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Throughout history, people who are born as “men are granted access to power, position and resources” (“Masculinities”). Cultural norms of gender roles are taught to children by their “family, peer group, and community” (“Masculinities”). Based on sufficient research, this review of literature will first focus on the historical facts about how women’s status is undermined by inequality and persecution because they were deemed as inferior biological beings (“Inferiority”). Subsequently, the review will also answer the question of whether women in the present have successfully achieved their rights and gender roles in society completely. At a surface level, “women’s rights have largely been won” (Gaag 146), because “more women are working, more girls are being educated” (Gaag 146). However, this paper will also investigate how women today continue to experience discriminations and inequality as “more than half a million die unnecessarily each year from the complications of pregnancy and childbirth” (Gaag 146). Lastly, the final part of this literature review will examine how women have broken free from the gender stereotypes to achieve power in terms of work and family and its effects on men and society (Marshall).
A. Historical facts about the Male and Female roles
“Beyond the physical differences between men and women and their different reproductive functions are separate sets of socially-determined behavioral norms and performance standards attached to each gender” (Thomas). However, during the era of Greek Philosopher Aristotle, “Women’s status was very low” (“inferiority”). According to Aristotle, the primary function of women was to carrying on the family tree, and “tending the family hearth” (“inferiority”). “The reproduction of children, especially sons” (“inferiority”), was the main purpose of women, and all of the men’s social activities were “off-limits to her” (“inferiority”). In Aristotle’s theory of genetics, he proposed “that children were made by something he called ‘the substance’, which was found in women, and the ‘form’, which came from men” (“Genetics”). According to his theory, Aristotle suggested that “the form and the substance did not mix together but the form had a magical influence on the substance” (“Genetics”) In other words, “the man supplies the substance of a human being, and the women is only the nourishment” (“Inferiority”). From Aristotle’s point of view, “it is only men who are complete human beings and can hope for ultimate fulfillment; the best a women can hope for is to become a man” (“Inferiority”) However, Aristotle’s teacher, Plato, “thought differently about women” (“Plato”). Plato believed that women had a significant role to play in society, and he thought “women were necessary for society to run smoothly” (“Plato”). According to Plato, even though he believed that females were required to function in a working society, he continue to hold the position that women were no where close to equal to men (“Plato”) On the other hand, Plato realized that “men may have been stronger then women physically but women had strengths that were far superior in other areas” (“Plato”) For example, he believed that “women are naturally maternal and these maternal skills made them better care takers for children” (“Plato”). Similarly to Aristotle’s radical view on women, French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte thought, “women were made for men, and men for country, family, glory, and honor” (“Napoleon”). In the 1800s, “the idea of female equality received a setback in a series of laws known as the Napoleonic Code” (“Napoleonic”). According to the Napoleonic Code, “married women in particular owed their husband obedience, and were forbidden from selling, giving, mortgaging or buying property” (“Napoleonic”).
As time progress from the Ancient Greeks to the early stages of the last century, men continued to be “regarded as the persons in charge of their families” (Thomas). According to census, males were considered to be the ‘head of the household’ by family members, and the power within the household was completely dominated by the male figure (Thomas) and “other family members were defined by their relationship to the household head” (Thomas). According to experts, women’s responsibility of bearing children continued until the early part of the last century (Thomas). “In 1941, over 83% of 15 years old or over had birthed a child and one in five had given birth to six or more” (Thomas). Women’s fertility continued to be disregarded by the society, and their “prominent roles” (Thomas) “of giving birth and raise children within a male-headed family” (Thomas) was unchanged.
B. Present women’s success and failure at achieving the rights and power
According to experts, “women’s rights, in theory at least, are well established” (Gaag 11) and women themselves are more aware of their rights” (Gaag 11). However, even though the matter of gender equality between male and females has firmly been placed on the global agenda, we “cannot hide the fact that for millions of women life is still very grim” (Gaag 11).
Although women are having fewer children, that is “50 per cent of women now have access to modern contraceptives” (Gaag 11), “over half a million women continue to die each year from pregnancy and childbirth related causes” (“rights”). Researcher found that ” accounted for 41 percent of all births nationwide between 1993 and 2006″ (Pittman), there are “62 percent of pregnancy-related deaths” (Pittman). Despite the international agreement on women’s rights, “the denial of women’s basic human rights is persistent and widespread” (“Rights”). Like mentioned above, “becoming a mother is still a dangerous business” (Gaag 26).
