The purpose of this essay is to describe and evaluate how gender influences the life chances of individuals and groups within Britain today, particularly looking at the socialization process of gender and how particular ideologies of gender roles within different social institutions can create social inequalities through the use of power which can be achieved through justice, and applying different theoretical perspectives of inequality in reference to gender, and looking at those in authority that use their power to legitimize oppressive practices, in particularly against women into the formal structure of society and how this power in unequally distributed through stratification. There many interpretations of Life chance and gender, this is due to different ideologies from feminine, functional and Gender ideology. Aldridge, S (2004) suggests “Life chances refer to the opportunities open to individuals to better the quality of life of themselves and their families. Other dimensions include the absence of poverty and social inclusion”ppt3 Therefore this definition suggest that there are opportunities available for individuals and families to improve their lifestyles, and suggests that this is possible if there is no poverty, and for people to be socially inclusive. Lindsey L (1990) cited in Marsh et al (2000) states Gender involves those social, cultural and psychological aspects linked to males and females through particular social context. What a given society defines as masculine or feminine is a component of Gender”pg2 Lindsey L (1990) also states “Sex is considered in light of the biological aspects of a person, involving characteristics which differentiate females and males by chromosomal, anatomical, reproductive, hormonal and other physiological characteristics” Clearly there are clear distinctions between sex and gender that can be separated, that is to say gender is shaped by social factors, and biological sex is based on two distinctly sexes.
Woodhouse (1989) cited in Marsh et al (2000) argues that culturally, assumptions are made for namely gender and gender appearance fit together, for instance a’ feminine’ dress sense symbolizing a pretty printed skirt would denote the female sex and a’ masculine’ appearance such as short hair, jeans and a rugby top represents male sex. Feminist contend that male stream theories are in adequate, in that they do not take into account women’s and men’s differences. Kessler S, McKenna W, (1978) cited in Holborn and Haralambos (2008) suggest that individuals sexes are allocated by others, this idea came about through the study of transsexuals – who appear biologically normal, nonetheless feel they belong to the ‘opposite sex’ some transsexual however not all have operations to alter their genitals.
As a social worker it is important to have the understanding that heterosexuality is used as the standard in which; it as assumed that everyone is heterosexual unless proven otherwise, and any deviation from this is considered according to Thompson N (2000) is that they are considered to be abnormal, sick, morally corrupt and inferior, consequently heterosexuality is considered These ideologies are enforced through the media, by shaping meanings about gender and gender identity, Winship (1986) suggests that women and men’s lives are culturally defined in diverse way, the media reinforces stereotypes about gender, dominant gender ideology and gender inequalities, some examples of this are through the representation of women in the media through the ‘male gaze’ thus they are represented in ways to suit men’s interest and pleasure, however in contrast Gamman and Marshment (1988) cited in Marsh I, et al (2000) On the December the 2nd the Guardian news reported that plans to force businesses to disclose the pay gap between male and female employees in Britain have been abandoned by the new coalition government, and since the Equal Pay Act was introduced some forty years ago.
Women are still paying 16% less than men, factors to consider here is how the dominant roles occupied by government is male, they use their positions of power to continue the inequality of women. Women who have children are also restricted therefore from moving up the social ladder. Britain is ruled by a capitalist society, where there is a clear divide between those that have; the (ruling class), and those that don’t. The ruling class hold positions of power within many societies, for example within the: Government, Law, Criminal Justice and Education institutions, all of which have a major influence in life chances of individuals, through the organisation and functioning of society.
The fact that there is unequal distribution of power makes way for social conflict, as stated by Karl Marx (1848;1964,1867-1895;1967) cited in Lindsey, L(1990) conflict theory assumes that society is a stage where the struggles for power are performed, After the second world war Britain experienced a shortage of labor, through the increase of the service sector, this meant that the government needed a new source of labor, which was married women and common wealth immigrants, although this brought about an increase in female employment, married women were expected to be financially dependent on their husbands, however despite changing attitudes towards women’s employment, there has seen a decline in male bread winner ideologies, however jobs are still gendered, for example men are expected to do jobs that are heavy, dirty and dangerous, and are associated with aggression, ability to exercise aggression and ambition, and be seen to cope with stress, and have a natural and were seen to have superior intelligence.
Men’s work was valued more favorably than women, in comparison women’s jobs were associated with low pay, boring, low grade, low status, and involved subservience, and were associated with feminine qualities such as caring, being good with people, this is a form of ‘naturalistic ideology’ referring to masculinity as physical strength, dirt and danger and feminity with caring qualities and grind, this ideology legitimizes gender divisions in the paid work force according to Charles N (2006). There is therefore a need to analyse the positions of Male and females in society there is a need to account for their status, as there are high status as well as low status, according to Linda L (1990) there has been no society where the status of female consistently ranked higher than that of males, this ranking is labeled by members of society, and there is an expected behavior of any given status which is referred to as role.
An example of some of these roles are female and male, mothers and fathers, as well as son and daughters, all of these roles have conditions attached to them, for example the general status of the mother involves the rearing and nurturing of children, and there is an expectation of being readily available through self-sacrifice. The status of father however is generally deemed as the breadwinner, the ultimate decision maker of the household and disciplinarian, it important to highlight that sex role theory, which derived from structural functionalism, theorises role as the ‘active aspect of status’ namely anyone who had a status had a role to fulfill.
These roles are adopted through socialisation, which can be defined as the process through which individuals learn their culture and prepare to become functioning members of society, the first form of socialisation is through the primary socialisation of the family the parent this happens from the moment an infant is born, for example girls get dresses in pretty pink and boys are dressed in blue, toys are also influencing and shaping factors in that girls tend to be given dolls, and also shown how to play dressing up, and boys are encouraged to play with cars, the mother is responsible for preparing the girl to know how to look after the home and in time the man, and are encouraged to be soft in contrast, boy are taught by father to be tough and not to be soft, in some Asian culture boys are looked upon more favorably to look after the family.
