Essay/Term paper: Gender inequality
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The issue of gender inequality is one which has been publicly
reverberating through society for decades. The problem of inequality in
employment being one of the most pressing issues today. In order to examine
this situation one must try to get to the root of the problem and must
understand the sociological factors that cause women to have a much more
difficult time getting the same benefits, wages, and job opportunities as their
male counterparts. The society in which we live has been shaped historically by
males. The policy-makers have consistently been male and therefore it is not
surprising that our society reflects those biases which exist as a result of
this male-domination. It is important to examine all facets of this problem, but
in order to fully tackle the issue one must recognize that this inequality in
the workforce is rooted in what shapes future employees and employers--
education. This paper will examine the inequalities in policy, actual teaching
situations, admission to post-secondary institutions, hiring, and job benefits
and wages. It will also tackle what is being done to solve this problem and what
can be done to remedy the situation.
The late 1960s brought on the first real indication that feminist groups
were concerned with the education system in North America. The focus of these
feminist groups captured the attention of teachers, parents, and students. At
first the evidence for inequality in schooling was based on no more than
specific case studies and anecdotal references to support their claims but as
more people began to show concern for the situation, more conclusive research
was done to show that the claims of inequality were in fact valid and definitely
indicated a problem with the way that schools were educating the future adults
of society. One of the problems which became apparent was the fact that the
policy-makers set a curriculum which, as shown specifically through textbooks,
was sexist and for the most part still is.
Textbooks are one of the most important tools used in educating students
whether they are elementary school storybooks or university medical textbooks.
It is therefore no surprise that these books are some of the most crucial
information sources that a student has throughout their schooling. Many studies
have been done examining the contents of these books to reveal the amount of
sexism displayed in these educational tools. The results clearly show that
gender inequality definitely runs rampant in textbooks some of the sexism subtle
and some overt. To begin with, it is apparent that historical texts show a
distorted view of women by portraying them unfairly and inaccurately and
neglecting to mention important female figures, instead opting to describe their
sometimes less influential male counterparts. Elementary and secondary school
textbooks are also guilty of gender bias.
In elementary and secondary school textbooks, sexism takes many forms.
Boys predominate in stories for children; they outnumber girls 5 to 2. When
girls are present in texts, they are almost always younger than the boys they
are interacting with, which thus makes them foils for the boys' greater
experience and knowledge-- a situation commonly referred to as the "ninny
sister syndrome.' Girls are shown to be far more passive than are boys and to
engage in fewer activities. In fact, sometimes grown women are portrayed who
rely on small boys (often their young sons) to help them out of difficulty.
(Fishel and Pottker 1977. p. 8)
Surprisingly it is not only these hidden forms of sexism that appear in
One study found sixty-five stories that openly belittled girls (two were
found that belittled boys). Another study pointed out an instance where Mark, of
the Harper & Row "Mark and Janet' series, states: "Just look at her. She is just
like a girl. She gives up.' Male characters said, in another story, "We much
prefer to work with men.' This type of material on the treatment of girls would
seem to have little social or educational value, and its widespread use is
difficult to understand. (ibid, p.8)
In the long run, the ideas put in students heads through textbooks,
perhaps through the lack of female role models, can affect the choices they make
in the future with regards to employment.
Actual teaching situations are also prone to sexism. For the most part
teachers do not try to be sexist but, for sociological reasons, can not help it.
For the sake of this paper, it will be assumed that these situations occur
mostly in co-educational schools, but single sex schools are in no way immune to
the same problems. A perfect example of society's male-dominance interfering in
education unintentionally is when teachers assign projects to their students.
The teachers may hand out lists of acceptable topics ranging, in a history class
for example, from fashion to transportation. The teachers then give the students
a choice as to which topic they would like to do the project on. The underlying
problem with this is that girls tend to choose what could be considered more
"feminine" topics while the boys will choose the more "masculine" ones. "Offered
to the pupils as free choice, such selections are self-perpetuating, leading to
the expected choices and amplifying any differences there may have been in
attitudes." (Marland 1983, p. 152) The reason for this could be that society,
through the media and other modes of communication, has pre-conceived notions as
to what issues are "male", "female", or unisex.
Another example of how females are prone to gender inequality in the
classroom is during class discussion and also what the teacher decides to talk
about in the class. Classroom behaviour is a major focal point for those who
identify examples of inequality. There are many differences in the way that
females and males present themselves at school. It is apparent that in classroom
situations males talk more, interrupt more, they define the topic, and women
tend to support them. It is generally believed in our society that this is the
proper way to act in classroom situations, that males have it "right" and
females don't, they are just "pushovers" and don't have enough confidence. This,
however is a big assumption to make. Some research has been done in this field
that could, however, begin to refute this stereotype. It is frequently assumed
that males use language which is forceful confident and masterful (all values
which are regarded as positive). Females on the other hand, it is assumed, use
language that is more hesitant, qualified, and tentative. One can look at the
example of the use of tag questions, which are statements with questions tagged
onto the end such as "I'm going to the store, all right?" It is obvious that if
the above assumptions about the use of language were true, this hesitant, asking
for approval type of question would be more frequently used by women. ". . .
