Is there a gender asymmetry in ’emotion work’ within heterosexual relationships? If so what role does this play within gendered power relations? In this essay the following topics will be discussed, gender asymmetry, emotion work and what role this plays in gender power relations in the context of heterosexual couples. Duncombe and Marsden in 1993 use local survey evidence to illustrate the gender difference or ‘asymmetry’ in intimate emotional behaviour.
It is a commonly known belief that in the first stages of a relationship, it is passionate, loving, full of thought for each other and romantic, however Mansfield and Collard (1988: 223) suggest that after the so called honeymoon period, “Couples seek incompatible emotional goals in marriage most (though not all) men seek a life in common with their wives, a home life, a physical and psychological base, somewhere to set out from and return to – in contrast, the wives wanted a common life with an empathetic partner, a close exchange of intimacy which would make them feel valued as a person not just as a wife”.
To begin in the marriage at different ideals, will this cause an inevitable asymmetry in gender power relations? “Only 3 months into marriage they (the wives) expressed deep disappointment with the emotional asymmetry of their relationships: they felt they were the ones who reassured and were understanding and tender to their husbands, but that their husbands failed to reciprocate by being equally intimate and open in disclosing their emotions” (Mansfield and Collard 1988: 178-9).
Before the marriage were the husbands able or willing to disclose emotions? Did the of the men’s behaviour suddenly change or after marriage did women suddenly demand more? Mansfield and Collard illustrate one of the differences in marriage and how this can affect aspects of the relationship. “the wives claimed they needed to be talked to in a loving and gentle way to enjoy sex and said that sex didn’t make them feel warm and secure, I’d rather he gave me a cuddle that makes me feel warm and secure – I tell him I love him and he doesn’t tell me.
” However, the husbands talk of love in the context of sex or resisted romantic expression altogether. As Giddens suggests from Sharon Thompson’s investigation in the late 1980s – one of the major differences of girls and boys discussion about sex was the boys talked about sex as a conquest whereas, the girls attached sex to love, involving feelings and hopes. This difference of opinion about sex is apparent even in young adults even before marriage had arisen.
A study by Brannen and Moss (1982:33-34 cited in Duncombe and Marsden) used a sample of 24 couples receiving marital counselling found that “Major disagreements arose from women feeling they had not got a companionate marriage because of their husband’s unwillingness or incapacity to disclose emotions. ” The authors then suggest that men’s non-disclosure was ‘a central and fervent part of their identity.
‘ Men may have always been like this as Thompson had suggested in her investigation that men spoke differently about intimate affairs, so does intimacy exist for men in an entirely different way to women’s intimacy? If the women felt dissatisfied they had other ways of helping themselves to feel some emotional validation which is apparently the underlying issue of wanting intimacy. Some women built on relationships with others such as colleagues, children etc. Others suggested that they ‘were ever so happy really’ but the interviewer sensed they weren’t, the woman being in denial.