A sociological perspective on the issue of gender examines the social forces that played a role in changing the social statuses of men and women. For many generations around the world, men were expected to be the providers for family units, and women were supposed to be caretakers. There is no biological basis for this distinction, but many social scientists believe that it is rooted in the structure of hunter and gatherer societies, in which men would go out and hunt for food and women would stay in their dwellings caring for their children. Even after societies evolved past the need to physically hunt for food each day, this social structure led to the assumption that men possessed certain inherent qualities that women did not, and vice versa.
The socially constructed belief that men are stronger than women led to the systemic gender inequality that is still prevalent in many societies today. Consider how in many countries, men still make more money than women for the same job. This reflects the stereotype that a man’s work is of higher quality, and thus worth more money. It is important to note that a sociological perspective on such inequality cannot ignore the way that other social factors, such as race and class, make this experience of inequality different for different people. For instance, women of all races face discrimination that men do not, but Black women face more because they also possess a racial identity that is discriminated against.
The status of men and women has changed over time through the work of many people, from feminist advocates to shifting perspectives in the media’s portrayal of women. Feminist social movements were initially frowned upon because they were misunderstood as women who wanted more power than men, instead of women who wanted equality. However, they brought attention to the rampant inequality in society and began to inspire change. Today, in many countries, it is no longer taboo for women to work corporate jobs or jobs in fields that were historically dominated by men, such as medicine. This suggests that women are closer than ever before to reaching more of an equal playing field with men.
However, there is still an evident power imbalance between these two genders. For example, rhetoric degrading women’s appearances is rampant throughout many social sectors, from politics, to the media, to men who catcall women on the street. Women also still have to defend their decisions, balance their home and work life, and advocate for themselves more frequently than men do.