The Socio-Economic Context of Sex and Power: A Study of Women, Work and Family Roles in Four Israeli Institutional Frameworks
Helen M. Hacker Originally published 1976
This research proposal is instigated by the concern felt by the Leadership of the Moshav Ovdim Shitufi (cooperative small holders’ settlement) in Israel in regard to the occupational dissatisfaction of their female members. This is a type of social organization which represents a compromise between a kibbutz and a regular moshav. Productive work is carried out on a communal basis, as in the kibbutz, but each family lives in its own house, as in the moshav, and draws up its own budget. The collective income is distributed to families on the basis of the number of persons in the household. Men and women alike are expected to work an eight-hour day, but married women are given “credit” towards their required hours for the performance of household tasks. The number of hours so credited varies according to the number of children in the family. The principle of “self-labor” prescribes the employment of any household help, so that, in the absence of husbandly assistance, the full burden of maintaining the home falls upon the wife-mother. Although women’s services in the home were given social and financial recognition, the automatic assignment of married women to domestic duties led to their virtual exclusion from the more specialized and skilled tasks of either an agricultural or industrial nature.
Establishment of the Moshavim Shitufim began in the late 1930s, thus allowing time for a group of “unemployed matriarchs” to appear. These women have become discontent with their limited lives, much like their American counterparts, and have expressed the wish to undertake various business enterprises, such as a motel for tourists. This outlet for their creative energies, however, is blocked on the objective side by the prohibition of hired labor, and, motivationally, by the fact that such an activity will not add to the family income which is solely based on “need.”
For younger, better educated and more professionally trained women the problem is even more acute. Full time commitment to a “career” would entail their carrying a double burden without extra reward. It might be supposed that the other, “less ambitious” women might be assigned the task of doing the housework of those of their sisters who preferred to work outside the home, but, apart from the demeaning aspect of such labor in a private rather than a collective setting, they would not be permitted to reap any benefit in addition to that gained from taking care of their own homes.1
The presenting social problem, then, from the point of view of the Moshav Shitufi as a community, is the loss of potential female productive power, while on the part of individual women, it is a loss of material and psychic rewards. The problem of female “underemployment” becomes especially pressing and poignant for an encapsulated, egalitarian society because not only does the presumed disaffection of half its members undermine its raison d’être and set in motion a whole chain of dysfunctional consequences in its social life, but even more threatening is the likelihood that a substantial portion of the younger generation will leave the moshav unless the work interests of the young women can be accommodated.
The proposed research project, however, has a twofold objective. The first, and applied, aim is to provide the basic data that would help the leadership to solve—or at least to clarify—the policy problems posed by the present occupational arrangements. It is possible that the leadership define the problem differently from the majority of the members. Basic fact-finding in the first phase of the research will be directed to measuring the extent and dimensions of work-related dissatisfactions among both men and women, and the personal and social characteristics with which these are associated. (The procedures to be used in the preliminary stages of the investigation and the kinds of data they may be expected to yield are described below under the heading of Sources and Methods to be Used).
The second, more theoretical aim consists of taking advantage of the natural field experiment which the several settlement patterns in Israel afford in order to test the relationship among certain controlled and key variables, which in the last analysis may condition women’s work opportunities in any society. Here the hope is to make some contribution to the basic question of whether, in the present state of the industrial arts, including our knowledge of the psycho-biology and the workings of society, any institutional framework can be engineered which provides equally for the expressive and economic desires of both men and women—or whether there are inherent limitations on such equality, arising either from the social consequences or biological differences between men and women and/or the functional prerequisites of any type of social organization.
As to the key variables, many theorists have postulated a vital linkage among men’s primacy in the occupational structure, women’s whole or partial immersion in the home, and the political-legal structure of the society. A very crude and simplistic expression of this notion is that male control over economic resources has enabled men as a group to bend the polity to their interests and as an individuals to exercise hegemony in their own homes. Technological, along with ideological, change, however, has threatened male dominance by enabling women to obtain independent sources of livelihood and thus to contribute more resources to the marriage. In the wake of this development, a whole spate of studies have been made (see Relation to Work Being Done by Others in the same general area for a sampling of them) which explore the relationship between the wife’s employment and her marital power.
