Evaluate the usefulness of feminist explanations of gender inequality (30)
Gender inequality is a term used to describe the unfair treatment of a certain gender, in comparison to the other. This can also relate to patriarchy as it is a social class system where males hold majority of power, but also have authority over women. Another way of this being explained is males having a breadwinner role whilst women have the childcare role. Most societies seem to assume that there’s basic differences in masculine and feminine temperaments and behaviour, and so they socialise men and women into their respective gender roles. In the 1960’s, feminists began to emerge and they influenced the women’s movement. This meant that they all came together to fight for the changes in women’s law, and furthermore, the lives of women would change for the future. Moreover, the lives of women have changed dramatically since the 1920’s, but there’s still evidence of inequality between men and women in today’s society. Most feminists share the assumption that women are disadvantaged in comparison with men and that it isn’t going to change. They also normally have the view that these inequalities aren’t the direct result of natural differences between men and women.
Liberal feminists suggest that there is indeed an issue related to men and women, but it can also be put right. These feminists believe that gender inequalities are learned through the process of socialisation. This explains that children are being socialised from an early age, but are separated into genders and are taught to like certain things. Sociologist Hines did a study and she found that boys were more likely to look or play with cars, and girls were more likely to play with or look at dolls. Further research then displayed that there was a similar gendered preference for toys in animals. This lead to some belief that children are born with gendered tastes in toys they play with. On the other hand, Hines also discovered that age played a part in the types of toys the children wished to play with. As an example, she found that at the age of one year, the percentages of girls and boys who preferred dolls had a similarity: 57.2% of girls and 56.4% of boys. This is evident that age is a factor of what affects children and what they pay with, but it could also be due to the fact that older siblings could also influence what types of toys they play with. As an example, if the household already owns dolls, the children and their siblings may play together with them. However, it is evident that females have a maternal instinct, so the attraction to play with dolls will be stronger than what it is like for boys.
As well as this, liberal feminists also seek equal rights with men. They argue that people should be treated according to their individual merits: talent and effort as examples. Liberal feminists do also say that women should be allowed to compete freely with men, but also should be allowed to enjoy the same privileges and opportunities. This has been evident that some work on this has been done, as in the 1970’s, the Equal Pay Act came into action and when a group of women came together, they had more power and dominance and this meaning they had enough to change the law. Consequently, equal pay hasn’t come into place as it’s proven that women earn 40% less than men. However, it’s believed to be a work in progress and that equality for women has definitely improved since the 1920’s era. What could be the case is that women lacked in access to education, and they then couldn’t get the qualifications that they needed in order to work. On the other hand, this was when the First World War began, and there was a demand in men to perform the hard labour jobs, like fixing aircrafts. This caused the need for women to work to arise, but before this, it was classed that women were working as housewives and were then put out of work as soon as they were married and their jobs became themselves looking after their homes and children. Oakley’s study says that housework is to be considered as unpaid work, and both middle class and lower class women state that housework is unpleasant. Moreover, even though they dislike it, this role was central to their identity – the rejection of this role would have indicated a rejection towards their gender identity also. This states that women used to have to fulfil their stereotypical role which was them looking after their house and caring for their children. However, they did also have to do things for their husbands too, like ensuring that their food was on the table for when he came home from work, and according to Hunt, this is referred to as “the double shift movement.”
The roles of women have changed over time, and by this it is meant that whatever women thought years ago differs to the views of women nowadays. Sue Sharpe did a study in 1994, and it was to assess the attitudes of teenage girls. What she found out was that their priorities in life were to settle down when they finished school and have a husband and a family. When the study was then re-conducted years later, the tables had turned and it was revealed that education and careers are now a priority for young women and settling down, having a husband and a family weren’t at the top of their lists. This backs up the idea that gender inequality isn’t as bad as it used to be, as now that women are thinking in this way, it’s improving their qualifications and skills to help them secure a good job for their skill range. However, there isn’t much evidence to suggest that all gender inequality has been abolished.
