Female dilemma: conventional gender roles - or the search for a new way?
Thirtyeight medical doctors and social workers aged between 28 and 38 were interviewed once by in-depth, semi-structured interview about how they perceived their roles as doctors and social workers on the one hand, and their family and domestic commitments on the other. Doctors and social workers were chosen as two professions which both involve caring work. At the time when the fieldwork was carried out, social work had a majority of women working in it, whilst medicine was male dominated in the sense that the majority of practitioners were men. Half the respondents had given birth to and were rearing their own children; half were childfree at the time of interview. A modified version of grounded theory was used in the analysis. Throughout the thesis the women's own perception of their situation is a major focus of interest. Differences were found in how doctors and social workers had perceived their future with regard to work and domestic commitments while in tertiary education. These differences are explained in terms of secondary socialisation and the different environments in which the two occupational groups had trained. These differences affected the process of adapting to conventional gender roles. The thesis explores the pressures on women to conform to conventional gender roles. Respondents were categorised as conformers or nonconformers, although any individual may move between categories. There were two types of non-conformers: the respondents who paid lip-service to conventional gender roles and the respondents who attempted to develop alternative life-styles. Socialisation theory is used to explain how the respondents came to perceive appropriate gender roles. C. Wright Mills's concept of vocabularies of motives and Garfinkel's ideas of how actors assign out¬ comes their legitimate histories are used to explain how the respondents presented their conformity, or lack of same, to different audiences. The need to justify or present their actions to audiences affected patterns of conformity to a certain extent. It is argued that degree of conformity to conventional gender roles in marriage is determined in the early stages of a relationship, and the concept of the 'marriage contract' is developed to explain how spouses come to hold concurrent views on appropriate male and female roles in the marriage and the marital division of labour. It is argued that there are exceedingly strong pressures on women to conform to conventional gender roles, especially during the early reproductive stage.