Investigations, however, of the relationship between women’s political power in the general society and their marital power, despite an impressive pseudo-historical literature on matriarchy, have not been conducted along empirical lines. It is this relationship which I would like to test in the almost ideal laboratory conditions afforded by Israel. That is, I propose to examine the relationship between male-female conflict at the micro i.e., familial, and the macro of institutional levels. Is there indeed any correlation between reward-seeking attainment in marriage, including the satisfaction of occupational wishes, with the economic and political balance of power between men and women in larger society?
Although marriage and family institutions have traditionally been viewed in functional interdependence with political and economic institutions, they have not been given equal weight. Thus, such economic and technological determinists as Engels, Veblen, and Ogburn grant priority to economic institutions in forming family structures, while some sociologists, most notably William Goode and Marion Levy, Jr., stress the importance of family organization and values as an independent variable in industrialization.
This difference in emphasis upon the direction of causality has practical implications for the policies recommended to alleviate the situation of women in the modern world. Radical feminists, defined by Shulamith Firestone2 as those who hold the sexual class system to provide the basis for the “exploitative” economic class system, assert that genuine feminine equality must wait upon the dissolution of the nuclear family which inevitably casts men into the role of chief provider and “patriarch.” In other words, the nuclear family ceases to be the unit of income production, consumption, of even child rearing. On the other side are those feminists and sociologists3 who consider the demand for the abolition of the family as not getting to the crux of the question of sex equality, and who place greater stress on women’s access to the productive resources of society which alone will afford them the power base to bargain and end conflict for equality. In this view the nuclear family may be retained, if women are able to achieve an equal sharing of economic and expressive roles—i.e., role-interchangeability between husband and wife—within marriage.4 It permits a dynamic of interaction between the struggle of women as a conflict interest group and the power which individual women can exert in the marital relationship.
These two outlooks find expression in the avenues which have been taken, if not to make women full economic competitors with men, at least to free them for gainful employment outside the home. “Marxist” societies have chosen not to tamper with the male role, but to collectivize women’s domestic and child-rearing responsibilities—at least in principle, if not in practice. Democratic, welfare-oriented nations, on the other hand, have concentrated more on measures to help husbands and wives share in both the internal and external maintenance of the home. Neither type of society has achieved great success in its objective, whether by reason of military exigency emphasis upon capital accumulation, ideological hangovers from the past, a spontaneous or induced rebirth of familism or varying combinations of these factors.
Basic to the question of restructuring men’s and women’s occupational and familial roles is the consideration of the dominant value orientation. While two-income or two-job families have been found compatible with our economic value system, there has been considerable questioning of the possibility of two-career families. The intermittent and/or part-time character of women’s employment, among other factors, has condemned them to second-rate careers. But as long as the majority of women accept the primary responsibility for the care of the home and of children, they will not be able to compete on an equal basis with men. Further, so long as this remains the dominant pattern, those husbands who do share these responsibilities with their wives will be placed at a competitive disadvantage with other men who are free to devote all their time and energy to their work, often with wifely assistance either in concrete form or merely providing what Jessie Barnard has termed the “stroking function” of women. Even retaining the primacy of an achievement orientation, however, there is the possibility that if women continue to press their demands for equal treatment in industry the cultural expectation of the husband as the principal breadwinner will change, and that individual couple choices as to whether the wife or the husband will be the stay-at-home of the secondary career partner may be split 50–50. In this event the family will still be one primary career, but the “careerist” will be as likely to be the wife as the husband.
As stated previously, there are only two other, and rather dubious, conditions which would permit a two-career family. The first is that private services in the form of domestic help could be utilized to free the wife for full career commitment. We have already seen that this solution is forbidden to female members of the kibbutz and the Moshav Shitufi on ideological grounds. Such a development is also imminent in the United States to the extent that we are trying to implement equality of opportunity for every person regardless of sex, race, nationality, religion, or “disadvantaged” background. As this equality becomes more and more of a reality, fewer women will be available as servants—unless, of course, their scarcity enables them to bargain for wages and other prerequisites which will render domestic work as attractive as other alternatives. The second condition, as discussed above, would be an acceleration of the transfer of family functions to other agencies—a process which has already begun to be reversed in the kibbutz. Whether this trend back to familism in the kibbutz represents a “natural” response or merely the re-emergence of a European cultural concept of the good wife and mother, long repressed, but not forgotten, is a moot question. In any event, clarification of this matter in Israel will have important implications for social policy in the United States.
