The working environment in the United States is still not free of gender discrimination. There are still many cases of arbitrary discrimination that come to the attention of the public, such as Chrapliwy v. Uniroyal. The court case challenged the system of Uniroyal Inc. (a rubber company), which employed mostly female workers in their footwear production division, while males dominated the other lines. This segregation is arbitrary gender discrimination, for there is no biological reason as to why women are more suited to working with footwear as opposed to men. Furthermore, there is an inequality in pay rate between men and women. In an article about gender differences, Time Magazine found that for every dollar a man makes at a certain job, a woman makes only $0.79 at the same job. This may be filed under arbitrary discrimination, for the benefits of this position are brought about by irrational decision-making.
The question of gender should have nothing to do with the pay rate in cases that deal with the same employment opportunity. Sex discrimination is commonly defined as the “arbitrary or irrational use of gender in the awarding of benefits or positions”. In other words, even when a job does not relate to gender roles, the employer chooses to consider gender when hiring employees. For example, the job of a teacher is very gender-neutral; the job skills do not require anything special that only one sex provides. A construction worker, on the other hand, must be physically strong, and in this case, generally speaking more men are suited for this role. If a school principal were to hire a new teacher (from an applicant pool of both men and women) based solely on the fact that he doesn’t want to hire a woman, this is an example of arbitrary discrimination. The logic behind the decision is irrational, for the woman may be more qualified than the man, but the benefits are not awarded to her only because of her gender. Kymlicka goes on to describe gender inequalities: these are already built-into jobs and positions so that women are at a disadvantage.
Men have defined job roles and thus have made it more difficult for women to be suited for these roles. The most common example is of jobs that require the employee to be free from childcare. This means that the employee is not the primary, full-time childcare provider. For example, lawyers work full-time, which is near impossible with young children to take care of. The raising of a child in itself is a full-time responsibility, so it is difficult to balance with a demanding career. In this case, Kymlicka would argue that men would naturally be more suited to the job of a lawyer because men have structured this job “in such a way as to make [it] incompatible with child-bearing and child-rearing, and which does not provide economic compensation for domestic labor”. In other words, because society views childrearing as the female’s role, and childrearing requires much time and attention, a lawyer is a male-suited role because it requires much time, which males have.
Although Will Kymlicka gives a good analysis of the gender discrimination and inequalities that happen in today’s society, his solution is not enough to answer the broader political and psychological question that society faces. Kymlicka argues, “Since the problem is domination, the solution is not only the absence of discrimination but the presence of power”. He says that if women could have the power to redefine the existing job roles (or if they would have had the power to define the job roles when they were created), “we would not have created a system of social roles that defines ‘male’ jobs as superior to ‘female’ jobs”. I believe that the real issue is not how women can redefine pre-existing jobs so that gender inequality is abolished; but rather, how can society change its prejudices towards the role of women through the restructuring of laws and policy implementation?
Instead of changing job characteristics so that they become gender-neutral, society should look at men and women as equals so that women have an equal chance at fitting the demanding roles that have already been established. One can start by looking at a doctor as an example of a male-defined profession that is arguably becoming female-dominated. To become a doctor, much education is needed, and when this job was created, only men had the ability to get this higher education. The first woman to graduate from medical school (Elizabeth Blackwell) did so in 1849: much later than the men who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School in 1765. Now that the admissions gender ratio of medical schools are about even, this has ceased to be a “male” job; rather, it is gender neutral. On the other hand, the career of an attorney still has a major discrepancy between the sexes. Even though 49% of law school graduates are female, they only make up 27% of licensed lawyers in the country. Obviously, the access to education is equal, and so does not contribute to the male dominance of this field. On the contrary, this job is male-suited because of the limitations that it poses for women who wish to have children.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the position of attorney is extremely time-demanding: lawyers are forced to work irregular hours, weekends, with 33% working over 50 hours per week. How can this job be redefined so as to allow more women to be competitive in the job market? Kymlicka would suggest that women be empowered to redefine the position to suit them better—this would mean redefining the position by not working as many hours. If it can be done, it will be difficult. The alternative to this solution is to go to the source of the problem: the gender roles that society already holds. Women are usually the primary source of childcare; this means that their employment opportunities are severely limited to those jobs that have flexible hours in which they could balance domestic and public/private sector work—jobs unlike that of a lawyer. If society would be more accepting of males being the primary caregiver for children, the number of males who either stay at home or take on less-demanding occupations would displace the high number of women who already fill this role.
