An Introduction to Sex, Gender and Gender Identity

The aim of this post is to provide a very brief introduction to the very complex topic of sex, gender and gender identity. 

Sex, gender and gender identity: basic definitions

  • Sex refers to the biological differences between men and women
  • Gender refers to the cultural differences between – it is to do with social norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.
  • Gender Identity is an individual’s own sense of their own gender. Their private sense of whether they feel masculine, feminine, both or neither, irrespective of their biological sex.

Biological differences between men and women

At first glance, there appears to be some fairly obvious biological differences between men and women – most obviously:

  • Reproductive organs – women have eggs and wombs and men produce sperm which fertilizes eggs – no need to go into the joys of exactly how this is done at this stage, suffice to say that in terms of the physical reproduction of the species men have a fairly easy time of it, women are the ones who have to carry the babies inside of them, and suffer the physical trauma of childbirth.
  • Women can lactate, men can’t, meaning women are the only sex who can produce food for their young offspring.
  • On average men are physically stronger, and can run faster than women.
  • Women typically cannot reproduce over the age of 50, while men can perform the reproductive function until much later on in their lives.
  • On average, women live longer than men
  • There are also hormonal differences – most obviously men have higher testosterone levels – which some scientific studies have linked to their higher levels of aggression.

Traditional Gender Roles and Norms

In the 1950s Functionalist sociologist Talcott Parsons argued that these biological differences meant there were ‘natural’ social roles that men and women should fulfill in society –

  • women should perform the expressive role, or caring and nurturing role.
  • men should perform the instrumental role, or the ‘breadwinner’ role – going out and earning money.

Such ideas formed part of the common sense’ way of viewing relations through much of the 20th century, with most people seeing maleness and masculinity and femaleness and femininity as a binary relationship – with men being seen as the opposite of women.

Criticisms of the male-female gender divide

Successive Feminists movements have spearheaded criticisms of traditional gender roles in society, arguing that stereotypical ideas about the roles men and women should occupy, and the norms they should subscribe to, have systematically disadvantaged women.

One of the key Feminist ideas is that gender is socially constructed, that gender roles and norms are not determined by biology, but are shaped by society, and some of the best evidence of this fact lies in the enormous variation in gender roles between different cultures – simply put, if you can find just a handful of examples of men and women occupying different roles, having different amounts of power, and acting differently in different cultures, then this disproves the theory that there is some kind of ‘natural’ link between biological sex and gender.

Feminists have effectively spearheaded campaigns for greater gender equality and diversity of gender roles, and the last century has seen a blurring of boundaries between male and female roles and norms surrounding masculinity and femininity.

And, of course, the fact that gender roles and norms have changed so much so rapidly adds further weight to the fact that gender is socially constructed rather than biologically determined.

Criticisms of the binary opposition between male/ masculine and female/ feminine

Contemporary Feminism has criticized the binary opposition between male and female, arguing that every aspect of sex and gender are in fact sliding scales rather than opposites – as illustrated by the Genderbread person:

Genderbread-Person.jpg

The genderbread person was developed by Sam Killerman, who argues that gender identity incorporates not only one’s biological sex, but also one’s sexuality, one’s sense of social-identity and how one feels about one’s self – gender identity is thus fluid and complex, rather than static and binary binary, as explored further by Sam Killerman in the TED talk below.

Hegemonic masculinity and femininity in contemporary society  

Of course just because we are more accepting of gender diversity in contemporary society, this doesn’t mean that the old stereotypes have disappeared –  biological males are still ‘called upon’ to act in a typically masculine way, and biological females are still called upon to act in typically feminine ways, which at least in part explains why there are still clear gender inequalities in society today.

 

 

Should we be Concerned about the Gender Pay Gap at the BBC?

The BBC recently revealed the salaries of stars earning more than £150,000, and two-thirds of them are male, only a third female. So the very high income earner male-female ratio at the BBC is 2:1.

BBC gender pay gap

Where the highest incomes are concerned, there is an enormous disparity between the highest earning male and the highest earning female: Chris Evans is the top-paid male, earning between £2.2m and £2.25m, while Claudia Winkleman is the highest-paid female celebrity, earning between £450,000 and £500,000.

A recent edition of Radio 4’s Moral Maze explored some of the moral arguments for and against this pay gap, focusing on the following questions:

  1. Do these pay inequalities, between elite men and women at the BBC, actually tell us anything about gender pay differentials in wider society? Or is this sample of very high earning celebrities just so unique that it tells us nothing at all?
  2. Why do women earn less than men? To what extent is the biological fact that women are the child-bearers explain the differences? To what extent is it sexism in wider culture?
  3. What more could or should companies, government and society reasonably do about gender disparities?
  4. Finally, is viewing society through the prism of gender an unhealthy obsession and an unhelpful distraction from the job of tackling wider inequalities in wealth, health and education?

In case you’ve never listened to it, the format of the moral maze consists of a panel who e start off by briefly presenting their views on topic under discussion, and then listening to evidence from a number of witnesses and critically questioning them, before summing up their views at the end of the show. 

Michael Buerk
Michael Buerk – old, white, male, privately educated and host of the BBC’s Moral Maze

I thought it was useful to provide a detailed account of this episode of the moral maze because it includes summary of views of some of Britain’s best known contemporary Feminists and their critics on the issue of the pay-gap in the UK, an issue which is obviously highly relevant across the A level sociology syllabus. 

It’s also probably quicker to read this rather than listen to the pod cast, and I thought it’d be useful to link it up too. 

A summary of the views of the four person panel

Priest and Guardian pundit Giles Fraser – thinks that the fact that BBC appears to value men more than women is a moral outrage

Claire Fox, from the Institute of Ideas – describes Giles Fraser’s moral position as ‘tone deaf’ arguing that it’s ludicrous for a very high income earning women to see themselves as victims of Patriarchy, even if men in similar positions earn more them. She also says she finds it insulting to the memory of what fighting for women’s rights was all about.

