A friend was hesitant in asking his parents to come for his graduation night. When I inquired, though he didn’t state it explicitly but I could sense that he was not comfortable with the idea of his parents coming to the campus in a rikshaw.
I remembered how he used to be like when we met on our first day at college. Modestly dressed, very sober, solely interested in studying and walked his way to the campus every day. Now, four years after our orientation, he was a completely different person. He was dressed in a torn pair of jeans, more interested in attending concerts than classes, cautious about his hairstyle and ashamed of the fact that he belonged to a lower middle class family.
We all talk about poverty and the bourgeoisie enjoying their luxuries at their expense. But we tend to ignore the lower middle class; the class which forms the major chunk of this developing country.
Let me paint a picture of how this class generally looks like. Mostly a man/guardian of the family who is employed on an average below managerial post is the sole bread earner. While they can’t afford the S3s or iPhones, they do embark upon a few recreational spots now and then to appease their enjoyment cravings. They generally lack the capacity to afford a car and a bike so bus or rickshaw is the general mode of transportation. Two or more children, monetary issues, quarrels over food and fight for the TV remote are the general topics of discussion.
Widespread and forming the majority, this class has a pervasive cultural similarity. We identify their men by a shalwar kamiz, non-fancy moustache, a tinge of village accent, not so fluent in English, their religious conservatism and superstitions about norms. Women are simple mostly draped in a chadar and shy especially in cross gender communication .Their lifestyle, problems, rituals and even their ways of expressions are similar to each other.
It’s all settled and happy go lucky until an individual from a middle class background tries to enter the elitist culture or at least vows to mingle in that class? At that time its not only him trying to enter a forbidden territory rather it’s a fight of the two mindsets.
When two mindsets are at war with each other, one is bound to lose. The aam admi (middle class man) initially tries to maintain the decorum and conforms to the values taught by his ambiance. But gradually the glittery, luxurious and seemingly blissful life of the elites attracts him.
He starts comparing; his lifetime ayashi (enjoyment) was to have a chicken piece at dinner while the elites enjoy lavish four course meals every day. He fantasizes about partying, long drives and then comes a point where his values start transforming into inferiority complex. Why can’t he afford to live enjoy lifestyle? Did God prefer them over him? All questions but no answers!
Now, he endeavors to transform his personality to at least partially become a part of the enchanting privileged class. The initial changes begin from changing his dressing; shalwar kamiz to a hip jeans and a levi’s t-shirt even if its exorbitant & unaffordable. Then he works on his accent, from following seasons to practicing alone, he tries to twist and turn his tongue in U.S. mode. This transformation is like at first he crumbled & bogged down to pieces, and now the reconstruction is in process.
With the new persona he tries to be a part of the ‘enchanting ones’. Its out of question whether they accept him or not. They might accept him, he might become a part of ‘the class’. Leaving behind his personal and monetary constraints, he might actually attain a position amongst them.
But the saddening part here is that he lost his individuality. He lost what he actually was, his values, lifestyle and self concept, everything diminished under the peer and class pressure.
This article basically discusses the existence and formations of unconventional gender roles opposed to the gender stereotypical models in social classes. Deviations from stereotypes have been proved through variable level of literacy, supremacy and income in different classes. It has been proposed that although people tend to expect stereotypic behaviors from males and females but deviations from these gender models are existent and unacceptable by the common man causing social disharmony in both extreme classes of the society. Firstly income is taken into account and proved via analysis that in lower classes it causes disharmony and in upper classes it causes deviations from home-making in females. Then literacy and gender gap in lower classes has been discussed while in upper classes higher literacy rates is shown to be a cause of digression from stereotypes. The third point discusses nuclear and joint families and their impacts in social classes. Conclusively, gender norms have been proved to be the cause of gender biased behavior and flexibility in norms is suggested to cater to the increasing unconventional roles in the society.
