Commonly, later life seems to be a period time of “renegotiation,” increasing gender “neutrality,” or “leveling” between older men and women. However, effects of retirement on women are overlooked. For many older women, unpaid work such as domestic labor, voluntary work, or caring would not cease with the retirement or death of a spouse. The data below shows that nonworking women still spend more time on household work, care and food preparation and cleanup at each age level.
Historically, men are more entitled to leisure because they have earned the right to it through involvement in the paid workforce, which becomes a major constraint on older women’s leisure. In addition, older women’s sense of a lack of entitlement to leisure comes from their lifelong exposure to the “compulsory altruism” and “compulsory heterosexuality.” “Compulsory altruism” means that women are “naturally” expected to perform expressive and compassionate duties in both the private and public spheres. “compulsory heterosexuality” refers to a sex-gender system in which the status and identity of women is primarily defined by their ability to facilitate the physical, emotional, and sexual needs and desires of men. Even when women do have access to leisure away from the home, their leisure behavior and choice would be influenced by paternalistic definitions of what is deemed suitable for them. For instance, Lobo (2014) traces the development of leisure in Australia along gender lines. He said that leisure in Australia has been male-dominated. Women have been placed in an inferior position. The home care role of women has been contrasted with the breadwinner role of males. While men dominated recreation resources, women were expected to facilitate men’s leisure. Dempsey (1986) found that older women facilitated older men’s leisure through fund-raising, spectating, providing transport, and engaging in domestic labor; yet, opportunities for older women to participate in public leisure were often confined to organizations that were “appropriate” to their age and gender.
In contemporary times, the gender gap between leisure provision and participation has narrowed with observations of separate pathways in types of activities and parity in total participation. Development of gender equality in leisure has occurred through research studies; measurement of leisure engagement; and the diversity of recreation offerings and provision. However, the sense of a lack of entitlement, compulsory altruism, and compulsory heterosexuality are still exist with older women’s limited access to financial resources and traditional roles.
Sports usually become the battlefield for gender equality in leisure study, because sports for women provides an opportunity to resist proscribed gender role expectations through sports activities. However, other activities, especially older women’s engagement in leisure activity in daily life also has effects on empowerment. Like square dance in China, a form that almost only women could take part in and exclude men’s engagement, has played an important role for women to rule their own leisure life and gain entitlement. When this form of leisure activity gains its popularity, the imitation from other older women would legalize the engagement of older women and give them a feeling that square dance is what they should do rather than dance with guilty.