Mona Siddiqui, Professor of Islamic and Inter-Religious Studies at Edinburgh University – disagrees argues that we should be comparing ‘like for like’ – if men and women are in a similar environment, they should be receiving the same pay and those women are right to fight for it.

Historian and Blogger Tim Stanley – elite celebrity presenters are all grotesquely overpaid and this issue is a distraction from the e world and serious violence women face in other parts of the world and the UK, and also some of the systemic problems facing young men today.

The Four Witnesses

The Witnesses are Emily Hill, Nikki Van De Gaag, Sophie Walker and Dr Joanna Williams – below I summarise their views on the gender pay gap at the BBC and more widely in the UK, along with their responses to the various questions asked of them by the panelists. 

Dr Joanna Williams

Dr Williams is author of Women Versus Feminism: Why We All Need Liberating from the Gender Wars

  • women versus feminismShe argues that the pay of 96 elite people tells us very little about the issues of pay and inequality in wider society, because these 96 people are not doing jobs in which the pay is determined by standardised promotion and pay-scale procedures
  • She also points out that they are doing jobs which are not comparable – even where presenters co-present on the same show, one of them might well be doing additional presenting work elsewhere which could explain their higher pay.
  • The moral outrage over the gender pay gap at the BBC misses the point because the gender pay gap overall in the UK is at an all time low.

Giles Fraser responds to the above by suggesting that, irrespective of what’s going on in the wider society, where women are paid less for men in comparable jobs, this is a basic moral outrage. In response Williams says:

  • The real moral outrage is that other workers at the BBC (male and female alike) such as cleaners, editors, even producers, are earning so much less than these 96 ultra high-income earners.
  • These wealthy women have more in common with their wealthy male colleague and the focus on the ‘elite gender pay-gap’ is a distraction from the wider issue of social class.
  • She finds it nauseating that these elite women are calling for equal pay at the BBC, and claiming to do this for ‘all women – a campaign to equalize elite pay is going to nothing to help women lower down the pay scale – because at minimum wage level, there is no gender pay-gap.

Giles Fraser criticizes this view because it sounds like it’s blaming the victims of unequal pay. 

Mona Siddiqui tries to make the point that what is going on at the top of the BBC does in fact reflect a problem found in workplaces across Britain – which is that if women don’t kick up a fuss about it, they will be paid less than men. In response to this Williams says:

  • The average pay gap at the BBC is 10% compared to 18% in the country as a whole, suggesting the BBC is actually a relatively good on equal pay where gender is concerned.
  • Where you look at men and women in comparable ‘ordinary’ jobs, the gender pay gap is practically zero.
  • Women in their 20s earn more than men in their 20s.

Mona Siddiqui wonders what we’re aiming for in all of this – do we want equal pay by gender, or a world of work in which women race ahead of men, in which case we just end up with another pay-gap issue. In response Williams says:

  • the real issue is social class – people at the bottom need to be paid more
  • by focusing on the gender pay gap, we distract attention away from the real problem in society which is pay inequality more broadly – and to get better pay, women in lower paid jobs need to work alongside their male colleagues.

Sophie Walker 

Sophie Walker is leader of the Women’s Equality Party and argues that:

  • What’s interesting about the BBC Explodes the myth that if women try harder they can have equal pay. This list demonstrates that even the wealthiest, white, privileged  women are still paid less men, and if they’re being paid less
  • One of the main aspects of the pay gap is occupational segregation which starts with boys and girls in school making gendered subject choices -because we teach boys that they are good at science and engineering and we value and pay those jobs highly; while we teach girls that they are good at caring and teaching and we value and pay those jobs lesson.
  • The ‘care burden’ within family life falls disproportionately on women – women in their 20s may well earn more than men, but later on in their working lives, women pay a ‘motherhood penalty’ – within 12 years of having children women’s pay is about 30% lower than the men they work with.

Tim Stanley rejects Sophie Walker’s analysis arguing that the pay gap is generational and is disappearing for the young. He cites a recent report by the Resolution Foundation found that the gender pay gap baby boomers is 16%, among women born between 1981 and 2005, it is 5%, and for women in their early 20s, the pay gap doesn’t exist, in fact women in this age bracket earn more than men. He also points out that women outperforming men in education, especially at university.

Ultimately, the two talk at cross purposes – they disagree about how we should be comparing men and women – Tim Stanley wants to take generations as the base for comparison and measure the pay gap by comparing what the same aged men and women earn doing the same jobs, while Sophie Walker wants to make a broader comparison, factoring in use the ‘typical jobs’ men and women do and the even how the social roles men and women fill influence the amount they earn.

Another reason they talk at cross purposes is that Stanley just sticks to the stats on pay for men and women in their 20s, Walker is imagining what’s likely to happen to the pay gap in later life, based on past evidence. 

Claire Fox – asks if focusing on 96 elite women isn’t a distraction away from the the more significant problem of social class inequalities. Sophie Walker responds by saying that:

  • The advantage of looking at inequalities through the lens of gender shows that all women, of all classes, are underpaid compared to men.
  • She also argues that exploring class through the lens of gender is an effective way of analyzing pay injustice in society.
  • She also points out that there are different reasons for the pay gap at different class levels – for example at the top end, it’s maybe something to do with how men and women are treated differently by their agents; while at the bottom end, the fact that we have nurses (a female dominated profession) reliant on food banks is more to do with us not valuing women’s caring roles highly enough.

