Social Inequality: Topic 2C

Theoretical explanations for gender inequality

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  • Created on: 05-05-15 13:39

Functionalist aproach

A key asumption within functionalism is that theres a biological basis for differences between men and women, that is theres certain distinctive behaviour thats 'natural' for men and women that leads them to adopt different roles in society.

Parsons- seperate gender roles for men and women are helpful to soicety. Women were more suited to expressive roles ad men to instumental. This veiw implies that men are more suited to paid work and women to domesticity. The implification of Parsons veiw is that women will be less motivated and less suited to the labour market than men. Therefor its not surprising that they will on average be paid less. From this veiwpoint the pay gap between men and women is justified as it reflects the fact men have greater orientation to paid work. Women are more likely to take care for their families. Men however will be able to build up their skills, qualifications and experience through unbroken employment, education and training and thus comand higher pay.

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Evaluation of functionalist aproach

  • Feminists- argue functionalist veiws are just a way of justifying inequality and a patriarchal labour market where women cluster in lower paid ocupations (horizontal segregation) and are concentrated in the lower levels of betwer paid occupations (vertical segregation). They see gender difference as the resuylt of gendered socialisation through the fmily, media and peers not anything "natural"
  • Connel- "hegemonic masculinity" argues males are socilised into competition, hierachy and agression. Hegemonic means dominating this is because it croweds out other masculine styles such as artistic, gay masculine identities. Young men are put under great pressure to present themselves as hard, strong, indipendent so they soon learn to conceal any girly signs of kindness and vunerability.
  • Skelton- benwoods primary school describes the various ways in which gender steryotypes are created. At school assembly its the male teachers who help with the benches and girls are seen as good at creative and discussion based activities wherre as constructional and logical activities are masculine. Teachers reinforce gender steryotyping by making negative judgements about female confidence in subjects such as maths. These gender processes have a profound influence on subject choice particularaly at A level and concequently higher education and future carears. Art subjects are dominated by females where as "hard subjects" such as maths are dominated by females.
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Evaluation of functionalist aproach 2

Olsen and Walby- used data from the longitudinal British Household Panel Survey to investigate the causes of pay differences between men and women. Although they accept that day differences in part reflect the fact that women tend to have less full time employment experience than men and take more carear breaks they argue women suffer systematic disadvantage. For example pay is lower in occupations where there are high concentrations of women. This could well be because these jobs provide less training and promotional prospects than jobs where men predominate.

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Waberian aproaches to gender inequality

Weberians explain ineuquality by examining the social class, status and power differences between groups. When aplied to gender this means looking at how the labour market is divided up according to different pay, holiday entitlements, pension rights, working conditions and how this affects men and women.

Dual labour market theory. Barren and Norris- primary sector secure well paid jobs dominated by middle class men and secondary secro characterised by poor pay, insecurity and no ladder to promotion. Women more likely to be in secondary sector and once there is hard to move.

Women more likely to be in secondaery sector for 3 reasons

  • Womens 'unsutability'
  • disrupted carear development
  • weak legal and political frameowork supporting women
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Womens 'unsuitability'

employers hold steryotypical beleifs of the unsuitability of women for primary sector roles. West and Zimmerman and Hartnett note theres still powerful cultural myths subscribed to by some employers in the 90's

  • Workers don't like working for a female manager- making women less eligable for managerial positions
  • Women are less dependable- and so cannot be trusted to fufil delegated tasks
  • Women are financially dependent on men- and so need promotions/ pay rises less
  • Women stop working when they marry and have children- so theres no point investing in long term training
  • Working mothers cause their children damage- women should not, for the childrens sake be given managerial jobs the hours are long and unsociable.
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Disrupted carear development

  • Jobs with good promotional prospects often recruit people young and require from them several years of continuous service. Few mechanisms exist to enable staff to take time out and return to a similar position. Social pressure to have a family leads to some women finding that child rearing, even for a couple of years can mean going back to square one of their carear.
  • Caplow- argues that a husbands carear may even dictate the geographical movement of the family and wives are sometimes forced to leave their jobs as a concequence affecting their chances of a continuous carear.
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Weak legal and political framework supporting wome

Both the equel pay act and the sex discrimination act ar eineffectiver in failing to protect womens employment rights.

