Gender norms have been prevalent in society for ages. The view of women as the lesser sex has been prominent in their treatment as they have increased opportunities and rights. If we can recognize what a detriment to our society these gender perceptions are, we can change societal attitudes towards women and increase their livelihood and access to opportunity and success. Until then, we still face the issue that women have been consistently discriminated against in their treatment in the workplace in their everyday encounters, wage differences, and susceptibility to sexual harassment due to perceptions of gender influenced by society.
Throughout time, women have been seen as the “lesser sex.” They have been seen to be inferior in almost every way except in taking care of the home and birthing children. This comes from the idea that women have certain innate qualities that make them fit to occupy certain roles outside of the roles that men occupy. Men occupy the “sphere [that] is ‘the impersonal, public and competitive’; the women’s, the ‘personal, private, and charitable” (Lens). By putting every woman and every man in these separate spheres, “this frame casts biology as destiny, regulating women to the maternal role and making them less than men, both physically and mentally” (Lens). By saying that every woman ever born is going to be quieter, more reserved, and a better caretaker than her male counterparts denies her of the opportunity to develop her own identity, setting her back in society from the get-go. Who is to say that a woman is not as equally driven and able to lead as any other man? Well, society does, and this begins from the moment a child is born.
Baby girls come home to nurseries of pink, bows, and cute dresses. They grow up playing dress up and taking care of baby dolls, enforcing the idea that women grow up aspiring to look pretty and take care of their children. By parents continually enforcing these stereotypes, women keep growing up thinking that they will not be able to thrive in work environments that do not cater to “natural” capabilities. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a feminist from the late nineteenth century, argued against the societal constraints put on women. She understood that women were perceived differently than men and, in result, were hindered from advancement in society. She argued that women were “over-sexed,” meaning that there is too much emphasis placed on their distinctive qualities of sex. There is too much importance placed on a woman to be feminine. She shows this in the metaphor of the cow. She explains that a wild cow “has healthy calves, and milk enough for them; and that is all the femininity she needs,” whereas the milk cow has been developed solely to produce milk, “bred and tended to that express end, her value measured in quarts” (Perkins-Gilman). Since producing milk is a sex-function, the cow has been “over-sexed.”
In the same way, women’s “disproportionate weakness [in relation to men] is an excessive sex-distinction” (Perkins-Gilman). These perceptions undermine the cognitive abilities of women and hinder their opportunities for success. Even though Perkins-Gilman made her points about a century and a half ago, outdated gender norms are still very prevalent in today’s world of opportunity and emerging equality for women.Discrimination in the workplace is seen in the everyday experiences of women. Women are often discriminated against solely based on their gender. A study presented by Coreen Farris in her article “Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination Findings: Active Component” estimated that “1 in 8 women and 1 in 60 men were targets of gender discrimination in the past year” within various branches of the military. Since some gender discrimination occurs without the victim even understanding it’s happening, it is hard to get an exact estimate of gender discrimination from self-reports. Since women are seen as lesser, they tend to be treated as such in the workplace, especially within fields of work that have been historically male-dominated, such as the military. With more women entering the workforce, many companies utilize this new influx of talent to stay competitive. Some companies have instilled a gender quota, setting aside a certain percentage of employment opportunities for women or other minorities. This usually only occurs in fields that are generally male-dominated.
A lot of times, this selective hiring causes minorities to become “tokens” in the workforce. A token has been defined by “members of a subgroup that composed less that 15 percent of the whole group, and dominants of the majority” (Yoder). Because of the drastic difference in the number of women than men in certain workforces, “women who enter gender-inappropriate occupations and numerically skewed workgroups experience negative consequences of tokenism: performance pressures, social isolation, and role encapsulation” (Yoder). Sometimes Although it is important for women to be given the opportunity to work in any occupation, hiring a woman based on her gender is just as discriminatory as not hiring her for her gender. Quotas enforce the idea that women are unable to prove themselves based on their merit and often discourage them from believing that they are capable of success by their own abilities. A better way to give women opportunity in the workforce is to shy away from the gender quotas and devote resources to “organizing networking events and career-focused initiatives specifically designed for women” or “have policies in place to accommodate female employees in balancing family and career” like McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm (Qualtrics). These initiatives are much more attractive to women rather than quotas since they celebrate and strengthen the skills that women bring to the table. Even with these initiatives and encouragement from higher-ups in some companies to promote diversity in their workforce, women can still feel negative effects from growing populations of female employees in certain work environments.
