Husband Wife Work Activities

Because many of an adult's waking hours are devoted to subsistence activities, the nature of husband-wife interaction in a society is significantly related to the way in which work activities are allocated by sex. A husband and wife can work side by side or they can conduct their subsistence activities independently. In the former case, a couple will find themselves spending some or much of the day together, while in the latter case, they may not see one another for much of the time.

Among the Bhil of India, spouses perform many tasks together. This includes weeding, manuring, and harvesting their crops side by side. A wife may also spend time with her husband when he is in the logging camp, helping him manufacture the charcoal and cooking for him (Naik, 1956; Nath, 1960). In Okinawa, everyone in a Tairan family lumbers and works the rice patties together (Matetzki & Malone, 1966).

When spouses do different kinds of work, they are also likely to be separated for most of the day. In Arizona, Navaho men were responsible for building the corrals and fences, did most of the farming, took care of the horses, cattle, and wagons, hauled the water, and cut the firewood. It was the job of the women to butcher the mutton, cook, gather farm crops for meals, keep the house clean, and take care of the children. As men's and women's chores were performed in different places, husbands and wives did not spend much time together during the day (Leighton & Kluckhohn, 1969).

Sometimes, men and women work on the same overall task, but each specializes in a different aspect of the job. When this assembly line strategy for accomplishing tasks is employed, husbands and wives may work in the same location and therefore spend much time together, but they may also work in different places. Among the Gururumba of New Guinea, husbands and wives both participate in gardening activities, but each focuses on a different set of chores. Husbands break the soil for the garden, put up fences, and dig and drain the ditches. Meanwhile, wives prepare the broken soil and weed. Men see to the sugarcane, bananas, taro, and yams, while women are responsible for the vegetables and sweet potatoes. Men build the houses, and women cut and carry the thatch (Newman, 1965).

There is some indication that cultural patterns of allocating work are related to male-female relationships more generally. In societies where husbands and wives perform different tasks, sex is predictably viewed as dangerous, premarital sex norms for both sexes are restrictive, and extramarital sex norms for males are permissive. Division of labor by sex is also correlated with male sex aggression. So the tendency to segregate the sexes, including husbands and at work, seems to reflect an overall attitude of caution and even hostility regarding intimate and committed opposite-sex interaction. Where husbands and wives perform the same tasks, people choose their own marriage partners as opposed to having their future spouses chosen by thirdly parties. Thus, where marriages are based upon personal preference, spouses organize their work days in such a way as to be able to spend time together (Broude, 1983, 1987).

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