There is yet a third possibility, one which involves the redefinition of careers along “feminine” or humanist lines. In such a shift of values recognition and material reward may be downplayed in favor of the “quality of life.” Should this re-orientation come to pass, reduced work schedules and shared marital roles may be desired by the majority, with only a few of the most gifted or most ambitious insisting on complete dedication to their work. Very likely, such individuals may abjure marriage and parenthood altogether—a sacrifice which most such men have not had to make in the past.
All the foregoing possibilities have been realized to some extent in Israel. It is hoped that a systematic examination of the four kinds of social organization along a continuum from complete collectivism to private enterprise which currently co-exist in Israel will help to identify those variables which are crucial to the questions raised in this study. Israel provides unique opportunities as a social laboratory not only for its conjunction of varying degrees of mixed farming, manufacturing, and other enterprises in differing normative environments, but also for its high percentage of immigrants representing a variety of cultural backgrounds. The following chart presents a rough schematic of the differences and similarities in the four institutional frameworks under consideration.
Table 1. Social Organization of Four Israeli Institutional Frameworks
Ownership of means of production
Responsibility for production decisions including allocation of work tasks
Purchasing and selling unit
Characteristics of “productive” workers
Member, disproport. male
Member; predomin. male
Member** and/or hired labor
Criteria for allocation of income
Need (quantitatively defined)
Earnings of family
Earnings of family
Unit which makes budget decisions
Extent of housekeeping
More elaborate, individual
More elaborate, individual
More elaborate or variable individual
Division of household tasks between spouses
“Nurses,” peers, teachers
Parental role differentiation
*Heavy machinery may be used cooperatively **Wives may raise chickens, vegetables, etc.
- A more elaborate taxonomy would indicate variations within each framework.
- This table provides no information on the relationship between husband and wife along the dimensions of power, prestige, communication, affective emotional ties, or relative participation in larger kinship or friendship groups because these have not as yet been adequately determined.
(1) The Questions the Research Is Directed Toward and Their Significance
As previously stated, the principal focus of the present research is to explore the possible range of relationships among certain dimensions of marital interaction, wives’ attitudes and behaviors in regard to work, and the participation in and power of women in the decision-making activities of the community, and to find out whether these relationships vary in the four institutional frameworks under study: the kibbutz, the Moshav Shitufi, the regular Moshav, and the private sector as represented by an urban sample of married students and/or personnel at the University of the Negev—in other words, an investigation of the interplay between the micro or familial and macro or institutional levels.
In pursuit of this objective, some of the specific questions which suggest themselves include: (Please note that a comparison among the four frameworks is implied for each question):
- How do men and women define the roles of the two sexes, especially with regard to work behaviors and attributes? What are their desired self-images?
- What, if any, are the differences in male and female attitudes towards work?
- What are the pressures which motivate women either to aspire to a “male model” of work or to be satisfied with a different or lesser commitment? Which women are vulnerable to which pressures? i.e., as described in terms of age, education, number and ages of children, husband’s attitude toward wife’s work, husband’s help in home, with children, and in wife’s “vocation,” husband’s prestige and/or earnings by virtue of his work or other activity.
- In regard to the factors listed in question 3, what is the direction of causality—or which are motivating factors? For example, does a wife seek education, limit the number of children, insist on husband’s help, etc., because she has certain work aspirations or does she enter into a given work situation only if these enabling factors are present?
- What kinds of satisfactions do wives seek, and how do they rank them in importance? To what extent are deficiencies in some areas compensated for by gratifications in others? How do these change over the life cycle, either in actuality or in anticipation? Do women formulate life plans? To what extent and in what ways do couples view their families as a “set of intercontingent careers?”
- What kinds of satisfactions are sought in work? What is the relative importance of the psychological and economic rewards? How do these differ for men and women? (If they do.)
- Is there any relationship between the husband’s commitment to work and that of his wife? Similarly, for community activities?
- Does the wife’s involvement in decision-making or other community activity vary according to the nature and extent of her work outside the home?
- In what ways, if any, is the wife’s attitude toward work affected by such aspects of marital interaction as relative dominance, power in decision-making, extent of communication between husband and wife, and overall “happiness” in marriage? Similarly, the husband’s?
- Is the perception of such expressive benefits of marriage as companionship, empathy, physical love and affection similar for both spouses? Are such perceptions influenced by the work of either spouse?