Claire Fox now turns to the question of why women earn less than men. She asks whether Sophie Walker thinks women are deliberately treated like second class citizens in today’s labour market. Walker suggests there isn’t conscious bias, but the following things might explain the pay gap:

  • Unconscious bias by white men who, when looking for the best candidate for a job, end up choosing not the best candidate.
  • Structural barriers, particularly lack of access to decent child care.
  • Ultimately Walker argues that such gender stereotypes and structural barriers harm men just as much as women, by effectively denying men the opportunity to spend quality time with their children – so closing the gender pay gap should benefit both men and women.

Emily Hill

Emily Hill is the commissioning editor of the spectator and responsible for an article entitled ‘The end of Feminism‘.

  • End of FeminismShe starts off by pointing out that she may have wrote that article, but someone else was responsible for the title, and that she does actually regard herself as a feminist.
  • Emily Hill subscribes to kind of Feminism developed by Germaine Greer and Camille Paglia
  • She has however have a problem with some younger, trendy columnists who have changed the agenda of feminism.
  • She suggests that what used to fight for equality and freedom has now become a fight for censorship and special treatment.
  • Women have won key battles such as they are doing better in school and university, and when they grow up she believes they will earn equal to men.
  • She does not believe that women today are victims of Patriarchy, which is thanks to previous Feminists having fought to overcome this.

Mona Siddiqui thinks the above view only applies to middle class white women, and women lower down the social class ladder are still victims of Patriarchy. 

Giles Fraser backs up the idea that women are still disadvantaged through ‘everyday sexism’ – such as waiters handing the bill to men rather than women as default, and such things as harassment on the street, and especially social media abuse.

  • Emily Hill’s response to this is that women just need to get over these things, and she seems to be suggesting that these aren’t really systematic structural barriers to women’s progress.
  • Women need to stand up to men harassing them, and tell them to ‘F off’, knee them in the balls or just simply tell them their not taking it.
  • She suggests young women read Feminism and recommends looking at Germaine Greer putting down Norman Mailler.
  • In response to the view that women are more likely to get abused on social media, she cites research which suggests men are just as likely to suffer abuse, and stands against censorship, suggesting that satirizing offensive comments is the best way to deal with them.

Nikki van der Gaag

Nikki van der Gaag is Director of Gender Justice at Oxfam and author of No Nonsense Feminism: Why the World Still Needs the F Word.

  • Van der Gaag starts off by arguing that even in the UK structural discrimination against women still exists.

Claire Fox asks Van der Gaag what she thinks of the view that contemporary Feminism is ‘victim feminism’ – casting women as hapless, hopeless and in need of protection. Fox has a problem with the kind of Feminism that suggests that women in particular can’t cope with offensive words and ideas and demands that women have ‘safe spaces’ from offensive ideas and which no platforms (or censors) ideas they find offensive – she argues this kind of Feminism constructs women as people who simply can’t cope. 

Fox suggests that when women in the west say they need protecting from offensive words in order to protect their mental health, this trivialises the much more serious problems some women in the west face, and which many women in developing countries face – such as being victims of violence and being treated like second class citizens. 

  • In response Van der Gaag suggests that Claire Fox is the one trivialising  mental illness, pointing out that women suffer severe abuse online, such as death threats (Even female MPs) and the effects on mental health are very real.

Giles Fraser now simply asks whether Van der Gaag thinks the disparity between men and women is a product of nature or nurture. 

  • Van der Gaag responds by pointing him in the direction of two books – one by Cordelia Fine – Delusions of Gender and the other by Lise Elliot – Pink Brain Blue Brain
  • Together these two books suggest that about 95% of gender differences are explained by nurture, the other 5% by nature.

Reflecting on the 5% of natural differences Giles Fraser asks to what extent the biological fact of women being the child bearers explains gender disparities. Van Der Gaag responds by basically saying it’s got very little to do with it. 

  • The problem women are still expected all over the world to do unpaid work on top of their paid work, and this is an issue all over the world including in the UK.
  • The solution is to value unpaid work as much as paid work, to redistribute it so that men do more unpaid work (which is happening with the younger generation), and to reduce the unpaid care, which machines can help with.

In Summary 

Either the gender pay gap at the BBC is symptomatic of wider gender disparities in British society, or it’s a nauseating distraction. 

For Mona Siddiqui the real issue is how do we see women in terms of what value they bring to the work place?

Claire Fox finds the whole issue distasteful because the BBC gender pay gap took over some of the more socially relevant issues that we should be discussion – we should really be thinking about social class inequalities, not pay inequality between men and women at the BBC.

Giles Fraser thinks that The BBC gender pay gap touches a nerve because firstly we don’t think that people should earn that much, and secondly, we also find the idea of gender inequality unfair – the two things together – class and gender inequality offend our British idea of justice, and we can care about both at the same time (it is not a binary issue).

Tim Stanley reiterates his point that the gender pay gap in wider society is no longer really an issue – he argues that our whole take on it is 40 years old: male bosses no longer deliberately discriminate against women and technology has changed the nature of work, giving women more opportunities which they are taking.

Claire Fox points out that what no longer happens is that patriarchal bosses say ‘you’re going to have a baby, see you later’, but was does happen is that women take time off work when they have babies and go back to work part-time and lose income because of this.  The problem is that there is not enough child care provision for working people, and given that women are the primary child carers this disadvantages them more than men where pay is concerned.

She also argues that overstating the gender pay gap is not helpful, what we should be doing is focusing on positive solutions to overcoming it.

Mona Siddiqui points out that prejudice may play a role – in that male bosses are reluctant to hire women in their early 30s because of the increased possibility of them having children in the near future, and the ‘hassle’ this will cause.

Giles Fraser suggests that the stereotypical representations of men and women in higher and lower paid jobs remains a problem for parents bringing up children.

There’s general support for Emily Hill’s view that thanks to Feminism, there have been huge gains in gender equality, and for the fact that contemporary Feminists blackballing people like Germaine Greer is a problem.

The last word goes to Giles Fraser who suggests that ‘power looks after itself’ and so we cannot be complacent.

