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Gender Inequality in the Workplace: Seen Through A Sociological Lens of Conflict Theory

By shelbi17 Dec 04, 2013 1056 Words
In August 2013, Mayor Bob Filner of San Diego resigned after being accused by 18 women of sexual harassment. The women accused him of groping and unwillingly kissing them. Mayor Filner denied all accusations of sexual harassment, but apologized to all of the women he "offended." This case is a primary example of gender inequality in the workplace. According to the conflict theorists, hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal power cause sexual harassment, and are the primary reasons why gender inequality exists within the workplace.

Gender inequality in the workplace is a social issue, because it harms the values and goals of women in society. Women in the workplace are subjected to things such as separate criteria than men for promotions, unequal pay, and discrimination due to biological conditions such as pregnancy, Quid pro quo, and sexual harassment. These situations threaten the stability of the workplace as an institution. External conflict arose in the 1960's with the feminist movement. The movement began due to growing awareness of gender inequality, and according to Coser, enhanced social solidarity within the group. The push for change is still seen throughout society today. Gender inequality "has continued in one form or another despite profound structural changes such as industrialization and the movement of production out of the household, women's accelerated movement into the labor force after WWII and most recently women's entry into male-dominated occupations. What accounts for the chameleon-like ability of gender hierarchy to reassert itself in new forms when its old structural forms erode?" (McLaughlin, Uggen, and Blackstone 2008). According to Collins, conflict is over a moral rightness, and that is what this push towards equality is all about. As we analyze causality within this social issue, we discover that many theorists connect workplace gender inequality with hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal power.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects women from sex discrimination, including sexual harassment, which is the intimidation, bullying, or coercion of sexual nature. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) also protects women from sexual harassment within the workplace, and acknowledges the presence of harassment like Quid pro quo, which is Latin for "something for something." Quid pro quo is the promise of promotion or benefits in exchange for sexual favors. It can also include threats of losing one's job if they deny the request. As seen in the notes, Dahrendorf sees this as an aspect of power. Dahrendorf's theory poses "the probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests," meaning that if the male boss or person of higher authority wants something, they can get it done despite resistance due to their power. Although Title VII and the EEOC can protect women from some situations, inequality and sexual harassment is still prevalent within the workplace.

As Coser emphasizes in understanding conflict theory, it is important to define the other when analyzing a social issue. The "other" within workplace gender inequality is the male. Women are the minority in situations such as the workplace, due to men practicing hegemonic masculinity. Like Weber, Coser says that conflict arises from the struggle for power. In this social issue, the struggle is for equal power- by controlling hegemonic masculinity, we can find equality.

The gender pay gap is an important issue within workplace gender inequality. "Women earned about 77 cents for every dollar that men earned last year, according to the Census Bureau" (Berman). This pay gap is what Coser would define as an unequal distribution of scare resources based on gender. According to Coser's theory, this sort of inequality causes relative deprivation. Women are underprivileged compared to men within economics. Previous deprivations, such as before women had rights and before women began to transition into male-dominated occupations, would be labeled by Coser as absolute deprivation. Like Coser's theory suggests, although resources changed mentality did not. Society still struggles with the patriarchal paradigm that women are inferior to men. If Coser's theory is accurate now, what makes us believe it will not be accurate later and that society won't maintain this patriarchal paradigm?

Dahrendorf, another conflict theorist, defines authority versus power- power is individual, while authority is social. Gender inequality exists within the workplace, because men being the gender majority, hold power over women. The fact that men are more likely to hold higher positions than women, gives men authoritative power, too. Like Coser said, this power inequality is the cause of conflict. The San Diego Mayor, Bob Filner, is a good example of someone with power who exercised sexual harassment. As a man, Mayor Filner individually held power over the women he harassed due to the sole fact that he was a male, and maybe even more because he was a white male. Mayor Filner held authoritative power over the women he harassed because he was the mayor of San Diego, California. His political career and his gender gave him power, letting him sexually harass many women and get away with it for a long period of time. Although the law, such as Title VII and the EEOC, consequently punished Mayor Filner for his actions, the fact remains that Mayor Filner caused conflict. It can be seen how hegemonic masculinity correlates with Filner's actions, and how patriarchal power participates in causing and allowing sexual harassment.

Gender inequality in the workplace is a social issue, because it harms the values and goals of women in society. According to the conflict theorists, hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal power cause sexual harassment, and are the primary reasons why gender inequality exist within the workplace. Since the 1960's when external conflict emerged and social solidarity formed for the fight against gender inequality, society has made a lot of changes within legislation and for social acceptance of women as being equal. Similar to how conflict emerges when norms are violated, equality will emerge when societal norms are redefined.

Works Cited
Berman, Jillian. "Gender Pay Gap Likely Won't Go Away Until You Retire." Huffington Post 23 SEP 2013, Business edition n. page. Web. 29 Sep. 2013. McLaughlin, Heather and Christopher Uggen and Amy Blackstone. "Sexual Harassment, Workplace Authority, and the Paradox of Power." University of Minnesota. October 3, 2009. Web. Medina, Jennifer. "Denying Accusations of Sexual Harassment, the Mayor of San Diego Resigns." New York Times 23 AUG 2013, NY edition. Web. 29 Sep.

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