The True Enemies of Feminism: Tradition, Media and Society
The True Enemies of Feminism: Tradition, Media and Society Name: Josef Kurt Aldric A. Astorga Course: Introduction to Social Science AP/SOSC 1000 9 A (Y Term) Tutorial Leader: Jan Krouzil Tutorial Number: TUTR 08 It would seem that as humans, we tend to develop hierarchical systems to determine and distribute order and power amongst society. Although, these systems tend to be biased through three intertwining factors; class, race and gender hierarchies. Each hierarchy has their own form of categorization, determining who ranks from highest to lowest.
However, the topic of this essay revolves around the ongoing struggle of women being oppressed by their male counterpart, through multiple forms of inequity. There are certain controversies in the past that have made claims that men are biologically superior to women and that the social roles given to them are suited for their respectable gender. These claims have brought women inequality and injustice throughout the years, which caused the rise of feminism and the start of their prejudice against men. However, we cannot assume that men are the cause of such a movement.
This essay will explain how these claims have been formed while challenging their ideas, in hopes to determine what truly enforces and encourages the ideology of female oppression and male supremacy. One of the most important claims made by feminists throughout history is that society portrays men as the higher form of human species. This claim has been the root of Patriarchy, and many feminist movements. Liberal Feminists argued for equality, because only men were entitled to certain legal and political privileges; Social Feminists highlighted the treatment of women in society, for women were oppressed and exploited by the male population.
Therefore, to find evidence, we must turn to science and biology to understand how we differentiate men and women, and how this difference determines who the better gender is. Gender Stratification, or Sex Stratification, is a “hierarchical ranking of the sex groups” that outlines the social inequalities between men and women (Johnson and Stockard 3). This system has the tendency to favour men having power over women. Ann Oakley quotes Dr.
Robert Stroller’s definition of the relationship between gender and sex: “Gender is a term that has psychological and cultural rather than biological connotations; if the proper terms for sex are ‘male’ and ‘female’, the corresponding terms for gender are ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’” (qtd. in Oakley 8). We can assume that the term gender is a social construct based on physical appearances and characteristics defined by society. With that being said, a male can be feminine as a female can be masculine; so if there are no boundaries, as sexes can cross genders, how is it that women and femininity are always seen as the weaker sex and gender?
Males are viewed as the stronger sex due to their “greater physical activity, strength and aggression”. It is often visible within a society that men are more prone to engage in crime, violence and dangerous activities (Oakley 16). Johnson and Stockard have further elaborated on this idea that the male-aggressive behaviour is in their nature: Males exhibit more aggressive behaviour than females in all known societies. Children exhibit these sex differences early in life, and there is little evidence that adults have “socialized” or encouraged males to increase these behaviours.
Male nonhuman primates also exhibit more aggression than their female counterparts. (128) Although this proves that males are more aggressive, it does not explain how they are the better sex; in fact, they seem more unfit to live in a society that is based on rules. Men are considered as strong, large and barbaric creatures by nature, while women, on the other hand, tend to be seen as the opposite. Carole J. Sheffield believes that women are the contrast of men; if men are “self-reliant, courageous, competent and rational… females must therefore be dependant, sensual, emotional…” (173).
Therefore if men are superior to women, then women must be inferior to men. Women are usually seen as the natural care-giver in any society, for having the role and responsibility of mothering and nurturing a child. Janet Sayers stated that “if women’s hormones are said to make them more caring, [thus] men’s are presumed to make them the more aggressive sex, and therefore the sex most suited to the rat race of occupational life” (74). It is through the idea of Darwinism that we understand how aggression benefits not only animals, but humans as well.
The phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ suggests that only the strong survive in a world of competition and dominance; to obtain status and a high rank in social hierarchy, one must be aggressive in their habitat to be successful. This is demonstrated in a capitalist society, as the competition for jobs become more intense. Only those who work hard become rich and successful, while the poor continue to struggle. Seeing as how the women are not aggressive in nature, they must rely and support the ‘bread winner’ to survive in such a competitive world.
It is often said that the world we live in belongs to, or is rather run by, men. In Johnson and Stockard’s Sex and Gender in Society, we discover just how much ‘man’ dominates society; how males and masculinity are “give[n] higher value and prestige” than females and femininity (4). Evidence of Male Dominance is present throughout all forms of culture, especially the mass media. Television shows in the 1980’s “depicted a male-dominant culture in which attracting and pleasing men were often prime concerns” (8). This gives us an idea of how society treated women from men.
