Real Equality Between Men and Women in Society

Table of Content

In 1848, slavery was legal in many parts of the United States and women of all colors as well as men were socially unequal. Women couldn’t own property, retain their wages if married, or engage in litigation in court (even for child custody) or pursue higher education in large sections of the country. Husbands had full control over their wives and children. Around 300 women gathered at Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls to challenge this inferior status and advocate for the progress of women’s rights and opportunities, including suffrage.

At the time, most individuals viewed the suggestion as ridiculous and scandalous. Even attendees of the conference were taken aback by such an idea (Gurnett, 1998, as cited in Macionis, 2010). Significant progress has occurred since the Seneca Falls convention, and numerous proposals are now widely acknowledged as essential matters of fairness. Nonetheless, despite declarations of equal treatment, women and men continue to have separate experiences, both within the United States and globally; in most aspects, men still hold positions of power. Discrimination persists against half of the world’s population.

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This paper investigates the devaluation of women in different cultures, where a preference for male children continues to reinforce the idea that females are inferior. It examines the economic, political, social, and cultural factors that contribute to gender inequality and raises the question of whether it is feasible to eradicate gender discrimination. Furthermore, it explores the barriers that impede progress towards achieving gender equality. Despite past endeavors to advocate for women’s rights, there is uncertainty regarding how much men and women can truly achieve equal status in society. The concepts of sex and gender play significant roles in this discussion.

Before we continue, let’s clarify the definitions of sex and gender as they are frequently mistaken. Sex refers to the biological distinction between males and females in terms of human reproduction. It is established at conception and influences an individual’s development. In embryos exhibiting male characteristics, testicular tissue starts developing, which stimulates the production of testosterone – a hormone that shapes male reproductive organs.

A deficiency in testosterone during development leads to the formation of female genitals, resulting in divergence between males and females. These distinctions consist of primary sex characteristics (reproductive organs) as well as secondary sex characteristics associated with physical growth. Grown females possess wider hips suitable for childbirth, mammary glands producing milk for infants, and fat reserves supplying nourishment during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Conversely, adult males typically acquire greater muscle mass in their upper bodies.

Gender is a cultural aspect that involves the unique traits, behaviors, social roles, and societal positions associated with being male or female. It influences how we interact with others and view ourselves. Importantly, gender includes a hierarchy that determines varying levels of power, wealth, and resources based on one’s gender identity. As a result, this creates gender stratification and an uneven distribution of wealth, power, and privilege between males and females.

Gender plays a significant role in shaping individuals’ opportunities and challenges throughout their lives. It is important to consider that while biology does contribute to some differences between males and females, social differences should not be solely understood through a biological lens. On average, males tend to have greater height, weight, and upper body strength compared to females. In the United States, women generally have a longer life expectancy than men (80 years for women compared to 75.4 years for men). However, it is crucial to note that there is no definitive boundary between male and female with regards to these characteristics. Not all males are guaranteed to be stronger than females biologically; there are instances where females outperform males, such as in marathon competitions where the performance gap between genders is narrowing. Thus, from a biological perspective, men and women may differ in certain aspects but neither gender can claim inherent superiority. The cultural dimension also plays a significant role in defining gender roles and expectations.

According to a cross-cultural study conducted by Murdock and Provost (1973, as cited in Kottak, 2011), gender division of labor in pre-industrial societies demonstrates general patterns rather than strict rules. Among 185 selected societies, the data reveals that certain activities are performed by both men and women. Nevertheless, there are specific tasks primarily assigned to men due to their typically larger physical size and strength, such as hunting large animals and plowing. Conversely, women generally engage in domestic activities like childcare and cooking. Overall, most societies assign women the primary role of caregivers.

Mothers being the primary caregivers for infants is crucial in ensuring their survival, especially considering the importance of breast-feeding. This distinction between the home and external world, known as the domestic public dichotomy or private-public contrast, contributes to gender stratification. Gender stratification refers to the unequal distribution of rewards (such as socially valued resources, power, prestige, human rights, and personal freedom) between men and women due to their different positions within a social hierarchy. The external world includes areas such as politics, trade, warfare, and employment.