 

Feminist Theory for A Level Sociology: An Introduction

Inequality between men and women is the most significant form of inequality

Anthropological evidence demonstrates that inequalities between men and women exist in every single society in human history, and in most of these societies women have an inferior social status to men. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex

Gender norms are Socially Constructed, not determined by biology and thus gender norms can be changed

Feminism is a set of ideas which criticises the discrimination experienced by women based on their gender. Remember, there are few biological differences between men and women at birth, but the social norms associated with being a “women” result in discrimination against females. Children are taught “gender norms” from a young age i.e. what it means to be a “women” in terms of dress, language, expectations, roles within the family, how they relate to men etc. Gender norms are learned in the family, but reinforced in the school, at work and through the media.

Note, boys also learn gender norms e.g. assertiveness, confidence etc, but more importantly for feminism they also learn the behaviour they expect from a “women” based on female gender norms. Many boys will grow up watching gender norms being played out in the family and will therefore replicate the same roles with their own partners.

Patriarchy is one of the main causes of female disadvantage

‘Patriarchy refers to a society in which there are unequal power relations between women and men whereby women are systematically disadvantaged and oppressed’ (London Feminist Network)

NB – the idea of ‘structure’ is central to the concept of Patriarchy – Women are inferior because men are superior – For example, women end up staying at home looking after the kids BECAUSE it is assumed that men are the breadwinners, thus men are the ones who go out to work. Similarly, women dress up in high heels, make up and short skirts BECAUSE they have internalised the idea that that’s what they need to do to attract men. The idea behind patriarchy is that men gain and women lose from socially constructed gender differences.

Feminism is a political movement

Feminists emphasise the importance of political activism in order challenge gender inequalities. Feminism exists to rectify the Systematic injustices that women experience because of their sex. There is a lot of disagreement within Feminism over how to achieve this – strategies vary from doing research to highlight the extent of gender inequality, to having consciousness raising sessions with groups of women and men, to working with governments to create social policies, to more radical strategies such as political lesbianism.

Feminist Theory: A Criticism of Previous Sociological Explanations Gender inequality

Feminist theory arose as a reaction to the sexist, biological explanations for gender inequalities such as those of Talcott Parsons. Feminism actually sees sociology itself as sexist as all previous theories: Functionalism, Marxism and Interactionism have failed to adequately explain gender differences in modern society. Feminism is a huge body of theory. Below it is simplified into four main perspectives: Radical Feminism, Marxist Feminism, Liberal Feminism and Difference Feminism

Gender Equality in Rwanda

Rwanda makes an interesting case study of a developing nation which appears to have atypically high levels of gender equality. It ranks no 7 in the Gender Empowerment Index, just behind the Nordic countries, and actually has a higher proportion of girls enrolled in education than boys (97% compared to 95%).

Given that East and North African nations typically have the lowest levels of gender equality in the world (take neighbouring DRC as an example, Rwanda not only bucks the regional trend, but it also bucks the general trend of the correlation between higher GDP and greater levels of gender equality.  So what’s its secret? I’m not exactly an expert in Rwandan history, but here are five things which might explain the high reported levels of gender equality in Rwanda.

Firstly, the genocide, may have (somewhat perversely) played a role in female empowerment.

In the aftermath of the genocide, Rwanda found itself a country composed of 70 percent women. The violence had been perpetrated by — and largely toward — men. There were simply fewer men due to death, imprisonment, and flight. Killings also targeted civic leaders during the genocide. Out of more than 780 judges nationwide, only 20 survived the violence. Not 20 percent, 20 total.

These skewed demographics resulted in a power vacuum. Prior to 1994, women only held between 10 and 15 percent of seats in Parliament. Out of sheer necessity, and a desire to rebuild their country, women stepped up as leaders in every realm of the nation, including politics.

Or in the words of one Rwandan woman….. “Many women were left as widows because of the genocide. Others had to work hard in the place of their jailed husbands for allegedly taking part in the genocide. So even young girls got that mentality to perform genuinely to access good jobs, and good jobs means going to school first,”

Secondly – (and no doubt related to the above) women’s rights have been rooted in the constitution for over a decade – The constitution stipulates that at least 30% of government positions should be filled by women. Rwanda now tops global league tables for the percentage of female parliamentarians. Fewer than 22% of MPs worldwide are women; in Rwanda, almost 64% are.

Thirdly (and probably a knock-on effect from point two) Rwanda spends huge proportions of its national budget on health and education, according to World Bank statistics. In 2011, almost 24% of total government expenditure went to health and 17% to education. High expenditure on the former has greatly improved maternal health and reduced child mortality, while high expenditure on the later has meant there is sufficient money to fund education for both boys and girls (as a general rule)

Fourthly (and probably a knock on effect from the above three points) – A relatively high proportion of women are employed in public sector jobs – In the education system – women have also outnumbered men as primary school teachers. Higher up the education system, things are not equal, but they are improving rapidly – At secondary school, however, fewer than 28% of teachers are women, up from 21% in 2001. In higher education, only 16% of teachers are women, but this is up from 10% in 1999 and 5% in 1990. In every local police station there is a ‘gender desk’ where incidents of gender related violence can be reported (something which I think is pretty much unheard of in most African countries.)

Fifthly, there is the role of women’s support groups in rebuilding the country after the decimation caused by the genocide. These groups initially just offered a place for women to talk about their experiences of being widowed and raped, but they morphed into workers co-operatives, which has, 20 years later, led on to a very high degree of engagement with women in local politics, which is increasingly integrated with national politics.

Limitations of Rwanda’s Gender Equality….

