Gender Inequality. The reason of the low index of gender equality in the USA

The principle of democracy, liberty and equality before the law. The subjective or unequal behavior towards the individual. Gender discrimination. The gender stereotypes. The attitude of society toward women’s social role. Movements for women’s rights.

Рубрика Социология и обществознание
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Язык английский
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Gender Inequality

The reason of the low index of gender equality in the USA

Gender inequality has been a widely discussed problem during last centuries and still remains acute in the modern world. The United States of America is one of the countries where the struggle and movements for women's rights have begun and have spread all over the world. Moreover, American ideology is based on the principle of democracy, liberty and equality before the law. However, in the list of global gender gap the index of the USA is only 0.7373 (22nd position) which means inappropriately high gender inequality, which is incompatible with a longstanding American struggle for basic freedoms and rights throughout the history (Hausmann, Tyson and Zahidi 2012, 8). In this paper I will try to define the reason of such situation and determine whether it means that the USA has gender discrimination. At the beginning, I will describe the main terms of gender discrimination and will compare the history of the USA and Finland, which has the index of 0.8451 (the 2nd position of the same list) (ibid, 8). Then, I will proceed to the comparison of gender equality in economical, educational, health service and political categories of both countries. The thesis of my paper is that the analysis of US case compared with the situation in Finland has shown that underlying reason of the gender gap in the US lies in the gender discrimination of women's participation in politics which is caused by the electoral system of the US.

At the beginning, I will define the term of the gender discrimination and discuss the related terms which I use in the paper. Discrimination means the subjective or unequal behavior towards the individual, in our case on the basis of gender, which puts him in disadvantage comparing with other people or leads to mental or physical discomfort (Katz & Moore 2004, 13). Gender discrimination is still prevalent in the society. In the modern world women are becoming more educated and educatively equal to men, so that they are able to work at the same level as men. Thus, gender inequality may lead to adverse effects at the national level. One of the basic principles of each country is the development, maintenance and use of all available resources to achieve competitiveness in the world. The Central Intelligence Agency provides the information that the ratio of men to women was 1.01 for the 2013 which means that women make up the half of total population. Therefore, gender equality and rational usage of talents and resources of the whole nation is the fundamental element to achieve a competitive level in the modern world.

Some researchers consider that the reason of gender discrimination is a “glass ceiling”- the term describes “the unseen, yet unbreakable barrier that keeps minorities and women from rising to the upper rungs of the corporate ladder, regardless of their qualifications or achievements” (Federal Glass Ceiling Commission 1995, 4). And the main reason of such barriers are the gender stereotypes - widely spread generalization about behavior or attitudes which can be on the subconscious level and lead to the unconscious bias. However, there is still a question about the real existence of foundations for such unconscious bias. For example, there is an issue of gender discrimination in the science which can occur by the fact that scientific articles written by women are less published (Buddenn et al. 2008, 4) and there are low employment rates of women in the science (Moss-Racusin et al. 2012, 16474). From another side, the reason may be not the discrimination of women, but the fact the women are less interested in dedicating their life to building a career in science. However, there was an experiment which clearly determined the existence of exactly the gender unconscious bias (ibid). The essence of randomized experiment was to create the situation in which scientists should rate women's and men's CVs with identical qualification applying for lab manager position (ibid). The result was that gender bias exists and women are rated lower than men and the difference in salaries of men and women accounted for approximately four thousand dollar per year (ibid, 16476). Moreover, such gender bias can be seen also in the employment and politics, however, the experiments which can prove that were not found.

In addition, gender stereotypes were formed according to the historical and cultural aspects. Historically, all over the world women take lower social status than men do. For the thousands of years, as they were physically weaker, women were primarily considered as homemakers and educators of children, and due to their responsibilities, they rarely participated in the governance of the countries. As a result, they were not allowed to have the same rights and responsibilities as men possessed. Their education was limited and they had not any position in power. Women had significantly inferior positions to men and were in high dependence. Such echo of women's former inferiority throughout the history can affect the present attitude of society toward women's social role and cause gender stereotypes.

