the gender of dependency
An essay by Sophie Elizabeth Dixon
Virtually all writing on women's personality promotes the view that women are more emotionally passive and dependent than men. It is to be expected that this theme appears predominantly in the writings of men, but what is more surprising is that it also prevails in the writings of women. How has this view come to be and how can female dependency be a choice?
For this project I focused on my Granny and Grandad. Eleanor and Jim Dixon. I had a feeling that this story would also be part of their story. The conversation with my Granny confirmed this, and revealed much more. She dove right in, questioning my topic before elaborating in great detail. ‘Is it like like from when I was young that you were brought up to think basically that you had to get married and that you'd be depending on a man? Well... that’s true.’ This led me to believe that I was going in the right direction. It is all about female dependency, and the role men play in that.
Let’s figure out what we mean by female dependency. Defining dependency is quite the task... Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1971), defines the adjective dependent as ‘relying on or subject to something else for support’, and the noun dependent is defined as ‘one who is sustained by another or relies on another for support’. Which is a very simple, plain definition. In clinical settings patients who are seen as dependent are often described as ‘infantile’ or ‘helpless’.
My Granny continued talking, telling me all about how she was actually working and supporting the family for the first few years of her marriage to my Grandad. ‘Oh yes, I had [continue working]. I had to because he went into full-time education at some point and I had to work to support him. He did have a grant but that wasn't enough so um the money that I made really helped to support both of us.’ I asked her if considered herself dependent on her husband. ‘It was kind of more equal.’
Although women's situations are improving in some developed countries, in most countries throughout the world women may become a burden on society if they lose the economic support of a man. They may be left with children and this increases the burden on social welfare services or on other members of the family. Because the status of women is one of dependency, women may be ill-prepared to support themselves or a family; and even if willing to do so may not be able to in practice because of unequal pay and inadequate child-care facilities. Women are retired from work earlier than men despite a longer average life expectancy.1
Girl babies have always been unpopular. The Jewish Talmud says 'When a girl is born, the walls are crying; in the Book of Islam it is written 'When an Arab hears that a daughter has been born to him his face becomes saddened; and the Migures of Central Asia say 'It is better for a girl not to be born, or to die soon after birth'. This is a big indication of how women were felt to be a burden in traditional civilization, either from the point of view of maintenance, protection, and marriage settlement, or lack of dynamic contribution towards feeding or safeguarding the community.
1 Kittay, Eva Feder, and Ellen K. Feder. The Subject of Care: Feminist Perspectives on Dependency. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003.
The development of a men’s qualities which facilitate close relationships and intimacy, conflict with their sense of self as masculine, self-sufficient, and independent. Men view their own neediness as a threat to their masculinity and autonomy, and deny their needs being met. While women are reared towards fostering closeness and intimacy with others, the importance of relationships to them and their need to be engaged with the people around them are seen as negative traits that indicate dependency. Women experience their needs as expressions of selfishness and thus keep it to themselves.
My Granny talked about how they were interdependent, in a way. ‘He depends on me because... he can't cook. He can't use the washing machine. He basically couldn't really look after himself if I wasn't here.’ but she is also dependent on him. ’I depend on him because I'm older and there's things I can't do now and he can because he's strong and he does the garden and gets things out of the attic and does a lot of things that I couldn't do so I couldn't really manage if he wasn't here.’
I think I have always viewed female dependency as a weakness. I saw dependency as something that women just have to be, but I have learnt that this is not always the case. My Granny chose to be dependent. And so did my Grandad. Maybe they didn’t even do this consciously, their love for one another led to their interdependency. Interdependent, a balance of two people who truly care for eachother.
een portret door Sophie Elizabeth Dixon
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