There is often a distinction between the domestic and public spheres, with public activities being regarded as more prestigious. Certain gender roles are closely associated with one sex over others. Men typically assume the roles of hunters and warriors due to their larger and stronger physical attributes compared to women in the same population. This physical difference results in men having greater mobility, while women are constrained by pregnancy and lactation during their childbearing years. Consequently, women’s movements are restricted late in pregnancy and after childbirth when they must carry a baby. These limitations prevent them from participating in production, leading certain belief systems to perceive them as inferior.

Gender stratification is heightened when men provide a greater contribution to the diet than women. Nevertheless, although there exists a division of labor based on gender, considerable variation and flexibility were observed. In certain regions, women actively participated in trade and managed shops, affording them independence and enabling them to assume significant public positions. The allocation of labor between genders in pre-industrial eras allowed for adaptability due to the increased uncertainty experienced by those societies. However, this adaptability underwent a transformation with the advent of industrial societies.

Throughout history, societies have gone through various stages of development: foraging, horticulturalism, and agriculture. However, the advent of industrial societies brought about a significant shift in the role of households. During this period, there was an increasing disconnect between households and the production process. Meanwhile, nuclear families became more common, with one person being responsible for providing financial support.

This transformation also had an impact on power dynamics within families, resulting in patriarchal nuclear families becoming the dominant structure. One notable characteristic of these nineteenth-century households was the gender-based division of labor – men primarily worked outside the home and controlled income while women were limited to domestic responsibilities such as housework and childcare.

According to Marxist theory, industrial capitalism caused the division of labor in households. Industrialization led to a clearer separation between paid work and domestic duties, resulting in a greater divide between male and female roles. In the middle class, men primarily focused on work and public life, while women were limited to household tasks. Women’s involvement in public activities was restricted, leading them to be more confined to their homes. The effect of industrialization on views regarding gendered work varied based on social class and geographic location.

Despite the abolition of slavery, African American women in the South continued to work as field hands and domestic workers. Impoverished white women were also employed in early cotton mills in the same area. According to Margolis (1984) cited by Kottak (2011), by the 1890s, over one million American women worked in repetitive and low-skilled positions in factories. Immigrant women, African American women, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds remained actively involved in the workforce throughout the 20th century. However, with the arrival of European immigrants after 1900, male workers started replacing female workers who had previously held factory jobs due to their willingness to accept lower wages compared to native-born men.

The decline in female labor demand due to machine tools and mass production led to the belief that women were not physically suited for factory work. These examples illustrate how cultural or environmental factors have influenced work, attitudes, and beliefs. For instance, during times of war when men are scarce, it is believed that women have a patriotic duty to work outside of the home. Moreover, the notion that women cannot perform strenuous physical labor became less common during the world wars. Inflation and a society focused on consumption have also contributed to an increase in female employment.

When prices and demand increase, having multiple paychecks helps families maintain their living standards. The continuous rise in female paid employment since World War II also reflects the expansion of the industrial sector. Historically, American culture has associated clerical work, teaching, and nursing as occupations for women. Due to the rapid population growth and business expansion after World War II, there was a consistent need for women to take up these roles. Employers also discovered that they could maximize their profits by paying women lower wages compared to returning male war veterans.

The economy’s changes led to a shift in attitudes towards women, resulting in the emergence of the modern women’s movement. This movement was influenced by the establishment of NOW in 1966 and aimed to provide more job opportunities for women, including equal pay for equal work. In 1900, only 20% of women in the US were part of the workforce; however, this number has now tripled to 60%, with 72% of these women working full-time (U.S. Department of Labor, 2008, as cited in Macionis, 2010).

According to the Statistical Abstract of the U.S. (2009, as cited in Kottak, 2011), women now hold more than half (57 percent) of all professional jobs. The traditional belief that only men should earn income is no longer accurate as physical labor is no longer a major requirement thanks to machines for heavy tasks. This means that women’s smaller average body size and lesser strength are no longer barriers to blue-collar employment. However, despite progress in narrowing the gender gap in terms of income-generating work, there are still significant differences in the types of work performed by men and women.