As with all statistics, they don’t tell the full picture, one of the posts below makes the following cautions – Firstly, 60% of Rwandans live below the poverty line, and while those women how have jobs in politics and education are on decent wages, there aren’t actually that many people in the population employed in these sectors and gender equality means very little to the vast majority of women when they can’t afford to eat. Secondly, DV statistics don’t make for pretty reading, with 2/5 women saying they have experienced domestic violence, with 1/5 saying they have experienced sexual violence – And you can imagine how low the prosecution rate of men is for such crimes.

A few thoughts on the meaning of all this….

Rwanda has experienced excellent economic growth compared to countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, which suggests that Gender Empowerment has a positive effect on development, but obviously this conclusion has to be treated with caution because there are so many other variables which need to be taken into account.

If it is indeed the prevalence of women and the absence of (certain types of?) men from a society which encourages development, there are some pretty challenging implications – Most obviously it raises the question of how we are to reduce (certain types of) male influence in developing countries?

Sources

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/datablog/2014/apr/03/rwanda-genocide-growth-political-repression-data

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/apr/07/rwanda-women-empowered-impoverished

http://thinkafricapress.com/rwanda/women-gender-equality

http://harvardkennedyschoolreview.com/rwanda-strides-towards-gender-equality-in-government/

Global Gender Inequalities – A Statistical Overview

Gender inequality is an extremely important aspect of development. Even if we put aside the significant social justice issues associated with the historical power differences between men and women, when you have half the population that are disempowered with less access to education, employment and healthcare, that alone is enough to drastically skew the social development statistics downwards!

Hence there is an argument that promoting gender equality should be the primary development goal, simply because it’s the easiest way to have a positive knock on effect in every other area of social life.

Global Gender Inequalities in 2020

The United Nations notes that

The commitment to achieving gender equality remains unfulfilled:

  • In 2019, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 was married in childhood (down from one in four in 2004). In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three young women was still married in childhood.
  • In 2020, almost 25% of MPs in national parliaments were women (up slightly from 22.3 per cent in 2015). Women hold 36 per cent of elected seats in local parliaments.
  • In 2019, 28 per cent of managerial positions in the world were occupied by women (up from 25 per cent in 2000).
  • Women are still less likely to work than men. They make up half of the world’s working-age population but only 39 per cent of the world’s workers.
  • Only 55% of married or in-union women aged 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • In 2019, 73 per cent of the laws and regulations needed to guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights were in place (based on data from 75 countries).
  • At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation (data from 31 countries where the practice is concentrated). The harmful practice is becoming less common, but progress is not fast enough to meet the global target of its elimination by 2030.

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting women and girls harder than men:

  • Globally, women make up three quarters of medical doctors and nursing personnel.
  • Women already spend three times as many hours as men on unpaid care work at home. The closure of school and day-care centres has put an extra burden on women to provide home-learning for their children.
  • Reports from several countries suggest that domestic violence against women and children is also rising during the global lockdown.

Statistics on Global Gender Inequality

The World Economic Forum produces the Global Gender Gap Report, which in 2020 noted that none of us will see global gender equality in our life time as it will take almost 100 years to achieve global gender equality at current rates of progress!

It measures gender inequality by using 14 indicators in 4 categories:

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity
  • Educational attainment
  • Health and Survival
  • Political Empowerment

It reports similar global stats to the United Nations, but is more useful for finding out the country rankings by gender inequality. If you download the report and scroll to the back, you can even look at each individual country’s score card for each indicator.

Another ‘gender equality world ranking’ system is The Women Peace and Security Index. This is a bit more niche/ focused than the WEF report and measures gender inequality in countries by using 11 indicators in 3 categories:

  • Inclusion
  • Security
  • Justice

The world country rankings for both the above two monitoring tools are similar:

2019-2020Global Gender Gap ReportWomen Peace and Security Index
Top five countries for gender equalityIceland
Norway
Finland
Sweden
Nicaragua
Norway
Switzerland
Finland
Denmark
Iceland
Bottom five countries for gender equalityDRC
Syria
Pakistan
Iraq
Yemen
South Sudan
Pakistan
Syria
Afghanistan
Yemen

The countries with the highest ‘Peace and Security Scores’ for Women.

Discussion Questions

Explore the rankings above. (1) Are you surprised by any of the results. (2) Do you think any of these indicators are more valid/ important than others as measurements of gender equality?

Sources

The United Nations – Progress towards SDG Five – improving gender equality.

The World Economic Forums The Global Gender Gap Report

The Women Peace and Security Index – findings summarised by National Geographic

Related Posts

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NB the material below is from 2017 and is pending an update, which will be forthcoming! (You know the score, not enough time to update everything as often as you’d like!)

Gender Inequalities in Employment

For every dollar earned by men, women earn 70-90 cents.

Women are less likely to work than men – Globally in 2015 about three quarters of men and half of women participate in the labour force. Women’s labour force participation rates are the lowest in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia (at 30 per cent or lower).

When women are employed, they are typically paid less and have less financial and social security than men. Women are more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs — characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and substandard working conditions — especially in Western Asia and Northern Africa. In Western Asia, Southern Asia and Northern Africa, women hold less than 10 per cent of top-level positions.

When all work – paid and unpaid – is considered, women work longer hours than men. Women in developing countries spend 7 hours and 9 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work, while men spend 6 hours and 16 minutes per day. In developed countries, women spend 6 hours 45 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work while men spend 6 hours and 12 minutes per day.

Gender Inequalities in Education

The past two decades have witnessed remarkable progress in participation in education. Enrollment of children in primary education is at present nearly universal. The gender gap has narrowed, and in some regions girls tend to perform better in school than boys and progress in a more timely manner.

