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Limits Imposed By Gender Norms

Maithreyi Krishnaraj

Edited by Saraswati Raju  and Santosh Jatrana
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2016, pp. 335, £74.99


While providing new opportunities to women workers, global capitalism, tends to both not only use prevailing gender stereotypes but rearticulates them. This is the core message of the book. Surveying women’s location in varied professions from high tech occupations, to traditionally male dominated professions, while there is exploitation, there is also a degree of agency exercised by women. Metro cities belying the assumption of a liberal, more accommodating spaces to women nonetheless re-entrench culturally engraved sociocultural norms about where women can work and what kind of work is permissible. Looking at different locations where they work like petty production work, home based work, modern professions that require education and special skills and training, what emerges is this: gender norms pose limits to what they can gain through equal wages and equal access to positions of power and leadership. Equal wages is sidelined by segmentation of work into gender segregated work. In the West labour struggles involved demand for equivalent work. Reading the book one despairs of ever achieving gender equality at the workplace. One recalls nineteenth century records of women in factory work in England where women spoke of ‘one hand tied behind’ implying that responsibility for family curtails free choice. The hope that the book gives is the possibility of forging a collective identity to challenge discrimination in the labour market. That a market economy is a neutral organization unlike a feudal economy with its fetters of tradition bound categorization of workers is falsified because the market economy harbours ample prejudices of caste, class and ethnicity. This is borne out by plenty of research in this area. This phenomenon is not only among the lower echelons of the working class but reaches all the way to the top, partly because of gender labelling of jobs and partly because of sexual division of labour that assigns family responsibility as a mandatory one solely to women that cannot be repudiated, subject as it is to heavy sanctions for violations. Yet breaches are possible as the book illustrates. To quote a significant passage in the preface to the book, ‘What are the ways in which the resilience of traditional gender ideologies and structural constraints limiting women’s options are maintained over time and importantly, the set of circumstances under which ideologies and constraints can be challenged, weakened, defused and renegotiated?’ The preface is exceedingly well written and gives the reader a ...

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