Gendering, Degendering, Regendering
Throughout the twentieth century and during the lives of the three generations explored in this book, a change in gender contracts has taken place. The dominant family model has changed from the agrarian family at the start of the century, where women and men contributed to the survival of the family within separate working spheres, to the male provider/female carer family of the middle of the century, where providing through gainful work was the responsibility of men and taking care of the home and the children was the responsibility of women. Later models were the dualearner family of the first gender battle in the 1970s and 1980s, where the norms about domestic work had changed without practice quite keeping up, and finally, the dual-earner/dual-carer family of the new millennium, where women and men try to share domestic work and childcare in a way they find personally fair, or, in some cases, acknowledge that it is not possible, given their preferences or conditions of the work market.
What has happened to gender in these processes? Where have they brought the project of gender equality? What place did the feelings of gender have in these processes of social transformation? In this final chapter I will attempt to summarise some of the answers that arise from the approach to gender and social transformation used in the book. I
© The Author(s) 2017 H.B. Nielsen, Feeling Gender,
have followed Raymond Williams’ recommendation to start with ‘the whole way of life’ when trying to understand changing cultural forms (see Chaps. 1 and 2). As a methodological consequence of this, I have not isolated feelings of gender from the context in which they emerged, but have gradually differentiated them out analytically as a particular social form. I will now put them back into the frame of the whole way of life where they belong and have their impact.
The dominant patterns of life choices of each generation make sense in the light of structural and political conditions: the agrarian family at the beginning of the century was a family of scarcity and no security net—it was about surviving, not justice. The male provider/female carer family of the mid-twentieth century could rely on increasing living standards and a policy that encouraged women to stay home. The dual-breadwinner family encountered the increasing demand of women in the workforce and an extended social security system. And finally the dual-earner/dual-carer family became possible with state-provided family-work schemes and the fact that women now were often more educated than men. The increasing pressure in the labour market also put limits on how far the sharing could go in this generation, especially in families where one or both parents worked in career jobs in the private sector. The different family form were interpreted, inspired and rationalised through dominating discourses of the time, especially the norm of obligation to one’s family early in the century, the importance attached to the home, motherly care and safe childhoods in the post-war period, the discourses about women’s rights and gender equality from the 1970s, and the increased emphasis on individualism towards the end of the century.
The main perspective in the book has been to explore to what degree the patterns of dominant life choices and the recognition of the discourses that went along with them also had an emotional sounding board, and to what extent one may say that the different family models were emotionally driven by feelings of gender or sometimes in tension with them. How did the changes in social gender contracts become something that women and men not only dutifully took part in, but also, to varying degrees, even wanted to contribute to? What are the emotional links between structure and agency at a given historical moment? The analysis has indicated that the emotional energy invested in life choices tends to be unequally distributed between women and men belonging to the same generations. This lack of simultaneity has produced tensions that may be seen as pressure towards change. In this way feelings of gender can be seen as active sources in processes of historical transformation.