feminist thought. The permanence of the division of spheres lies deeper than you could ever imagine. It cannot be changed by a revolution of any particular government, as socialist and Marxist feminist might suggest. It cannot be touched by the solutions of access posed by liberal feminists. The ideologies and paradigms supporting the sexual division of labor are embedded in both micro and macro levels of capitalism and patriarchy. The performance of the gender roles that make this system possible exist on an abstract, unconscious level. People are brainwashed by the ideals of masculinity and femininity to the point where we, as men and women, are transformed into vessels of performance of gendered bodies. The prescriptive guidelines mapping our gender tell American women that they are less of a woman if they are not domestic servants; and tell men that they are less of a man if they are not productive, successful and powerful.  Women might be more accepted in the labor force than ever in recent history but there are some basic truths about these gender roles that haven't seemed to move:  for women, the house is never clean enough; for men, you can never have too much power or money.


The structures might have created the ideology, but it is at the level of ideology where change will be most successful. The system of maintaining gender categories/classes works so smoothly, its games and tricks go un-noticed to the general public. This is how gender is a form of (and effect of) power. It is not the sort of power that can be pinned on one person, group, or institution; but rather a system swallowing us whole, and spitting us back out as acceptable gendered bodies.  It is when these gender ideals are eradicated that women (and men) will truly be free and equal not only in the public/working sphere but also in the private/domestic. I believe that woman and men are continually compromising these forces of society in revolutionary ways and telling the media (who produce these limited prescriptive gender ideals) to "fuck off" producing a gradual transformation from the June Cleaver stereotype and replacing it with the independent, sexual, successful woman model of femininity.

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