Is Gender Inequality Universal?

Is gender inequality universal? Have women always been subordinate to men? While I don’t have a concrete answer to these questions, I know many have attempted to understand this inexplicable phenomenon.  However, what I can confidently say is that the concept of “gender” is not limited to sex anymore, but is now also seen as being culturally influenced.  Culture allows, or perhaps even enforces, women to act or behave in ways where they are expected to be overpowered, in status, by their male counterparts.  

I read an article a few years ago called “Is female to male as nature is to culture” by Sherry B. Ortner, in which she argues that gender inequality is indeed universal, and women everywhere are subordinated by men.  She takes on the premise of the structural model, which states that we, as humans, think in binary terms and divide the world in oppositional categories, i.e.: black and white, female and male, etc. This notion of structuralism started with the premise that the human mind is universal, where people participate in ritual and kinship, which emphasizes that gender is now culturally constructed. Thus, the treatment of women and their relative power and contribution vary enormously from culture to culture, and over different periods of time in the history of particular cultural traditions.

However, I personally believe that there is a crucial distinction between “nature” and “culture.”  While nature is the force of physical life that isn’t controlled by humans; culture, on the other hand, is human consciousness or their products, which includes anything from system products to technology.  Thus, women are associated with nature while men are associated with culture.  This comparison of women to nature and men to culture is important as it shows how people tend to value culture more than they do nature. And because people seemingly value culture more, another reason women are associated with nature is because of their biological functions.  Her body dooms her to the mere reproduction of life; whereas the male, in contrast, lacking natural creative functions, must assert his creativity externally, or ‘artificially,’ for e.g.: technology. So, because of women’s greater bodily involvement with the natural functions surrounding reproduction, she is viewed as closer to nature.  Yet, at the same time, she is recognized as a participant in culture.  This, as a result, creates an intermediate between culture and nature, where women are still, however, inferior to men.

Furthermore, I believe that a women’s association with the domestic circle contributes to the view of her being closer to nature in many ways.  The most crucial one is where she is constantly associating herself with children, where one can easily see how children themselves can be considered part of nature. This is because when children are born, they are basically like animals; they cannot walk upright, speak in “babbles,” soil themselves constantly, and pretty much behave inhuman.

However, this does not, in any way, mean that women have no power or privilege at all. On the contrary, women, especially in the West, typically have power and influence in political and economic life, displaying autonomy from men in their pursuits, and rarely find themselves confronted or constrained by a male strength.  Male dominance is evidenced when we observe that women almost everywhere have daily responsibilities to feed and care for children, spouse and kin, whereas men’s economic obligations tend to be less regular.  So, some women definitely are strong, yet at the same time their goals to be happy and successful are shaped by social systems which deny them ready access to the social privilege, authority, and esteem enjoyed by a majority of men.


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