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Income Inequality in the Workplace: Feminist Responses

Feminists have devoted considerable time and energy to refuting unfounded attacks and making clear that much work still needs to be done if women are to achieve equality. Feminist responses to the problems of misunderstanding and negative representations of its traditions, however, have sometimes been problematic. Income inequality in the workplace is one of the main problems caused by low social position of women and their historical perception as a weak gender.

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Socialist feminist focuses on public and private life of women workers. Following this approach, many of the roots of the contemporary women’s rights movement stem from the prejudices and frustrations women encounter regularly when they attempt to leave their “designated” role and enter the world of work, research, or study (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 325). At work and at home, many women find that established legal principles are not operative for them in daily practice in the world of trade and service. Perhaps the most damaging of all the handicaps a woman faces when she enters that world is the general assumption that a man by his very nature is capable of more than she is and in every respect. The subtle psychological implications of this are reflected in early toys and unwittingly absorbed in childhood. In the USA, socialist feminists underline that inequalities are a result of historical differences and gender roles in American society since slavery. In global context, income inequalities are caused by cultural traditions and values imposed on women. In many Asian societies, women are not perceived as equal to men but as mothers and caregivers only (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 327). During the past decade, various women’s organizations worked to dispel the notion that women did not want better jobs, or that most of them preferred to stay at home. They worked toward asserting women’s rights within the workforce, gradually moved women into leadership positions, highlighted women’s concerns during collective bargaining sessions, and supported women who ran for public office. Women’s caucuses insisted that public policies that reinforced domestic roles created self-images and behavior patterns that fostered inferior positions for women in the workforce (Woloch 54).

Nonfeminists, the study showed, were likely to be women busy with large families. The more children a woman has, particularly if she does not work outside the home, the more likely it is that she is not going to be in favor of equal rights. Based on this study, there is considerable difference in perspective between women who passively advocate equal rights and those active in women’s liberation. There is a broader philosophical base for current trends than some of the most vocal spokespersons in both the pro and the con fringe areas of women’s equality movements would have us believe (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 330).

Social feminists argue that Social Security benefits, still structured on the premise that each family has one breadwinner, have the net result of being more advantageous to women as dependents rather than as income earners. Furthermore, when women workers are unemployed, they face a dual discrimination. If they are pregnant, they may be denied unemployment benefits because they are not able to take another job. Also, women who give up jobs to follow their husbands who are relocated may not collect unemployment benefits in some states because they were not laid off (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 343). Pay and promotional opportunities are usually based on the official job description rather than actual performance. Despite many gains, women are still grossly underrepresented in professional and managerial jobs. Assistants do much of their supervisors’ work. In addition, women and minorities are concentrated in a few job categories, whereas white males span the range of jobs. In other instances, female workers are performing the same duties as men for significantly less pay. As a result of discriminatory behaviors, many women have the skills needed for upward mobility but their skills are not reflected on personnel records or in job descriptions. Thus, a sex barrier is created, especially if there is a lack of initiative on the part of male administrators to give female workers recognition when it is due. This leaves female workers locked into a few job categories (Kirk and Okazawa-Rey 354).

Social feminists state that changes can be introduced by stricter legislation and elimination of sexism, racism and classism. Social change is possible only when accidents of birth or circumstances will be eliminated. But males are not the only culprits. Some women who achieve supervisory positions also discriminate against women. Ultimately, countless women discriminated against discourage other women from thinking of themselves as having potential for higher- level jobs. Technological improvements have decreased the amount of physical strength needed to do most jobs, thus rendering groundless many physical reasons for discrimination against women. Even with these changes, it is painfully clear that much is left to be done in the war against sex discrimination. These employees become so convinced of their limited abilities that they lose the initiative to apply for training and promotion. They become a prophecy that fulfills itself. The effects of this not-too-subtle type of discrimination are evident in the higher ranks of many administrative staffs.

Works Cited

Kirk, G., Okazawa-Rey, M. Women’s Lives: Multicultural Perspectives 4th edition. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2003.

Woloch, N. Women and The American Experience, A Concise History. McGraw-Hill Humanities/Social Sciences/Languages, 2001.

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