However Thompson, N (2006) suggests that sexism is also closely linked to the ideologies of patriarchy, and that sexism is a set of opinions, practices and institutional structures that reinforces patriarchy This ideology of social arrangements justifies and reinforces particularly power relations, for example patriarchal ideology is male dominated; which promotes the idea of traditional roles for women and men, Talcott Parsons developed the concept of sex role theory and associated it with the conjugal family, where he states socialisation takes place, and the theorising of gender in this way delineates the norms for feminine and masculine personalities to develop, however there can be deviations from these norms, hence homosexuality, or juvenile delinquency which would be considered as a failure in socialisation, and conceptualised as deviant. Patriarchal ideology presents gender roles as ‘natural’ and inevitable.
Within Britain this type of dominance can be found within the ruling class those that hold power within the capitalist society of Britain Ideology is closely linked to power relationships, because it is through ideology that power is exercised, and legitimised. The important factors here is that the material base of patriarchy is based on men’s control over reproduction, Sylvia Walby (1990:20) cited in Abbott P()pg. 73 defines this as ‘a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress and exploit women’ she indicates that this exist through paid employment, un paid employment explicitly domestic labor within the home, sexuality, the state violence and culture, all of which are have gendered divisions of Labor and have a negative effect of the life chances of women these will be discussed further.
Gender is still relevant today in discussions regarding equal opportunities, as highlighted in the Fawcett Society Equal pay facts, that although Equal pay legislation came into force in Britain almost 40 years ago, women still earn less than men, one in five women in Britain live in poverty, and Britain remains one of the highest in the European union. Sociologist have failed to recognize that gender shapes our social experience, feminism have brought it to the wider spectrum of sociology in a bid to understand women’s oppression, therefore as a social worker it is important to address the position of, and reflect on intervention practices that seeks to understand inspire and empower them.
According to Abbott P, cited in Payne G, (2006) argues that gender inequalities persist as a significant social division, and reference of this is made in the areas of education, work and social exclusion, and gender is something we are born with, and she suggests that women are denied the freedom and equality with men, and this is enforced through structural constraints, that continue to limit the opportunities available to women, in a masculine culture. In contrast however with the introduction of ‘Tax credit’ a benefit that is available to women to help support them back to work, and government childcare funding, was deemed to help improve the life chances of women, by giving them the opportunity to go into paid work.
As there is now an increase in more women going into the public domain of work, the controlling of men in the home is replaced by the control in the work place and the state, according to Abbot and Ackers (1997) cited in Abbot P, pg. 67. However in the public sphere women are replacing there domestic roles in their homes, for continued subservient traditional roles in society, such as secretaries, flight attendants, and office wife embarked on to perform for men. Women are continually striving to resist male power, however with the introduction of The Children Sure start centers all of which support women primarily with children, through education and training and child care provision, this has placed a shift in gender relations, and has increase the life chances of women, with an increase in paid employment, with more women applying for ‘top’ jobs.
The response to these changes is that there are concerns that male dominance, thus masculinity is being challenged, because men are now competing with women for jobs, especially working class boys are taking on new masculine identities from work to unemployment, as there is an increase in male peers without paid work and their mothers now becoming the bread winner, however usually in low paid work. With the traditional ideology of what historically was meant to ‘be a man’ the hegemonic understanding, there is now an uptake in a variety of overstated masculine behaviors such as, joy riding, binge drinking, and arson, which decrease their life chances by imprisonment.
Maleness is also associated with homophobia and the rejection of female characteristic; social workers need to have an awareness of the stigmatisation of this group and the implications on the individual, such as isolation through heterosexism, which is defined by Fannin A, et al (2008) as: ‘The ideological system that denies, denigrates and stigmatises any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship, or community” Much emphasis has been placed upon feminine perspectives of Gender and life chances, now we will look at how masculinity shapes men in the social world, according to Gilmore D(1990) cited in Haralambos M, and Holborn M (2007) states that masculinity is “the approved way of being an adult male in any given society”pg136, he rejects the feminist ideas that masculinity is a set of characteristics entirely determined by biology, and that manhood lies in culture, but believe biology is important in that some part influence cultural definitions, three features of masculinity that is within society are that men are the impregnators, the providers and the protectors. Men were expected to impregnate women normally through courtship, and were expected to compete with other men to gain access to women; these ideas in contrast are viewing women primarily as possessions, to have ownership over women.
Once men impregnate women, they are expected to provide for them and their offspring’s, and then they must protect them from other men or any potential threats that arise, the important factors here, are that women are quite often deemed as possession, and this cane create unhealthy households, where the men dictate, where women can go, or what they can where. Any women seen to be not conforming to the wishes of the husband, would be seen as defiance, and from a social constructivist perspective this is seen as patriarchal control stemming from men’s aggression and this aggression is demonstrated according to Abbott P cited in Payne G (2006) pg. 73 through the use of sexual rape, domestic violence and sexual harassment, all designed to keep the women in their place. This victimisation of women by men remained relatively hidden, through the fear many women experience domestic abuse however they do not report it to the police.
Rise of the second feminist wave were it became apparent the extent of assault on wives, of rape and child sexual abuse, as women are more prepared to report crimes. In terms of life chance there is a high risk of death rate through domestic abuse, as a social worker it important to be aware of power relations within a family home. In terms of life chances, there is much improvement for women but there is still in equalities existing, but there is a need to understand men, to improve gender relations.