The basic goods which the society can provide to its members – income, welfare, prestige, and power – are distributed among them unevenly. The number of benefits available for every person depends on his or her socially significant features including race, gender, caste, etc. This differentiation of people within the society is called stratification, and it implies an institutionalized social inequality. In each community, gender, as a social-cultural attribute, forms the core of social stratification. The members of any society are divided into categories based on the given feature and the belonging to a particular gender group determines the extent to which social benefits are accessible to them. It is suggested that, throughout the history of humanity, such a division was always in favor of men.
Based on the given assumption, in this paper, we will review and evaluate the opposing views on functions of gender stratification and its links to gender inequality. The analysis of various opinions will help to identify the probability of the relationships between the two variables.
Summary of Opposing Views
In contemporary literature, one can find a vast number of interpretations of social inequality, and they may be either negative or positive. For instance, the conservative or functionalist view on the problem suggests that unequal distribution of wealth and other social goods serves as the instrument for the maintenance of social functionality, while the supporters of the radical approach, on the contrary, criticize the current social order, regard social inequality as a mechanism of exploitation, and indicate its relation to the struggle for the deficit resources.
The Davis-Moore Theory
According to the functionalist theory, stratification exists because it is beneficial for society. The given view was developed by Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore who claimed that not only social stratification is universal, but also necessary and, therefore, no society can live without it. The system of stratification is required to find the implementation for all statuses comprised in the social structure and stimulate individuals to fulfill the duties associated with their positions (Doob 24). Consistently with the Davis-Moore Theory, people will comply with their social and gender roles, i.e., try to follow the cultural expectations defining the models of behavior to which the representatives of every social and gender group should adhere. For instance, Blackstone claims that the feminine gender role is traditionally associated with nurturing and, thus, females are expected to work full-time at home and be family-oriented (337). At the same time, the traditional masculine gender role is associated with leadership, and males are thus expected to support the family financially and seek employment outside of the home (Blackstone 337).
In the smoothly running social stratification system, women and men will be motivated to fulfill their gender roles because they believe that responsibilities assigned to them contribute to their well-being and completely conform to their talents, abilities, and biological properties of their organism; and also have social significance. In the given framework, social and gender inequality serve as the emotional stimulus which the society created to provide individuals with the proportionately distributed social goods. Overall, social stratification, as described by Davis and Moore, can be considered as the structural peculiarity of all societies whereas gender inequality – as a natural state of social order.
The Conflict Theory
The structural-functional approach to the interpretation of social stratification was highly criticized by the supporters of the Conflict Theory mainly because, in the system proposed by Davis and Moore, the individual acquires either privileged or unprivileged position in the society by his or her birth and cannot change it throughout the life (Doob 25). When gender inequality is placed in the given context, the problem of women’s economic dependence on men becomes apparent. Based on the critical ideas rooted in the Conflict Theory, by the very nature of the feminine gender roles, females have an unprivileged position in the economic sphere of social life as the domestic work and motherhood do not usually imply any financial reward. In simple words, women are traditionally expected to serve their husbands at home who, in their turn, are supposed to support their families financially.
Some statistical indexes may illustrate the social, legal, and financial status of women. For starters, before the 19th century, women were not allowed to work for money (Pun par. 4). Although over time, the situation had gradually changed, until the 21st century, the level of females’ economic dependency remained significant. For instance, one of the longitudinal quantitative studies reveals that, in the late 60s, 70 percent of American women were partially or entirely dependent on males (Sorensen and McLanahan 17). According to the researchers, a high rate of dependency was and remains mainly defined by the gender division of labor and women’s responsibility of child care and family work which largely interfere with the independent economic performance (Sorensen and McLanahan 1). Overall, the Conflict Theory suggests that the established social order assists the privileged individuals, e.g., economically independent men, to maintain their rank which is determined by birth and does not depend on their actual skills and talents. In this way, while functionalists emphasize the common interests of the members of the society, the supporters of the Conflict Theory accentuate the differences in the interests. From their point of view, society is an arena in which people fight for benefits and power and the privileged groups consolidate their favorable position through enforcement.
