Men and women see different possibilities of acting in the same domestic environment

Philosophers seeking to answer questions about inequality in housework and the invisibility of women’s work in the home have proposed a new theory that society trains men and women to see different possibilities for agency in the same home environment.

They say that a view called “satisfaction theory,” according to which we experience objects and situations as if they have implicitly linked actions, underpins the age-old gender disparity when it comes to the myriad of everyday household chores.

For example, women may look at a surface and see an implied action, “being wiped down,” while men may simply observe a crumb-covered counter.

Philosophers believe that these deep gender divisions in domestic perception can be changed through social interventions such as the extension of paternity leave, which will encourage men to form mental associations for household chores.

write in the diary Philosophy and phenomenological researchargue that the available data, particularly the data collected during the pandemic, suggests that there are two problems that require explanation.

One is “disparity”: despite economic and cultural gains, why do women still take on the vast majority of childcare and housework? The other is “invisibility”: why do so many men think that housework is more distributed than it really is?

“Many point to the performance of traditional gender roles, as well as various economic factors, such as women taking flexible jobs for childcare reasons,” said Dr. Tom McClelland, from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. from Cambridge University. .

« Pourtant, le fait that de fortes inégalités dans les tâches domesticas aienté persisté pending la pandémie, alors que la plupart des couples étaient piégés à l’intérieur, et que de nombreux hommes aienté à ignorer ce déséquilibre, signifie que ce n’est not all. »

McClelland and co-author Professor Paulina Sliwa argue that unequal divisions of labor in the household, and men’s inability to identify such work, are best explained by the psychological notion of “affordability”: the idea that we perceive the things like inviters or “enablers”. ” particular actions.

“It’s not just looking at the shape and size of a tree and then assuming you can climb it, but seeing a particular tree climbing, or seeing a cup as drinking,” said Sliwa, recently from Cambridge Philosophy. faculty and now at the University of Vienna.

“Neuroscience has shown that the perception of a possibility can trigger neural processes that prepare you for physical action. It can range from a mild impulse to an overwhelming compulsion, but it often takes a mental effort not to act on a possibility. »

There are considerable differences in the “perception of economic capacity” between individuals. One person sees a tree climbing while another does not. The objects offer a wide range of possibilities – one might see a spatula as an egg-frying tool or a rhythmic instrument – ​​and a spectrum of sensitivity towards them.

“If we apply the perception of affordability to the home environment and assume it is gendered, that goes a long way toward answering questions about disparity and invisibility,” McClelland said.

According to philosophers, when a woman enters the kitchen, she is more likely to perceive ‘sufficient’ for certain domestic tasks: she sees the dishes as ‘to wash’ or the fridge as ‘to fill’.

A man may simply look at the dishes in a sink, or a half-empty refrigerator, but not perceive the possibility or experience the corresponding mental tug. Over time, these small differences add up to significant disparities in who does what.

“Luxuries get their attention,” Sliwa said. “Tasks can irritate the perceiver until they are completed or distract from other plans. If they resist, they can create a felt tension. »

“This puts women in a dead-end situation: either job inequality or cognitive load inequality. »

According to the philosophers, this gender-based divide in the perception of economic ability could have a number of root causes. Social cues encourage actions in certain environments, often given by adults when we are very young children. Our visual systems update based on what we encounter most frequently.

“Social norms shape the possibilities we perceive, so it would be surprising if gender norms didn’t do the same,” McClelland said.

“Some skills are explicitly gendered, like cleaning or grooming, and girls are expected to do more housework than boys. This forms their ways of seeing the domestic environment, of seeing a counter as “to clean.”

According to Sliwa and McClelland, “the gender capacity hypothesis” is not about acquitting men. Despite a perceived lack of ability at home, a man can easily notice what he should be doing thinking rather than seeing. Nor should women’s sensitivity to domestic environments be equated with a natural affinity for housework.

“We can change the way we perceive the world through continued conscious effort and habit cultivation,” McClelland said. “Men should be encouraged to resist gender norms by improving their sensitivity towards housework.

“A man may decide to collect crumbs every time he waits for the kettle to boil, for example. This would not only help them to do the tasks they don’t see, but also gradually train their perception so that they start to see possibilities in the future. »

Collective efforts to change social norms require interventions at the political level, the philosophers argue. For example, shared parental leave gives parents the opportunity to be more receptive to family work assignments.

Sliwa added: “We focused on physical actions like sweeping or cleaning, but gendered perceptions of ability could also apply to mental actions like planning and remembering. »

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