Although the media did not assign these gender roles, it has often encouraged the idea; magazines, advertisements and television portrayed women to be submissive and nurturing to their male counterpart, in order to “be a good wife and mother” (9). They presented what they considered to be the ideal model of a nuclear family, where the mother is seen as a housewife, taking care of the household chores and the children while supporting the male breadwinner. Many might view these as very sexist portrayals of women, but in the past the Western Civilization not only played these roles, but strongly respected it as well.
Johnson and Stockard continue to explain that every culture and society naturally follows a traditional “gender-based division of labour”, which ‘assigns’ certain tasks to certain genders. “Childbearing, and responsibility for child nursing and its caretaking extensions are universally assigned to females, and hunting has been assigned to males” (90). It can be argued that men are given the more physical responsibilities, due to their physical strength and size. This would surely explain how these roles are assigned, for a man may be unfit to ‘mother’ a child, while a woman will have difficulty with physical labour.
However, it is true that there are “many societies [where] women, not men, carry the heavy burdens” (90). Upon studying J. K. Campbell’s analysis of the Sarakatsan family and their traditions, we can understand the traditional expectations society has on women. In their society, the women are more involved in physical labour than men. We can find the Sarakatsan women building huts while the men “stand about smoking while they freely criticize their women’s craftsmanship”. Throughout their whole way of life, the women would “face a hard and merciless routine of work and suffering” (275).
Therefore, different physical attributes may not necessarily be the reason for the sexual division of labour. There is a common pattern, however, to these assigned roles. No matter the culture, male labour is more appreciated and respected than female labour by society. Johnson and Stockard used the Iatmul of New Guinea and their division of labour as an example. They realized that their “masculine activities… tend to be defined as more worthwhile and necessary than feminine activities” (91).
It is considered to be the social norm, for certain cultures believe that “man is a being created by God for the highest and noblest purposes” (Campbell 276). This is argued to be present within Western Civilization, where working women had lower wages than men. A housewife’s role was especially taken for granted, because many did not consider their role to be a difficult and tiresome job due to their unpaid labour. This form of exploitation is one of the major topics that Social Feminists continuously argued about.
The male population took for granted the housework their wives performed on a daily basis: Legal definitions current in our culture tie the status of ‘wife’ to the role of unpaid domestic worker. The husband is legally entitled to unpaid domestic service from his wife, and this is a right that courts of law uphold. (Oakley 93) From Professor Terry Conlin’s lecture, I discovered how society in the 1950’s considered a women’s role as a care giver. Their obligations and responsibilities are categorized in four intertwining ‘spheres’.
Their first responsibility is called Daughter Work; that is to care for the elderly. Next is their House Work, which involves domestic labour like cleaning and cooking. Thirdly, the idea of Mother Work revolves around a woman’s duty as a mother to care for her children. Finally, they are expected to fulfill the tasks of Wife Work; to “provide the sexual and psychological need for the husband” (Conlin). This was the dominant ideology in the Western Culture, and therefore majority of the male population expected the women to honour these ‘family values’. Although, it is not fair o assume that all men are male-chauvinist and selfish; I am not implying that men forced women into their roles as a mother and a housewife. From reading Sharon Hayes’ “Why Can’t a Mother Be More Like a Businessman? ” we are given a view of a mother’s perspective on her role. Hayes studied Rachel, a middle-class woman who is also a dedicated mother. She, and along with most mothers, believes that “appropriate child rearing… [requires a mother to be] child-centered, expert-guided, emotionally absorbing, labour-intensive, and financially expensive” (414).
Here, we are introduced to the idea of intensive mothering. The ideology behind this revolves around what society considers as the “proper approach to the raising of a child”. In order to be a good mother, they must devote themselves to their child’s concerns, by attending to their every need and desire. To avoid failure as a mother, they must follow this method in order to maintain their status as a good mother. This socially constructed dominant ideology forced women to want to fulfill such a role, to meet standards and expectations.
From this discussion, we see that it is not the men’s fault, or women’s for that matter, but society’s; for accepting this belief, and implying and assigning these roles, through the use of media and traditional values. Although we can argue that society is controlled by men, individually they are not to blame. Another point we can take from Rachel’s story is that women are capable of being a financial provider as well. By allowing more women to enter the labour force, we have taken a large step in women’s quest for equality; however, we are still far from it.
