Gender and Power
Gender and Power
1 Introduction: Some Facts in the Case
This chapter attempts to show why a social analysis of gender is needed for a comprehension of personal life, politics and society as a whole. It makes out a prima-facie case for the enterprise. Accordingly the facts are set out here with little commentary. Their interpretation is provided by the rest of the book.
The first part of the chapter takes one person - an Australian teenager called Delia Prince - as a point of departure and explores how her circumstances and choices are shaped in terms of sex and gender. Delia has not been chosen to represent a particular 'type'; the point is, rather, that the same kind of analysis would be needed to understand any individual life. The second part of the chapter looks at the collectivities Delia lives in: city, state, country, world. Here I discuss some of the statistical and institutional evidence about sex inequality and sexual politics. This too is illustrative. The topic is vast and only a fragment of the evidence can be recited in a single chapter. But it is perhaps enough to demonstrate the scale and importance of the issues.
A Teenager and her Family
Delia Prince (the name is a pseudonym) is one of the teenagers my colleagues and I interviewed in 1978, along with their parents and teachers, in the research project later published as Making the Difference. The research was an attempt to understand the circumstances, in school, family and workplace, that lay behind the massively greater drop-out rate from working-class high schools compared with ruling-class secondary colleges.
Delia was one of a sample of students from a working-class outer suburb, where she lives with her two parents, older sister and older brother. Like a large proportion of the Australian working class the family owns its own house, a comfortable brick-veneer one, set back behind a high fence. The house was built mainly by Delia's father and a great deal of her mother's energy over the years has gone into keeping its interior gleaming and its garden attractive.
Delia, fifteen at the time we interviewed her, is a cheerful if rather quiet person, past puberty, and already equipped with a steady boyfriend. From her parents' point of view she is doing well, especially as she has come through some serious medical problems and periods in hospital. She 'chatters' with her mother in the kitchen about what goes on at school, does her share of housework without much grumbling and, unlike many of her peers who sneak out at night, observes the family rules about when she can go out. 'Basically just a normal kid' is her mother's summary. Certainly Delia seems everyone's picture of a nice girl.
She loves animals and so would like to become a vet. That is, if she gets good enough marks at school; otherwise she will try for a clerical job in a bank. Her school test results at present are no better than moderate; she is having trouble with maths. She gets along easily with most of her teachers, though there are a couple she has disliked. From their point of view she is not very visible - not a problem, not a star. Apart from her parents' wishes and her own vague ambition to be a veterinarian, there is nothing much to attach her to the school. She confesses that she would prefer to leave this year, though she expects to go on to the School Certificate assessment and leave at sixteen.
'Just a normal kid', yes; but where does that 'normality' come from? How is it produced? And isn't there a little too much of it? If we push back behind the somewhat bland appearance of Delia's adolescence, some more complex and tension-laden processes might come into view.
To start with the economic circumstances of Delia's life, Fred Prince, her father, is a tradesman with a certified skill. He does not use this trade in his current job working for a public authority as leading hand in maintenance, in