role of women in society

Emile Durkheim, the Patriarch of Sociology, on division of labour and the nurturing role of women

“A social fact is every way of acting, fixed or not, capable of exercising on the individual an external constraint; or again, every way of acting which is general throughout a given society, while at the same time existing in its own right independent of its individual manifestations.”

For Emile Durkheim, commonly referred to as the father of sociology, social facts were the basis of all sociological study. He succeeded in creating a distinction between social science and psychology or political philosophy. According to him, social facts constituted phenomena that could not be reduced to biological or psychological elements, but existed independently.

Biology, psychology and then women and religion

However, he also believed that one of those social facts was that women were intellectually and socially inferior to men. For him, biology and psychology were the two greatest determining factors of the role of women in society. He also differentiated between the social division of labor and the sexual division of labor. It is important to understand that motherhood was influenced by great minds like Durkheim, the patriarch of sociology and at the same time realise how Durkheim perceived women.

Religion, which he considered to be the basis for the existence of all human societies, was one of the social facts that became a subject of study for him. However, he believed that religion originated in social interactions rather than from divine proclamation. In addition to religion, he also studied the social constructs of law and education as well as the phenomenon of social deviation from social norms.

Collective consciousness

His theories regarding social stratification led to his invention of the concept of the “collective consciousness”, which can be defined as the total sum of the beliefs and emotions common to members of a society. He believed that the collective unconscious, once formed, could then exist independent of individuals within the society as a social fact.

He married Louise Dreyfus in 1887, and together, they had two children, Marie and Andre. The years shortly after his marriage were creatively productive for him. In 1892, he published “The Division of Labour in Society“, which was made possible by the division of labor in his own household. His wife oversaw domestic affairs and cared for their two children while he wrote.

Sociology and quantitative methodology

Durkheim was one of the first to use quantitative methodology during a suicide case study he oversaw while conducting research for his 1897 book “Suicide”. He also recognized the scientific value of empiricism compared to the previously common and more abstract Cartesian method of scientific inquiry.

By 1902, Durkheim was named as the chair of education at the Sorbonne in Paris. He became so influential that his classes were mandatory for all students. He taught a number of classes about the social development of the family in which he stressed the concept of structural functionalism.

Division of labour and the role of women in society

Even though he warned of its potential dangers, he argued that the division of labor was the result of higher evolution. Further, he believed that it magnified the natural biological differences between men and women, such as women being more emotionally affective and men more intellectual. For him, the increasing differences between men and women as a result of the nurturing role of women in society created a stronger marital bond between them, as neither could be whole without the other.

He viewed “anomie“, a state when rapid population growth reduces interaction and understanding between social groups, as a potential danger to society. He also viewed a forced division of labor as a potentially destructive pathology. People forced to do work they were unsuited for as a result of the greed of the powerful could result in a destabilization of society.

However, although he recognized these social facts objectively regarding society as a whole, he refuted feminist theories and did not apply the same logic to the forced sexual division of labor. Regarding equal rights for women, he said

“As for the champions of equal rights for women as those with man, they forget that the work of centuries cannot be easily abolished: that juridical equality cannot be legitimate so long as psychological inequality is so flagrant.”

Ironically, any existing psychological inequality between men and women could be attributed to the patriarchal infantilizing of women through economic dependence and relegating them to the exclusive company of children. According to Durkheim, the most highly evolved role of women in society was that of “completing” men and caring for children. The lesser value he placed on women is evident in that his grief over the loss of his son Andre in WWI was recorded for posterity, while there is no mention of his daughter, Marie.

The scientific methods he used to arrive at his conclusions regarding the inferiority of women received a good deal of criticism from colleagues. One method was the study of “totemism“, which he believed to be the most ancient religion of Australian aborigines and Native Americans. He also relied on anecdotes of priests and merchants, who’d had limited experiences in observing those cultures, when reaching his conclusions.

The useful concepts and terms he contributed to a newly emerging field of study that he himself helped create are still used by sociologists today. Happily, his theories regarding equality between men and women and parenting aren’t nearly as influential as they once were.

