Women in Contemporary Britain: An Introduction

Women in Contemporary Britain: An Introduction

Women in Contemporary Britain: An Introduction

Women in Contemporary Britain: An Introduction


In this introductory text for A level students and undergraduates, Jane Pilcher covers the main issues debated about women in Britain today. Subjects covered include: * women and gender: sociological perspectives * education and training * women and paid work * household work and caring * love and sexuality * crime and punishment * politics and participation. Providing a clear sociological analysis of central debates and an introduction to the main theoretical arguments as well as including discussions of further areas of interest, such as women and the media, and the body, this text will provide an invaluable resource for all students in sociology and womens studies and will be of interest to all those wishing to know more about contemporary society in Britain.


Women and gender: sociological perspectives

This book draws together the latest evidence on women in Britain, and reviews recent sociological interpretations and debates, in order to reemphasise the fundamental importance of gender as a social division. It shows that despite a degree of change, at the close of the twentieth century, women continue to be disadvantaged relative to men. In this introductory chapter, I set out the reasons for focusing on women in contemporary Britain, identifying key aspects of current debates about late twentieth-century gender relations. These include debates about post-feminism, post-modernism, and plurality and difference (arising from class, ethnicity, racism, age and sexuality, for example). In developing this argument, I also summarise sociological and feminist theoretical perspectives on gender and gender relations, with an especial focus on the work of Walby (1990, 1997) and Connell (1987, 1995).

Women and the sociological gaze

As a discipline, sociology has progressed through a number of stages in terms of the attention it has paid to gender issues (see Maynard 1990; Charles 1993 for review). This progression has closely mirrored the increased recognition given to inequalities between women and men generally in society, which, in turn, is a result of feminist critiques. Before the 1970s or thereabouts, sociology largely concentrated on men as ‘people’. Women were largely invisible, other than as wives and mothers within families. On the whole, differences between women and men tended not to be regarded as problematic, nor as something sociology should concern itself with. After the 1970s, or thereabouts, sociologists (or at least, some, mainly women, sociologists) began to criticise the discipline’s neglect of women. Increasingly, sociologists began to make a distinction between sex (as the bodily, biologically based differences between women and men) and gender (the socially constructed differences between women and men). More recently, the idea that there are ‘natural’, biological sexes (male and female)

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