Gender Roles in Economics

In most traditional economies, women are more closely associated than men with household management, domestic tasks, gardening, and details of childcare, while men are more closely associated than women with manual and heavy labor, including plowing, and with the professions. However, married people of both sexes perform tasks essential to the domestic economy when necessary. Women pull the plow if necessary and men cook and sew if necessary (but they almost never launder!). Both sexes engage in trade and marketing as partners, co-owners, and co-producers in their households. The herding of sheep and goats is generally male, but women may also do it, as well as own herds. In regions with cattle-based economies, tending, milking, and herding cattle fall to both sexes. In these same regions, where hoe culture and haying are predominant over plow agriculture, men and women equally garden, cut hay, and engage in processing and peddling of garden or orchard crops and dairy products (milk, butter, cheese). Although much of food production in Spain is currently being modernized and is subject to commercial intermediaries (such as wholesale fodder producers, industrial dairy processors, etc.), the enduring legacy of cattle-raising regions is a sexual division of labor which is perhaps the weakest in Spain. In coastal regions where fishing is important, men tend to man the boats while women manage the land-based economy, which can involve gardening, small-scale animal husbandry, and local trade.

The most visible division of labor by sex is seen among plow farmers and the bourgeoisie and upper classes, where salaried labor outside the home separates men and women in space. The bourgeoisie and upper classes also provide traditional models for the separate pursuit of leisure by the two sexes. Rural food producers and the urban poor are more compelled to break the norms of the sexual division of labor whenever necessary and at the same time to enjoy fewer and less ostentatious forms of leisure.

Throughout Spain, the sexual division of labor or leisure does not divide the sexes on the basis of their ability to own or manage property. Local traditions may dictate the disposition of different kinds of property, especially in stem family farm areas, but women in most cases can be heirs to estates just as Spanish women hold noble titles and can inherit the crown.

Many of Spain's traditional crafts are associated with one or the other sex. Such handwork as embroidery, lacemaking, and spinning (all now in decline), as well as most sewing and dressmaking, are done by women. Men are the principal tailors of men's wear, and men dominated the historically important profession of weaving. Craft pottery is also produced principally by men, as is most decorated metalwork. The fine arts of painting, sculpture, and musical composition are historically dominated by men but are open to anyone, particularly today. The performing arts—drama, song, dance, film—depend heavily on artists of both sexes. Female writers have long been an important minority in the literary arts.

Women's embroidery was traditionally associated with the establishment of new households at marriage and, coincidentally in many places, with courtship. Mothers and daughters, often in groups from different households, spent their afternoon hours socializing while they embroidered the linens that would form part of the daughters' trousseaux. If they were in public space in good weather, the mozos might visit the mozas who worked under their mothers' chaperonage. These traditions die when women enter the salaried work force, and traditional handwork is becoming scarce (and has been replaced by machine embroidery), but it is highly valued family property and the art of embroidery is still taught by many older women to younger ones.

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