Undoing Dichotomies: Democratisation of the Public and Private Spheres
22 June 2015
Feminists have long argued that in order to show the complex array of social relationships and women’s situations, it is important to draw on the notions of the publicand the private.Theyhave further argued that by problematising this distinction one scrutinizes reproductions of a semantic based on the dichotomous thinking between ‘the public man’ and ‘private woman’ (Jean Belthke Elshtain). This they have contended makes possible analyses of the gendered patterns of the social space.
It goes without saying that politics is power and that power is everywhere. True, women have obtained legal rights of marriage and divorce, employment, education, and political representation, among others. Yet, gender economic inequality remains a major feature of our time: globally and locally. This is, of course, an indisputable fact. The social, cultural and ideological elements fostering economic inequality in the global capitalist system are premised on unequal power relations between men and women leading to further discrimination of women both in the private and public domains.
Indeed, women have entered the labour markets. But, they occupy gender segregated positions. Women continue to be paid less than men, even for the same work. And in the public sphere the male-dominated positions are maintained. Hence, occupational segregation or sexual division of labour persists in spite of ideological and legal commitments to gender equality. To be sure, women have to perform a double role as wage earners and as care takers and mothers. And the state’s meager resources dedicated to care work and domestic tasks have not lessened women’s workload. The care work and the bulk of household chores are carried out by women. This has also led to women being marginalized at large in the public sphere as well as having difficulties in exercising their legal rights. Yet as an expression of gender division of labour this is not free from conflict. The policy on maternity leave is an expression of it.
Without doubt the gender equality laws and state mechanisms on gender have not alleviated women’s ‘double burden’ of productive and reproductive tasks. There is a risk stemming from the interference in ‘family’ too and it may reinforce men’s control over decision-making in the public sphere where the male-dominated positions are maintained. Therefore, there is a need for a simultaneous democratisation of the public and the private spheres. Only then, will the undoing of dichotomies of the public and private spheres be rendered possible. This will constitute a step towards a utopian organization of society based on gender equality.