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Gender Bias and Sexism - Essay Example

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Gender Bias and Sexism Whenever there is a preference for, or a prejudice against, one sex over the other, the resulting state of affairs is referred to as ‘gender bias’. Gender bias is reflected in unequal treatment generally, and more specifically in employment opportunities, as for example, in inequality of pay, promotion prospects, benefits, and privileges due to attitudes based on gender alone…
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Gender Bias and Sexism
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Gender Bias and Sexism Whenever there is a preference for, or a prejudice against, one sex over the other, the resulting of affairs is referred to as ‘gender bias’. Gender bias is reflected in unequal treatment generally, and more specifically in employment opportunities, as for example, in inequality of pay, promotion prospects, benefits, and privileges due to attitudes based on gender alone. Examples may be found in recent litigation in most countries of the West under Equal Opportunities or Human Rights law. Sexism is the continuing belief in traditional stereotypical gender roles often expressed as discrimination against the female sex in a patriarchal society. Gender bias and sexism impacts adversely on scientific inquiry, women’s aspirations in the workplace and leads to gender violence. Increased public awareness through continuing exposure to the issues should help in a reversal of attitudes towards gender bias and sexism. Women’s subordination to men over the previous centuries was ascribed to their innate inferiority. This is well documented by Virginia Woolf (1929) in her extended essay on ‘women and fiction’ published under the title ‘A Room of One’s Own’. Two days spent in the British Museum Library allowed her to catalogue a plethora of baseless accounts of the ‘Mental, Moral, and Physical Inferiority of Women’, all written by men. She cites Prof. George Trevelyan, the eminent historian, to reveal the subservient conditions and dire poverty under which women lived in Elizabethan England. Women had no choice in who to marry, as the decision was entirely up to the men. Wife beating was common and the accepted norm, according to Prof. Trevelyan. In the 17th and 18th centuries science was declared to be solely a masculine pursuit. Prof. Robert Boyle and other members of the Royal Society embodied the characteristics of autonomous, rational, disinterested, and mathematically proficient masculinity. It took the Industrial Revolution and two World Wars to see women contributing equally competently in practically in all areas of human knowledge and enter learned professions. A feminist approach to science, for example, recently began to unearth masculine gender biases in fields like Archaeology and Embryology. As more women entered the field of archaeology, assumptions that feminine activities, like basket weaving were archaeologically inaccessible, as these were perishable were proved wrong. Continuing research shows that gender differences are not ‘hardwired’ in the embryonic brain. Upbringing, cultural and parental expectations have a far greater influence than genetics (Eliot, 2009). Unless more and more women enter scientific fields of research such as embryology, gender bias will continue to be an obstacle to scientific progress. An unsavoury aspect of sexism manifests itself in violence against women, especially in a domestic setting. In Spain, the government has been very active in seeking to redress this unwholesome state of affairs. Spain has a free, centralized confidential helpline to combat domestic violence incidents. It enacted The Gender Violence (Comprehensive Protection Measures) Act (Fundamental Law) 2004 (stet). The legal definition is: Gender violence comprises all acts of physical and psychological violence, including attacks against sexual freedom, or the arbitrary privation of freedom exerted against women by someone who is or has been, a spouse or with whom they have been linked by similar emotional relationships with or without cohabitation (Leader, 2011). Similar legal measures in most developed countries are designed to curb sexism manifested in violence against women. An example of similar legislation from a developing country is the Republic Act No. 9262 (2004), Violence against Women and Children. Although there is now legislation to discourage discrimination at the place of work, the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development reports that in almost all OECD countries, including the United States, these laws have been ineffective and difficult to enforce. Overall, women appear to have 20% less chance of getting a job than men, and on average women are paid 17% less than men for exactly the same type of work. The OECD estimates that 8% of the variation in gender wage gaps is due to discriminatory practices in the labour market (OECD, 2008). In the USA, until the first Equal Pay Act [US Code, Section 206 (d)] was passed in 1963, female full-time workers earned only 58.9% of male earnings. More recent figures are somewhat better with women reportedly earning 77% as much as male full-time workers (OECD, 2002). But, there is still a gap. Another area of concern under sex bias and sexism is the phenomenon known as the ‘glass ceiling’. Regardless of their qualifications and achievements, more often than not, women are overlooked when filling vacancies in the upper rungs of the corporate ladder. This seems strange these days when in most developed countries and even in less developed countries, the head of state (prime minister or president) happens to be, or recently have been, a woman. Examples include: Sri Lanka, Israel, India, Germany, UK, Denmark, Argentina and Australia. The metaphor ‘glass ceiling’ came into use because there appear to be powerful, prestigious and highest paid corporate jobs with invisible barriers through which, women can see these positions, but are unable to reach them. They appear to face hurdles that are not there for men. That the ‘glass ceiling’ is a distinctively gender phenomenon is proven when US researchers found it limiting opportunities for both white and Afro-American women, but not for Afro-American men. Anti-discrimination measures must increasingly take cognizance of homosexuals, lesbians, transsexuals and even transvestites who demonstrably are in a minority. Equality of opportunity must encompass them all. Resolution of problems in this area will neither be easy nor amenable to quick fixes. Bringing these issues into the public arena will help ameliorate the situation in the long run. Suggested solutions include raising awareness of sex bias and sexism from infancy at school using role play, engaging grass roots organizations and the local community, and campaigning employers to provide a family friendly workplace where women are enabled to combine work with childcare. To conclude, some areas where sex bias and sexism still exist have been outlined in this essay. That a massive improvement in women’s conditions has occurred in recent times cannot be denied. Legislation over the years has helped in this transformation, but it is change in public attitudes and awareness as outlined in the previous paragraph that would ensure a level playing field both for men and women in the future. References Eliot, Lise (2009) “Girl Brain, Boy Brian?” Scientific American, September 8, 2009 Leader (Weekly Newspaper), Costa Blanca, Spain. 28th November 2011 OECD (2002) Employment Outlook; Chapter 2,Women at work, who are they and how are they faring? Paris, OECD, 2002. OECD (2008) Employment Outlook; Chapter 3. The Price of Prejudice, Labour Market Discrimination on the Grounds of Gender and Ethnicity. Paris OECD, 2008. Woolf, Virginia (1929) A Room of One’s Own; New York, Harcourt Brace & Co. 1989. Read More
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