However, the following gender disparities in education remain:

  • 31 million of an estimated 58 million children of primary school age are girls (more than 50% girls)
  • 87 per cent of young women compared to 92 per cent of young men have basic reading and writing skills. However, at older age, the gender gap in literacy shows marked disparities against women, two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
  • The proportion of women graduating in the fields of science (1 in 14, compared to 1 in 9 men graduates) and engineering (1 in 20, compared to 1 in 5 men graduates) remain low in poor and rich countries alike. Women are more likely to graduate in the fields related to education (1 in 6, compared to 1 in 10 men graduates), health and welfare (1 in 7, compared to 1 in 15 men graduates), and humanities and the arts (1 in 9, compared to 1 in 13 men graduates).
  • There is unequal access to universities especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In these regions, only 67 and 76 girls per 100 boys, respectively, are enrolled in tertiary education. Completion rates also tend to be lower among women than men. Poverty is the main cause of unequal access to education, particularly for girls of secondary-school age.

Gender Inequalities in Health

Women in developing countries suffer from….

  • Poor Maternal Health (support during pregnancy) – As we saw in the topic on health and education, maternity services are often very underfunded, leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary female deaths as a result of pregnancy and child birth every year.
  • Lack of reproductive rights – Women also lack reproductive rights. They often do not have the power to decide whether to have children, when to have them and how many they should have. They are often prevented from making rational decisions about contraception and abortion. Men often make all of these decisions and women are strongly encouraged to see their status as being bound up with being a mother.

Gender Inequalities in the Experience of Overt Violence

Around the world, women are more likely to be…

  • Victims of Violence and Rape – Globally 1/3 women have experience domestic violence, only 53 countries have laws against marital rape.
  • Missing: More than 100 million women are missing from the world’s population – a result of discrimination against women and girls, including female infanticide.
  • At risk from FGM – An estimated 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting each year.
  • Girls are more likely to be forced into marriage: More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before age 18. The reason this matters is because in sub‐Saharan Africa, only 46 per cent of married women earned any cash labour income in the past 12 months, compared to 75 per cent of married men

Gender Inequalities in Politics

  • Between 1995 and 2014, the share of women in parliament, on a global level, increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent — a gain of 73 per cent, but far short of gender parity.

Sources

Most of the above information is taken from the sources below…

The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics (United Nations)

The Global Gender Gap Report (Video link) (Rankings)

WomanKind

Five Reasons Women Don’t Get Promoted

Paula PrincipleFive reasons why women are less likely to get promoted than men include discrimination, caring responsibilities, lack of vertical networks, lack of self-confidence and ‘positive choice’ – at least according to Professor Tom Schuller in his recent book ‘The Paula Principle: How and Why Women Work Below Their Level of Confidence‘.

The context of this research is that there are now nearly two women for every man in UK universities, which suggests increasing levels of competence among women compared to men, but this is not the case in the world of work – the rate at which women are catching up to men in the world of work (as measured by the pay-gap for example), and especially in the higher ranks of the professions, is not as rapid as it should be based on the relatively high numbers of female graduates.

Five reasons women are less likely to get promoted than men

  1. Discrimination – both overt and covert – here prof. Schuller reminds us that people are likely to employ people who are ‘like them’, and in most cases it’s men doing the employing to higher positions.
  2. Caring responsibilities – women are more likely to go part-time to care for children and increasingly for their elderly parents. here prof. Schuller points out that there is this tendency to see only full time workers as being ‘serious about their careers’.
  3. Lack of vertical networks – men tend to network more with people above them.
  4. Lack of self-confidence – women are more likely to feel they can’t move up the career ladder, whereas men just ‘go for it’.
  5. ‘Positive Choice’ – women are more likely to make a positive choice to stay employed below their level of competence. They simply make the rational decision that they are earning enough and are fulfilled enough where they are, and don’t believe the increased stress of moving up the career ladder to a job they won’t necessarily enjoy would be worth the extra money.

So which factor is the most important?

Tom Schuller suggests this will be dependent both on the sector, the employer, and the individual, but he would never say that it’s purely the fault of an individual woman for failing to get a promotion.

The above summary is based on a Women’s Hour interview with Tom Schuller, broadcast on Radio 4, Saturday 18th March.

Gender Equality in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is well known for its high levels of gender inequality – and this week, Janice Turner pointed out that it is the only nation, in ‘flagrant disregard of the Olympic Charter, that will not be sending any women to the games. The rational for this is that exercise, according to the Saudi Religious Police, prompts girls to wear scanty clothes, mix with men and leave the house ‘unnecessarily’. (I got this from The Week – I wouldn’t post a link to The Times in any case because of its pay wall)

Turner points out that there is precedent for banning Saudi Arabia from the Olympics – as happened in 2000 with the Taliban, and as happens to any country practising Racial rather than gender apartheid.

This gender apartheid is well documented – even if not widely publicised – Just some of the ways in which women are oppressed in Saudi Arabia include

  • Women are generally expected to wear the full Hijab in public – with only the eyes and hands being visible.
  • There is a strict policy of sex segregation in public places – including work places and restaurants, with facilities often being of a lesser quality than for men.
  • Even though women’s literacy is high compared to some countries, educational opportunities are heavily gendered – with women being effectively prohibited from studying traditionally male subjects such as engineering and law – 97% of Female degrees are in education or the social sciences, which are deemed to be suitable for women.
  • Women are not allowed to travel without being accompanied by a male relative – resulting in their Being banned from driving – Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to do so – which has actually led to a Facebook campaign and women posting videos of themselves driving
  • Finally, there is the possibility of being lashed and sent to jail for committing adultery – even if the victim of a gang rape

All of this is pretty grim from the perspective of most people in the West, and serves to illustrate numerous themes in Sociology –

Firstly, Saudi Arabia has to be one of the best examples of overt patriarchy preventing women from having equal opportunities with men – and thus shows us the continued relevance of Feminism globally.  Of course you might take issue with this and argue that there are some pros to Saudi society too, but from the straightforward perspective of gender equality – women are clearly not equal with men.