Apart from women earning lower wages than men, we find that the “labour force [is] sex-segregated” (Johnson and Stockard 3). Similar to house work, there are occupations that are considered either feminine or masculine; even today, we find more women pursuing careers like nursing, teaching and secretary work, while men tend to be more involved in a more physical or authoritative role, such as carpentry, engineering and police work. We can argue again through science and explain that men are better suited for physical labour.
But in Rachel’s case, even though she works for a living, she devotes most of her time and effort on her daughter and the house. Despite having the same ability that men have, that is ‘bringing home the bacon’; she can also perform the responsibilities of a housewife. From my earlier points, I stated that men are incapable of ‘mothering’ a child, for lacking the biological features a mother possesses. Therefore, we find that women can not only go beyond the boundaries of gender roles but are also capable of accomplishing more than what men can accomplish.
Yet no matter their accomplishments, they cannot easily escape the dominant ideology that society continues to imply. Women are not the only victims of society’s ideology of gender. Returning to Cambell’s study, the Sarakatsan men are expected to maintain their status in the gender hierarchy. The husband must be courageous, proud, strong and in charge. They have duties of gaining prestige and maintaining honour; very important and noble responsibilities. Traditions also teach these men to strongly dislike the idea of being a female.
A feminine trait, like modesty, is considered to be “a sign of weakness” for men (Campbell 284). Traditions value this ideology of men being the stronger sex who looks down upon the weaker sex. As a result, men who are raised to value tradition will continue to celebrate manhood while they avoid or mistreat womanhood. Women who value traditional beliefs will continue to accept this social construct. Jackson Katz touched upon the subject of the media also forcing the idea of the ideal man. In his documentary, Tough Guise, he began explaining that men are constantly under the pressure of assuming this ‘tough guy’ role.
He began interviewing teenage boys, asking what they consider it is to be a man. Most of the answers share a common idea; that being a man requires one to be dominant, powerful and authoritative. Otherwise, a man that is not masculine is shamed to be feminine. The media also continuously displays the idea that ‘to be feminine is to be weak; to be masculine is to be strong’. Katz stated that what the media does is “construct violent masculinity as the cultural norm”. Even though men are aggressive in nature, Katz believes that they can be calm and civilized.
The idea of aggressive behaviour is more of a learned characteristic, and it is through media that they learn how play the role of a man and view the role of a woman. To conclude my essay, it is safe to say that men should no longer be solely blamed for gender-based segregation. This socially constructed idea of female oppression and male supremacy originated from the science, and we find that tradition created value to the ideology of labour and role sex-segregation. The media and society continue to honour this belief that men and women should act a certain way or fulfill a specific role.
Therefore, the dominant ideology in society will continuously be accepted and respected as long as there are people who hold value to tradition or are influenced by the media. Works Cited Campbell, J. K. “Excerpts from Honour, Family and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community” from Honour, Family and Patronage: A Study of Institutions and Moral Values in a Greek Mountain Community. Oxford University Press, Incorporated. 1996. Conlin, Terry. “Separate Spheres and Traditional Assumptions. ” AP/SOSC 1000: Introduction to Social Science. York University, Toronto. 11 Jan. 011. Lecture. Gailey, Christine Ward. “Evolutionary Perspectives on Gender Heirarchy. ” In Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research. Eds. Beth B. Hess and Myra Marx Ferree, 32-67. Newbury Park, Calif. : Sage Publications, 1987. Print. Hays, Sharon. “Why Can’t a Mother Be More Like a Businessman? ” from Maternal Theory: Essential Readings. Ed. Andrea O’Reilly, 408-429. Toronto: Demeter Press. 2007. Johnson, Miriam M. , and Jean Stockard. Sex and Gender in Society. 2nd Ed. Englewood Cliffs, N. J. : Prentice Hall, 1992. Print. Oakley, Ann. The Ann Oakley Reader: Gender, Women and Social Science.
Ed. Ann Oakley. Bristol, UK: Policy Press, 2005. Print. Sayers, Janet. “Science, Sexual Difference, and Feminism. ” In Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research. Eds. Beth B. Hess and Myra Marx Ferree, 68-91. Newbury Park, Calif. : Sage Publications, 1987. Print. Sheffield, Carole J. “Sexual Terrorism: The Social Control of Women” In Analyzing Gender: A Handbook of Social Science Research. Eds. Beth B. Hess and Myra Marx Ferree, 171- 189. Newbury Park, Calif. : Sage Publications, 1987. Print. Tough Guise. Dir. Sut Jhally, Jackson Katz. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation. 1999. VHS.