The U.S. Department of Labor (2008, as cited in Macionis, 2010) reveals that there is a substantial presence of women workers in administrative support and service roles. Additionally, the report emphasizes that job categories such as building trades, police officers, engineers, physicians and surgeons, lawyers, and corporate managers are predominantly occupied by men. It further points out that low-paying jobs with limited chances for career growth tend to have a higher proportion of women.

A recent survey reveals that only 12 out of the Fortune 400 companies in the United States have a female CEO, and women hold just 15% of corporate board of directors positions. Shockingly, none of the top 25 highest-paid executives in the country are women. Unfortunately, certain job roles still exclude women due to societal conventions that consider them unsuitable for such positions. These companies reinforce the belief in male superiority by designating specific tasks as “men’s work”. Throughout history, mining was seen as exclusively for men, with it being considered abnormal for women to participate in such labor. Consequently, women who pursued mining were stigmatized as deviant and faced accusations of promiscuity or lesbianism.

The labeling of these women as outcasts and the challenges it presented to their job holding and advancement made it nearly impossible for them to succeed. This barrier, commonly referred to as the glass ceiling, although not easily visible, continues to hinder women’s careers. The primary reasons for women earning less are the type of work they choose and their family responsibilities. Certain jobs are still perceived as “women’s work” with less influence, contributing to the devaluation of such work solely because it is performed by women. Furthermore, despite both men and women having parenting responsibilities, our culture tends to place more parenting responsibility on women.

Pregnancy and caring for young children often cause young women to leave the workforce while their male counterparts are advancing in their careers. Discrimination against women contributes to the remaining obstacles, preventing many women from progressing beyond middle management as they strive for promotion. Despite women’s efforts, achieving gender equality appears to be an elusive concept.

The primary source for this stem is enculturation, also known as socialization, where the development of the human self and social identity occurs. Due to culture being acquired, every society must find a way to ensure the sufficient transfer of culture from one generation to the next. From birth, children are raised differently based on their gender. The child is subjected to various future possibilities and expectations. It is through these processes that boys and girls gain an understanding of their differences and acquire gendered identities.

By the age of three, children perceive these differences as innate and unchanging, leading to the establishment of distinct gender identities. This subsequently results in the segregation of social experiences, further reinforcing gender divergence. Behaviorist perspectives contribute to this process by utilizing rewards and punishments. The acquisition of gender roles commences within the family and endures throughout education and adulthood. Various factors, such as family, peers, schools, workplaces, and mass media, actively shape individuals’ behaviors even in their later years.

Society is powerful and humans are powerless, so they must fit into society through enculturation. This can be done by conforming to social rules and internalizing values or behaviors. Boys are encouraged to embrace their unique ‘masculinity’ while girls are expected to identify strongly with their mothers and imitate their behavior. Additionally, patriarchy, although not universal, plays a significant role in today’s society as a social structure where males hold power.

This paragraph discusses the connection between capitalism and power differences, particularly in relation to women’s roles within the family. It mentions how women become unpaid workers and are subordinated through the domestic division of labor. Within this familial setting, known as ‘the domestic mode of production’, men hold a superior position and have control over the distribution of resources. Through this control, men gain power and exploit women’s labor, resulting in a form of oppression known as private patriarchy.

Although women were no longer excluded from work in the 20th century, they still faced segregation in lower-grade and lower-paid jobs due to patriarchy. When examining the barriers to gender equality, it is important to consider to what extent men and women can achieve true equality in society. Before delving into that question, it is necessary to define what real equality entails. Real equality implies that men and women are treated the same without any differentiation or dissimilarity; everything should be completely equal.

However, achieving true equality between men and women is incredibly challenging due to inherent differences. Instead, the focus should be on ensuring equal human rights for both genders. This entails providing equal access to basic rights, including voting, economic opportunities, education, and division of labor. These factors are crucial for attaining gender equality but are consistently hindered by various obstacles along the way.

