Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Degendering Work Time in Comparative Perspective: Alternative Policy Frameworks

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Degendering Work Time in Comparative Perspective: Alternative Policy Frameworks

Article excerpt

Policy formation both reflects and constructs the possibilities for organizing social relations. The development of labor market policies have afforded social economists, feminist historians, and others the opportunity to analyze the process by which gender relations are institutionalized. In industrialized countries, gender relations have undergone periods of both stability and transition, and the development of labor market policies is integral to this process. Feminist scholars have distinguished between policies that predicate equality on a male model of employment and those that adopt an essentialist view of women's role in social reproduction. According to these analysts, protective legislation policies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries served to reinforce ideological constructs of gender difference. Equality policies since the 1960s and 1970s have emphasized removing barriers within the labor market itself, without addressing larger social structures.

Historian Alice Kessler-Harris (1987) introduced this distinction as "equality versus difference," two alternative frameworks for constructing social and labor market policy. Her most important insight was that neither of these alternative frameworks is unambiguously positive or negative. Although protective legislation expanded structural barriers to women's full integration into the labor force, it also provided concrete benefits for many working women and their families. While equality policies represented progress for working women in breaking down barriers in the labor market and disputing essentialist ideologies about gender, labor market equality requires workers to adhere to rigid social norms based upon male roles within traditional gender relations. Consequently, equality policies primarily benefited a minority of working women - mostly white, educated, and middle to upper class. To understand how working women's advocates have accepted such compromises, Kessler-Harris utilized a contextual approach to policy formation that situates the strategic choices of social actors within a specific historical location.

The challenge Kessler-Harris posed was how to construct policies that value women's contributions without reifying them, that is, how to overcome the dichotomy between equality and difference.(1) True equality, she argued, entails restructuring work, and thus our conception of workers, so that new social norms emerge.(2) Sociologist Lise Vogel (1993, 1995) suggested a name for this alternative framework: "differential consideration," emphasizing that labor market policies should afford pluralistic solutions for the diverse needs and experiences of workers. Drawing upon the lessons of protective legislation, Vogel (1993) defended gender-neutral policies that provide consideration for workers with responsibility for social reproduction regardless of their gender.

Working time policies provide a useful opportunity for evaluating the social implications of labor market policies based on difference, equality, or differential consideration.(3) Full-time, year-round employment is an example of a social norm constructed around gendered assumptions. Most notable is the assumption that a full-time worker, presumably male, faces limited demands from unpaid work and family life. Women with family responsibilities are perceived as workers with special needs, deviating from the archetype of a worker as a breadwinner but not a caregiver. Hewitt notes that "Put at its simplest, the time men spend in paid employment determines how much time they have for their families; the time women spend caring for their families determines how much time they have for paid employment" (1993: 4). Rather than accepting the accommodation of working time to the gendered division of labor, policies that change the male model of full-time employment could provide an institutional basis for the reallocation of reproductive labor within the household. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.