Aisling Mc Ginn
Compare and contrast the conflict theory explanation and the social constructionist explanation for the persistence of gender inequality.
In order to be able to compare these two theories in terms of the persistence of gender inequality it is first important to understand the differences between the conflict theory and the social constructionist theory. Karl Marx, the most influential socialist thinker from the 19th century, proposed what is known as the conflict theory. This theory looks at how certain social interactions occur through conflict in order to gain more power in a society. Conflict theorists claim that gender now involves disparities in power. ...view middle of the document...
Gender role on the other hand refers to learning and performing the socially accepted characteristics for a given sex. It has been clear from as early as the hunter-gatherer era that inequalities exist between men and women and that both sexes have taken on different gender roles due to the gender orders that they live in. A world-leading sociobiologist E.O Wilson observed that in hunter-gatherer societies the men hunted for food while the women stayed at home. This strong bias persists in agricultural societies and on that ground alone appears to have a genetic origin. If we look at the social constructionist theory we can see that in the hunter-gatherer period men took on the role of the protector and breadwinner whilst the women took on the role of rearing the family and keeping the house (Sayers 1982:29). These gender roles have remained the same for men and women right up to the 21st century which have led to differences in power between both sexes.
As the social constructionist theory has lead to specific roles for men and women, gender stratification has become an issue in many countries around the globe. Gender stratification refers to a society’s unequal distribution of wealth, power and privilege between the sexes. In certain countries the gender gap between men and women are worse than others. For example, when we look at women’s economic participation, education, health and survival and political empowerment in a country like Saudi Arabia compared to Canada, we can see that the gender gap is very big. In Saudi Arabia many girls drop out of school at a young age to get married due to the local norms and traditions and over 60% of those who go on to university drop out.
‘The problem is more pronounced amongst girls – as they reach puberty, they mostly drop out to get married. This phenomenon is confirmed once again after high school graduation.’ (AlMunajjed, 2006)
Women also had very little political power in Saudi Arabia. They had no suffrage and when the first local elections occurred in 2005 women did not have the right to vote, to stand for election or to appear before a judge without male representation. Their husbands often beat them but they could not take cases against these men as they had little or no power. Fewer than 30% of women in Saudi Arabia worked for money compared to over 60% in Canada where women were treated more equally. In Canada the gender gap is much smaller; however there is still the issue of gender inequality. Women are given the lower paid jobs, have fewer seats in parliament and are seen as less powerful to men.
The concept of Patriarchy accentuates the conflict theory when it comes to the matter of gender inequality. Men dominate, oppress and exploit women in many different ways, some of which I have mentioned already, for example, how women are paid less than men and how women have less access to formal power. Other areas that men have exploited women in are violence, the household, sexuality,...