Callaghan, Gill (1998) 'The
Interaction of Gender, Class and Place in Women's Experience: A Discussion Based
in Focus Group Research'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 3, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/3/3/8.html>
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Received: 26/11/97 Accepted: 24/9/98 Published: 30/9/98
The research is situated in an old industrial city which has experienced very fundamental processes of restructuring. Changes in the nature of work, the move from full to part time, from permanent, skilled manual to casual semi and unskilled work has been reflected in the gendered restructuring of the workforce and a considerable rise in male unemployment.
The article reports focus group work with women at mother and toddler groups. These groups were important as a way of gaining access to women who were at a particular point in the lifestage when the dominant concerns might be expected to be domestic ones. Mother and toddler groups are also locality based allowing the significance of place in people's discussions to be understood.
The groups discussed experiences of work and domestic relations which expressed identifications and differences based in class, gender and place. While the effects of restructuring were universally recognised as bringing change, women identified differences in the nature and pace of change based on the interaction of structural forces.
For further information on the focus groups in this article, follow this link.
How many hours have you got?
They explained the nature of its impact upon their personal freedom and leisure.
Diane: It's changed, you don't have as much money, you don't get out as muchÖyou don't have two minutes to yourself
Julie: the children come first you come second
Diane: Once you become a mother you forget who you really are
Ada: she's got three little one's - people think you should be happy but you've got no-one to talk to
Julie: you know what you're going to do when you get out of bed in the morning, you get in a rut.
Catherine: but that's the first thing that comes out, before the bills are paid.
One woman talked about actively contesting this:
Jenny: my husband works shifts so he doesn't get out as much. I don't see why he should spend all the money, if he goes out and spends on drink I'll go out and buy something for myself.
There was some discussion of the conflict around spending money on themselves which signalled a deeper conflict between traditional and changing expectations:
Averil: I spent £21.50 on a ticket and I was thinking, 'how am I going to tell him?' I wasn't going to ask- but it's hard to justify spending that much on a [concert] ticket.
Jane: I get housekeeping and he has the bank account - we've got money in the bank but I don't feel it's ours - if he's got nothing he goes to the bank- if I've got nothing, I've got nothing.
Debbie: if you bring in the wage - like me sister - she brings in a wage so he gives her less housekeeping but he pays all the bills - it does give you more say.
In general there was felt to be a real difference in the nature and quality of access:
Denise: They're allowed money and you get spending money
Debbie: my sister and her husband split it equally. He [speaker's husband] says I waste money and she says to me 'how are you wasting money? you spend it on the kids and the house....'
Mandy: he's not always expecting from me.
Diane: I go out once a fortnight - he can go out drinking but he tries to stop me
Mandy: They say, 'well you had them' - they might have put them there, but they say 'you had them' so they think you're stuck with them- so you're kind of more responsible...
Diane: he can go out but if I say I'm going out his face is up his backside - I go out on a Friday and he starts going in a mood on Wednesday.
Mandy: I think they feel threatened.
Penny: It's like when we're going out somewhere it's me who organises the baby-sitter they just think 'we're going out' they'd never think 'who's going to baby-sit?'
Ruth: they'd never think to put them in the bath...
Hilary: most of the time if it's me going out without John I have to get her ready for bed where John will just go out
Penny: they're capable of doing it but they'd never think of doing it...we can't just get ready and go out..If I want something doing I've got to ask. I think, 'why have I got to ask?' I don't see why he can't think of it himself. He'll go and get his coat on I'm running round chasing them with hats and coats and he'll be saying 'howay then are you ready?'
Jane: My husband says 'a woman should be hung by her apron strings to the kitchen door ' - he's not that bad really.
Debbie: They would be if you let them get away with it.
Denise: I think the mistake we made was marrying pitmen - me mother used to say 'they're all the same you know'.
Mary: I think it's 'cos they're in the dark so much - it affects the brain (laughing).
Penny: Gary used to do a lot in the house when I was full time but as soon as I left...it was like...it's never been said but it was 'that's your responsibility' and there's a lot of pressure on you when he comes in at night like if the place is a mess it's like what've you been doing all day whereas he would never have said that to me when I was at work... I don't think they realise what it takes to look after two children all day and keep them entertained.
Penny: I don't think we'd eat if it wasn't for me
Rita: it's our fault 'cos we just get on and do it
Irene: you've got to tell them...put them in the bath...you've got to give instructions.
