The chapter opens with a description of how Canadian women fought to have women recognized as "persons" in 1929 and how they managed to have sexual equality included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982.
Much has changed, but gender remains a major dimension of social stratification.
Gender refers to the personal traits and social position that members of a society attach to being male and female. Gender involves hierarchy, causing sociologists to talk of gender stratification, the unequal distribution of wealth, power, and privilege between men and women.
There are certainly physical differences between males and females, but many of the social differences have nothing to do with biology and everything to do with cultural conventions. As Figure 13-1 (p. 319) indicates, even some of the physical differences attributed to the natural inferiority of females have begun to disappear.
The significance of culture is revealed using studies that focus on egalitarian gender role patterns in Israeli kibbutzim. Although social equality is not complete, the effort to share roles equally is noteworthy.
Research by Mead and Murdock indicates that what is defined as feminine or masculine varies widely across different cultures. Behaviour by males and females is clearly more a matter of social definition than biological imperative.
While conceptions of gender vary cross-culturally and historically, there is an apparent universal pattern of patriarchy, a form of social organization in which males dominant females. Matriarchy, defined as a form of social organization in which females dominate males has never been documented. The relative power of males over females does however vary significantly between societies. Global Map 13-1 (p. 322) shows that variation. Patriarchy is based upon sexism, the belief that one sex is innately superior to the other. Institutionalized sexism, or sexism built into the various institutions of our society, is evident in the lack of attention historically to violence against women and their concentration in low-paying jobs.
The costs to women who are denied opportunities and the cost to society of loss of talent are clear. There are also costs to men, as masculinity is related to accidents, suicide, violence, stress, and a loss of intimacy and trust.
This discussion illustrates that patriarchy in societies with simple technology tends to reflect biological sex differences. In industrialized societies, technology minimizes the significance of any biological differences.
Generally, the opinion of sociologists is that gender is principally a social construction and patriarchy is therefore subject to change.
Males and females are encouraged through the socialization process to incorporate gender into their personal identities. Emotional, passive, co-operative females are juxtaposed against rational, active, competitive males, although most young people develop personalities that are a mix of feminine and masculine traits.
Gender roles are attitudes and activities that a society links to each sex. Males are expected to be ambitious and competitive, while women are expected to be deferential and emotional.
In many societies, gender is at work before birth when the preference is to have a male child. At birth, families usher girls and boys into different "pink" and "blue" worlds. These differences are accentuated over time as parents stress independence and action for their boys and co-operation and emotion for their girls.
Children tend to form single-sex playgroups.
Historically, school texts have shown males doing more interesting things than females. This has begun to change, but sex stereotyping persists.
At the high school and university levels females and males still tend to choose different majors and new areas of study are often sex-linked with males studying computer science and females taking gender studies.
The mass media has placed males at centre stage. Women have been shown as less competent than men, and often as sex objects. Changes are occurring, but very slowly. This is particularly true in advertising, which has clung to traditional cultural views of women and men.
The Thinking About Diversity Box (p. 344) indicates that the "soft and emotional" image of women changes as the Canadian women's hockey team is successful on the international stage.
Gender helps to determine one's place in the social hierarchy.
Women have increased their participation rates in the labour force dramatically in a thirty-year period. In 1971 the majority of women were not in the labour force, even in the prime working years between 35 and 44 years of age. By 2001, almost four in five women of that age were in the working force, so that women now make up 47% of the Canadian labour force. Figures 13-2 and 13-3 (p. 325) show the participation rates for men and women between 1971 and 2001.
In the past there was a high gender division in occupations. Women dominated in service and clerical jobs, while men did almost everything else. This distinction has changed quite remarkably as women are now found in business, engineering, medicine, and senior management. Men still tend to hold the power positions, but this is slowly changing. The Thinking It Through Box (pp. 328-331) outlines the continuing gender gap in occupation and income and evaluates some of the usual explanations for this fact. As well, the Media Perspectives Box (p. 334) shows that some Canadian women exercise immense power.
Despite women's rapid entry into the labour force, they continue to do most of the shopping, cooking, and cleaning, amounting to what sociologists call a "second shift." Figure 13-4 (p. 327) outlines male and female participation in housework.
Women were traditionally discouraged from participating in higher education. Recently, however, more than half of all university qualifications were earned by women. More of these have been in fine arts, education, and the humanities, but a growing number of women are entering the fields of medicine, engineering, and science. Men still predominate in engineering and the hard sciences, but women are moving to equality in the professional fields, such as business, law, and medicine. They will likely soon earn more advanced degrees (M.A.s and Ph.Ds) than men. Table 13-3 (p. 332) outlines educational attainment by gender.
Before 1918 women could not vote in federal elections, but by 1940 all eligible women could vote in both federal and provincial elections. Table 13-4 (p. 333) cites the benchmarks in the women's movement in Canadian political life.