studies were carried out to determine whether women used more tag questions than
men. It was found that they did not. Betty Lou Dubois and Isabel Crouch (1975)
found that men used more tag questions than women." (ibid p. 100) The end of
high school brings about more obstacles for women on the way to achieving
equality in the workplace. One of the most important steps in achieving a high
paying, high status job is post-secondary education. It is apparent that even
today women are being encouraged to follow certain educational paths. This is
shown very simply by the fact that even here at Queen's University, men vastly
outnumber women as both students and faculty members in such programs as Applied
Science, while women greatly outnumber men in the programs of nursing and
concurrent education. Women have historically been encouraged to enter into what
could be considered "caring professions" such as nursing, teaching, and social
work. This is shown very crudely in the book Careers for Women in Canada which
was published in 1946 and written by a woman. The book devotes almost 200 pages
to pursuing careers in such fields as catering, sewing, being a secretary,
interior decorating, the arts, teaching, and nursing while it only allocates 30
pages to medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, optometry, and more combined.
The following quote clearly illustrates the beliefs of the more liberal people
of that time. "Some women have specialized in surgery. There can be no doubt but
that a capable woman may operate very successfully on women and children, though
it is doubtful whether a man would call in the services of a female surgeon
except in an emergency. (Carriere 1946, p. 234) Although much has improved since
the 1940s, the enrollment numbers in university programs clearly indicate that
women still have a long way to go before gender is not an issue. After choosing
a career path, women enter the workplace with a disadvantage. They have the same
financial responsibilities as men with regards to supporting families and
themselves and much of the time they have an even heavier burden because there
are many women in today's society who are single mothers. Given that there is no
question that the need for money is identical it can, therefore, be concluded
that there is a major problem with the wage structure in today's jobs. The wage
gap clearly shows that society as a whole puts more value on the work of males
than on the same work done by females. The facts that have been displayed above
showing that education is itself a sexist institution perhaps explain why there
is this inequality once schooling is finished. The fact that textbooks show
males as being more successful than females, that teachers set assignments which
reinforce gender stereotypes and sex roles, the fact that "masculine" behaviour
is reinforced while "feminine" behaviour is condemned, and the fact that women
are encouraged to choose certain career paths all validate the claim that the
gender inequality in employment situations can be directly related to the way
that children are educated.
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Social stratification is the structured form of social inequality within a ranked group of people that bring about unequal financial rewards, such as a person’s income, and power or property, which is brought upon by wealth in a society. The social stratification systems come in many different ways and forms. For example, slavery, castes, social class, race, and gender are just some of the issues that are affected by stratification. This essay will particularly focus on the issue of stratification by gender, or in other words, gender inequality.
Gender inequality or also known as gender stratification, is the unequal distribution of a society’s wealth, power, and privilege between females and males. (Scott and Schwartz, 2000). When the issue is approached, it is evident that the majority of the women are the oppressed as in turn the men being the oppressor. This idea of the oppressed vs. the oppressor is evident throughout history; even in religious terms, some can date back to God’s creation. For example, in the Bible, God had caught Adam and Eve eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which was forbidden. It is written in the Bible, “To the woman he (God) said, I will greatly increase your pain in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for you husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16).
Around the mid-nineteenth century until nowadays, three beliefs about women and men have prevailed as part of biology or evolution. “One, men and women have different psychological and sexual natures, two- men are inherently the dominant or superior sex, and three – both male female difference and male dominance are natural.” (Bem, 1993). Considering these three beliefs, women experience gender inequality in different environments, stereotypes, and occupations. For example, women are stereotyped to be only a stay at home wife and to be in an environment where they are responsible for cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and taking care of the children. Nowadays, there are more women known to have jobs and not a stay at home wife, but yet they are still responsible, or show some responsibility for cleaning the house, cooking dinner, and taking care of the children. As for occupations among women, they experience the limitations of the occupations available. Women also experience less pay or earnings, and the devaluation of their work by society.
An article, Social Class and Gender, written by Nancy Andes, expresses occupational stratification by gender inequality through the comparison of three theoretical frameworks or perspectives. The first theoretical framework is the sex segregation model, which is where sex is the only characteristic that affects the placement of a worker into a profession or occupation. The second theoretical framework is the pure class model, which is where the workers’ position of determined by their status or position in the society and how much authority and ownership they possess. The third theoretical framework that is used is the integrated gendered social class model, which is where gender and class perform together that affect the positioning of women and or men in the labor force. After Andes introduces the three theoretical frameworks, she explains each frameworks or approaches in depth, in relation to a table that expresses the earnings and occupations of men and women.
The source of the table, or known as empirical evidence, is taken from the UC Bureau of the Census in 1989. The table expressed many different types of employment in the labor force. Within that employment of occupation, the table included the percentage of women within that occupation, women’s annual earnings within the occupation, and even the men’s annual earnings in that same occupation. By comparing the annual earnings between men and women, the table illustrates that the men made, give and take, 10,000 dollars more than the women. If women had dominated over the men in that occupation, then the men’s annual earnings were a little less than 10,000 dollars, and if the men dominated over the women in the same occupation, then the men made a little bit more than 10,000 dollars. The numbers in the table suggest that differences in the labor market are valid, under the conditions of class position and segregation.