If you want to know why modern psychologists find that motherhood is more defined by psychology than biology, go here.

role of women in society

July 8,2015  |

child- and baby care

Sociology beliefs shaped child- and baby care history

“Our whole social environment seems to us to be filled with forces which really exist only in our own minds”

Emile Durkheim, father of Sociology, wrote at the end of the 19th century. Durkheim succeeded in having Sociology accepted as a legitimate science at the time. Sociology was for him the science of institutions,

“beliefs and modes of behavior instituted by the collectivity”

as he explained in The Rules of Sociological Method (trans. W.D. Halls, The Free Press, 1982, p.45)

Right after Durkheim and the evolutionary theory and social Darwinism, sociologists came with no less than four deterministic theories: the economic, geographic, psychological and cultural theory. The last one, the cultural theory of the 1930s emphasized human ability to innovate and diffuse culture. It was then that sociologists concluded that culture was the main factor in accounting for its own evolution and that of society. By 1940 social explanations of societal change were accepted, and other factors like economic or psychological factors played secondary roles.

Motherhood seen by Sociology

So, in sharp contrast to the Biologically based theories and the Psychology based theories, the Sociology based theories will argue that child- and baby care is fundamentally shaped by culture and society. Sociology or Social anthropology assume that man can have power over its biological impulses and rise above his biological compulsions through mechanisms and devises.

(The field of social anthropology has always been very close to sociology. Until the 1920’s the two subjects were most of the time combined in one department, and anthropology’s emphasis would be on the study of preliterate or primitive peoples.)

The Social Institutions, what are essentially all the systems of behavioral and relationship patterns, can, in their view, help secure or guarantee the continuation of the human race in spite of life threatening dangers. The desire and capacity  to look after children , or child- and baby care, is largely defined by society, according to these disciplines. This means motherhood is largely defined by society as well.

A mother will learn through an infinite string of events throughout her life what she is supposed to do as a mother, what the meaning is of a mother and how she needs to feel about it. Being a mother will be just another role in society that one can play.

This belief orbits around three connected assumptions

  1. First of all, the way she feels about motherhood will be largely determined how society evaluates the role.
  2. Secondly, her own personality and experiences will be important and co-determine the way she will play out the role.
  3. And thirdly, the role itself will be defined by society. The role is then perceived or seen like a convention or norm.

There is also the relationship of one institution (motherhood) versus another institution (e.g. marriage and employment) or a third (child- and baby care). Since it is agreed upon that motherhood, and child- and baby care is defined by society, these roles will then off course also be determined by the place and time.

Sociology studies themselves, were a product of their place and time

Why does this matter? Well just like other sciences, Sociology is partly responsible for our understanding of Motherhood and child- and baby care today. This very new and young science Sociology has also contributed widely to the definition of child- and baby care. And their studies show us now how Societies viewpoints on child- and baby care evolves, especially in studies of the 50’s and the 70’s.

Child- and baby care history

The studies on child- and baby care and marriage in the 1950’s almost consistently and unfailingly state that child- and baby care has a negative impact on marriage: three studies would prove that the birth of a child was signify a small hiccup in marriage (Hobbs 1965, 1968; Meyerowitz and Feldman 1966) and two studies would clarify that it most often meant a severe crisis (LeMasters 1957; Dyer 1963).

Five studies in the 1970’s would demonstrate that the dissatisfaction with marriage is proven greatest during childbirth and toddlers years compared to any other period in marriage (Hurley and Palonen 1967; Renne 1970; Burr 1970, Rollins and Feldman 1970; Feldman 1971).

However child- and baby care remained indisputably rewarding and gratifying despite its proven effects on marriage. This too can be explained by the time the study took place.

The intent and interpretation of the studies on female employment were equally biased. The intent was always to find out if there were negative consequences to female employment and more precisely on the family life and her children, her former duties. It was assumed that the only reason she could possibly go to work was for financial reasons and for no other. Work was undertaken to help the family and children but in a different way. Sometimes it was assumed that a mother worked because domestic life was boring or because of lack of adults in her life. It was never to slip away or break out, or to continue to grow or develop herself.

These studies seemed to never make a different assumption around other roles besides the mother role. Sociology itself was a product of its time.

State of Sociology as a Science today

Sociology did not achieve the same status of the older and more supported sciences. The slower development of sociological research has many causes: excess use of jargon, imitation of natural science methodology, over dependence on informal observations or interviews. Contemporary sociology has made progress toward improved methodology.

Sociologists today believe that human betterment is achievable if the application of social science knowledge on enduring problems, like widespread poverty of women or breakdowns in the family  are included.

child- and baby care

March 30,2015  |