Gender and Inequality

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Beechey (1986)

Veronica Beechey has developed a second strand of Marxist thought in order to explain the position of women in the labour market.

Marx argued that capitalism required a reserve army of labour, that is a sapre pool of potential recruits to the labour force. Beechey identifies a number of ways in which women in modern Britain are particulary suited to form part of this reserve labour:

  • They are less likely to unionized and so are less able to resist redundancy than men.
  • Women's jobs are least likely to be covered by redundancy legislation, so it's cheaper to make them redundant than men
  • Unemployed married women may not be eligible to recieve state benefits if their husbands are working, and for this reason may not appear in unemployment statistics.
  • Because of their position within the family and the primary importance placed on their domestic role, women are likely to provide a particulary flexible reserve labour force. They are more likely to accept part time work and work for less wages are their husbands provide the main source of income for the family.
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Braverman (1974)

According to Braverman, women have been drawn to areas of work such as clerical work and retail as the service sector has expanded, while the mainly male manufacturing sector has decline. He explained women's entry into such work in the following way:

  • Women were no longer needed to produce commodities such as food and clothing for their families since these items became easier for people to purchase.
  • Women were able to move quite easily from providing services for their family to provifing them for other members of the community in return for a wage packet.
  • Women have had to become an increasingly important source of labour as the reserve supply of other types of labour has dried up. Braverman suggests women are a particulary suitable source of labour in an economic system that increasingly wants to employ unskilled workers.

However, a major problem with Braverman's views is his exclusive emphasis on deskilling. Not all jobs have been deskilled, nor do all women work in unskilled jobs. As Beechey points out, it is possible that some low pay jobs attract women not because they require little skill but because they are seen as women's jobs, for instance, nursing.

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Barron and Norris

Barron and Norris applied the dual labour market theory to gender inequalities. From this point of view, there are two, not one, labour markets:

  • The primary labour market is characterised by high pay, job security, good working conditions and favourable promotion prospects.
  • The secondary labour market consists of lower-paid jobs with less job security, inferior working conditions and few opportunities for promotions.

Although both men and women can be found in the secondary sector, however, women are more likely to have jobs in this sector. Barron and Norris suggested that women have characteristics particularly suited to these types of jobs; they are easy to replace, have less interest in gaining additional skills,and less skilled with lower wage packets.This relatively low status of women in society weaken their position and orevent them from getting a foothold in primary sector jobs.

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Walby presented the 'triple-systems theory' in providing both a theory of patriarchy and an assessment of how much women's lives have improved. She argues there has been a move from private patriarchy to public patriarchy and identifies six structures including:

  • Paid employment: Walby identifies some reduction in inequality, however argues the gap in wages between sexes has only narrowed slightly. She sees the lack of well-paid work as the most important factor discouraging women from taking paid employment.
  • Household production: Continues to be based on patriachal relations of production, with men benefiting from women's unpaid labour. However, relaxed divorce laws make it easier for women to escape from exploitative marriages. Some women who are expoited at work may see family life as preferable as marriage brings benefits for some women but violence for others.
  • Culture: Continues to differentiate between males and females but sexual attractiveness has replaced domesticitiy as the key feature of feminitiy. This has increased women's freedom in some ways, but it has aso subjected them to degrading *********** and sexual violence.

Overall, the changes indicate a shift from private patriarchy to public patriarchy. However, the nature of the patriarchy varies by social group.

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Catherine Hakim argues that feminist theories are both inaccurate and misleading, and that women are not victims of unfair employment practices. She introduces the Rational Choice Theory, claiming that women commit to their lifestyle choices because the benefits outweight the costs.

Hakim suggests that men and women have different work orientations, supported with research evidence that even by 1990's the majority of women did not seek continuous lifetime careers but gave priority to family activities.

Hakim does argue that some womenm usually the most highly educated are strongly committed to full-time work. These women favour 'symmetrical' roles in which responsibilities for home and work are shared equally between men and women. However, Hkim maintains the view that between half and two thirds of women still hold traditional views.

As a result, their commitment to work is weaker than mens. Some of these women choose to give up work, at least for a period, in order to concentrate on their familiy responsibilities. Others take part-time work, a deicison that reflects their traditional views: 'The majority of part-timers regard breadwinning as the primary responsibility of men and see women as secondary earners whose primary responsibility is domestic work and homemaking.

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Grimshaw and Rubery

Grimshaw and Rubery believe that the pay gap between men and women has stopped narrowing because:

  • Sub-contracted and performance-related pay have depressed women's wages in the public sector.
  • Women continue to do most of the part-time work.
  • Fragmented organisations make it hard to enforce equal pay laws.
  • Women tend to be excluded from informal networks of male dominated management.
  • Individualisation of pay has disadvantaged women.
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