Gender relations that are observed in the western world have transformed significantly during recent decades. Certain political, economic, and social changes, as well as historical events, have caused critical alterations in gender roles while making male domination less typical of the society in developed countries. While women remain to be less privileged in some aspects of today’s society than men, in general, their social position seems to have improved over the past years.
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Decades ago, the unprivileged position of women was determined by particular ideological and religious views that were accepted in society regarding females’ roles. As a result, in most cases, women were deprived of opportunities to participate in social activities, and they were expected to focus on duties mainly related to households. Gender inequality and the associated social stratification were typical of past societies (McGinn and Oh 85). Nowadays, the situation has changed significantly leading to transforming women’s roles and their impact on the social order.
Modern women and men have equal legal rights regarding their education, employment, and participation in social life. Currently, women can receive any education they want and occupy well-paid job positions (McGinn and Oh 84). This is mainly because gender discrimination in education and employment is currently illegal in most developed countries. As a result, the contribution of men and women to modern society is comparable, and women face less obstacles in their academic and professional careers.
These days, women seem to live in a context different from the past times, and they have access not only to education and employment but also to political power. The number of female politicians and influential social figures increases each year, illustrating the development of women’s role in society. The domination and authority of males cannot be viewed as the key feature of western society in a contemporary context (McGinn and Oh 86). Therefore, the overall role of women in political, economic, and social spheres of developed countries is strong, as they have the right to choose what responsibilities to take without reference to their gender.
Nevertheless, while positive trends in these areas show that the role of women has changed significantly over the past decades, there are still many gaps that affect women’s position in society. First of all, while employment discrimination is illegal in developed countries, there are still many cases where women are denied opportunities based on their gender. This phenomenon is called the glass ceiling, and it means that there is a certain limit to what a woman can achieve in her career. According to McGinn and Oh, women still face difficulties when trying to earn promotions to positions that entail significant decision-making and leadership capacities (86). Men, on the contrary, experience no gender-related obstacles and can move up the corporate ladder much more quickly.
Additionally, despite anti-discriminatory regulations, there is still a significant gender wage gap in many companies. A study by O’Reilly et al. showed that the gender pay gap in the United States was around 16% in 2013 (306). This means that for every $1 earned by a man, his female counterpart in the same position would earn 0.84 cents. The pay gap has a negative effect on women’s financial independence and shows that in contemporary workplaces, women still have an underprivileged position.
Another factor that influences women’s career success is their gender role. Although it has become much less restrictive due to feminism and anti-discriminatory legislation, women are still expected to take care of children most of the time, regardless of whether or not their partner actively participates in raising children. Research shows that 15 years after the family has the first child, women earn on average 32% less than their male partners (Angelov et al. 545). This means that women’s career development is often interrupted by pregnancy, maternal leave, and other similar circumstances (Graf et al.). Men have more freedom to focus on their career even if they are married and have children, and thus, they are in a more advantageous position compared to women.
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In addition to the difficulties in employment discussed above, women are also at a higher risk of experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace. According to Quick and McFayden, the most prominent form of sexual harassment is when it is perpetrated by men against women, and in some workplaces, the risk for women is three to five times higher (287). Hence, women are much more likely than men to become victims of sexual harassment in the workplace and experience its damaging effects. Sexual harassment may cause women to quit their job or lose promotion opportunities, thus contributing to the burden of employment issues faced by women.
However, the high risk of sexual harassment of women is not limited to workplaces. In general, women experience sexual harassment and sexual assault at a higher rate than men. The difference is particularly high in developing countries, most of which still have a strong patriarchal order of society. In these settings, sexual violence against women is normalized, and most women face it at some point in their lives. In developed nations, the figures are still high, showing that women are at a disadvantage when it comes to sexual crimes.
A recent survey of college students found that 41.1% of women faced some form of sexual harassment since age 14, and 11% of those experienced rape (Jordan et al. 195). Sexual harassment and assault have an adverse impact on the victims’ emotional and psychological state and often lead to mental health issues, such as depression (Jordan et al. 192-193). The higher incidence of sexual assault victimization among women shows that they are less privileged than men in this area.
Finally, one of the most significant issue in women’s rights today is intimate partner violence (IPV). Most people already know that women become victims of domestic violence more often than men. Data from national studies indicate that there are significant differences in the prevalence of intimate partner violence among women and men. For instance, Brieding et al. found that severe physical violence by an intimate partner was reported by 24.3% of women, compared to 13.8% of men (15). While both figures are relatively high, it is evident that women become the victims of intimate partner violence more often than men, and thus, men are typically more privileged in this regard, too.
All in all, it is possible to conclude that the position of women in society has improved over the last decades. There are certain changes in cultural and social norms that have influenced women’s responsibilities and the idea of gender equality in general. As a result, contemporary women have more legal rights and opportunities to realize their potential and develop a successful career. Nevertheless, there are still some gaps that impact women’s social position, such as the gender pay gap, sexual and physical violence, and the glass ceiling. These problems are faced by women much more often than by men, and thus women remain less privileged despite all social and legal developments.
Angelov, Nikolay, et al. “Parenthood and the Gender Gap in Pay.” Journal of Labor Economics, vol. 34, no. 3, 2016, pp. 545-579.
Breiding, Matthew Joseph, et al. Intimate Partner Violence in the United States–2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014.
Jordan, Carol E., et al. ” An Exploration of Sexual Victimization and Academic Performance Among College Women.” Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, vol. 15, no. 3, 2014, pp. 191-200.
O’Reilly, Jacqueline, et al. ” Equal Pay as a Moving Target: International Perspectives on Forty-Years of Addressing the Gender Pay Gap.” Cambridge Journal of Economics, vol. 39, no. 2, 2015, pp. 299-317.
McGinn, Kathleen L., and Eunsil Oh. “Gender, Social Class, and Women’s Employment.” Current Opinion in Psychology, vol. 18, 2017, pp. 84-88.
Quick, James Campbell, and M. McFadyen. “Sexual Harassment: Have We Made Any Progress?” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 22, no. 3, 2017, pp. 286-298.