Homophobia and housework: social division in the European Union

European Social Union? flickr: David Kenny

A survey mapping Europe’s social, political and moral fabric has brought to attention issues of homophobia, sexism, and a collapse of trust in political systems.

The [European Social Survey (ESS)](http://www.europeansocialsurvey.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=966&Itemid=80, published today by City University London, reports a decrease in tolerance of homosexuality in a number of eastern European countries.

The proportion of people agreeing with the statement “gay men and lesbians should be free to live their own lives as they wish” decreased by 2% in Slovenia and Slovakia, and 3% in Hungary and Ukraine since 2004/05. In Slovakia, only 45% of those surveyed agreed, and in Ukraine only 34%.

The survey also reports significant gender inequality in southern Europe, while Nordic countries show evidence of increasing equality. A lack of trust in political and institutional authority in eurozone countries was also countered by high levels of trust in Nordic countries.

Two experts on homophobia wrote for The Conversation on its apparent increase in Eastern Europe.

Richard Mole, Senior Lecturer in Political Sociology at UCL

The lower level of acceptance of homosexuality in Eastern Europe is the cumulative effect of various social and political influences which differ from state to state.

The one factor that applies to the region as a whole is the legacy of communism. In the communist era, citizens were expected to adhere to the psychology of the collective. This meant that “alternative” sexualities were considered a dangerous sign of individualism. Homosexuality was further seen as contrary to the public good, in that it failed to produce children.

When communism collapsed, the ideological vacuum this created was quickly filled by religion and nationalism, both of which have fuelled intolerance towards homosexuals due to their supposed threat to traditional values and the continued existence of the nation.

Tapping into this pre-existing antipathy towards homosexuality, politicians have been able to use LGBT rights as a lightning rod to divert attention from corruption and economic downturns.

In addition, the lack of anti-discrimination legislation in many east European states constitutes a disincentive for sexual minorities to live their lives openly as LGBT. This reduces their visibility and, by extension, their ability to counter stereotypes and challenge prejudice against gays and lesbians in their societies.

One response to the 2009 Latvian pride. flickr: Imants Bambis

Kevin Moss, Professor of Modern Language and Literature at Middlebury College

Focusing on the negative statistics in these countries should not detract from the acknowledgement of similar issues in the rest of Europe. It’s easy to fail to point out that homophobia is not exactly dead in the West. Russia recently banned “propaganda of homosexuality,” and it’s clear Putin is using gays as a scapegoat, but the UK had a similar law (Section 28) until only 10 years ago.

In Croatia, while its true that Split Pride 2011 was met by thousands of neo-fascist homophobic thugs, garnering much media attention and censure from Europe, Croatians themselves were equally critical. This year’s Split Pride was a huge success and was led by the newly-elected mayor.

Housewives and househusbands

In southern Europe, gender inequality is apparent. The report investigates whether the increase in female participation in the labour market has affected work patterns in the home.

The results show that on average, even women who work full-time are still responsible for around two-thirds of the total time spent on housework. However, whereas in Sweden 60% of the housework is done by women, in Greece the figure is 84%.

Jacqueline Scott, who studied ESS data of seven northern European countries, comments on these trends.

Jacqueline Scott, Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge

Right across Europe, women do more of the housework than men – even when working full-time. The macho culture is still alive and well in the southern countries, and there is very little policy help for women who want to combine family and work life. It is there that the gender gap is the largest in Europe and the gender division of labour the most traditional.

Housewife or househusband? flickr: Thomas Riggs

Our research, on the other hand, looked at northern Europe, which exhibits a very different state of affairs. Sweden has been one of the most advanced countries in the world in terms of promoting policies that encourage a more equitable divide between men and women in paid and domestic labour.

Interestingly we found that men who leave the domestic labour to their wife or partner report higher levels of work-family conflict, and lower levels of well being. One explanation is that their female partners are more vocal in complaining about the “unfair” division of housework. Another less cynical explanation is that men might aspire to a more equitable division of labour. If egalitarian ideals and behaviour are at odds, then men are likely to feel conflicted and stressed.

Whatever the explanation, it bodes well for future change in gender equality if a more equitable divide of domestic work is seen to be in the interests of both men and women.

Political and institutional trust

Several sections of the ESS chart the social effects of the recession. Results tend to exhibit the same contrast between southern and Nordic Europe, with some interesting outcomes. Satisfaction with democracy has fallen most notably in eurozone countries, with Spain, France and Greece showing a significant decrease in political trust, contrasting with an increase in Poland, Norway and Sweden. Political trust and satisfaction with democracy are shown to correlate. These results also mirror how trusting the public are of their police and courts.

Theofanis Exadaktylos, Lecturer in European Politics at the University of Surrey

The prolonged recession in Europe has already shown its impact on the citizens of Europe and their perceptions of their democratic systems, governance and institutions. The European Union has unfortunately failed to convince markets and citizens alike that political leaders have a solution or a road map for a way out of the crisis.

At the same time, the widespread application of austerity programs has brought about a similar effect at the domestic level. The ESS demonstrates widely that these times of uncertainty have shaken up the political trust of the public vis-à-vis the established structures, institutions and norms.

Trust in political institutions has suffered dramatically: the ESS demonstrates a lack of confidence in government and the police, noticeably in countries that have suffered more from the crisis. This result reveals that traditional institutions that infuse certainty or security to the citizenry can no longer perform that task. The implication is that citizens have turned to radicalism both left and right, as demonstrated in recent elections in the most affected countries.

What this in turn exposes is that the institutional structures that we have in place do not serve the purposes they were created for. Governments in Europe need to rethink the institutional framework with a view to pre-empt such failures of our systems of governance in the longer term.