Feminist Theories of Gender Inequality
The term gender inequality refers to the disparities that exist among individuals based solely on their gender rather than objective differences in skills, abilities, or other characteristics. Gender inequalities may be obvious (e.g., not receiving the same pay for the same job) or subtle (e.g., not being given the same subjective opportunities for advancement). Despite the strides taken to eradicate gender inequality over the years, the fact is that it still remains. There are many feminist perspectives of gender inequality, including that of liberal feminism, socialist feminism, radical feminism, and multiracial feminism. Each of these perspectives views the issue from a slightly different angle and offers different insights into the problem in addition to different solutions. However, gender equality is more than a quest for equal pay for equal work. The social roles of females and males are often far from "different but equal." Much more research is needed in order to be able to understand the extent to which gender equality is a good thing for society and how this can best be implemented.
In twenty-first century Western society, it is often difficult to think of women as an oppressed minority group. After all, according to the US Census Bureau current population survey of 2010, females make up 50.8 percent of the total population of the United States: a slim majority, indeed, but a majority nonetheless (Howden & Meyer, 2011). In addition, one can see women in virtually every job and career throughout the levels of social stratification: women are no longer relegated to the positions of wives, mothers, or secretaries, but can and do become doctors, lawyers, and nuclear physicists, as well as truck drivers, welders, and factory workers. Yet despite such advances, women are significantly underrepresented in many segments of twenty-first century society. For example, of the 535 members of the 113th Congress, only 98 of these were women in April 2013 (Center for American Women in Politics, 2013). Although women have achieved positions in other important national leadership roles (e.g., Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Soto-mayor, and Elena Kagan becoming members of the US Supreme Court; Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, and Condoleezza Rice becoming Secretary of State), they still are significantly underrepresented when compared to their majority status in the population. Sociologically, a minority or a subordinate group is defined by five basic properties:
- Unequal treatment;
- Common physical and cultural characteristics that distinguish them from the dominant group;
- Involuntary membership in the subordinate group;
- Development of a sense of solidarity;
- Intermarriage within the subgroup.
Women as a general classification fulfill virtually all of these characteristics. Women today still receive unequal treatment when compared to men.
- First, in 2012, the median income for year-round male workers was $50,955 as opposed to $39,977 for female workers (US Census Bureau, 2012).
- Second, women share obvious physical characteristics that distinguished them from men as well as cultural characteristics that also differentiate them from men (e.g., gender roles and stereotypes).
- Third, being a woman is a result of a fact of birth rather than of voluntary membership in a class.
- Fourth, although the fight for women's rights may have been going on since time immemorial, contemporary feminism in many ways has helped women to develop a greater feeling of solidarity.
- Finally, although some women may intermarry within their class, most marriages that take place are heterosexual unions and many women believe that the institution of heterosexual marriage is irrevocably linked with their subordinate position in society.
The term gender inequality refers to the disparities between women and men based solely on their gender rather than objective differences in skills, abilities, or other characteristics. These inequalities may be obvious (e.g., not receiving the same pay for the same job) or subtle (e.g., not being given the same subjective opportunities for advancement). There are many answers to the question of why gender inequality exists. For example, the structural functionalist view of gender is that it has a fixed role in society, with men filling instrumental roles and women filling expressive roles. Conflict theorists, on the other hand, view women as being disadvantaged by power inequities that emanate from the social structure. Feminist theorists, however, take exception to both these views of gender inequalities. For example, one of the objections to the functionalist view is that it assumes that such sexist arrangements are functional for society. Feminist theorists differ with conflict theorists because the latter assume that all inequalities stem from the same source.
It would seem that the feminist perspective would have much to say about both gender in general and gender inequality in particular. In general, feminism is an ideology that is opposed to gender stratification and male dominance. Feminist beliefs and concomitant actions are intended to help bring justice, fairness, and equity to all people regardless of gender and aid in the development of a society in which women and men are equal in all areas of life. In general, feminists attempt to understand the nature of women in society in order to bring about social change that will liberate women from being oppressed and bring them parity with men.
Feminism, however, is far from being a unified perspective, and different feminists view gender inequalities as stemming from different sources depending on their assumptions. Within feminism, there are at least four distinct, major frameworks. Each of these views the issue of gender inequality from a different perspective. Liberal feminists, for example, posit that gender inequality has its origins in historical traditions that have set up barriers to the advancement of women. In addition, liberal feminism emphasizes issues such as individual rights and equal opportunity as a basis for social justice and reform. In addition, this framework assumes that the socialization of women into gender roles contributes to the inequality experienced by women in society. To bring about social change and neutralize gender inequities, feminists advocate removing barriers to the advancement of women within society and developing policies to promote equal rights for women. The liberal feminist framework has been the basis of many legal changes that have been used to bring about greater equality for women within the United States.
A second major feminist perspective is socialist feminism. As with socialist perspectives on other aspects of culture and society, the socialist feminist perspective posits that women's oppression is a result of capitalism. According to this perspective, women are a cheap labor supply that is...
(The entire section is 3137 words.)