On the economic scheme of things, “during the 20th century, the proportion of married women working for pay increased more than tenfold from less than 5 percent in 1890 to more than 60 percent in 1990” (Mundy 33). “The proportion of women ages 25 to 54 who are working or looking for work stands at 75 percent, up from 35 percent in 1950s” (Muddy 38) Even though “women have expanded their work hours, battled discrimination, and improved their credentials at precisely the time when the rewards for these are greater than ever (Muddy 38), “Poverty rates are higher for women than men” (Cawthorne). “In 2007,13.8 percent of females were poor compared to 11.1 percent of men” (Cawthorne). It was also proven by experts that women are poorer than men in all ethic groups (Cawthorne). According to collected data, the trend that men are wealthier than women is very apparent (Cawthorne). This again ties to the fact that, “despite some progress in women’s wages in the 1990s, women still earn less than men, even for similar kinds of work” (“rights”).
Lastly, there is no doubt that “more girls are being educated – the gap between boys’ and girls’ enrollments has narrowed” (Gaag 11). “Women have improved their credentials precisely the time when the economy craves their skills and schooling” (Muddy 53). “By becoming well educated, women have raised the chances that they will be employed, and they qualify for much better job than they could have expected 30 or 40 years ago” (Muddy 51). According to experts, “education is a key reason why women’s earnings have risen and why in recent recessions, the unemployment rate for women has been lower than the rate for men” (Muddy 51). Through women’s persistency, “women have improved their prospects more than they realize” (Muddy 51).
C. The drastic change in gender roles and its effects on both genders
“While the stereotype of the male breadwinner is still alive in many people’s minds, experts say the reality is that a growing number of women are earning as much, if not more than, their husbands” (Linn). In a matter of decades, “the traditional male breadwinner model has given way to one where women routinely support households and outearn the men they are married to” (Muddy 5). “Not that long ago, in 1970, percentage of wives who outearned their husbands was in the low single digits” (Mundy 6). The dramatic increases of women earners have altered the way male and female see each other (Mundy 7). Ironically, experts “estimate that there are currently about 2 million working women whose husbands are unemployed and looking for work” (Linn). The effect of the gender roles shift is most apparent in the male than the female (Muddy 14). In “journalism and feminist literature of the 1980s and 1990s” (Muddy14), experts found that men tend to “resist women’s rising economic power, even retaliate against it” (Muddy 14). Similarly, one of the other reactions of men towards women’s earnings is that “men can quit, give up and stop trying” (Muddy 14). For all the arguments about ” women “opting-out” when they have children, today’s mothers- particularly educated ones- are overwhelmingly likely to be employed” (Muddy 38). The roles of men and women seems to have shifted, and ” the earning power of wives compared to husbands has risen, steadily and strongly” (Muddy 39).
On the other hand, the rate of participation in housework labor increased steadily for men, while the rate for women remained the same (Marshall). “Among married men with children, the participation rate rose from 54% to 71%. Furthermore, while the presence of a wife lessened men’s involvement in housework in 1986 (single men had a participation rate of 61%, and married men 53%), 2005 saw roughly 7 in 10 married men, both with and without children, participating in housework” (Marshall). According to data on men and women rate of participation in housework, “married men with children spending significantly more time on housework, and married women spending significantly less” (Marshall). Whereas women, “The number of hours worked has risen” (Muddy 39), “and women are much more likely to be working full-time, year-round, than they were 40 years ago” (Muddy 39). Experts predict, “in the coming years, many women will feel pleased being the family’s high earner. They husband will like it too” (Muddy 140). Series of surveys shown that, “men and women are both less likely to say that men should earn the money and women should take care of the children” in today’s society (Muddy 63). According to the gradual shift in gender roles responsibilities, it’s safe to say that “women’s earning power and the vitality and success signals” (Muddy 15), “will lead to a genuine breakthrough in the relationship between the sexes” (Muddy 15).
In conclusion, women came a long way in achieving their rights and ideal roles in society. Based on historical facts about male and female roles, females “are the majority of humanity but are everywhere victims of systematic discrimination, oppression and sexual abuse” (“Oppression”). Through their tenacity, women thrived as powerful individuals and economically and socially bypass men. However, according to data, women’s “gains have been made under threat” (Gaag 11), and many continued to suffer from unfavorable conditions such as poverty, childbirth complications, and workplace discrimination. Despite these persistent disadvantages of the female sex, “within a generation, more households will be supported by women than by men” (Muddy 78). “A revolution is under way” (Muddy 65).
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