Secondly, it demonstrates the limits of ‘Cultural Globalisation’ – clearly Liberal, or any type of Feminism, hasn’t effectively penetrated the boarders of this country.

Thirdly, Saudi Arabia is a very good example of the problems of relying on the standard statistical indicators of development –  Saudi Arabia has a GNI per capita (PPP) of just over $23 000, ranking 56th in the world, and has a correspondingly high HDI (nearly – 0.8) – also ranking 56th.

However, on the ‘Gender Equality Index’, which compares the male-female rates of things such as political involvement, years in school, and the number of men and women in work, Saudi Arabia drops down to 135th (or thereabouts – I may’ve lost count!). Saudi Arabia must be the country that shows the biggest gap between its GNI/ HDI and it’s level of Gender Inequality.

I should just mention that things are on the up – women will be able to vote for the firs time in 2015, and are much more likely to be allowed to study abroad, for example, than in previous decades, but this relative liberalisation may not last forever, and, in any case, by the standards of gender equality in the west, Saudi Arabia has a long way to go until it rids itself of its gender apartheid.

Sylvia Walby’s Six Structures of Patiarchy

To Sylvia Walby, the concept of Patriarchy must remain central to a feminist understanding of society. She argues that there are six patriarchal structures which restrict women and maintain male domination – the existence of these structures restricts women’s freedom and life-chances compared to men. However, she does recognise that women of different class and ethnic backroads and different sexual orientations experience these structures in different ways.

 Walby also recognises that patriarchal structures can change and they can be affected by the actions of both men and women – and in more recent works she talks of ‘gender regimes’ rather than patriarchy to reflect this greater fluidity.

 Walbys’ Six structures of Patriarchy

Paid Work

Walby believes that paid employment remains a key structure for disadvantaging women in Britain. Today, men continue to dominate the best paid jobs and women are still paid less than men, and do more part-time work. Many women choose not to work, or work part-time because of poor job opportunities.

gender-pay-gap-uk

Household Production

According to Walby individual men still benefit from women’s unpaid labour. Women still do most of the housework and childcare. However easier divorce means women are not as trapped as the once were by marriage and some black feminists see family life as less exploitative than the labour market, where there is considerable racism.

gendered-division-of-labour

Culture

Walby believes that that the culture of Western societies has consistently distinguished between men and women and expected different behaviours from them, but the expected patterns of behaviour have changed. The key sign of femininity today is sexual attractiveness to men, and not just for younger women, but increasingly for older women.

male-gaze

Also, the increase in Pornography increases the freedom of men while threatening the freedom of women. To Walby, the ‘male gaze’, not that of women, is the viewpoint of pornography which encourages the degradation of women by men and promotes sexual violence.

Sexuality

Despite the sexual liberation of the 1960s, there is still a ‘sexual double standard’ in society – males condemn women who are sexually active as slags and those who are not as drags, which males with many sexual conquests are admired.

sexual double standard.png

Walby also argues that ’heterosexuality constitutes a patriarchal structure’ – there is more pressure today for women to be heterosexually active and to service males through marrying them.

Violence

Like many other Feminists Walby sees violence against women as a form of male control of women, which is still a problem for many women today, although she concedes that it is difficult to measure how much progress has been made in this area, because of validity problems where the stats are concerned.

domestic-violence-stats

The state

To Walby, the state is still patriarchal, racists and capitalist. She argues that there has been little attempt to improve women’s position in the public sphere and equal opportunities legislation is rarely enforced.

women-politics

 

Gender and Crime: Sex-Role Theory

Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.

Female socialisation, traditional female roles and low female crime rates

Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.

The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.

Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.

Masculinity and the high male crime rate

It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’.

Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.

Evaluations of Sex-Role Theory

One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.

The theory is based in the functionalist theory of the family, so many of the same criticisms apply here.

Signposting

This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology. The gender and crime topic is studied as part of the second year crime and deviance compulsory module, usually taught in the second year.

A related topic is the The Liberationist Perspective on the (Long Term) Increase in the Female Crime Rate.

Please click here to return to the main ReviseSociology home page!

Yummy Mummies – A Sociological Explanation

Yummy Mummies may think they’re expressing their individuality, but they’re really just a product of our neoliberal society according to one recent piece of Analysis:

The rise of the ‘yummy mummy’: popular conservatism and the neoliberal maternal in contemporary British culture by Jo Littler

I’m not a huge fan of cultural studies, but I like this…. It’s helped me understand why I’m so intolerant of them, and maybe why I’m right to be.

What is the yummy mummy?

In short, she is a white, thirty something in a position of privilege, shoring up the boundaries against the other side of the social divide (so-called ‘pramfaces’).

The yummy mummy, as constructed through autobiographical celebrity guidebooks (see below for online versions) and ‘henlit’ novels espouses a girlish, high consuming maternal ideal as a site of hyper-individualised psychological ‘maturity’. ‘Successful’ maternal femininity in this context is often articulated by rejecting ‘environmentally-conscious’ behaviour – disavowing wider structures of social political and ecological dependency in order for its conservative fantasy of autonomous, individualising retreatism to be maintained.

Whilst the characteristics of the yummy mummy might appear as changeable as her clothing, most often the term is used to symbolise a type of mother who is sexually attractive and well groomed, and who knows the importance of spending time on herself. She is, according to Liz Fraser’s book ‘The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide’ (2006) ‘the ultimate modern woman: someone who does not identify with the traditional, dowdy image of motherhood… who knows her Gap from her Gucci’.

claudia-shciffer-yummy-mummy
Yummy Mummy Claudia Schiffer – ‘More Gucci than Gap’?

There are various blogs and websites maintained by women ready to embrace the term, and is frequently used to describe glamorous celebrity mothers – books by Myleen Klass and Melanie Sykes are two well known examples in the UK.