Coussins- describes the sex discrimination act as feeble.There are many areas of employment to which it does not apply. Further she doubts the commitment of goverments to elliminate gender inequality. Theres a limited amount of access to nursery care and little support for employers to provide creche facilitiesd. Recent changes in the legal position of part time workers have benefited women considerably and some attempt has been made to recognise that men to have some responsibility for child rearing with the introduction of recent leagalisation to allow unpaid leave for either partners.

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Evaluation of dual labour market theory

Dual albour market theory has two strengths as an explanation of vertical segregation

1. It stresses that the social organisation of work in western societies is essntially patriarchal with men in the positions of power making discrimination against women and their lower status appear 'natural'

2. It undermines the popular assumption that better qualifications and increased ambition for women would automatically dismantle gender divisions in employment. Women with the same qualifications as men will continure to be disadvantaged as long as these two secters are allowed to exist and are underpinned with patriarchal assumptions about the role of women.

Bradley- points out that the theory fails to explain inequalities in the same sector. For example teaching isn't a secondary labour market occupation yet women are less likely than men to gain high status jobs in this proffession. Whilst 70% of teachers are female only 35% of senier jobs in teaching are hled by women.

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Liberal feminists

  • seek equel rights
  • are gradualists
  • argue people should be trated on their individual merrits rather than sex and women should be free to compete freely with men and enjoy the same privledged and oportunities.
  • Liberal feminists campain for the removal of all social, economic, political or legal obsticals which deny women the same freedom of choice as men.
  • Has been succesful in champain for changes to legislation such as equel pay act, sex discrimination act and right to maternity leave.
  • However liberal fems argue gender inequalities still persist due to:
  • Lingering predudice e.g cultural steryotypes about "proper" roles for males and females
  • continuing discrimination in the workplace- employers not always family friendly, many of them insist on long or unsociable hours.
  • Another problem is occupational segregation- although lib fems celebrate the huge strides made by girls in gaining educational qualifications, they complain that all too often this isn't followed by the expected occupational success. Too many young women end up in dead end jobs.
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Liberal feminist studies

  • sommerville- argues its important to introduce new policies to help working parents. The working hours and the culture of many jobs are incompatable with family life. Many jobs whether done by men or women are based on the idea that the male breadwinner who relies upon a non working wife to take full responsibility for children.
  • Wolfe- "the beauty myth" she argues that though progress has been made in some areas women are still suffering patriachal oppression "the more legal and material hinderances women have broken through the more stircktly and cruely images of female beauty have come upon us. During the past decade women breached the power structure meanwhile eating disorders rose exeptionally, cosmetic surgary because the fastest growing speciality and **** the main media category a 3rd of all american women would rather loose 15 pounds than any other significant life goal. More women have money power and scope than ever before but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically we are worse off than our unliberated grandmothers.
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Criticisms of liberal feminists

  • tend to base their ideas upon male assumptions and norms including golloeing men into paid work and its rationality. Encouraging women to be more like men and denies any qualities of femininity which may be accociated with nurcher and cooperation. As a result liberal feminists are accused of emphasising public life at the expense of private life.
  • marxists- they fail to understand the structural socurces of inequality
  • Tripple system feminists- criticise liberal feminists for failing to see differences between women so they assume the needs and pressures of middle class white women are the same as those for women of different ethnicities and classes.
  • Liberal feminism fails to adequetely explain the roots of womens oppression
  • Radical feminists argue that liberal feminists aren't demanding enough and should be much more radical in their expectations.
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Marxist feminists

Differ from tradit marxists as they recognise the struggle is not just against capetalism but also sexism and patriarchy, though conventional marxism explains why there class inequality  it doesnt go far enough in explaining why sexual discrimination persists.

Argue that the emergence of capetalism altered relations between men and women. Capitalism is a competative system which sets people against eachother. Under capetalism men try to gain control over women in various ways employers treet women as a 'reserve army of labour' to be hired and fired at will; malke workers try to exclude females from their trades and crafts; and husbands exploit their wives unpaid housework.

