Gender Inequality

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In this essay this writer will look at the sociological perspectives on gender inequality in society. The theories of gender include: Functionalist, Feminist and Conflict Theories. One will look at these individually later. Following on from that one will examine what sociology has revealed about gender relations in Irish society. One will look at this in relation to education in detail and will also take a short look at employment and politics. Firstly one will look at what gender is. Gender is the word used to describe social and personality differences between women and men. It refers to that which society defines as masculine and feminine. While sex refers to the biological differences between male and female, gender refers to the socially constructed and variable categories of masculine and feminine. Smith (1979) has argued that the notions of what femininity is and what masculinity is are used as the basis for interacting with girls/women and boys/men both in terms of expectations and the behaviour that is encouraged or discouraged and punished. Boys/men are expected to be domineering, aggressive, noisy and active, whereas girls/women are expected to be caring, quiet and less assertive. These very characteristics are then those that are seen to differentiate men and women in terms of employment. ( Payne 2006:66) R Connell reveals the gender order of contemporary society: Men are the world leaders, policemen, private security and military, women are the housekeepers and child caregivers. They are lower paid and work as repairers of the consequences of violence as nurses, psychologists and social workers. He challenges us to overturn our assumptions that gender distinction is natural, unchanging and fixed. He also points to the prevalence of gender ambiguity in society; masculine women, feminine men, homosexuality, women who are heads of households, men who bring up children, women soldiers, male nurses. He argues that sustaining the gender categories also sustains the inequalities e.g. income inequalities, wealth and power in the hands of men and unequal respect.

The following are the sociological perspectives on gender inequality in society: Functionalist Theory
Functionalists believe that society is held together by social consensus or cohesion, in which members of the society agree upon and work together to achieve what is best for society as a whole. Each aspect of society is interdependent and contributes to society’s functioning as a whole e.g. The government or state provides education for the children of the family, who in turn pay taxes on which the state depends to keep itself functioning. This approach concentrates on the roles within the family. Women by their very nature play a central role in the rearing of children. The male would be viewed as the breadwinner and the female viewed as the carer/nurturer. Talcott Parsons, a leading functionalist thinker held the view that the family operates most efficiently with a clear-cut sexual division of labour in which females act in expressive roles, providing care and security to children and offering them emotional support. Men should perform instrumental roles – namely being the breadwinner in the family. Parsons referred to the roles of men and women as instrumental roles and expressive roles respectively. Functionalists like Durkheim believed that for a society to survive, its various social processes, must net smoothly together to meet the system’s needs. (McDonald 2006:20) Functionalists have been criticised for interpreting gender as a fixed role in society, however, this theory presumed that the arrangement where men filled instrumental roles in society and women filled expressive roles worked to the benefit of society.

Feminist Theory
Feminism can be defined as being a critique of society based on the inequalities that exist through gender roles and assumptions. (McDonald 2006:24) Feminism has many meanings, but...
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