The women who would enter the job market would then be on equal terms with their male counterparts seeking the same demanding jobs. If society would view the two genders as equal for child rearing (e.g. women are not the majority of primary caretakers), there are still complications that arise from the roles, which are deterrents for women. For instance, even if the woman is not the primary caretaker of the child after pregnancy, this does not make up for the fact that there is still a period where she is unable to work due to pregnancy. In other words, the role of mother and father can never be fully equal because the mother has the extra responsibility of carrying the baby to term. However, if the social roles for each gender were to be equal, viewing paternity leave as mandatory could solve this problem. According to the Newborns’ and Mothers’ Health Protection Act of 1996, health plans must pay for at least 48-hour (vaginal) or 96-hour (caesarean) hospital stay after childbirth.
This means that at the minimum, a woman should take two days off for maternity leave to recover, if nothing else. Although a man does not need to physically recuperate from childbirth or pregnancy, he is still a parent of the child and should be viewed with equal consideration when dealing with childcare issues. By making paternity leave mandatory, employers could no longer discriminate between the sexes by accounting for the time lost due to pregnancy. This would not be a difficult policy to implement, considering 71% of fathers took advantage of paternity leave in 2007. To expand on the idea that the roles of the sexes cannot be equal in every aspect: mothers who choose to breastfeed are at a disadvantage, for they will likely take more days for maternity leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a woman can take up to 12 weeks off of work. This option serves as a reason why an employer may not hire a woman, even if the social roles of men and women were equal.
However, this can be easily fixed by creating an incentive for women to choose to formula-feed or to pump their breast milk—this would make it so that they could return to work as soon as a man would. The FMLA states that although maternity and paternity leaves are unpaid, health benefits still apply. These health benefits could extend to partially cover the cost of formula or a pump. Baby formula is very costly because of the quantity that is needed, and breast pumps and bags can range from $20 to over $200 (depending if it is manual or electric). By making alternative options to breastfeeding more accessible, women need not take more time off than men, and so gender inequality is invalid. Furthermore, even if society views gender roles equally, this does not account for the fact that the majority of men are physically superior to the majority of women when it comes to manual labor.
Looking at any construction or shipping sites, one will find that if not entirely composed of men, almost all employees are male. Obviously, if the job is physically demanding and the male sex is the most equipped at handling physically demanding jobs, females will very rarely be more qualified for the job than a male applicant. This can be remedied by the use of technology. In today’s society, much manual labor can be handled my machines that are designed to lift even more than a human being can. These machines need not be operated by those physically superior. If we take manual labor out of the equation by adding technology, both sexes would have an equal opportunity at the job; this is considering the fact that neither sex is inferior in controlling technology. It is here where society can put aside sexual differences and instead become “sex-blind”.
A sex-blind society is one that does not take into account gender for the awarding of benefits through employment, opportunities, etc. There are many instances in which it would be helpful to have a sex-blind society, but there are some instances where different treatment of the sexes is justified. Kymlicka brings up the example of sex-segregated washrooms. These would not be considered discriminatory because the physical difference between the sexes calls for different treatment. Still, these instances are so rare and are so well justified that they should not interfere with the important notion of the sex-blind society. By eliminating the need for discrimination in manual labor due to physical differences through the implementation of technology, society can successfully become sex-blind and thus end gender discrimination.
So to answer the question of how to change society’s prejudices towards the role of women, it is obvious that if minor changes are made to these demanding jobs, they can be viewed as gender-neutral. This in turn will allow more women to compete against men for a variety of jobs. Instead of redefining job roles, society must redefine gender roles through the lens of childrearing; this is so that jobs that are now limited to those individuals without the responsibility of childcare may become more gender-diverse in competition. Today’s society has all the resources needed to implement these changes—it’s just a matter of time until they are enacted in policies and eventually shift gender relations and stereotypes in favor of gender equality.
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