To determine and compare the effect of gender stereotypes I will analyze the history of the USA and Finland. The United States of America is one of the most powerful countries in the world with developed political and economic systems. Historically, the early movements for women's rights originated in the USA. From the beginning of the XIX centuries there was an increased focus on political and philosophical importance of human rights. During this period there were different movements for abolition of slavery, defense of women rights and suffrage which were aimed at the achievement of liberty and equality. In July of 1848 the first women's rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, New York, (Frost-Knappman 1997, 212) during which the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions was signed. Elizabeth Stanton, the author of declaration, listed main women's social, civil and religious condition and rights which she believed women should have as citizens of the United States (Jacobus 2010, 206-208). Moreover, beginning from the 1839 the legislature of the United States started passing the Married Women's Property Acts which allowed women to be owners of property and to keep earned money for themselves (Lewis 2011,). After the Civil War, in 1890 Elizabeth Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in cooperation with the Lucky Stone formed the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) which intended to help legitimize the women suffrage (Batts and Queen 2004, 3). As a result of organization's functioning the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified in 1920 which prohibited the denial of the right to vote of any US citizen on the basis of sex (Hakim 1995, 29-33). In 1963 Equal Pay Act was signed by John Kennedy which prohibited wage differences between women's and men's salaries. A year later, the Civil Rights Act was passed which forbade any forms of racial, religious or national discrimination or against women especially in the employment. In the modern world, women are still encountering discrimination, but there has been much more improvement in this problem. In the modern world, despite the existence of many discrimination prohibiting laws and acts, this problem still remains on the agenda.

From another point, Finland, as the United States, has a rich history full of events of gender equality movements. Similarly to the US, up to the 1917 Finland, or former Grand Duchy, was under the control of Russian Empire (Sunkunen 1990, 48). Also, in the 1880s the first formally organized civil association as a women's movement took (ibid). As a result, the Finish Women's Association and Women's Right Movement Union were founded in 1884 and 1892 respectively (ibid). These movements played a significant role in struggle for suffrage and organized the Great Strike in 1905 which forced Russian government to fulfill the requirements of society (ibid). As a result, in 1906 the Finnish nation, both men and women, received the right to vote and be elected as candidates. Therefore, Finnish women became the first women in the Europe who received the suffrage (ibid). However, women still were under their husbands' guardianship until 1930 and only in 1986 the equal rights legislation had been passed (Alho 1998, 45). As a result, we can see that both Finland and the USA have quite similar history during which society struggled for the women's rights and eventually reached the desired equality. From this we can conclude that the historical attitude of society towards women's role in the USA and Finland is also similar.

At the present time, gender inequality can exist in the different fields such as employment, education, politics and others, and Global Gender Gap Index allows to estimate the seriousness of problem within the each field (Hausmman, Tyson and Zahindi 2012, 3). Index examines the gender gap of the country in four main fields: economic participation and opportunity (which is represented by the data in the labor market and employment), educational attainment, health and survival and political empowerment. Index evaluates the gender-based gaps in access to resources instead of the actual level of resources by converting all data to female/male ratios and there is certain equality in the country if the value is 1, and inequality if 0 (ibid, 3-4). For example, if the index of female literacy rate over male value in education field equals to 0.25, it means that the ratio of educated women's number to men's number is 1:4 or 20% of educated people are women (ibid, 4). To define the root of the low Gender Gap Index in the United State (0.7373), we should compare the values of each field with the values of Finland (0.8451) (ibid, 10). As a result, the indexes of the USA are almost equal to Finland's in education and health and survival categories, and even slightly exceed Finland's indexes in the economic participation field. However, the only one category in which the USA concedes on 0.4605 points to Finland is political empowerment (the USA - 0.15557 and Finland - 0.6162). In support of this, Finland took 7th place in the worldwide ranking of women in the national legislature with 42.5%, in contrast with the USA which was only 91st with 16.9 %of women in the legislature (Inter Parliamentary Union 2011 quoted in Lawless and Fox 2012, 2). Therefore, we can conclude that the reason of low gender gap index in the USA is in its political system and low number of women in it.

