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Men are (still) in charge

Study shows how unemployment affects the structure of the family

Men are worth more than women. This thesis, capable of provoking the ire of any American feminist, à la Lorena Bobbit, is a conclusion of the work carried out by Maria da Conceição Quinteiro, of USP’s Nucleus of Research into International Relations. In Family, Work, and Gender: a Comparative Analysis between Portugal and Brazil, the sociologist states that, in spite of the surprising emancipation of women in the century, discrimination at work is strong, and that men is still in charge when it comes to supporting the family.

Supported by FAPESP, in São Paulo, and the ICCI, the Institute of International Scientific Cooperation, in Lisbon, the study is investigating the impact of unemployment on the organization of the family in Portugal and in Brazil. Based on testimonies, statistics and a vast bibliography, Maria da Conceição Quinteiro shows how unemployment tends to cause more negative effects, because women’s paid work is regarded just a supplementary assistance to men’s work in the family and society.  “An unemployed man goes through real hell, from the point of view of self esteem.  Whereas women, even though they suffer from a fall in their standard of living, know better how to deal with this, occupying this spare time with more contact with their children and their housekeeping”, she explains.

Comparative work
Although the Portuguese-Brazilian meetings in Brazilian universities have been taking place since the 60s, comparative studies between Brazil and Portugal are still recent. And the one by Professor Conceição Quinteiro, as she herself stresses, has sought to “fill in a blank space and expand horizons”.  The idea of comparing the two countries as to the impact of work on the structure of the family arose in 1997, and was driven by several motives: Catholicism, the vision of women omnipresent in the essential stages of the lives of men, more strongly marked in these cultures, and the fact that the economically active population shows a level of formal education that is relatively low, and therefore implying serious difficulties for countries that wish to take part in the globalized economy.

To carry out the work, which took three years of dedication, Conceição Quinteiro made use of the official sources (Seade – State Data Analysis Foundation and IBGE, Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics), in the case of Brazil, and the INE, National Institute for Statistics, in Portugal), and of statements by people, the so-called long term unemployed (12 months without a work contract). 40 unemployed were interviewed in São Paulo and in Lisbon, coming from two sectors of the economy that are models in the current process of the restructuring of production, in these days of globalization: industry and services.

Factor of tension
The statements showed that the fact that the man is no longer the provider is a factor of tension and disorganization, even in families where the women remain employed – and often earning more than the man.  More than problems of consumption, comfort, and survival, this causes men profound damage in the emotional sphere, since they feel they are underestimated and set aside.

The dichotomies that go back to the Greek city-state – the man connected with the public space, rationality, and culture, and the woman to the home, nature and passion – wouldn’t they  be outdated sketches?  Not according to the research. If the massive entry of women into professional life has contributed towards preventing them from always being on the defensive side, on the other hand, it has not ensured them equilibrium.  “The most visible examples that the differentiated social attitudes persist are the unequal positions in the job market, the family, in the married couple, in politics, and so forth”, she argues.

The survey also points out how the pattern of consumption and the social expectations of the unemployed in the industrial area are lower than those in the sector of services are.  “An industrial employee is not ashamed of saying that he is unemployed. He even turns to his friends, his union, odd jobs, selling snacks.  If he is a metalworker, but knows about plumbing, he does this to survive”, she points out. This flexibility in know-how seems to be more frequent among the people from industry than those from the services.  The unemployed from this background is incapable of inventing and of creating experiences for him to survive, except in the line of business in which he was brought up. And more than this, he frequently fails to say that he is unemployed, for fear of being repressed by society.

Reading between the figures
Although Maria da Conceição Quinteiro has made use of official figures to outline a comparative table of male and female occupation in the metropolitan areas of Lisbon and São Paulo, she insists in saying that the work is more qualitative than quantitative. “The numbers do not say much, they cannot catch the nuances of the process. They need to be captured from what people say.”

The act of reading “between the figures” would apply to the relative success of women in the job market in Brazil today. Brazilian feminists would argue that there is a boom of offers of employment for women. As informed by data from the IBGE, 10.1 million jobs were created in Brazil between 1989 and 1999. Almost 7 million vacancies were occupied exclusively by women, while only 3.1 million jobs were taken up by men.

The entry of women into the job market often depends, not on professional capacity and the offer of job, but on being able to reconcile family and professional responsibilities. In this regard, the approval of maternity leave, in Brazil’s 1988 Constitution, is said to be a positive factor.

Even so, the professor warns that these numbers have to be put into perspective: “The higher the position, the more it will be occupied by men. This does not mean that women are incapable or less educated – the increasing participation of women in the classrooms is more than the men’s – but the salary is lower, a concrete fact of wage discrimination.”

The survey also concludes that Portugal is more prepared than Brazil to reintroduce professionals into the market. There, they have countless centers for formation and qualification, and the labor legislation is more flexible – although not completely so for women.

For the supposed corrosion of character and loss of values brought by flexibility and the instability of work today, the family appears as the only safe haven. In spite of being labeled as repressive by the generations of the 60s and 70s, the family continues to be at the heart of emotional security.  “To the extent that solidarity, above all in the big cities, is disappearing with narcissism, there is only the family left.  It is vital to material and emotional survival.”

The burden of freedom
As to the hardly rosy picture for women, the novelist Louise de Vilmorin, a collector of famous lovers (Malraux and Orson Welles), may have been right in claiming that “for a woman, there is nothing worse than being free”. Freedom for women is recent and relative, it means going into battle, working more than eight hours a day, going back home to work as many hours again, to look after the family, the children, the domestic duties that are always awaiting. It is a very heavy burden, a triple day’s work.  Complete freedom will only exist when there is some fairness between the rights and duties of men and women”, she argues.

For the time being, the world of paid work is still part of the male identity, and Professor Maria da Conceição Quinteiro hopes to work on other projects on these injustices – still in the sphere of Brazil and Portugal.

Maria da Conceição Quinteiro is a graduate in Social Sciences from USP’s School of Philosophy, Literature and Humanities, where she took s master’s and doctor’s degree, and she has a post –doctorate degree from Oxford University. She is a researcher with the Nucleus of Research into International Relations at USP.
Project: Family, Work, and Gender: A Comparative Analysis between Portugal and Brazil
Investment: R$ 12,550.00