- Do the attitudes of husband and wife towards the wife’s work differ from or resemble those of the following kinds of persons:
a. Their work associates
b. Their ten best friends, whether male or female, or those with whom they have the most frequent contact
c. Their siblings or other relatives of their own generation
d. Their parents or other relatives of the ascendant generation
e. Their adolescent or adult children (if they have any)
- What is the relationship between a woman’s past work experience and her present vocational plans or aspirations? Does dissatisfaction with her job evoke a wish for a different assignment or to be exempt from “productive” tasks?
- (Where applicable) How do work-assigning committees view women’s roles and what criteria do they apply in making assignments—for both sexes?
In a sense the significance of these questions has already been indicated in the Introductory Statement. It is hoped that the data gathered in the attempt to answer them will clarify both the obstacles and the inducements to the full utilization of the productive capacities of women—on both the individual and the group level. More specifically, this research should:
- Specify work motivations for women, as well as men, since it brings into sharp relief the separation of economic from psychological rewards.
- Discover whether sex differences in regard to work are accentuated or attenuated in varying social contexts.
- Contribute a provisional answer to the perennial question of what is biological and what is cultural in the role differentiation of men and women.
- Identify those problems of women which emerge from their specific types of social structures, thus providing leads for their alleviation.
(2) Relation To Work Being Done By Others
To my knowledge no work is currently being done either on the Moshav Shitufi nor on the hypothetical linkage of women’s general status in society to their marital power. Nor, for that matter, do books abound on the regular moshav. A recent work by Maxwell I. Klayman entitled The Moshav in Israel: A Case Study in Institutional Building for Agricultural Development, published by Praeger in 1970, does not give special attention to women’s occupations. While studies based on individual families seem also to be lacking for Israel, there is of course a substantial literature on the Kibbutz. Of special relevance to the present problem are Yonina Talmon’s paper “Sex-Role Differentiation in an Equalitorian Society” in Thomas E. Lasswell and Burma’s Society and Social Life and her chapter in M. F. Nimkoff’s Comparative Family Systems called “The Family in a Revolutionary Movement—The Case of the Kibbutz in Israel.”
The relationship between the wife’s employment status and her power vis à vis her husband, however, has been examined in a variety of cultural settings. While most studies are concerned with the effect of the wife’s employment on her influence on various family decisions, including the number of children, many also deal with the prior question of the husband’s control over his wife’s work behavior. The following list is only partial:
Blood, Robert O., Jr. and Donald M. Wolfe. 1960. Husbands And Wives. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
Conters, Richard et al. 1971. “Conjugal power structure: a re-examination.” American Sociological Review 36 (April): 264-278.
Heer, David M. 1963. “Dominance and the working wife.” In F. Ivan Nye and Lois W. Hoffman, eds. The Employed Mother, Chicago, IL: Rand-McNally.
Komarovsky, Mirra. Blue-Collar Marriage. New York: Random House. 1964.
Papanek, Miriam L. 1969. “Authority and sex roles in the family.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 29 (May): 359-363.
(My own dissertation (1961) revealed that husband’s attitude, in contradiction to Mildred Weil’s5 findings, did not seem to have great predictive value for the wife’s decision to work, but rather changed in accommodation to it. My as yet unpublished research in Italy and in India, while not specifically directed to this area, did show spousal agreement in regard to the wife’s working outside the home.)
Lamouse, Annette. 1969. “Family roles of women: A German example.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 31 (February): 145-152.
Lupri, Eugen. 1969. “Contemporary authority patterns in the West German family: a study in cross-national validation.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 31 (February): 134-144.
Safilios-Rothschild, Constantina. 1967. “A comparison of power structure and marital satisfaction in urban Greek and French families.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 29 (May): 290-302.
(Of interest to the Moshav Shitufi situation is her finding that the advent of babies does not keep the Greek wife at home, because female relatives serve as babysitters, perhaps paralleling the old Negro grandmother in the United States.)
Michel, Andrée. 1967. “Comparative data concerning the interaction in French and American families.” International Journal of Comparative Sociology 11 (June): 157-165.
Kandel, Denise and Gerald S. Lesser. 1972. “Marital decision-making in American and Danish urban families: a research note.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 34 (February): 134-138.
Buric, Olivera and Andjelka Zecevic. 1967. “Family, authority, marital satisfaction, and the social network in Yugoslavia.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 29 (May): 325-336.
