There have been attempts to try and understand patriarchy and capitalism as intricately intertwined systems of both material and symbolic production. Dual-systems theorists (see Chapter 4) like Sylvia Walby, for example, concede that material and symbolic factors may have varying and unequal influence in the formation and shifting of inequalities. In her

book Theorizing Patriarchy (Walby, 1990), she sets out a framework for understanding the patriarchal system and how it connects with capital­ism. She argues that patriarchy is made up of six structures: paid work, household production, culture, sexuality, violence, and the state. Notice that she includes here not only economic arrangements (which she argues are currently capitalist) of paid and domestic work, but aspects materialists have struggled adequately to address such as culture and sexuality.

Later Walby (1996) develops her dual-systems approach and further investigates the extent of changes in gender relations in the last half of the twentieth century. In Gender Transformations she continues her ear­lier argument that western nations have moved from a system of private (domestic) patriarchy to public patriarchy. What she means is that prior to the mid-twentieth century women’s lives were more likely to be controlled and constrained by the men within their immediate fam­ily. Women were dependent on fathers and then husbands. As women entered the workforce in greater numbers from World War II onwards, this gradually changed. Now, Walby argues, patriarchal domination of women operates chiefly within the public world of work and politics. Many women have financial independence, and may not need to rely on individual men to survive, but collective decisions affecting their lives are usually made by men. Politicians, who are nearly all men, make laws affecting them (like how much benefit single mothers can have); bosses who are mostly male adhere to policies that (either intentionally or unin­tentionally) discriminate against women. Both public and private patri­archy operate within contemporary society, but the dominant form is now public. The old domestic form excluded women from the public sphere, while the new ‘public’ form segregates them into particular jobs and into the lower levels of the hierarchy. Walby goes on to stress that young women’s lives are more likely to be affected by public patriarchy. This is because younger women are more likely to have an education and to get jobs that allow a degree of independence from individual men. This may change as they get older and start families, though this depends on whether and how they continue to work. Many older women’s lives still need to be understood in terms of the domestic system of patriarchy, which still operates for those who have not had the education, skills and work experience of the younger generation of women and who are still likely to be largely dependent upon husbands. Both types of patriarchy impact differently on different women depending on their class, age, position in the life course (for example before or after having children), and ethnicity.

Walby’s approach is helpful in portraying the complexities and shifts in contemporary gender relations. However, her account of the relationship between the symbolic and the material production of gender

inequalities is rather sketchy. Where cultural processes are considered they tend to be linked back to economics. Though the cultural is not independent of the economic, Walby needs to think more about why it is that discourses of equality coexist with manifest inequalities. In other words, many women (and men) appear to think that equality between the sexes has been achieved. Though she presents a great deal of evidence to show that gender inequalities continue to exist, she says little about why people might think all is equal now. Demonstrable changes in gender relations therefore need to be carefully considered within the context of how people make sense of those changes.

As noted earlier, young women who are social science and humanities students may see themselves as having the same opportunities as men. This may be because so far their experiences of the public world have been largely within the areas of the education sector where equality is well advanced. They expect to have autonomy, especially financially, and not to be controlled by fathers or husbands. Walby argues that for younger women gender inequalities are publicly located. But perhaps these inequalities are just more visible within the public sphere. For instance, in the area of work Walby emphasizes economic inequalities. She fails to consider, for example, the problems of women having to take on masculine values to succeed at work. Such cultural values may be a major factor in understanding the interweaving of capitalism and patriarchy. Perhaps the reason ‘public’ gender inequalities are more noticeable is because work, politics and other ‘public’ activities are what men take seriously and consider important. Therefore inequalities within the private sphere are rendered invisible and/or trivialized. So, according to Walby, women’s social position has been improved (largely through women’s political participation) but male resistance continues and the way in which gender inequalities operate has changed and shifted, becoming perhaps less obvious and less direct.

Walby’s is just one account of how and why women’s and men’s lives and their relations to each other have changed, but it provides a big picture of women’s place in social life that can be further explored within this book. This exploration will centre around questions as to what extent gender is a form of inequality that especially constrains women or whether it is an experience or practice in which women and men engage, and which is shaped by language and meaning.