If a company has been male-dominated for a long time and women are coming in in large numbers, this can cause women to be viewed as intrusive. This can result in women being encouraged less to strive for promotions rather than their male co-workers (Yoder). Even if the issue of tokenism was gone, other issues stemming from the perception of women as unequal would need to be addressed as well. Another issue that has been at the forefront of the modern-day feminist movement is the difference in pay between men and women. Charlotte Perkins-Gilman addressed the economic disadvantage of women in her works as well. She explained that women are given economic stability from her husband, “and when the woman, left alone with no man to ‘support’ her, tries to meet her own economic necessities, the difficulties which confront her prove conclusively what the general economic status of the woman is” (Perkins-Gilman). Women are confined to the economic status of either their husband or their male relatives and are unable to set apart a life for themselves due to the societal restraints placed upon them. She explains that a woman is subject to her husband’s economic prosperity, and the way she earns her share of his wealth is through housework. She shows this through the metaphor of the horse. A housewife takes care of the labor in the house, allowing for men to produce more wealth than they could if they also had to worry about this responsibility. A horse is similar in this because with it, a man can produce more wealth than he would be able to without it, but in turn, the horse is not paid for his service but is provided for because of it.
Perkins-Gilman concludes from this that women are economic factors that are not valued at what they should be.Today, with women now granted the ability to enter the workforce, there have been laws passed to help lessen the wage gap. The Equal Pay Act of 1963 amended the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and prohibited employers from paying “less than at the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions” (United States). Even though this act was passed in 1963, women still make 78 cents to a man’s dollar as of 2013 (Stevenson). Previously, the wage gap has been attributed to the greater likeliness of men to graduate from college. Men used to have better education and more experience, but today, this is not true. Women also used to leave the labor force after marrying or the birth of a child, but today women typically work throughout their whole lives.
These changes have made it harder to determine the reasons for the wage gap (Stevenson). Many argue that the reason that women make less is because they are working in industries that pay lower wages, but this is an incomplete view of the issue. As mentioned before, there are some occupations that have been generally male-dominated, making it harder for women to be accepted or hired in these industries. Additionally, these industries usually have higher wages. Studies have shown that there is “a strong relationship between the proportion of women and average weekly salary, supporting the contention that the proportion of women in an occupational group has an inverse relationship to the weekly salary level; that is, as the proportion goes up, salaries go down” (Gibelman). Women also do not always have the same access to the same benefit such as health insurance, retirement plans, or paid leave as men do. Also, motherhood is a large contributor to the pay gap. Many women do not have access to paid maternal leave, causing women to leave the workforce. Given these points, it is clear that the wage gap is a problem has been consistent in the workforce, and those who do not recognize that this problem exists only prolong the issue.
Charlotte Perkins-Gilman understood the ties between sex and economics for women, arguing that “with us an entire sex lives in a relation of economic dependence upon the other sex, and the economic relation is combined with the sex-relation. The economic status of the human female is relative to the sex-relation.” The belief that women occupy separate spheres of life than men contributes greatly to the issue of sexual harassment of women in the workplace. While sexual harassment is an issue for women of all positions, a recent study has shown that women in higher ranks such as that of a supervisor experience more harassment than those in lower positions (McLaughlin, et al). This can be for various reasons. One is that women of higher ranks are more likely to report harassment due to their position.
Another reason could be that “harassers appear to view targets as a threat to their own power,” supporting the idea that harassment is a response to women becoming more prevalent in the workplace and taking positions that years ago used to be only for men (McLaughlin, et al). Along with the importance placed on the sex distinctions of women, women have also been overtly sexualized for ages. Media portrayals of both men and women have become more and more sexualized over time. A study by the University of Buffalo analyzed over 1,000 covers of Rolling Stone from 1967 to 2009 of both men and women. They found that in the 1960s, “11 percent of men and 44 percent of women on the covers of Rolling Stone were sexualized,” while since 2000, “17 percent of men were sexualized and 83 percent of women were sexualized” (ScienceDaily). This portrayal of women as sex objects is a key factor to why women are sexually harassed in the workplace. Why is it that we have access to all this information and statistics about the obstacles women face in the workplace and we still see no great change? Charlotte Perkins-Gilman claims that “social conditions, like individual conditions, become familiar by use, and cease to be observed.”
The beliefs about women placed on us by society are the single greatest factor that hinders progress. Equality for women can only be achieved through recognition of those norms and our conscious choices to treat everyone equally and with respect, regardless of their gender. We must take a critical look at “the internal relations between various forms of oppression and to combine the differences these oppressions generate in a more encompassing critique of capitalist social relations” (Arruzza). But just recognizing our errors is not enough. Action must be taken to change the treatment of women in the workplace and the skewed, discriminatory views of the female sex in order to better society and life for women. We cannot rely on the government to take all the responsibility in bettering lives for women since “the weight of public opinion and recent supportive judicial and legislative actions suggest an end to an active government role in fostering and protecting equal rights” (Gibelman). We must recognize that it is our duty to end gender norms and promote equality for everyone in the workplace and in everyday life.
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