Formation of unconventional gender roles in Social Classes The role of a” Man as a Provider and of a Woman as a Homemaker” has been persistent in all the societies for many centuries. In ancient times this role was more pronounced due to the majority of tasks requiring physical labor which gave males a plus point over the females. Overtime, increasing replacement of physical labor by intellectual tasks accompanied with the notions of “female empowerment” is still unsuccessful in changing the definition of a man as a breadwinner and of a woman as a homemaker as presented in the Male breadwinner model (Pascall). A fixed set of characteristics are commonly related to males for example power, aggression, practicality, emotional strength etc and similarly to females such as gentleness, nurturance, impracticality etc in all parts of the world, disregarding minute inter-cultural deviations. This has led to the formation of stereotypical gender models. This uniform behavior across borders is the implication of social cognitive theory presented by Millar and Dollard in 1951 which suggests a continuous influence of environment over society and vice versa (Social). Thus, these models are regarded the criterion for perfection. But these “Stereotypes” ignore the variations in these characteristics by the changes in socio-cultural variables such as education, income and family systems etc. (Matlin). The major flaw in these fixed roles is highlighted when both the sexes display characteristics of opposite sex depending upon the degree of change in socio-cultural variables. These changes are more highlighted in the two extremes of the society i.e. the lower class with lower income levels and the elite with greater concentration of wealth. This simultaneous existence of stereotypes and digressions leads to incapability of certain members of the society to accept the divergence from perfections. Although certain perfect characteristics are assigned and expected out of males and females by the society, but variables related to different social classes lead to formations of unconventional gender behaviors and thus, flexibility should be brought into gender roles to ensure acceptability which would enforce social harmony.
Social classes are defined by income differentiation, which is a leading factor behind formation of unorthodox gender roles. Females in most of the poverty stricken households earn a major portion of the income which makes females the Breadwinner in lower classes. A survey conducted in Ghani concluded that female headed households i.e. FHH counted for almost 39% percent of the total 20,000 sample and made up 46% of it below the poverty line. Similarly in Jamaica male headed households i.e. MHH constituted almost 9% people below the 10th percentile of poverty line in comparison to 11% of the FHH (Quisumbing, Haddad and Pena). This role of a female as an earner is regarded as the “failure of a man” in the lower classes due to the norm of patriarchy. Males due to insecurity and shame resist on sharing powers of an earner with the female and force females to manage the household tasks despite of working hours. The conventional role of male breadwinner changes because of economic circumstances. But it also distorts the traditional definition of a feminine homemaker, as woman are forced to face the world like a man to earn livelihood thus they deviate away from the centuries old image of introvert, timid and dependant homemakers. Thus, just a mere income factor causes social disharmony amongst men and women.
In elite class, the situation is different because the defined gender roles are although rigid yet comforting. The excess of wealth is often related to the success of a man as a breadwinner and men are comfortable with their respective positions of a decision maker. Due to no pressure regarding financial matters, males promote liberal thoughts for gender equity and females engage themselves in activities in accordance with there aptitudes (Ostrander). The atmosphere is peaceful and working females are not forced to maintain the household work due to the affordability of servants again deviating from the norms. But still complete power of decision-making rests with the male which shows that in case of a failure in the role of a “Supplier” the outcomes could be the same as in lower classes. Thus in both the situations, fixed gender roles are not followed and females significantly tend to diverge from their role as a house-maker. But in lower classes unacceptability causes household disputes and distorts the social serenity.
The second differential in the social classes is education. Gender biased behavior is often linked with literacy. People in lower class are usually more illiterate and unskilled while upper classes consist of highly educated and knowledgeable people (D’Amico). Illiteracy breeds Patriarchy (Walker and Barton). The narrow-mindedness towards “female empowerment” due to ignorance leads to the increased gender disparity in education in lower classes. E.g. in India there is a 2.5% difference gender literacy gap in richest classes and 34% gap in lower classes (Filmer). As per biased uneducated males, education appears to be a luxury for “boys only”. Take the example of Pakistan where the enrollment of girls in school is 77% in lower income quintile while it is 100% highest income quintile (Khan). Thus, the unacceptability of deviations from centuries old gender norms leads to disharmony of the society in terms of illiteracy of not only girl child but also of future mothers and generations.