Blood, Robert O., Jr. and Yuzura John Takeshita. 1964. “Development of cross-cultural equivalence of measures of marital interaction for the U.S.A. and Japan.” Pp. 333-344 in Transactions of the 5th World Congress of Sociology. Louvain, International Sociological Association.
Weller, Robert H. 1968. “The employment of wives, dominance, and fertility.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 31 (August): 437-442.
Oppong, Christine. 1970. “Conjugal power and resources: an urban African example.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 32 (November): 676-680.
For preliterate societies, Morris Zelditch is outstanding for his analysis of the data contained in the Human Relations Area Files:
Zelditch, Morris, Jr. 1955. “Role differentiation in the nuclear family: a comparative study.” Pp. 307-351 in Talcott Parsons and Robert F. Bales, eds. Family, Socialization, and Interaction Process. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.)
Two other works which concentrate on the roles and power of women are:
Paulme, Denise (Ed.). 1963. Women of Tropical Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kaberry Phyllis M. 1953. Women of the Grassfields. London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.
One cannot hope even to tap all the empirical studies and impressionistic analyses of the general status of women in societies, historically and cross-culturally. The present study should qualify, define, and hopefully augment the body of general propositions relating to the three variables under consideration.
(3) Sources And Methods To Be Used
Dr. Dorit P. Pandan-Eisenstark, Deputy Head, Department of Behavioral Science, University of the Negev, will act as the co-director of this study. Dr. Chana Rapaport, Director of the Henrietta Szold Institute for Research in Behavioral Science, has expressed his willingness to give counsel, and to make office space available to me at the Institute. I also have several other professional contacts in Israel at the University of Haifa, the Hebrew University, and the Bar-Ilan University who will serve as consultants.
- Planned phases of Study
A. My first month in Israel will be spent in generalized fact-finding: library research, interviews with consultants and informants, including the leaders of the Moshavim Shitufim, and visiting many of the 26 settlements presently in existence. I will also consult with social scientists who have a special knowledge of the kibbutz and the regular moshav.
Then I will spend several weeks as a participant-observer in the Moshav Shitufi selected for this investigation, perhaps substituting for bona fide members on various work assignments.
B. On the basis of these experiences, with the cooperation of Dr. Pandan-Eisenstark, I will construct a relatively brief questionnaire which will be administered to every adult in the moshav, probably between 150 and 250 persons. This census will inquire into work history, work plans, division of household tasks, leisure time activities, community participation, attitudes towards cooperative child care, involvement in kin networks, sociometric ratings of other households, place on scales measuring various attitudes, including acceptance of socialist ideology, motivations for work, sex roles, and whatever else may emerge as relevant during my stay in the moshav. The census will also include background data on the composition of the household, country of origin, length of time in Israel and in the moshav, and extent of religious observances.
C. On the basis of the census results certain households will be selected for intensive interviewing. The aim of this sampling would be to obtain as complete a representation as possible of the various combinations of background factors and attitudinal constellations. Only married couples would be included, and husbands and wives would be interviewed separately. (A similar procedure is projected for the other three institutional frameworks.) The size of the sample selected for in-depth interviewing will depend on the availability of funds and the possibility of conducting interviews in English and/or obtaining the services of volunteer interviewers or interpreters.
It is hoped that a minimum of 80 couples or 160 persons will be interviewed, stratified as follows:
University of the Negev personnel
1 This situation makes quite explicit the fact, partially obscured in non-socialist societies, that, to the extent that husbands do not share in household chores or men not make up half the personnel in collectivized services, some married women can achieve economic equality with men only at the expense of other women.
2 Shulamith Firestone. 1970. The Dialectic of Sex. New York: Bantam Books.
3 See Juliet Mitchell. 1966. “Women: The Longest Revolution.” New Left Review December; and John Scanzoni. 1972. Sexual Bargaining: Power Politics in the American Marriage. Prentice-Hall.
4 The reluctance of American women to revolutionize marriage is expounded in Margaret N. Poloma and T. Neal Garland. 1971. “The Married Professional Woman: A Study in the Tolerance of Domestication.” Journal of Marriage and the Family 33 (August): 531-540.
5 Mildred W. Weil. 1961. “An Analysis of the Factors Influencing Married Women’s Actual or Planned Work Participation.” American Sociological Review 26 (February): 91-96.