Gender inequality is an indispensable ingredient of our daily routine. While women suffer the lack of achievement and empowerment, men perceive themselves as the carriers of the dominant social vision, with which women are bound to comply. However, that women and men are physically different does not mean that they are unequal. Most of what is known about gender inequality between men and women is socially constructed and has nothing to do with the physical differences between them.
A few weeks ago I observed a situation, which surprised and confused me. The situation itself and my impressions from it led me to question the premises, on which the whole system of social relations currently rests. I saw a young, beautiful woman in the street. She was speaking on the phone to someone very dear to her.
She had tears in her voice and did not seem to care that she was in the street, surrounded by dozens and hundreds of people. He voice was shaking. She could hardly control her emotions, and it was difficult not to notice her frustration. As far as I could understand, she was discussing her workplace and the barriers which she had encountered to her professional growth.
Most probably, she was refused a promotion, based on her gender. Certainly, the woman could file a lawsuit against her employer but, at that moment, she could not understand why her gender was such a problem at work. She said “Mike won the project, although he never spent a single effort to create anything worthy of attention. The staff did not support him, because he never cooperated with anyone. His project would not be successful, but he won the game. I know why – because he is a man, and I am a woman”.
Undoubtedly, gender has far-reaching implications for social stability. Emotions matter, but sociological theories could shed some light on what it means to be a woman in a gendered society. “The structural-functional approach is a framework for building theory that sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability” (Macionis 14).
Simply stated, structural-functional theory is essentially about social stability and social behaviors that contribute to it (Macionis 14). Gender inequality in structural functionalism is inevitable and even desirable: it creates conditions for the continuous social growth. Men leave home to provide for their families’ basic needs, whereas women stay at home and do their household work.
This is the best way to preserve the stability and order in a gendered society, although the young woman in the street cannot accept this order of things. The structural-functional theory implies that, whenever a woman has a chance to go outside and find a job, her prospects for professional growth and career promotion should be meager. Otherwise, she will compete with men for a better social position and pose a threat to the stability of family and professional bonds.
From the social-conflict perspective, society is a field of inequalities, which drive conflict and change (Macionis 15). It is due to the physical differences between men and women that gender inequality is relevant and justified. Managers and supervisors in firms hold a belief that women are not physiologically fit to cope with their workplace tasks.
This is why women are denied an opportunity for career promotion in the workplace. This is why their projects and exemplary workplace performance rarely lead them to a higher career position. Women’s lives are entirely about fighting for a small place under the sun. They experience disappointment but can do nothing to reduce the conflict between them and their male colleagues.
The social conflict emerges from a belief that women are not suited for career growth and, consequentially, cannot use their creative potential to the fullest. The gender-conflict approach shows the many ways in which men dominate women at home, in the workplace, and even in the mass media (Macionis 16). This approach to sociology raises serious concerns about the future of women in a gendered society but tells nothing about possible ways to resolve the ongoing conflict of genders.
The social-functional and social-conflict approaches create a full picture of gender inequality, but it is through symbolic interactionism that the roots and sources of gender discrimination in the workplace can be understood. The development of male attitudes toward women begins early in life. Men and women learn about their gender roles from their parents, peers, teachers, and significant others. At school or in the street, girls are taught to be submissive and are rarely praised for their “career desires”.
They learn how to be good wives but do not always have an opportunity to pursue the goals of education and professional development. In their turn, boys quickly learn to treat girls as “a weaker sex”. Boys view discrimination as an effective, nonverbal instrument of attaining power and dominance. As a result, in adult life, men have better chances to obtain a position of power.
These ongoing experiences create a symbolic meaning of gender inequality, which pervades all spheres of social life. Adult males do not want to recognize that women can be excellent workers and prominent professionals, because the society teaches them to dominate the social hierarchy. In their turn, women are lost and disappointed at being unable to break the relevance and stability of the gendered symbols.
What has occurred in the street reflects the pervasive nature of gender inequality in society. I am convinced that gender inequality is impossible to eradicate. Affirmative action policies and gender equality strategies in the workplace are only partially effective. When male supervisors deny women promotion and growth opportunities, they send a message of gender inequality and imply that work and women are incompatible.
These discriminative acts and decisions serve a reliable element of the symbolic “male-female” game and re-establish gender inequality as a role model of social relations for thousands of people to follow.
Macionis, John J. Sociology. 13th edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2010. Print.