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Marxist feminists: class differences

Other feminists often neglect the importance of class, marx fems do not.

Skeggs- accuses many feminists as advancing individualists and neglecting the constant influence of class in women's lives. Theres class differences between women and this means they don't all enjoy the same incomes, lifestyles or aspirations. The life chances of a female lawyer v a female factory worker.

Delamont-"womens opportunities have widdened but class differences between women are more powerful that any gender based similarities. "

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Reserve army of labour

  • Fminists have taken the reserve army of labour theory to argue that in "the modern world it is mainly women who fill the ranks of the reserve army of labour".
  • They have also moved away from marx's purely economic explanation adding some "cultural explanation". Married women are often regarded as secondary workers whose main responsiblity is to their home and children this "familist" ideology helps explain their key role in the reserve army.
  • Freedman- notes married women are supposed to be dependent on their husbands wages and give priority to their their home responsibilityies so this should make them more willing to leave employment if demand drops. He accepts the reserve army of labour explanation is "theoretically apealing" but its crucial failing is that its not supported by empirical evidence. Theres little evidence that women are more likely than men to leave the workforce during the recession. The ideology of familiism is less convincing in an age where many women follow continuous carear patterns throughout their working lives.
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Criticisms of marxist feminists

Radical fems- fail to priorotise womens issues and disagree that class issues should take precedence over gender issues

Non capetalist societies are also based on patriachy so some argue that capetalism cannot be the sole cause of womens opression.

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  • Millet- the most fundamentle conflict in society is between all men and all women. The main enemy of women is "patriarchy"- the combination of social, economic and cultural systems which ensuress male supremacy
  • . Women could almost be considered a seperatw class a class in conflict conflict to the other class. Men.
  • Argue that all women have shared interests as they are all exploited and opressed by men
  • Men use their power to ensure society is rin in their interests, sizing most of the material rewards and social privledges and inflict physical and sexual violence on women. They also exercise control over cultural attitudes and this means their able to justify their dominance by convincing people that its natural.
  • Beleive in bioloigcal determanism but don't accept male domination is inevitable advocating for seperatism
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Key radical feminists

Delphy and Leonard- beleive that the family is the cornerstone of opression and should be abolished. Argue that women are manipulated to do an unfair share of the domestic labour and are exploited in their relationship to men. This explains why the "personal is political" meaning what happens in your family is a political issue as its what ahppens in all families.

Walby and Allen- 1 in 5 women have experienced domestic abuse and 1 in 20 sexual assalt.

Dworking- argued patriachy is based on sexual exploitation and is especially critical of **** which she argues objectifies women and sets the scene for sexual violence against women. She argues its the reason why men **** and commit domestic violence and therefore she attempted to get it outlawed and ****ographers prosecuted and held accountable for the **** opf women by other men. "all hetro sex is ****" as if women understood the true nature of the opression they suffer in sexual relationships then they wouldn't agree to sex hence all sex can be seen as **** because most women aren't truely concious of their own victim status so their consent is given without true understanding. also aruges any sexual encounter where men acheive ****** and women don't is fundamental exploitatioon.

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Criticisms of radical feminists

  • It implies that nothing has changed over the years- overlooks serious historical shifts in male female relationships. Morgan- suggests the term "patriachy" should be replaced with the more flexable concept of sexual streatification.
  • Too one sided, suggesting that men exercise fixed power over women in all area's of life, this overlooks the possibility of women having greater or at least equal power in some sectors.
  • Perpetrates a negative image of men as eternal monsters, bullies, oppressors this image is unfair and unhelpful
  • Suggests one cause for womens subcoordination and seperate cause (capetalism) for mens exploitation but gender and class can''t be seperated so easily.
  • Some critics are unhappy about the tendancy for radical fems to assct there are natural differneces in temperamentand behaviour between men and women.
  • Dworking fiasl to see how women may have sexual desires that include using ****, ****** and other forms of hetrosexual sex.
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Tripple systems feminism

Tripple system feminism was created by Walby in an attempt to combine radical and socialist (marxist) feminism.