In elite class, the case is opposite degree of gender discrimination is low due to higher literacy. Girls and boys enjoy equality in terms of literacy. Educated parents emphasize on gender equity and prefer getting their girls educated at parallel level with their boys. Education opens avenues of certain unconventional occupations for each gender. E.g. males are opting for fashion, cooking, and interior designing and females are actively pursuing law, engineering, surgery, architecture etc. But despite of higher education, people opting for such unconventional occupations face cultural and social unacceptability issues (Walker and Barton). In both classes lives of individuals are hampered due to stereotypical roles. In lower classes illiteracy breeds discrimination, while in upper classes informed but unconventional career choices leads to social unacceptability. Both these factors have a lasting impact on society and future generations
The third factor is the existence of nuclear vs. joint families. In lower classes presence of joint families complicates the situation. In a combined family: male sovereignty is unchallenged, there is pressure of females to give birth to children especially in the absence of a male child. All this leads to poor health. In lower classes the problems are related to affordability of health and increasing trends of mental stress, alcohol, infant mortality, depression etc. Male sovereignty leaves little or no room for females to decide about birth-control which results in a bad health of a female. Almost 585,000 women die every year due to pregnancy and child birth (UN). In Asian-African countries where the per capita income is less, the infant mortality rates are recorded to be 13.63/1000 in 2005 which is one of the highest in the world (O’Connor). E.g. in Pakistan, in rural areas the birth rate per thousand is 199.6 for girls between 15-24 years of age and neo-natal mortality rate is 52.9 as compared to 142.1 and 39.3 in upper classes respectively (Pakistan). On the other hand it is observed by Gender health questionnaire that disorders of disassociation and somatization i.e. multiple personality disorder and posing divination respectively, are prominent among females and it could be derived that these disorders are an outlet for females to convey protest and distress by posing divination and command. Psychopathological problems are 2.5 times more prevalent in lower classes than in elite classes (Mukhopadhyay and Sudarshan). In males on the other hand, alcohol and violence is also a form of mental frustration and jealousy due to earning females. Disability in men is almost 26% due to alcohol and drugs as compared to only 6% in females (Mukhopadhyay and Sudarshan ). A survey conducted in lower classes concluded that 60% of females in Sri Lanka, 50% in Bangkok and in Mexico 1 out of 3 poor women are victims of violence (Mukhopadhyay and Sudarshan). While in upper classes because of the nuclear family all these problems are not highlighted however the incidence of cardiac and stress related diseases is high. Reason is that nuclear family as an entity struggle hard to deviate away from the existing societal roles. This creates an unnecessary psychological pressure (Klever). On the other hand biological and reproductive disorders are less due to use of contraceptive, affordability and less fertility rates. Thus problems due to fixed gender norms in joined and nuclear families are catastrophic for men and women in distinct ways.
On the contrary pro-breadwinner model countries take the stance of granting specific roles to males and females within the welfare regimes. This principle of addition in const. is based on the assumption of familism i.e. restrictive roles in families and to ensure welfare for males bearing the responsibilities of households. Countries which follow this familism and conservatism include Italy, France, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Spain and many others (Minguez). These welfare regimes try to promote and grant special rewards for working males. Females are granted special roles of nurturing and home-making taking in account of their biological tendencies to be vulnerable (Pascall). Women are thought to be intellectually weak and uncompetitive for the males in the society. Gender equity is disregarded on the basis of eternal dominance of men to-be-in-control by testosterone levels and female headed households are rejected on the basis of vulnerability due to hormonal imbalance and oestrogen (Anitei).
The arguments presented by the welfare regimes and biological stances can be negated on the basis of the continuously evolving different sex roles within the society. If women are biologically intellectually weak then increasing trend of working women could not be possible. Social restrictive behavior imposed by the welfare states and breadwinner model doesn’t take into account the violence, insecurity and psychological degradation in women which are the outcomes of restricting women within marriage and home-making. The eternal dominance related to males has given birth to social disputes regarding house-hold decisions.
Thus, conclusively it is clarified that gender disputes in social classes
specifically in females are the outcomes of gender stereotypical models which are blindly followed by the society. Literacy and Income are the major variables which lead to unacceptability of digressions from the gender norms and social disputes are the outcomes. This unacceptability has direct influence on health of the households, and psychopathological disorders are also a prominent outcome. Thus in order to cater the increasing trend of working females and diverse occupations in males, fixed stereotypes of genders must be broken and flexibility must be brought and promoted in the society.