There is a theory of a dual labour market which is made up of two sectors, as developed by Barren and Norris in 1976. The primary sector is made up mainly of male employees. These have good pay, as well as a good working environment and more often, the kinds of jobs which majority of people would want. The secondary sector is made up of mostly women, or individuals with no qualifications. These people are badly paid and also have a bad working environment. This suggests that women aren’t being considered as people useful employees within the workforce. However, even if a women had better qualifications than a man, more than their qualifications would be taken into account. Other factors include that if the female employee has already had a child and they wish to begin working once more, they’ll more than likely want more holidays to spend time with their children. Not only this, but then this could lead to them picking up part time work, rather than full time and this will allow them to do the stereotypical jobs of a women. For example: clean the house and cook the meals and have them ready for her husband when he returns from work and it’s not very common to see a man doing these jobs and a woman working a full time job. On the other hand, there is a variety of different jobs and it’s difficult to prove that there are more women in the secondary sector than males. As well as this, it’s highly exaggerated to say that there are only males or females in one sector, as there is always going to be highly qualified or lowly qualified individuals regardless of their gender.
Marxist feminists share a similar view, as they look at how class can affect gender inequality, as well as sexism. These kinds of feminists believe that capitalism has a negative effect on both women and men, and they see it as an exploitative system which changes the relationship between both genders and thus creating huge class inequalities. Benston believed that the amount of unpaid labour which was being done by women is very profitable to other individuals. The male of the household would usually be the one who would be earning the money to keep the household going, however, women would do the same amount of work for no charge. The wife would also tend to her husband’s needs and keep him in a good working order by doing the chores around the home, cooking his meals and cleaning his clothes. According to the 1967 Census, there were 36.6 million full time working men, but only 14.8 million working class women. Across the years, this data has changed and the statistics have increased at a steady pace. In 2009, there were 56.1 million full time working men, and also there were 43.2 million full time working women. With the increase in statistics, it could be due to the improvement of opportunities which are available to them. From this, there is an increase in numbers of women who are going into higher education and having a high achievement rate as a result and this also suggests that the involvement of feminists has improved the lives for women, even though there is still more to improve on.
Black feminists believe that race is more important than class. They also argue that black women face the most form of inequality in today’s society as they suffer from not only sexism, but racism also which is one more factor than what white women have to face. This gives an indication that black women have more issues to deal with than white women in today’s society. Walker and other women pointed out that indeed black women experience a different kind of oppression from white women, this showing that opportunities for black women will be difficult. However, in terms of education, they may suffer from racism from other pupils, or even being labelled by their own teachers, thus possibly leading to poor educational attainment rates. This also suggests that the labelling theory towards black children is biased as they get punished more often than white children, but are also labelled as being people with bad behaviour and will be more disruptive. Statistics show that Black Caribbean pupils are more likely to be permanently excluded in comparison to white pupils. From this, it shows that this will discourage them from doing well and they’ll fall into the trap of not caring about school and will perform badly. Moreover, Black feminists are ethnocentric, as they focus on one specific group. They also say that they do not need to focus on white women as every other branch of feminism already does this.
Radical feminism is classed as the most extreme branch of feminism. They say that gender inequality, or patriarchy, is due to a women’s biology. Firestone too says that biology is the basis of the inequality. Due to women being able to become pregnant and menstruate, it makes them prone to being exploited by men. Firestone also believes that if a baby is born outside the womb, then there wouldn’t be an attachment between men and women through their child and the woman would not be dependent on the man to help produce the baby and to also care for it. From this, it’s indicating that women would be free from the control of males, as well as not being reliant on them as they are now. However, if the mother isn’t in a financial state to look after the child, she may have to give up her work and this is where her dependence on the male is seen as they are the breadwinner and are seen as the producer of income. However, Shulamith Firestone doesn’t take into account that there are differences between women; not all are the same. Some are poor, some are right and they each may have different type of jobs which require different skill and have a different payout. In order for her theory to make sense, there would indeed have to be a large radical change in the way the biology of a women works in order to make their lives “better”. On the other hand, some women have babies on their own and do not rely on men for any support, money or care. Even though this is mainly in the court of the women with good and stable jobs, as well as being career riven, they don’t have to go through the full process of a pregnancy and can afford the childcare, thus meaning there would be a short and limited amount of time to be missed off work. Millet is clear about the belief of gender being the single and most important source of our identity as an individual, as it’s something which we have been ascribed and it’s a difficult thing for us to change. She also states that the role of the family is important in establishing the socialisation process. As well as this, religion is seen as being instrumental, and as an example: in Christianity, Eve is made from Adam’s rib and she is liable for human suffering due to her mistakes. From this, it is a clear indication that women have been and always will be inferior to men and women are just made as a source of reproduction in order to populate the Earth itself. It also suggests that if Eve was made from a part of Adam, does this mean that realistically, women are made from a part of a male which is not needed?