Struggling Between “Conforming and Peace”, or “Rejecting and Conflicts”: Women Ageing in the Context of Gender/Family Norm Flux

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal BIG 1 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Yunjeong YANG, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea
In the future we want, women should no longer “struggle” in complying with the old gender norm, which distinguishes work and care spheres by gender. An epistemology approach on women and ageing, viewing age, gender, and culture together as interlocking sets of power relations, suggests an alternative perspective regarding women ageing to the prevalent double jeopardy thesis. Culture, however, should not be over-emphasized to the extent that diversity within the culture remains hidden, particularly in the context of changing gender/family norms in society.

This study is based on qualitative data from in-depth interviews with a dozen of women aged between late 50s and 60s in Korea, whose entire life could be summed up as an accumulated experience of either “conforming” or “rejecting” the socially accepted/acceptable gender/family norms in a family-oriented culture. Data was analysed sequentially, firstly adopting the Voice Centred Relational Method and secondly added by a synchronic thematic analysis using QSR NVivo 10.  

Contrasts between women conforming to the norms and enjoying peace in close family relationships on the one hand, and women rejecting and handling family conflicts in later life on the other hand is surprisingly clear from the analysis. Some career women suffer from work-care conflicts and some others from husband’s dropped authority due to unmet men’s duty of breadwinning. After all, however, what matters most in determining the quality of family relationship in old age appears to be women’s gender/family norm conformity. A third and “struggling” type in-between “conforming” and “rejecting” turns out to suffer most, hurting oneself both physically and psychologically.

The study contributes to advancing feminist social gerontology, discussing identity and power dynamics of women ageing in a family-oriented culture. Practical challenges towards gender equity in caring remain as questions to be addressed, both culturally and politically.