This was an almost universal account particularly relating to men's lack of consciousness of children's needs.
Ö you had them, you look after them.
Jane: I found with Jimmy, he went to the pit... he went to work and that was his role
Debbie: some men do more
Denise: my husband doesn't he just comes in and sits on his arse and that's it - he just sits there in the chair - he'll take root one of these days.
Mary: mine - I says to him if you don't cook you don't get fed. I'm working as well - he's got to do some.
Debbie: I think its more ingrained in people round here that a woman's place is in the home - whereas in Fulwell it's different...
We're all from Carley Hill and round about ... there's still a lot of old fashioned attitudes on this estate ... a lot of pitmen around here.
Jane: Jimmy says 'look at my mother she's had five and she managed. Jimmy's mam and dad .. well he worked at the pit ...he was determined he wanted to work at the pit and that was that...He's not as old fashioned as his dad. I used to say; 'I'm not like your mother' ... I think you should treat each other as equal.
Jane: We were arguing last Sunday.. apparently they'd had a drinking day and Deirdre didn't like it... so she didn't speak to him for three days - he [Jane's husband] was saying 'you can see she's the boss...'
There used to be when a man came home from work he had to have a cooked meal on the table because he'd been at work all day regardless of what you've done all day - my mother in law doesn't like me not waiting on him.
Jane: I used to say, 'dad all I want is now and then for him to make me a cup of coffee... we've been married sixteen years and he still asks how many sugars.'
Averil: there's definitely been a change in the roles. Men wouldn't bath a baby and change the nappies- its changed 'cos women aren't so soft as they used to be.
In Carley Hill
Jane: the only reason men's changing is 'cos women are forcing them to...our kids are being brought up in a different way so hopefully they'll be different again. I don't want him (her young son) turning out like his dad...fair enough he's not frightened of work, but as a partner...
Jane: I would say my husband's old fashioned in his ways but I think now he has a double standard 'cos I have two part time jobs. He says - to wind us up ñ 'a woman's place is in the home' and I says 'all right then I'll, pack in work and stop in the home' an he says 'well dunnot come on to me for money' ... you just gan round in a circle.
Mary: There's only a man will say what a woman's place is, you'll never hear a woman say that.
Catherine: my boyfriend does the windows, washes the dishes, does all the meals ... he's a proper new man
June: aye but does he work?
June: well I think that's the difference now 'cos they're unemployed they expect to do more
Mavis: mine cooks and cleans, he does his fair share
Carol: yeah, but you cannot just get your coat on and go out to the club when you want.
This was the closest account to the exchange of roles described by Wheelock (1990). On the whole women said:
June: they do a lot more now, not as much as they should do but ...
Carol: they still think there's a place for women ... but things are changing now and women aren't putting up with it.
Margaret: men as well.. years ago they didn't like women going out to work .. but now it takes two wages.
Clearly both women and men were facing the change from the traditional style of the male breadwinner and on the basis of that change new relationships have to be forged grounded in both past and current resources.
Mary: I work full time, I find it exhausting.. You go out in the morning sometimes the beds are not made, the dishes are left and it's all on your shoulders.
Betty: when you've got your family around.. somewhere to go and people to see...
Eileen: mine I see them all the time ... I see me mam every day ... I see the majority of them at me mam's, the only people I see is me family...
Anne: they're snobs, they look down on council estates...
Mary: us up here....we come down here on a Tuesday and if you felt like it you could say 'he's gettin' on my friggin' nerves' whereas down there you wouldn't say it because your next door neighbour would hear you.
Denise: we've got friends to be able to turn round and say...where they've got to keep up appearances.
Jane: we can go out on a Friday night all the lasses and you can let your hair down and not a word is said...
Mary: being there you mould in to their way of going on...
Jane: They'd say, 'I don't want to go out', rather than say 'he won't let us out he's a stingy bugger and I'm skint' they wouldn't admit that their husband was going to keep them in.
June: My Father-in-law lives in Fulwell - you don't feel welcome in the house... I'm not good enough to be in their house .... I mean she's only a schoolteacher and he's a joiner... so I mean....
Hilary: I go to a playgroup in Cleadon every Tuesday, everybody's dead canny but I don't feel...I feel like I'm out of my ... I don't feel like one of them ... the group I go to is probably as close as this one.
