Gender is defined as ‘the relations between men and women, both perceptual and material. Gender is not determined biologically, as a result of sexual characteristics of either women or men, but is constructed socially. It is a central organizing principle of societies, and often governs the processes of production and reproduction, consumption and distribution’ (FAO, 1997). Gender inequality is the discrimination solely done on the basis of gender. This is more durable and penetrative of personality. Generally, gender inequality indicates the subjugation of women who are discriminated in the hands of patriarchy and called the “weaker sex” just because of their sexuality. But men are also subjected to gender discrimination in some situations. “Behave like a man”, “Don’t cry like a girl”, etc are some of the common narratives used for “less manly” men that encourage gender discrimination.
Gender inequality and class differences are closely interconnected.
Gender Inequality and Class
According to the Marxist feminists, the present industrial society is divided into two classes, the bourgeois and the proletariat, so in a class based society women will be oppressed because capitalism promotes the idea of “private property” which not only includes land or animals but also women. Hence women are considered as a single men’s property. Thinkers like Marx and Engels argued that gender differences and exploitation of women would come to an end with the establishment of a classless (socialist) society overthrowing the capitalist structure.
Household work promotes unpaid division of labour which is gender based as well as class based. It was seen that women with higher earnings spent less time in household chores as compared to women with lower income. It means that rising levels of income have made it easier for women with higher income to remain less engaged with housekeeping and reducing their time for unpaid labour. On the other hand, women with lower income have limited options to reduce their household activities.
Motherhood is considered as a blessing in a woman’s life. But motherhood too involves class based implications. Women belonging to the privileged class of society are most likely to be “ideal mothers” sacrificing the high paid jobs or career because of having a financially stable family. The economic resources and social mores possessed by the middle and upper class families don’t compel them to sacrifice the financial stability of their families. But women from lower class families with less lucrative jobs are bound to remain in the workforce and facing difficulties in coping up with the “potential” roles of motherhood.
Men, Women and Class Differences
Nivedita Menon in “Seeing Like A Feminist” writes an upper caste/class woman occupies an powerful position as compared to men who are not of the same strata. A middle class woman of course has a powerful position than a working class man who is an auto driver or a janitor or a domestic helper. But an woman would experience her relative powerlessness when attacked sexually by a man regardless of his class or caste. She might feel marginalized when she compares her life choices or autonomy with a man of her class. This is how positions of subordination are experienced by both men and women of different class or caste.