Women's role in society

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In the last 40 years, women’s role in the society has changed dramatically.  Women comprise a large proportion of workforce and their status also rises as well.  Although the situation has improved, women are considered as different from men, more precisely, gender inequalities still exist in both workplace and family.  In this essay, I will explain the causes of this inequality and critically assess the extent of the barriers to and the restrictions within employment experienced by women.

Women’s subordination was historically determined by their physical weakness and coercion.  Women’s lesser capacity for violence as well as for work has been an essential factor for determination. Women’s biological capacity is much more limited than men.  They have not only been less able to perform certain tasks, but also have less ability to protect themselves.  ‘Women were thought to be no use either for war or in the construction of cities,’ (Mitchell, 1973l, pp103) because these are “men’s work” which requires strength and skill which women did not have.  In contrast, women were forced to do “women’s work”. They were, under men’s oppression, only responsible for semi-skilled or unskilled works such as domestic works.  

The division of labour was started through the development of fordism to post-fordism and flexible specialisation.  In fordism which is named after Henry Ford’s style of management, all the workers in the factory, both men and women, did the same simple and dedicated work on one assembly line, in other words, there is no horizontal and vertical segregation1.  The key feature of fordism is mechanised mass-production and standardised products. The machines used in the production are highly productive in order to meet the needs of mass consumption. (Example like “McDonaldisation", people can work on the till or do the cleaning, they don’t need much skill, their principle is fast, and they receive the same pay.) However, the depression of the 70s highlighted the fact that Fordism could not solely rely on continued expansion into geographically untapped markets to support mass production. Then the style of work changed to post-fordism.  With the development of education and technology, workers were organised, skill-differentiated; machines were invented for variety of purposes.  At that time, jobs were horizontally and vertically segregated. Men did skilled, highly technologic tasks such as computer work, whereas women still did unskilled manual tasks in the assembly line and they were under the control of or headed by men.  All of them are because the society is male-dominated, women had no right to choose what they want to do and their education was not adequate.

Though out the time, liberal feminists have campaigned for equality in the form of women’s rights, seeking change through both legislation and the re-education of attitudes, such as Equal Pay Act and Sex Discriminations Act, and in the early 90's rape in marriage was made illegal. They focus on working within modern society, changing values and attitudes instead of trying to completely reform and change the framework. E.g. During the early stages of teaching, gender differences in subject matter could be seen. Girls, for example, were taught skills such as housewifery and cookery, while boys were taught mathematics and sciences and also took exams.  Girls did not need a technical education, but required domestic skills to enable them to become good wives and mothers. The Acts gave girls access to subjects such as woodwork or metal work and boys access to domestic subjects.  Although liberal feminists were successful in improving women’s status in some extent, the inequality still continued to exist.

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Marxist feminist have used a number of theories and techniques to explain the sexual subordination of women.  The idea that inequality is rooted in capitalism comes from Marxist feminists. Capitalists considered married women as cheap workers and therefore the most useful. Women are not expected to be the major breadwinner and so are paid less.  In Marxist Feminist’s explanation, the sexual division of labour within the family explain why women enter the labour market on disadvantageous term and are used by capitalists in distinctive ways.

‘There is a congruence between the sexual division of labour in the domestic sphere, ...

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