Shared Parenting Information Group (SPIG) UK
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Rewriting the Sexual Contract (book review)
G. Dench (ed.) (1997)
Institute of Community Studies; ISBN 09523355 8 1. £ 12. 50
Geof Dench is a senior research fellow at the Institute of Community Studies and the author of The Place of men in Changing Family Cultures, ICS, 1996 and Transforming Men, Transaction Books, 1996.
Here he assembles a collection of articles drawn from the front line of the sex war and the current debate on gender relations. The kinds of questions asked are:
The material comes from a variety of different viewpoints and perspectives and seeks to examine what is happening in relationships between the sexes, on the sexual division of labour and the role of public policy in all of this.
- Should social and family policy be focused on women or on all members of the family ?
- Should policy recognise sexual differences between men and women or should it emphasise similarities ?
- In terms of gender roles are we seeing a convergence or a divergence ?
- Do mothers want to work full time when their children are still young ?
Dench's own contribution; Nearing Full Circle in the Sexual Revolution argues that the greater involvement of women in the public sphere needs to be understood as linked to the circulation of political elites, whilst this has led to greater individual freedoms it has entailed the encroachment of the state on family life. From the right we have articles by Roger Scruton, Sex in the Commodity Culture and Patricia Morgan, Evaluating the effects on children of mothers employment. There are interesting contributions from Fay Weldon, What do we need men for anyway ? and Dame Barbara Cartland, Back to basics and the search for love. Catherine Hakim argues that what women want is a modernised sexual division of labour rather than equal participation with men in the labour market. Shirley Dex and Robert Rowthorn make the case for co-ordinating public policies around the needs of families as a whole and all their members rather than prioritising the interests of women. John Baker, editor of Access, puts the case for equality in post divorce parenting in a thoughtful article.
There is some good stuff here. A clear revisionist element runs through much of the writing, with many of the contributors acknowledging the strengths of traditional gender roles and mainstream family values. It seems that over the next decade the argument about gender roles may break into new and interesting territory. The current stalemate between political correctness and right wing fundamentalism may give way to a new synthesis. That would be grounds for optimism.
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