  • Walbys older work- argued married women occupy a dual class position. The first is formned through the 'domestic mode of production' where husbands and wives constitute seperate slasses (as husbands expolit the domestic labour of their wives) the second is the capetalist mode of production where class is determined by employment. Where as 'husbands' and 'wives' form seperate classes in the domestic world it is not ture of all 'men' and'women' in the capetalist mode. The capitalist system divides women according to their respective social class and unites men and women within each class. These two systems domestic and capetalist interact in the lives of women.
  • Walbys later work- identifies 3 interacting systems racism, capetalism and patriarchy. But she now puts a major emphasis on patriarchy which she defines as 'a system of social structures and practices which mean men dominate, opress and exploit women. She beleives patriarchal relations exist in 6 interacting structures. Domestic life, employment, state policies, male violence against women, sexuality and cultural institutions (e.g media, education, religeon).  Dissmisses criticisms of the concept of patriarchy insisting it can take account of class and race variations and recognises that it changes over time. Beleives it has changed in degree.
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Tripple system feminists 2

improvements in womens education and employment oportunities have lessened the intensity of patriachy. It has also changed in form, the main site of womens oppression has shifted from the 'private' household to the more 'public' spheres of employment, culture and the state.


  • Freedman- tripple  systems approach does not seek one simple overarching explanation for womens subordination. Rather it treats camipalism, patriachy and racism as linked but interacting systems each making a difference. This recognition of complexity is to be welcomed. Never the less freedman points out that the dual aproach actually widens rather than narrows the search for the basis of womens disadvantage. It raises as many questions as it solves.
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postmodern feminist aproaches

  • Post mod feminism is hard to categories as it includes various different ellements. One common theme is the continued need for work in the area of gender equality and the importance of language and symbals. Post mod fems argue women need protecting from new subtle forms of opression from the media.
  • Fems in the 60's and 70's stressed the common 'sisterhood' which unites all women. By contrast post mod fems are much more interested in the differences between women i.e they deny that there is a common essence to women- the individual differences between women are just as stirking as the differences between men and women. Post mod fems argue that people have been released from steryotyped gender roles and this gives them greater freedom to choose their own personal lifestyles and identities.
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Post modern feminist theorists

Natasha walter- living dolls argues the rise of **** and cosmetic surgary and the hyper sexuaslisation of women has led to an unprecidented rise in the way women are objectified. The beleived women are judged on their looks and this has lead to inequalities where women are not taken seriously. She sees feminism as more neccacary than ever as women face a resurgence  of discrimination.

Faludi- warns womens rights are being threatened by a media backlash which spreads scare stories about feminism e.g career women missing out on the joys of motherhood and marriage.

Coward- attacks the "sacred cows of feminism". Beleives that feminists are wrong to insist opression is bust as bad as it ever was. Accepts theres still spesific areas of injustice or unfairness (i.e lack of equel pay) but rejects the idea that theres an over arching patriarchal system with men always advantaged and women disadvantaged. In the 90's there were profound changes in mens lives suffering high unemployent and further threatened by the steady feminisation of te economy and girls caught up with boys in educational performance. So The idea of the male crisis may have been exagerated but can't be dismissed. Concequenly coward argues its no longer apropriate to treat womens problems as greater or more pressing than mens. Social change is creating a new "gender landscape" and its one in which men are just as likey as women to emerge as casualties.

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Criticisms of postmodern feminists

  • Theres little political engagement from women towards feminsm which suggests that there is no concensus for the need of a third wave.
  • Feminists are diverse within themselves and offer little in terms of a unified set of solutions to any gender inequality which does exist.
  • Oakley and Mitchell- question whether there really has been a systematic backlash against womens rights in britian.
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Post feminist approaches

The term 'post feminism' refers to the new ideas and directions which emerged in the late 80's and 90's. For some it suggest that the womens movement has gone past its original themes and interests to develop new but still recognisably feminist ideas.

Others however post femism represents a rejection of all feminst values, so its a term which can easily lead to confusion since its used in a number of conflicting ways.