Penny: is that because you think of Cleadon as being more upper middle class?
Hilary: I don't know what it is...
Ruth: some people think Fulwell is like that ...
Penny: you just think they've got more money and they can do more things just like people from Southwick think about us.
Ruth: Cleadon is the next step up.
Penny: that's because we came from council estates you and me Ruth ... that's why we can see the next step, if you move from Fulwell you move to Cleadon.
Ruth: We moved from Castletown to Roker and from Roker to Fulwell.
... we moved to Seaburn Dene -we'd made it here!
Jennifer: we're them and they're us.
Hilary: don't you think they just have families without thinking about it too much?
Rita: I once went on an outing with Pennywell Toddlers...they thought I was mad... I had this enormous bag with me Milupa (baby food) and everything and they just got a pasty for theirs. I had a towel to change her and they were just changing them on their knees.
Ruth: they're that young - they're not married some of them are 16 and 17 and their lives are totally different from ours. A lot of them have got young friends and that and they're not married ... they're still thinking about themselves because they're only 16.
Irene: ... we try to be bright and nice and worry about things where they ... I think a lot of it goes over their heads and it doesn't really matter to them.
Penny: they like to buy nice clothes for their children ... the women in that (expensive) clothes shop near the park ... they say it's the ones with no money that come in and put things away.
Alison: When I first moved up here I went out with a bunch of women from Pennywell. Their husbands did nothing, spent every spare penny on drink and they just expected it. Their husbands would go out at 11 o'clock for the afternoon and not come back till midnight.
Lynne: but they're the ones that have got no money 'I need a crisis loan' and moan they've got nothing for the kids.
Jennifer: my husband ...the things he did in his childhood, I wouldn't have dreamed of doing. You see you think because people are brought up on a private estate they are better and he'll say 'council estate ... they're scruffs' and things, but I think I'm a better person than he is and I come from a council estate.
Patricia: I think there's differences. Without sounding horrible- we may have council houses but we keep them clean.
Barbara: some of the kids... you feel like telling them to buy a bar of soap, I mean they're filthy and their clothes... you can buy clothes really cheap nowadays ... when I see them with holes in their shoes I think its really sad.
June: I do think when you get down the squares, that's just gone on over the years and they've just carried on... I mean at Christmas ... my friends' on the Provi ... she collects round there, you're not safe going into people's houses, she says you could get all your Christmas shopping down there...they're offering you this and that.
Patricia: They all congregate in one house.
Brenda: There's no difference... all their socks smell the same, all their underpants smell the same.
Differences in command over resources were also recognised. In Marley Potts both were discussed in talking about women in Fulwell:
Mandy: they'll be complaining they're getting pork chops instead of lamb ... they've all got dishwashers and nannies.
Christine: the majority of them have got jobs, they're all private houses
Pam: they've just got bigger houses to clean haven't they?
Mandy: they've got a lot more money - a different class.
Betty: we live a lot nearer our families. I don't think it would be much of a community 'cos there's lots of new estates.
In Marley Potts
Mandy: We went to playschools and that when we were little, there's nothing like that now.
Ada: (nodding toward the children) There'll be no work when they get up.
They leave school and they're on these schemes...it's a struggle for the parents as well, the parents can't give them what they used to give them
In Carley Hill
Mary: I don't think there's anything for them when they leave school... there's no pits, no shipyards, its like a ghost town.
2One of the major problems created by ease of access lay in an early group being substantially oversubscribed. The settings were all mother and toddler groups in local Community Associations and Schools and I wrote initially to group leaders explaining my research. I then visited the group to be available to explain my purpose and to organise a specific meeting. One of the first group sessions began in this way and I enlisted an agreed group for a meeting the following week. When I arrived however I found my group had expanded to sixteen and rather than offend the unsolicited participants, I carried on with the group as assembled. This was a mistake however because, unable to get their point across, people would fall into discussion in subgroups and I consequently lost a considerable amount of information. The group proved impossible to control and some people were inevitably, gradually excluded. In addition the tape recorder I was using was not adequate to the task and so the voices of those furthest away were not recorded.
In subsequent meetings I made it clear that I wanted groups of around eight people and in one Mother and Toddler group, held two separate meetings to accommodate all those who expressed an interest in attending.
3The Squares is an area of council housing which has particularly high levels of male unemployment, large family size etc. It has an image locally as a ëroughí area, a label the area has held over generations
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