To define the reason of low Gender Gap Index in the USA (and especially of low ratio of female politicians to male), I will define the political and cultural factors (Kenworthy and Malami 1999, 236). Firstly, to define the political factor I will focus on and compare the structures of electoral systems for both the USA and Finland. The USA is the country with presidential system of government which means that there are two types of elections: congressional and presidential. The Congress is a legislature of the US which consists of two houses: the Senate and the House of the Representatives. In the 2012, according to the data collected by the Center for American Women and Politics, the percentage of seats in the US Congress held by women is only 16.8%: 17 of 100 members in the Senate and only 73 of 435 in the House of the Representatives (2012, 1). Moreover, during the last 50 years, there was not the female president of the USA. The reason may be in the structure of the electoral system. There was the research which concluded that women are more likely to be ejected to the political position if there is a single-member constituency comparing with a multi-member one as “voters are more likely to vote for them, if women represent only part of larger group of candidates” (Kenworthy and Malami 1998, 237). Another several studies confirm the statement and assert that the less the number of seats per district, the less chance for women to be elected (Matland 1993; Norris 1996; Rule 1987, 1994; Taagepera 1994 quoted in Kenworthy and Malami 1998, 238). The system of election to the Senate is based on the dual-seat constituency and of the House of the Representative the single-member constituency which, according to this statement, causes the low participation of women in the politics. From another point, the political system of Finland is mostly parliamentary despite the presence of the President. The elections to the Parliament (or Eduskunta) are going through the multi-member constituency which allows women to be elected equally with men (Wikipedia 2013). As a result, the political factor is that the single- and dual-member constituency, which can be considered as inappropriate in the electoral system of the USA, results into the low political participation of American women.

Secondly, the cultural factor, which is determined by the attitude of society in the country to the appropriateness of woman in the politics can influence on the low female political participation. In Finland, female politicians still face difficulties with equilibration between family and work, and “rules of the politician game” are not appropriate for people with family among both, female or male (Raevaara and Taskinen, n.d.). In the USA the inappropriate electoral system may contribute to the women's low self-confidence (Lawless and Fox 2012, 7) and cause the unconscious bias in electing to the political position. Furthermore, researchers concluded that all women can perform in the politics as well the men (ibid), but due to such unconscious bias they perceive the election in the politics highly competitive (ibid, 7). As a result of comparison of the cultural factors for the USA and Finland, in both countries the attitude of society to women participation in politics is equally negative. And due to this equality, it can be concluded that exactly the political factor of the multi-member constituency in the electoral system of the USA is responsible for the low ratio of female politicians to male and consequently for the low Gender Gap Index.

To conclude, gender inequality is an important problem in every country which should be narrowed as much as possible to achieve the competiveness in the world. At the present time, the gender discrimination is manifested in the form of the unconscious bias caused by the gender stereotypes. Moreover, the reason of the gender stereotypes because of the low status of women in relation to men during centuries in the history. It is surprising fact that the USA, as a democratic country which adheres to the principles of liberty and equality before the law, has the low Gender Gap Index in comparison with Finland which takes the 2nd position. By the comparison of histories of struggle for women's rights for both countries we defined that they may have quite similar attitude of society to the women's role according to their histories. Comparing the indexes of gender inequality for each category in the USA and Finland we defined that the low female participation in politics caused the USA placed on the 22nd position. There were two main reasons for this. Firstly, the USA used the single- and dual-member constituency in the election to the Congress, which leads to less women elected. Secondly, the cultural factor was that the society has negative attitude toward women participation in the politics, but this factor is equal in both countries. Therefore, the main reason of the USA low Gender Gap Index is the inappropriate electoral system in the politics.

Reference list

subjective gender discrimination women

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Wikipedia. 2013, “Elections in Finland”. Last modified September 27. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elections_in_Finland

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