The importance of difference: Conceptualising increased flexibility in gender relations at home

Orly Benjamin, Oriel Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


In this paper we have three goals. First, to provide a critique of attempts to theorise in the area of intimate care and domestic division of labour which do not pay adequate attention to issues of plurality/difference. We argue that the ideological environment within which contemporary couples operate consists of more than one existing normative structure, and that therefore an approach which can incorporate the idea of change can only really arise in the context of a focus on plurality and difference among households. Secondly, to discuss large-scale empirical evidence relating to the domestic division of labour which seem to indicate an increasingly narrow basis for blanket 'no change' arguments. Historical series of time-use diaries suggest that over a long period consistent changes have occurred in the amount of time that both women and men devote to domestic labour, such that (some) women are doing on average proportionately less, and (some) men proportionately more. Finally, to offer a framework for the discussion of difference and change in gender relations in the home. This focuses on the analysis of the continuing marital conversation as the key arena where the institutional and interactional dimensions of gender relations are played out. Our evidence suggests that the 'opening up' of the marital conversation is an important indicator and facilitator of change, and that mechanisms underlying this 'opening' can be shown to facilitate higher levels of men's participation in family work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-251
Number of pages27
JournalSociological Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1996

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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