The changing social system is a universal factor which also brings change in the status of its members. Changes in a particular field have an impact in other realms of the society too. An emergent phenomenon is the growing flexibility and changes in the gender roles of men and women.
Early societies had rigid roles for men and women with attributes were labelled as being masculine and feminine. Man was considered as provider of basic necessities for family and woman the child bearer and caretaker of home. Till recently women were accorded the role of the inferior sex and prized possession of man.
The changes and flexibility in gender roles which are being evident today has its roots in the changing social structure. Economic factors, advancement in sciences and changed value system have contributed to a preference for nuclear family thus doing away with the concept of joint family. Consequently the ambit of economic and household responsibilities has changed.
Earlier in the joint family system there was a clear-cut division of responsibilities or duties with women looking after the domestic matters and the men taking charge of out of home and financial matters. Today the nuclear set-up allows for no such demarcation the man is no longer the sole bread-winner and woman no longer a mere caretaker of the house. This is also due to the economic compulsions. With the financial security provided by joint family system no longer available and cost of living ever increasing there is a need for an extra earning member to supplement the income of the family. The women are thus forced to earn as well to meet the cost of domestic demands. In the initial stages of this phase the women were not offered any help in domestic affairs and she performed both the supplementary role of an earning member and her natural role of a housewife. Gradually the attitude of men is changing to a certain extent that men adopted the woman’s role at least when compulsion to do so arose.
While the acceptance of man’s gender role has been willingly taken up by women, the same does not always hold true for men. The present scenario is still that while a girl is groomed to become an efficient career woman as well as an efficient house maker, men are expected to excel mainly in professional fields.
The situation is that while any effort from men to undertake a domestic job is welcomed and assisted by their counterparts, any such effort by women in the professional field is still seen as a threat to male supremacy. Hence men do not have to struggle hard to prove their worth, women most of the time has to work harder to prove not just that they are efficient but that they can work much harder and deliver the results.
Lately the domain of feminity has expanded to include the social and professional fields, traditional notions about gender roles are undergoing transformation that has been mainly because of education. An open and educated society is paving the way for role-swapping which seems to be gaining ground in the highly demanding developmental social structure. Domestic life has become almost unthinkable without flexibility in gender roles. While men are beginning to shed their inhibitions about working in the kitchen women are already working late hours. The changing trends are reflected in men and women taking up unconventional work such as pilots and astronauts while men are honing their skills as chefs and fashion designers.
Changing roles to accommodate the social or professional pressures has become a common phenomenon. However it is in the urban centres that the flexibility is most evident. The rural society though in transition has a long way to go in this context. The flexibility in gender roles needs to be taken to the extent where finally the concept of respective gender roles is done away with.