Harrison Greer Discusses Shifting Gender Roles

According to Harrison Greer ’06, the patriarchal culture embedded in the South has long established a tradition of female subordination to men, but in recent years these perceptions have started to change. In his Brace Center project entitled “Shifting Gender Role Attitudes in the South: 1988-2000,” Greer discussed both the traditional views and recent changes in the opinions of gender roles. His presentation on Monday night began with an overview of traditional gender roles in Southern society. According to Greer, Southern men have traditionally been the providers and women the caretakers. Greer outlined the rigid Southern gender roles in the past as a product of rural isolation and economic bondage not as prevalent in Northern women’s society. Greer noted that even today Southern women perform a disproportionate amount of the housework. To illustrate modern day gender separation, Greer used the examples of those who had studied gender roles such as Jeanne Hurlbert, Tom Rice, and Diane Coates. Greer based his project on data from the General Social Survey (GSS). Established in 1972, the GSS is a biennial survey funded by the National Science Foundation to gather information on modern American society, second only to the census in terms of use among sociologists. In the particular survey Greer focused on, 1,500 people were polled to compare Southern vs. non-Southern views on the South and on gender roles in the family. The survey was further divided into female and male, employed and unemployed, and black and white. It was based on eight questions under the topics of employed mothers, employed women, and women in politics. Through his research, Greer found that most people polled had more traditional views on employed women, believing a woman did not need a job if her husband could support her. The survey illustrates his point that the difference between the responses of Southerners and non-Southerners narrowed within the time period on which he focused, 1988-2000. Greer observed a clear trend in conservative attitudes of gender roles. Conservative gender roles declined in the 1970’s and 1980’s, reached their lowest point in the early 1990’s, and then did not increase again until the late 1990’s. Greer concluded that although the divide between gender roles of Southerners vs. non-Southerners barely exists today, Southerners still have a slightly more conservative view of gender roles than do non-Southerners. Greer’s findings also demonstrated that the change in the opinions of gender roles has proved itself to be a national, not regional, trend.