Real Equality between Men and Women in Society
Introduction to Anthropology
Dr. K.H. Chin, PhD (ANU)
In 1848, slavery was legal in much of the United States and the social standing of all women, regardless of color, was far below that of men. Back then, in much of the country, women could not own property, keep their wages if they were married, file lawsuits in a court (including lawsuits seeking custody of their children), or attend college, and husbands were widely viewed as having unquestioned authority over their wives and children. Some 300 women gathered at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls to challenge this second-class citizenship, call for expanding women’s right and opportunities, including the right to vote. At that time, most people considered such a proposal absurd and outrageous. Even many attending the conference were shocked by the idea (Gurnett, 1998, as cited in Macionis, 2010). Much has changed since the Seneca Falls convention, and many proposals are now widely accepted as matters of basic justice. However, despite declarations of equality, women and men still lead different lives, either in the United States or elsewhere in the world; in most respects, men are still in charge. Half the world’s population still suffers discrimination. Many cultures favor sons, reinforcing a mind-set that women are less than equal. Therefore, in this paper we will examine the economic, political, social, and cultural devaluation of women. Why does gender inequality appear? Is gender discrimination inevitable? What are the barriers to gender equality and how can we achieve it? After a long history of fighting for women’s right, the question remains as to what extent are men and women able to achieve real equality in our society. Sex and Gender
Before we proceed, it is better to make clear of the terms sex and gender, because people generally mix them up. Sex refers to the biological distinction between females and males. It is the way the human species reproduces. A child’s sex in this manner is determined biologically at the moment of conception. The sex of an embryo guides its development. If the embryo is male, the growth of testicular tissue starts to produce large amounts of testosterone, a hormone that triggers the development of male genitals (sex organs). If little testosterone is present, the embryo develops female genitals. Some differences in the body set males and females apart. Right from birth, the two sexes have different primary sex characteristics—the genitals (organs used for reproduction). Later they develop secondary sex characteristics—bodily development. Mature females have wider hips for giving birth, milk-producing breasts for nurturing infants, and deposits of soft, fatty tissue that provide a reserve supply of nutrition during pregnancy and breast feeding. Mature males typically develop more muscle in the upper body. Gender is an element of culture and refers to the personal traits, patterns of behavior (including responsibilities, opportunities, and privileges), and social positions that members of a society assign to being female or male. It is a dimension of social organization, shaping how we interact with others and how we think about ourselves. More importantly, gender involves hierarchy, ranking men and women differently in terms of power, wealth, and other resources. This is why gender stratification occurs, the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and privilege between men and women. In short, gender affects the opportunities and challenges we face throughout our lives. Differences between Male and Female
Many people think there is something “natural” about gender distinctions because biology does make one sex different from the other. But we must be careful not to think of social differences in biological terms. Some differences in physical ability between the sexes, on average, males are 10...
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