Yummy mummys tend to think of themselves as exemplary successful individuals who are making the most of their lives and through their high-consumption lifestyles they demonstrate to the rest of us that it is possible to ‘have it all’ – the children, the job and the looks. Truly, they are (in their heads) the ultimate modern women.

yummy-mummy
In her head she’s the ultimate ‘modern woman’

However, just as with the yuppie, or the new man, the emergence of the yummy mummy can also be read as indicative of an underlying social crisis, in which case her emergence can tell us about how ideas of femininity and parenting are changing and about the times in which we are living….

Sexualisation

Most obviously the yummy mummy positions the mother as a sexually desirable being. This is a substantial cultural shift – previously, mothers had been perceived as asexual.

For generations, patriarchal norms had typically constructed women as either Madonnas or Whores – either asexual Sacred Virgins or sexual beings deserving of brutalisation (hence witches being burnt at the stake) – It was precisely this myth of the asexual female which second wave Feminists such as Germaine Greer, Ann Oakly and Kate Millet criticised, (although little was said by any of them about the constructed asexuality of mothers in particular).

A brief history of motherhood in western cultures looks something life this (from Woodward 1997)

  • The 1950s domestic goddess – groomed yet chaste
  • The 1970s oppressed housewife – made-up and miserable
  • The 1980s working mother – powerful and be-suited

Given this history, the yummy mummy’s positioning as desirable and sexually active might be regarded as emancipatory because now mothers themselves are encouraged to look hot, however, there are other ways of interpreting the yummy mummy – as outlined below…

A) As expressing a very limited (traditional) femininity and sexuality

Littler points to three limitations with the yummy mummy’s sexuality

Firstly, certain aspects of performance come to be expected – mothers are not just allowed to express their sexuality but are expected to express a particular kind of sexuality. Treatments like facials, for example, are now advised as necessary and routine. As minor UK celebrity (I love this description) Melanie Sykes tells us….

‘Being a gorgeous mum just takes a bit of imagination and more planning than it did before, but you  really have no excuse for sinking into frumption and blaming it on parenthood’

It is harder to imagine a clearer expression that this of how the onus, no matter the extent of resources or income, is on a self-governing subject to regulate herself. Such urgings are part of a wider canvas of neoliberal responsibilising through self-fashioning. In this context the yummy-mummy is an aspirational figure, with the specifics of how to become her outlined in various guidebooks such as The Fabulous Mum’s Handbook.

Second, sexuality is delimited because the preferred model of femininity is ultra-feminine – well-groomed, wearing fashionable clothes and being very slim. In other words, this is the extension of a fashion and beauty complex to the post-pregnant body.

Even the ‘slummy mummy’ still aspires to the yumm-mummy, the former being a Bridget-Jones type of mother – Still accepting the ideal, but endearing through her failure to live up to it. Both types (according to Mcrobbie) share in common a rejection of Feminism.

Third, the yummy mummy is more of a desired than a desiring object, although unlike with the pornoised MILF, there is something eerily infantile about the yummy mummy construction – part of the identity involves a coming down to the level of the child and depoliticising yourself, suggesting you are incapable of dealing with political issues, rather all you can do is consume.

(B) The yummy mummy as neoliberal agent (a social class based analysis)

In the UK there are generally two routes to motherhood, and there is now a significant gulf between working class younger mothers who are demonised and middle class mothers in their 30s who are the ideal, and it is from this later type that the yummy mummy emerges.

The yummy-mummy is basically a high-consuming, stay at home mum drawn from the top 10% of society.  She does not think about the wider social context which affects all mothers, because she does not have to, and rather than doing politics she retreats from public life and and focuses on a very delimited range of concerns – deciding what consumer-oriented activities her and her child should engage in. The message of the yummy mummy is clear – you have the power to solve your own problems, and the solution to these problems is consume more – no need to get political.

The problem with this is that the very visible yummy mummy construction ignores completely the wider structural context of motherhood and parenting….

This context is that neoliberal policies have reduced support for working mothers make it very hard for most mothers to stay at home for any length of time outside a year’s paid maternity leave – Working conditions remain very inflexible and radically unfriendly to families. On top of this there is still an expectation that the mother will be the ‘foundation parent’ (NB recent changes to paternity leave may help change this). This makes it very hard for parents (and especially women) to combine work and social care in equitable and supportive fashion –

As a result the majority of mothers (say 90%) simply do not have the resources to be yummy mummys, only (say 10% do), and it is these 10% who get the air-time and get to publish books and tell the other 90% what they should be worrying about.

Thus in sociological terms the yummy mummy is a neoliberal agent whose function is to encourage individualisation and responsibilisation on the part of all mothers and to demonise mothers who are working class, in any way political and/ or do not subscribe to a traditionally feminine (infantalised) sexuality.

C) – Finally, the yummy mummy is inherently anti-environmental

She is basically a pro-corporate consumer, and she has wider agency in encouraging and driving consumerism. In many contemporary novels, high end consumers are often contrasted against frugual-consumer mothers who are cast as freaks and social misfits.

It is not hard to see why the yummy-mummy is anti-environmental when you think that environmentalism is overtly political whereas the YM is high-consumption, individualistic and narcissistic.

In conclusion

This article has helped me understand my own high degree of irritation at yummy mummys and their brats disturbing my peace and quiet in coffee shops around Reigate. Before reading this I was somewhat concerned that I should find this so annoying.

Now, however, I realise that I haven’t just been being irritated by the mums their brats, it must have been my unarticulated subconscious telling me that these people are the shallow, selfish, narcissistic agents of neoliberalism.

In short, my peace in those coffee shops was being disturbed by the agents of everything that’s wrong with global politics, not to mention the reproduction of it at the level of the life-world.

Examples of ‘how to’ Yummy Mummy guides

The Yummy Mummy How to Guide

 

 

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