Lecturer Renske Verweij is in the C1-1 lecture theatre. She is preparing a PowerPoint presentation and is checking once more whether her wireless microphone is working properly. Everything is in order. Twelve students trickle in, an impressive number compared to other hybrid lectures that EM has attended in recent months.

Lecture: Families and Inequalities (Wednesdays 1pm in C1-1)

Lecturer: A team of lecturers comprising Pearl Dykstra, Bonnie French and Renske Verweij. Verweij delivers the lecture today.

Subject: Why and how the difference in the division of labour based on gender came about.

Audience: Master students of Sociology. Twelve enthusiastic students are in the audience, the rest watches from home.

Reason to follow: The lecture is interactive and dynamic. Students are given plenty of space to share and discuss their opinions.

Traditional gender ideology

Verweij starts the lecture with a drawing of a female hunter from prehistoric times. “Traditionally, women are almost always relegated to a caring role by society. But recent research shows that prehistoric women did not fit into that image at all,” she says. “Like men, women also hunted. So, the division of labour was different from what we are familiar with today.”

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Like men, prehistoric women also hunted. Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

The lecturer then explains that the division of labour that they are discussing today covers household tasks, care for the children and paid work. “Actually, in most heterosexual relationships, the division of labour is fairly equal until children come into the picture,” she states. After a couple has children, the caring role tends to fall on the shoulders of women. From an economic point of view, this is fairly logical, as men usually earn more and they are often better educated than women. “However, the gender ideology that society has also plays a major role here,” Verweij adds.

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Internalisation of the gender role happens early in the upbringing. Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

A student raises her hand. “It’s interesting that you say something about gender ideology,” she says. “Just look at what your nephews and nieces get for their birthdays. Girls are almost always given play kitchens or baking stuff, pink or not – cute, but very gender-affirming. My nephews, on the other hand, always get something cool and technical, like cars or machines.”

“That’s true,” Verweij responds. “Good point. Your story is one example of the internalisation of the gender role. I must say that I do see small changes taking place. Toy shops, for example, are starting to offer toys gender-neutrally in brochures. You therefore see girls playing with cars and boys with dolls.”


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New perspective

Are the subject matter and the examples familiar to the students? “Of course,” student Emma nods. “For example, it makes you think about your own childhood. My mother was indeed more involved in looking after the children. And now that I understand that it is actually not a matter of course, maybe I can do better than my parents.” Student Julia agrees. “We like to think that our Western society is so emancipated regarding gender equality. In fact, we still have a lot of gender patterns to break through.”

‘I think it’s great that in this lecture, we also get to discuss non-traditional families, such as same-sex couples and step-families.’

Student Irene

Non-traditional families

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The caring role usually falls on the shoulders of women. Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

“There are three aspects that influence the division of labour; namely the individual character of the couple, the gender ideology of society and the family policy, or in other words, the politics,” Verweij summarises after the interval. She goes on to explain some of the research findings. “The division of tasks among lesbian and gay couples is more equal than within a heterosexual household, but cis women who are in a relationship with trans men do more household and caregiving tasks than their partners,” she says. “With them, we can see that the division reverts back to the traditional pattern of husband and wife.”

Student Irene: “I think it’s great that in this lecture, we also get to discuss non-traditional families, such as same-sex couples and step-families. I don’t think we see and read so much about these kinds of families and the role of non-heterosexual couples as parents.”

Engaging discussions

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The pay gap affects women’s bargaining position. Image credit: Pauline Wiersema

That the students find the lecture interesting is obvious. The lecturer’s story is often interrupted by questions or comments. “The discussion is perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this lecture”, says Irene. She is already delighted that she can sit in a lecture hall and follow a live lecture after a year of online education. “What is also really nice is that we can share our different national perspectives in the discussion. I come from Italy, for example, and my Italian perspective is obviously very different from that of my fellow Dutch students. That is what makes the discussion so rich.”

Student Amber adds, “You get a new perspective on societal phenomena here. During the lecture, you tend to think: ‘Wow, I’ve never looked at it like that before.’” Whereas student Julia does have one reservation: “This lecture is focused on Western perspectives. I know it may not be feasible, but I would find it really interesting if we would also talk about other perspectives that are less Western and less European-oriented.”

Editor Feba Sukmana and illustrator Pauline Wiersema follow a lecture every month. Together they describe and depict how education is given, what happens in the lecture hall and what students think of the lecture.

EM is looking for the best, funniest or most interesting lectures at the EUR. Do you want us to visit your lecturer? Tip us at [email protected] 


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