My first sociological idol – Ann Oakley

In the 1980s, I came to be studying ‘A’ level sociology by accident (that’s a whole other story). My wonderful sociology teachers (first, Mavis Bayton and later, Janet Skinner) encouraged their students to venture beyond the course text (by Haralambos) and read sociological studies directly and in their original form. Through this route I discovered, amongst other things, that there were some women sociologists (who knew?) and that sociology was not just the study of activities of men – sociology included the study of women and their status and experiences in the world.

The pioneering work of Ann Oakley was important to me on both counts. I loved her focus on domestic labour in Housewife (the ‘popular’ version of her Sociology of Housework) and thought the cover so clever and memorable – looking just a like a packet of washing powder.


Her later work included studies of motherhood and childbirth – but it was her insightful analysis of housework that first got me hooked on her perspective on the gendered social world. Her work spoke to the feminist sociologist in the 17/18 year old me – and set me on the path to becoming a sociologist and undertaking my own work on gender.

In 2005, a collection of Ann Oakley’s writings were published in the The Ann Oakley Reader. In 2011 the British Sociological Association gave Ann Oakley one of their first Lifetime Achievement Awards in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to sociology. As Professor Oakley said in a recent interview (2013), ‘the point of [sociology] is not to theorize in an armchair kind of way, it’s about having some kind of practical impact, and sometimes you have that by opening a debate, by making people argue, and by highlighting an issue, like the treatment of women in childbirth, that was not regarded as an issue before’. She has certainly done that.