“Women and social stratification: A case of intellectual sexism” by Joan Acker
In the past few years, it has been clearly seen that the society has stratified human into two basic categories namely males and females, the male category being the dominating one. The woman part of the society has always been the disadvantaged and the one which suffers category in the society. Though social stratification deals with inequality in the society, little work on this part has been done by the sociologists on the position of women in the society as a whole. Certainly, this is one of the most obvious bases for social, economic, political and cultural inequalities.
A few sociologists have figured out the fact that, humans have constructed a sociology that happens to deal with only the male part of the society. However, the inclusion of female half of the society in the study of society will lead to a more accurate and vivid image of the social structure and will give a better understanding of the process.
The consideration of sex as a central social factor is to be reconceptualized in many areas of sociology. In this paper, the subject is to explain the problems of concept and method that arises in the field of social stratification when women are considered as significant part of the society.
Sociologists have made numerous contributions in the areas relating to social stratification. For example, Epstein discusses the salience of sex status in the career of women in the higher profession. Wilensky discusses the relationship between the position of women, economic growth, and democratic ideology. Caplow devotes a chapter to women at work. Therefore, there have been studies relating to the position of women in the society but these studies have not been associated with the study of social stratification.
Lenski is one among the lot who recognized this problem in the study of social stratification. He concludes his brief discussion with the comforting thought that,” for the vast majority of women, the battle for equality has been won.” There is some contradiction between the statements. However, this contradiction reflects the difficulties of stratification theory in dealing with the status of women.
Assumptions about women and stratification:-
In the stratification literature, six assumptions are made both explicitly and implicitly, about the social position of women. These assumptions are:-
- The family is the unit in stratification system.
- The social position of the family is determined by the male head of the household.
- Females live in families; therefore, their status is related to the male they are attached to.
- The females’ position is equal to that of her man, at least in terms of her position in the class structure.
- Women determine their own social status only when they are not attached to a man.
- Women are unequal to men in many ways, are differently evaluated on the basis of sex, but this is irrelevant to the stratification system.
The first assumption is the basis of the rest five. The fate of the females in the society is determined by the fate of the males in the society.
Adequacy of these assumptions:
- The family is the unit of stratification system: The choice that family is unit of stratification rests on the base that every individual is related to a family. Everyone lives in a family. But this is not true because people over age 18 are categorized as separate individuals. The other five assumption stands on the base that family is unit of stratification system which is examined in the next paragraphs.
- The social position of the family is determined by the status of male head of the household: This assumption requires a lot of research but has been researched only a little. The male status can be determined by using income as an indicator. There is one situation where this assumption stands invalid. The position of the family cannot be determined by male head if there is no male head in the family.
- Females live in families; therefore their status is determined by the males they are attached: this assumption can be questioned on the grounds that all females do not live in families. Moreover, in a society where both male and females are provided access to education and occupation, it is vague to say that the status of female depends on the male they are attached to. How do we determine the status of working unmarried women?
- The females status is equal to that of her man: The question that the status of a female is determined by the male they are attached to leads to another question that the status of the female is equal to her man. Wife and husband may be equal but equal evaluation cannot be assumed. Equality depends on a number of factors prestige in the society, opportunities, income, education, occupation. The evidence to support the assumption of equal status in regard to the class structure is unfortunately sparse.
- Women determine their own status only when they are not attached to a man: This assumption can be integrated with the fact that some women are not married and or living in the family of a male relative.
- Women are unequal to men in many ways: the statistics suggest that the economic and social disadvantages of being a female may have an impact on class differentials in family structure. This impact may affect the larger system in adverse ways.
Summing up all the assumptions it would be inappropriate to say that females don’t play an adequate role in the society and in the stratification process apart from their role in their family and their ties with a particular man. If these assumptions are considered satisfying then reconsideration is needed in defining the process of social stratification.
Models of stratification and sex:
When sex is considered as a stratification variable, a number of conceptual, issues arise with it. Can inequalities based on sex be integrated into the conceptual model of stratification? It has been easier to assume, as Watson and Barth point out, that a family is a unit, that all members of the family are equally evaluated, and that, therefore, it is not important to investigate the status of women in the society. The latest study in social stratification has made it to easier to consider sex inequality.
Using the individual rather than the family as a unit it may become possible to integrate sex into a model of stratification system in at least two ways:
- As a dimension in stratification system that cuts across class lines and produces two interrelated hierarchies of positions or persons,
- As a basis of evaluation which affects the placement of the individual in particular hierarchies.
An alternative solution to the problem of integrating sex-based inequality in the conceptual model of stratification would not require abandoning classic definition of class.
Status and class: Conceptual and Empirical problems
An additional conceptual issue that arises is: how do we justify the social status of women who are not working for pay and cannot be determined by their income in the society? Can we assign a value to work which is productive in nature but is not paid? This is a bigger problem as it arises also in the time of determining the status of a retired person, students, babies and old people.
However, a solution to this can be given if we assign a value to the work done by housewives. The value would vary with the socioeconomic stratum. The upper-class housewives will be valued more as compared to the lower class housewives.
Conclusion: A number of questions will arise if we consider sex-based inequality in the structure of social stratification. Therefore, the conclusion that could be drawn is that women can become a more powerful force in the society through greater participation in the labor force and their problem as a part of society will be more visible.