In recent decades, advocates for gender equality in the workplace have suggested implementing a policy known as “comparable worth,” which entails paying individuals based on the level of skill and responsibility required for the job, rather than adhering to historical gender biases. Several countries, including Great Britain and Australia, have embraced comparable worth policies. However, the United States has shown limited acceptance of such policies, resulting in a loss of up to $1 billion in income annually for women in the country. Additionally, there has been an increase in access to higher education for women, leading to a reduction in the disparities between men’s and women’s choice of majors.

Despite having the same grades and qualifications, men are still more likely to receive scholarships compared to women, which is a violation of women’s rights. Additionally, there should be a fair distribution of household labor, as traditionally it has been seen as “women’s work”. Despite women doing more housework, they receive little recognition for their efforts. While men do support the idea of women working and rely on their wives’ earnings, they often resist taking on a more equal share of household responsibilities.

Generally, people tend to view gender as a determining factor when it comes to various tasks. There is an assumption that certain activities like cleaning the house, taking care of children, cooking, and doing laundry are primarily considered as ‘women’s work’. However, it is important to note that the nature of these tasks themselves are gender-neutral. Society has assigned a particular gender label to each type of work. Cultural influences play a significant role in shaping individuals’ preferences for certain tasks over others. This paper consistently emphasizes that society has separated men and women into activities that are perceived as suitable for each gender due to some biological differences.

In order to promote division of labor and ensure smooth societal functioning, all members of society must fulfill their prescribed roles. These roles and responsibilities, which inevitably differ based on sex, are crucial for achieving societal harmony. However, complete gender equality cannot be achieved as long as we are bound to our physical bodies. Instead, true equality can be attained when men and women are viewed as collaborative partners working towards the collective well-being, rather than competitors driven by self-interest.

Women give birth and breast-feed, so it is logical for them to be the primary caregiver in ensuring the survival of infants. Men, who are generally stronger physically than women, are better suited for demanding tasks. Each gender has its own important responsibilities and creates a harmonious set of roles. Additionally, all decisions should be made by agreement. Therefore, when both genders establish a communal relationship or complementary behaviors, and view each other as equals, gender stratification and inequality are diminished.

In general, the phrase “separate but equal” accurately depicts the interactions between genders, with neither sex holding dominance over the other. It is important to note that these differences are not necessarily applicable to everyone. Although differing gender roles may align with biological distinctions between men and women, this does not imply that they are biologically predetermined. Exceptions exist, where some women may possess greater strength than men, and some men may excel at household tasks compared to women. In such cases, a flexible division of labor becomes necessary.

The Ju/’hoansi people (Haviland, Prins, Walrath, & McBride, 2010) believed that there is nothing wrong with individuals performing tasks traditionally associated with the opposite gender. For example, if a man is skilled in cooking, he should be able to cook regardless of societal expectations. The same principle should apply to women as well. If a woman is capable of working outside the home, she should not be prohibited from pursuing a career. This interchangeability and mutual reliance on different roles is beneficial. Equality, in this context, means having the opportunity to progress individually based on one’s abilities and performance. Taking gender equality to its extremes, radical feminism suggests getting rid of the concept of gender altogether.

By achieving this, genuine equality will undoubtedly be attained. However, the query persists regarding the extent of our willingness to make sacrifices. True equality can only be obtained when there are no disparities between women and men, necessitating women to use new reproductive technology in order to separate their bodies from the act of childbearing. Radical feminists argue that by eliminating motherhood, society could abandon the entire family structure, thereby liberating women, men, and children from the subjugation of family, gender, and even sex itself.

They believed that women were distinct from and superior to men, and that only by completely reversing male domination and valuing each other’s unique and vital contributions could gender inequality be eradicated. As long as nobody is willing to acknowledge the importance of everyone’s role, the struggle for equality will continue. Ultimately, no one is without flaws and no one can exist without others. The best way to achieve true equality is for everyone to fulfill their responsibilities and collaborate for the greater good. Real equality occurs when each individual contributes their part, forming a unified body or a living organism. This is what binds society together…


Haviland, W.A., Prins, H.E.L., Walrath, D., & McBride, B. (2010). Anthropology: the human challenge (12th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Kottak, C.P. (2011) Anthropology: appreciating human diversity (14th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Macionis, J.J. (2010). Sociology (13th ed). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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