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Explanations for Inequality Essay

There are many sociological explanations for female inequality in society. Inequality is where something/ someone is seen as not equal compared to something else. For example men have more opportunities than women in life, suggesting females suffer huge inequality in many factors of life. Firstly, Anne Oakley speaks about how women suffer inequalities in the work place. Oakley notes that after the industrial revolution in Britain acts were passed to limit women working; in 1851 one in four married women worked whereas in 1911 one in ten worked.

During the Victorian era the ideology that a woman’s place was in the home became truly established and industrialisation led to the separation of men from the daily routine of domestic life. Now it is claimed that women suffer from four main inequalities in the workplace. Firstly, there is the much debated pay gap in which, even though legislation to stop unequal pay was introduced in the 1970’s, the although narrowing pay gap is still visible between men and women. Secondly half of all females in employment are in part time employment; this form of employment is often less secure with fewer benefits.

Thirdly, women suffer from vertical segregation; this is sometimes referred to as “the glass ceiling effect”. Women are seemingly unable to achieve the higher ranking positions and are stopped from achieving managerial positions by an invisible barrier. Lastly, women are said to suffer from horizontal segregation which is the idea of gendered jobs. Liberal feminist Oakley blames the dominant housewife mother role, suggesting that a wifes role is primarily domestic, thus inequality is inevitable.

There are criticisms for this study however, suggesting that it see’s inequality as simply just a matter of time. As well as biological factors, and time Victoria Beechey, from a marxist perspective has deleveloped a study which see’s women as a reserve army of labour. She uses this in order to explain the position of women in the labour market. Marx argued that capitalism required a reserve army of labour, that is a spare pool of potential recruits to the labour force.

Beechey identifies a number of ways in which women in modern Britain are particularly suited to form part of this reserve army. She suggests that women’s jobs are least likely to be covered by redundancy legislation, so it’s cheaper to make them redundant rather than men, suggesting huge inequality as it shows women are superior to men. Furthermore she suggests that unemployed married women may not be elegible to receive state benefits if their husbands are working, and for this reason they might not appear in unemployment statistics.

Beechey says that ‘women’ who are made redundant are able to disappear virtually without a trace back into the family. She also suggests that women are more likely to accept part time work due to their domestic role, women tend to be happy in accepting less wages than their husbands as they can rely on their man. This makes you realise that still in society, women who don’t work, even though they want to is still frowned upon, and it would be easier for men to get jobs than women, showing inequality between women and men.

Bruegel challenges this theory, she questions the assumption that the interests of capital must be served if women are to be used as a reserve army of labour. She points out that women can also benefit capitalism by producing domestic labour in the home, as this reduces the amount that needs to be paid to male workers. Linda Mcdowell like Beechey also talks about part time work, and why women are more likely to accept it. She applies post-Fordist theory to female employment.

Post-Fordism suggests that there has been a move away from mass production to more flexible production of specialist products. Businesses keep a core of highly skilled workers, but most other workers are temporary, or part time, or work is contracted out to other firms. Women tend to be concentrated in the more flexible jobs, particularly part time work. This suggests that even today it is still hard to for women to have a good career like men, as due to other ‘priorities’ part time work may be the only suitable explanation.

Lovering found evidence to support this theory suggesting that post Fordism trends affect only some women. Furthermore, post-Feminists argue that the feminism of the 1970s and 80s is out dated because it sees all women as sharing the same interests and ignores the diverse interests of different groups of women. Natasha Walter believes that there is still much that feminists need to change. She believes that the post-feminist emphasis on political correctness and language neglects the continuing problems of inequality which affect all women.

Women still tend to suffer from problems such a low pay, lack of childcare, the dual burden of paid employment and domestic labour, poverty and domestic sexual violence. Following up on this Germaine Greer suggests that women cannot be themselves as they still have to act in the ways men want them to be. This suggests that women suffer in the hands of men, due to them being more powerful etc. Women thus are brainwashed into being how men want them to be, for example, clothing and make up.

Radical feminists also believe that men’s power and control over men is the main reason for inequality. They believe that patriarchy is the most important concept when explaining gender inequalities. They tend to focus on the power relationships that are experienced in private, in particular the significance of sexuality and the use of violence. Kate Millet believes that oppressive and unequal relationships between men and women originate not in wider society, but in the intimacy of personal relationships, in sexual partnerships and in families and households or various kinds.

She believes personal relationships are also political in that they are based on different and unequal amounts of power which are determined by sex and which are reinforced in every aspect of wider society. Culture, government, tradition, religion, law, education and the media all reflect patriarchal leadership and power. Critics of this theory suggest that this theory is ultimately biologically deterministic, since the biological facts of reproduction are at the heart of the position. Not all sociologists believe that inequality is still a major factor in society.

Catherine Hakim (economist) suggests a ‘Rational choice theory’. She is critical of all feminist positions. She argues that feminist theories are both inaccurate and misleading, and that women are not victims of unfair employment practices. She identifies five myths; women’s employment had not in fact been rising, women were less committed to work than men, that their childcare responsibilities were not the main reason for them working part time, that part time jobs were not necessarily worse and finally that women were less likely to be in stable employment.

This goes against all feminist explanations and suggests that inequality is not as we see it, and a lot has changed. However, Crompton argues that Hakim underplays the structures within which women make choices. In particular she cites the development of the male bread winner. Other sociologist like Hakim who neglect mainstream feminist values are the black feminists. They are critical of mainstream feminism suggesting that they neglect the particular problems that black women face.

Bourne argues that white feminists are luke-warm about tackling racism because they enjoy social, economic and political privileges which make them part of the system which oppresses black women. Further more Yuval-Davis develops this theme claiming that ‘non-black’ minority ethnics such as Iranian, Cypriot, and Chinese women not only face racism, they also face cultural patriarchy which is particular to their communities. This is suggesting women are not really all in the same position and it affects people differently. White feminists tend to reject black feminists and ignore them from most of the studies and theories.

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