Gender as a form of Social Stratification.

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Year 12 Social Stratification Assignment.

By George Amos

Gender as a form of Social Stratification.

The most common explanation for divisions between men and women is that the male ‘sex’ is stronger, more intelligent and more of a ‘natural’ leader. Women however according to biological determinism are generally seen as child bearers and instinctively house keepers. Although this is widely considered a biological point of view, sociologists like Talcott Parsons (1959) have tended to lean towards this idea.

In addition to age, gender is one of the universal dimensions on which status differences are based. Unlike sex, which is a biological concept, gender is a social construct specifying the socially and culturally prescribed roles that men and women are to follow. According to Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy, gender is the "costume, a mask, a straitjacket in which men and women dance their unequal dance" (p.238). As Alan Wolfe observed in "The Gender Question" (The New Republic, June 6:27-34), "of all the ways that one group has systematically mistreated another, none is more deeply rooted than the way men have subordinated women. All other discriminations pale by contrast." Lerner argues that the subordination of women preceded all other subordinations and that to rid ourselves of all of those other "isms"--racism, classism, ageism, is sexism that must first be eradicated.

Socialisation is the most important process in a person's life, permitting the development of an individuals social capacities, as well as learning norms and values that permit adequate participation in society. During this process, the family is one of the most important social environments, in that it permits the connection with the social structure. To a large extent, a child's development possibilities depend on his/her family's characteristics and socio-economic position in society. Socialisation also implies social differentiation, as it prepares boys and girls to be part of a specific social group.

The socialisation process is crucial for the internalisation of the social and cultural reality. The process is also highly charged with emotions: boys and girls identify with these realities, which determine what contents and aspects they consider important enough to be part of their own norms, values and lives. The process of primary socialisation goes beyond a merely cognitive learning process and remains firmly rooted in the conscience of girls and boys – to a much greater extent than any subsequent secondary socialisations.

Gender role socialisation is carried on by parents who choose blue for boys and pink for girls. Blue is a cold colour where as pink is warm and these colours are used for cards, clothing and even maternity ward tags. Boys are taught to be leaders, strong, active, dominating, and never showing weakness. Girls on the other hand are taught to be caring, looked after and to be good-natured and well-mannered. As girls become women they are socialised into roles such as a wife and mother and taught that it is a desirable life choice to settle down. This leads to women not having access to as many life chances as men, and being reliant on the opposite sex for income, all attributes that lead to less independence for women. Even when women do dispel these gender roles and seek to become more independent they often face employers that do not share the same views. It is common for the employer to assume that a female employee will want to take leave to have children, and even though there are laws that prohibit employers asking such questions during interviews, this doesn’t stop this being a common view.    

Education is different from other forms of socialisation such as family because it involves an instruction that is deliberate expression of a formal institution. Institutions promote the values of the dominant culture. There is probably less variation in what children learn from schooling than what they learn as a result of informal interactions with the family or friends. For non-white people, family and cultural identity is seen as a necessary tool to counteract the effects of an institution actively promotes and sustains an unequal position when compared to their white counterparts.

There is some support for this position in "Introductory sociology" which states that the 1944 Education Act was designed to allow fair access to schooling for not only boys but also girls. There were two reasons for widening access to education by the Government.

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1. To encourage a fairer society.

2. This was linked to national prosperity and the recognition of a large untapped source of labour lay in the abilities of working class boys and girls.

The Marxist's view is that working class education is fragmented, there are lots of subjects and there is no time to really learn any subject to a meaningful degree. Thus education is geared to methods of control, which prepare young working class people for the factory floor. According to Brown and Gintis (1976 p.42) d3N19nEw1 

"Schools do different things to different children, boys and girls, black ...

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