Individualization of Social Status
In contemporary social studies, researchers interpret social inequality as otherness, a pluralization, and individualization of life and cultural styles more and more frequently. For example, according to Beck, nowadays, various social classes and categories become disintegrated while social mobility increases (45). During this process, people become free of their gender roles and associated social positions. The given statement can be verified by the recent statistical data which shows that women’s representation in the labor force increased threefold between 1948 and 2015 (United States Department of Labor par. 1). The numbers make it clear that in the industrial countries, the social status of a person is more often defined by his or her actual achievements rather than archetypical characteristics. To a large extent, the given tendency is determined by the changes in the social policies and the expansion of social protection of the minor groups. It is considered that this phenomenon also has a social-cultural basis which goes back to the ideology of individualization. Bauman states that the meaning of individualization is rooted in the liberation of the human being from the imposed and inherited predetermination of his or her social roles (181). Thus, in the present-day world, the accentuation of any ascriptive features is regarded as discrimination and, in the advanced societies, the policies are always aimed at the affirmation of such stratification systems in which all people could acquire resources solely based on the personal efforts.
Statement of Personal Position
Gender inequality is a complex issue that is not easy to define. First of all, the phenomenon has its origins in the past and evolves. It is also hard to distinguish between the definitions of biological and social gender. Moreover, it is possible to presume that discrimination by sexual differences is frequently accompanied by other demographic, social, and racial determinants including the level of education, age, and so on. However, despite potential difficulties in the identification of origins of gender inequality, we may propose that it is linked to the traditional, male-dominated system of social stratification and conventional views on social roles which deprive females of equal opportunity for the engagement in socially significant activities.
The findings of the literature review reveal that the level of gender inequality depends on the systems of gender stratification adopted within societies. The changes which have occurred in the rates of women’s economic independence may be correlated with the alterations of political, legal, and social factors in Western societies. The favorable transformations in the social environment became possible with the rise in the public awareness of women’s rights and the acknowledgment of gender inequality as the global issue interfering with the sound development of the communities.
The Gender Inequality Index (GII) which was first introduced by the Secretariat of the World Economic Forum in 2010 and which is meant to capture the level of inequality in different countries can substantiate the assumption provided in the paper. The lowest GII in 2015 is observed in Norway (5.4% of loss in human development index [HDI] due to inequality), Sweden (6.7%), and Denmark (7.2%) (United Nations Development Programme par. 1). Moreover, these countries take the top HDI ranks which indicate a high level of social advancement and reduced discrimination rates. The highest GII and HDI ranks belong to some African and Middle Eastern nations, e.g., Niger (HDI rank = 187), Ethiopia (174), and Afghanistan (169). What is more important than the states characterized by high HDI rates and a significant loss due to gender inequality are identified by Hoefstede as masculine cultures (9). It means that gender roles are distinct in these societies. At the same time, the masculinity index in Sweden is 5, and in Norway – 8, which means that these cultures are feminine and the gender roles overlap there.
It is possible to say that the attitude to gender stratification embedded in national cultures contributes to gender inequality partially and is interrelated with other social-political factors. Nevertheless, the role of commonly accepted gender models in the promotion or elimination of social discrimination cannot be denied.
The issue of gender inequality at the modern stage of social development remains topical. Despite the apparent progress, gender discrimination still occurs in many spheres of life, e.g., resource management, economic performance, political authority, and so on. At the same time, a high level of gender equality within society points to its well-being and advanced state.
During the research conduction, we revealed that there are two major perspectives on gender inequality in the literature. Some researchers regard it as a natural phenomenon defined by the functional significance of the masculine and feminine gender roles (the functionalist approach). Other scholars believe that gender inequality is determined by the conflict between the two genders and is considered to be a form of oppression (the Conflict Theory). At the same time, we revealed that the changes in the political and legal environments, as well as the shifts in the public perceptions of gender models, may affect the behavioral tendencies in males and females and lead to the promotion of fair social and economic practices. Based on this, it is valid to conclude that social/gender stratification contributes to gender inequality and supports discrimination.
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Blackstone, Amy. “Gender Roles and Society.” Human Ecology: An Encyclopedia of Children, Families, Communities, and Environments, edited by Julia Miller et al., ABC-CLIO, 2003, pp. 335-338.
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Hoefstede, Geert. Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures. SAGE Publications, 1999.
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