After introducing the three theoretical frameworks and the empirical evidence, Andes illustrates many of her goals through this analysis. But her main ultimate goal is to find which theoretical perspective or framework is best supported by empirical evidence. In order for this analysis to happen, different data and methods were conducted, gathered, analyzed, and compared. The data that are used are from the General Social Survey combined across nine survey years. Currently employed workers over the age of eighteen are selected, 3,209 women and 4,332 men are surveyed.
The results of this method are expressed through four tables. The first table illustrates the description of 12 social classes by occupational attributes, with the 12 social classes ranging from self-employed or autonomous professional being class one to a class of unionized operatives and laborers being class twelve. The second table illustrates the gender distribution in each of the 12 social class structures. The third table demonstrates the distribution of both gender into account and shows the proportion of women to men in each class. In this table, women are more likely to be found as clerical workers, sales clerks, cleaning, and food service workers (class 9), and routine clerical and supervised technical and service workers (class 11). On the contrast, women are least likely to be found as managers, administrator, and self-employed construction contractors (class 4), and unionized skilled industrial workers (class 10). This table implies that women are not distributed across all social classes in equal proportion to their overall labor force participation. Table four illustrates the classification rates of discriminant analysis with the results for the separate male and female samples. “This table proposes that sex in the classification scheme does not improve the classification rates.” (Andes, 1992).
When comparing the tables from each other, many conclusions and implications were made. But before we interpret the conclusions, one must understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex refers to the “biological characteristics that differentiate females from males.”( Schafer and Lamm, 1998). On the other hand, gender refers to the “socially constructed cluster of behavioral patterns and personality traits that are associated with being female or male, or what we commonly call femininity and masculinity.” (Scott and Schwartz, 2000) Results show that gendered class criteria can uncover an economically distinguished gender segregated social class structure. (Andes, 1992). The results also obviously illustrate that gender, not sex alone, but integrated gendered class attributes are a significant characteristic because there are different proportions of women and men in each class. In conclusion, it is the integrated gendered class perspective or approach that is supported by empirical evidence.
Besides the article expressing its analysis on gender inequality, there are many theorists and or scholars from other sociological perspectives that address themselves. In the functionalist view, they uphold that “gender differentiation has contributed to overall social stability.” (Schaefer and Lamm 1998). Sociologists Talcott Parson and Robert Bales, argued that in order for a family to function at all, chores or tasks must be done by a particular role or a division of labor must be established between marital partners. Within this division of labor, women are more likely or viewed by society to take upon expressiveness tasks or duties, which are concern for the harmony and internal and emotional affairs within the family; whereas the men are more likely to take upon instrumentality tasks, which refer to the focus of distant goals and the external affairs within the family. Functionalists view the potential for social disorder “only when all of the aspects of traditional gender stratification are disturbed.” (Schaefer and Lamm 1998).
As for a conflict perspective, conflict theorists view that social structure is undesirable if it is maintained by the method of oppressors and the oppressed. They are aware that relationships between male and female always had an unequal amount of power with men dominating over the women. Feminist sociologist Helen Mayer Hacker stressed that it is the society’s cultural beliefs are what supports the social structure where men are put in a dominant position over women. Another voice from a feministic point of view is from Letty Cottin Pogrebin who also suggests that in order for men to dominate over women, it had to have started when we were children, taught to accept the gender-role divisions as a natural aspect of life. Conflict theorists also emphasize the fact that the issues of men being dominant over women goes farther than labor force or the division of tasks within the household. The issue could also be viewed by the way women are treated by men. For example, wife battering and sexual and street harassment illustrate how women can be seen as the subordinate person or position. Even though the functionalist view or approach may be different from the conflict approach, both perspectives agree on the fact that even if men and women were to be equal in terms of economics and government positions, they will never be genuinely equal if the attacks and the harassment continue, and that it is impossible to change gender roles without revisions in a culture’s social structure. (Schaefer and Lamm 1998).
While the functionalist and the conflict perspective focus on the macro levels of society, the interactionist approach focuses on the micro level of society, such as everyday behavior. One example would be the communication level between a man and a woman. Men are more likely to initiate a conversation, interrupt a woman when she is speaking, ignore topics a woman brings up, and overall give the woman a sense of a verbally dominated conversation. (Freeman, 1999)
Despite the way each perspective approaches the issue of gender inequality, they all accept the fact that there is a gender inequality among men dominating over women. Nowadays, women are taking more and more occupations that were once all male or dominated by male. For example, some are taking more governmental occupations, some are now partaking in boxing matches, more and more women are enlisted in the army, and some are even educated in dominant majors such as engineering, physics, and biology. Because there are more women partaking the once male dominant occupations, there have been organizations and sponsors to support an all women golf team, the WNBA which is an all women basketball team, and even national pool table competitions among women; overall, more women are now being shown on ESPN. But despite the fact that they are partaken in these events, they are not valued or as popular as to a male partaking in that same event or occupation.
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