Today women are involved in politics at all levels, but primarily at the municipal level. Change is slowly occurring, however; currently 20% of M.P.s are women, and many women have taken dominant roles in both federal and provincial cabinets. The 20% share, however, has been unchanged since 1997.
As a category, women can be viewed as a minority group because of being socially disadvantaged. However, subjectively, most white women in Canada do not perceive themselves as such.
Minority women, especially Aboriginals, face a double disadvantage of gender and race or ethnicity. Intersection Theory suggests that the multiple contributions of race, class, and gender leave people especially disadvantaged.
Because violence is commonplace in our society, and closely linked to gender, it is often found where men and women interact most intensively (i.e., dating and the family). Sexual violence, it is argued, is mostly about power. From a global viewpoint, the practice of female genital mutilation is notable. The Thinking About Diversity Box (p. 338) highlights a case in the U.S. and the Global Map 13-2 (p. 337) highlights its global distribution.
Generally speaking, we do not link females with violence. Recent studies indicate, however, that girls are involved with violent gangs and violent delinquent acts.
Men are more likely than women to suffer serious assault and murder, usually at the hands of other men.
Sexual harassment is defined as comments, gestures, or physical contact of a sexual nature that is deliberate, repeated, and unwelcome. Most victims of sexual harassment are women, probably because men are socialized to be sexually assertive and are more likely to be in positions of power. While some of it is blatant, some harassment is subtle and seen as creating a hostile environment.
The definition of pornography is very ambiguous as well. Current law requires different jurisdictions to decide for themselves what violates "community standards" of decency and lacks any redeeming social value. There seems to be a pattern in our society of now seeing pornography as a power issue as well as a moral one. Like sexual harassment, pornography raises complex and conflicting concerns including discrimination against women and the exercise of freedom of expression.
The Applying Theory Table (p. 341) summarizes the two major theoretical approaches to gender.
Theorists using this perspective understand gender role patterns over history to be the result of the functional contributions these patterns make to social organization. Although industrial technology has allowed greater variation in gender roles, they still reflect long-standing social mores.
Talcott Parsons theorized that gender plays a part in integrating society by providing men and women with a set of complementary roles ( instrumental and expressive), which they learn through the socialization process. The primary societal responsibility of women, in this view, is child rearing. Thus, they are socialized to display expressive qualities. Men are responsible for achievement in the labour force and therefore are socialized to exhibit instrumental traits.
Criticisms of this approach include the lack of recognition that many women have traditionally worked outside the home, the neglect of the personal strains associated with such a family orientation, and the fact that what is reinforced is simply male domination.
Social-conflict analysis of gender stratification focuses on the inequality of men and women. This theoretical view holds that women are disadvantaged while men benefit by the distinction of gender.
Friedrich Engels saw technology leading to a productive surplus and a class system that would dispose of the surplus wealth. With agricultural surplus, gender inequality was created as monogamous marriage and progeny were necessary to maintain control of private property and women built their lives around husbands and children. Engels contended that capitalism intensified this male domination.
Criticisms of this approach suggest that co-operative, happy families are ignored and that gender stratification exists everywhere not just in capitalist societies.
Feminism is defined as the advocacy of social equality for the sexes in opposition to patriarchy and sexism. Its first wave in this country occurred in the nineteenth century, culminating with the right to vote for women.
Feminists suggest that personal experiences are linked to gender. How we think of ourselves, how we act, and how we are stratified in society relative to the opposite sex are seen as products of how our society attaches meaning to gender. There are five ideas considered central to feminism:
Figure 13-5 (p. 342) provides a snapshot of the global use of contraception by married women of childbearing age.
Four distinct forms of feminism are identified.
Liberal feminism accepts the basic organization of society, but seeks the same rights and opportunities for women and men.
Socialist feminism supports the reforms of liberal feminists, but believes they can be gained only by replacing the traditional family with some collective means of carrying out housework and caring for children.
Radical feminism advocates the elimination of patriarchy altogether by organizing a gender-free society, by using new reproductive technology to separate women's bodies from the process of child-rearing.
Several other variants of feminism exist, namely, Marxist—the system of economic production must change, cultural—cannot ignore the experiences of disadvantaged females, and postmodern—reject all other feminist theories
Feminism has encountered resistance from both men and women. Some men do not wish to lose their privilege. Others are concerned about the traditions of marriage and family life. Still others see feminism as a threat to their masculinity. Women who centre their lives in their families see feminism as a threat to their values and others see women as losing rather than gaining identity. Some academics are also concerned that feminism ignores any evidence that men and women are innately different and ignores the contribution of women to child-rearing. Generally speaking, there is broad support in Canada for the ideals of liberal feminism, but not for socialist and radical feminism.
There has been a trend over the past century to greater gender equality. Industrialization has reduced the necessity for strength in most occupations and medical technology allows people to control reproduction. As well more men and women are deliberately pursuing equality. While opposition to this shift persists, the trend to greater equality for women is likely to grow.