Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

`Where's Me Dinner?': Food Preparation Arrangements in Rural Australian Families(*)

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

`Where's Me Dinner?': Food Preparation Arrangements in Rural Australian Families(*)

Article excerpt

Introduction

It has been argued by some feminist researchers that women's cultural and economic subordination to men is reproduced in the power relations around the division of domestic labour, including food preparation (see, for example, Charles and Kerr 1988; DeVault 1991). Some commentators have argued that, despite the egalitarian discourse relating to the sharing of household tasks that has emerged over the past quarter-century in the wake of the second-wave feminist movement, women (including those in full-time and part-time paid employment, as well as the minority who work only in the home), overwhelmingly continue to take the major responsibility for food preparation tasks and most other household work.

Research undertaken in Australia would seem to support this argument. For example, a time-use survey carried out by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in 1992 found that women living in families did 75 per cent of the food preparation and clean-up (Bittman and Pixley 1997: 98). The survey also revealed that compared to a single woman of equivalent age living alone, a married woman spent 40 per cent more time cooking. Conversely, men living alone spent twice as much time cooking as those of an equivalent age who were married, clearly because the wives of the latter had taken on the major responsibility for preparing their meals (Bittman and Pixley 1997: 106). While there were some changes to men's participation in cooking demonstrated in time-use surveys between 1974 and 1987, very little had changed by the time of the 1992 survey (Bittman and Pixley 1997: 134).

In their own separate interview study of 138 heterosexual couples in Sydney, Bittman and Pixley (1997) identified a strong commitment to egalitarian attitudes related to housework on the part of both men and women, but continuing inequalities in relation to the division of labour. So too, a study conducted by Dempsey (1997) of 128 heterosexual households in Melbourne found that, regardless of ethnicity, educational status, class position or income, and whether or not the woman was in full-time employment, women took major responsibility for conventional `inside' or `female' tasks, such as cooking and cleaning, while their male partners positioned themselves as `helpers'. Only 3 per cent of men said that they took most of the responsibility for these tasks. Almost 60 per cent of the women said that they had attempted to persuade their partners to engage to a greater extent in cooking, although they tended to ask them for occasional assistance with this task rather than requesting that their partners take it over or share responsibility equally.

These Australian findings echo research into domestic food preparation arrangements in heterosexual households carried out over the past two decades in other Western societies, such as the United States (DeVault 1991), Britain (Murcott 1982, 1983; Charles and Kerr 1988) and Sweden (Jansson 1995), although the latter country appears to be characterised by greater participation of men in family cooking tasks compared with the Anglophone countries. Many of these studies were undertaken only of women with young children, however, and were conducted quite some years ago, in the 1970s or early 1980s. There is some more recent British evidence that among some predominantly middle-class couples where the woman is in full-time employment (Warde and Hetherington 1994) and younger couples (Kemmer et al. 1998), cooking tasks are slowly becoming more of a shared responsibility.

The most recent time-use survey undertaken by the ABS (1999) in 1997 found that among heterosexual couples in which partners engaged in similar hours of paid work, men spent only an average of 37 minutes in food preparation and clean-up, while women spent an hour longer on these activities. Sixty-nine per cent of men in such couples engaged in these activities compared with 92 per cent of their female partners. …

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