Catherine Hakim- beleives women now have a genuine freedom to choose their own destinies. Changes to legislation, changing social norms and changes to the workplace itself have removed the obsticals to womens full participation in work leaving women free to make a rational choice and yet many still priorotise childcare over their carears. Theres broard orientations and gender differences towards work. Its these differences in attitudes and aspiration which leads to the different occupational profiles of men and women. This 'rational choice' or 'preference model' is most famouly acociated with Hakim.

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Post Feminist: Preference theory- choice NOT const

  • Hakim beleives men and women are natural different in their work orientation. "even by the 90's the majority of women in britian didn't seek continuous lifetime carears but continued to give priority, to varying degrees, to family activities."
  • Conceads that some women, usually the most educated are strongly commited to full time work and these women favour "symetrical roles" in which responsibilities for home and work are shared equally between men and women.
  • Despite this Hakim maintains that between half and two thirds of adult women still hold traditional views. ie accept sexual division of labour and as a result their commitment to work was weaker than mens. Some of these women choose to give up work or at least for a period in order to concentrate on their family responsibilities others take part time work, a decision which reflects their traditional veiws. The magority of part timers regard breadwinning as the primary (but not exclusive) responsibiliyu or men and see women as secondary earners whose primary (but not exclusive) responsibility is domestic work and homemaking.
  • Suggest fems have created myths that women are prevented by structural factors such as lack of childcare when in reality they choose their lifecourse and this explains their lower income.
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Preference choice 2

  • Contriversially indroduced the notion that both men and women but especailly women should use their sexual capital to get on in life. She argues that we need to embrace any disadvantages we may have in order to make progress. She uses Obama as an example of how sexual capital has enhanced his popularity and suggests women should embrace any opportunities they have to use their sexual capital in the same way.
  • Critics suggest this assumes a unified or narrow idea of what is attractive and desirable and fems argue people shouldn't be judged on their looks.
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Criticisms of post femism/ Hakim

  • Gin et al-
  • 0she offers no convincing explanation of why women are still disadvantaged in employment.
  • 1Treats gender inequalitites inpay, working conditions and carear prospects as little more than a reflection of individuals attitudes which she does nothing to explain (do women choose lower paid jobs as their are socialised into expecting less?).
  • 2 By stressing so much on attitudes and orientations she is blaming the victim, the implication is that if women aren't earning so much or are in part time work its their own fault (since they are free to make their own choices).
  • 3Over simplifies by dividing women into two more or less distinct groups with clear cut values theres likely to be considerable overlap especially since most women have to juggle with the competing demands of work and family.
  • 4Also attitudes towards work fluctiate over time do divisions aren't fixed.
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Criticisms of post feminism 2

Gin et all offer an altyernative explanation.

  • Argue womens attitudes to work are largely shaped by the wider social context hwere male employers discriminate against women, goverments provide poor childcare options and there are powerful cultural expectations that women will give priority to their families.
  • These pressures place limits on the real choices available to women and force many of them to scale down their work ambitions.

Hakims responce.

  • Denies that she divides women into two polarised groups- she allows for a third intermedite group or "drifters" whose veiws on work may change as they gain more experience in the workplace.
  • Conceads that womens attitudes are changing but beleives they are doing so much more slowely than fems image.
  • Denis that non working/ part time women are always "victims" most seem content and accuses fems of arrogance assuming they know whats best for other women.
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Methological issues

  • Both sides support their arguments by drawing on a huge body of stats and surveys but some of the avaliable evidence is contradictory and leads both sides to accuse eachother of selecting the most conveniant evidence for its case.
  • Some evidence offers technical limitations i.e the snapshot attitude surveys may show that at a given point in time older women hold more "traditional veiws" than younger women buty only long term reaserch can show if this is because of "generational effects" (perhaps young women have grown up in a more egalitarian society) or "life cycle" ( perhaps women grow more conservative as they get older and have children)
  • Delamont- points out that Hakim relies on mainly large scale survey data and its not always clear form these studies whether the respondants are stating what they think are ideal patterns (what ought to be happening) or what actually happens (what they do) people may say one thing and do another acording to the particular cicromstances of their lives.
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