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Male Gender Inequality Essay

"Gender imbalance" redirects here. For demographics, see Sex-selective abortion.

Gender inequality is the idea and situation that women and men are not equal. Gender inequality refers to unequal treatment or perceptions of individuals wholly or partly due to their gender. It arises from differences in gender roles.[1]Gender systems are often dichotomous and hierarchical. Gender inequality stems from distinctions, whether empirically grounded or socially constructed. Women lag behind men in many domains, including education, labor market opportunities and political representation.

Natural gender differences[edit]

Main article: Gender differences in humans

Natural differences exist between the sexes base on biological and anatomic factors, most notably differing reproductive roles. Biological differences include chromosomes and hormonal differences.[1] There is a natural difference also in the relative physical strengths (on average) of the sexes, both in the lower body and more pronouncedly in the upper-body, though this does not mean that any given man is stronger than any given woman.[2][3] Men, on average, are taller, which provides both advantages and disadvantages.[4] Women live significantly longer than men,[5] though it is not clear to what extent this is a biological difference - see Life expectancy. Men have larger lung volumes and more circulating blood cells and clotting factors, while women have more circulating white blood cells and produce antibodies faster.[6] Differences such as these are hypothesized to be an adaption allowing for sexual specialization.[7]


Prenatal hormone exposure influences to what extent one exhibits traditional masculine or feminine behavior.[8][9] No differences between males and females exist in general intelligence.[10] Men are significantly more likely to take risks than women.[11] Men are also more likely to be aggressive, a trait influenced by prenatal and possibly current androgen exposure.[12][13] It has been theorized that these differences combined with physical differences are an adaption representing sexual division of labor.[7] A second theory proposes sex differences in intergroup aggression represent adaptions in male aggression to allow for territory, resource and mate acquisition.[6] Females are more empathetic than males.[14] Men and women have better visuospatial and verbal memory, respectively. These changes are influenced by the male sex hormone testosterone, which increases visuospatial memory in both genders when administered.[15]

From birth males and females are raised differently and experience different environments throughout their lives. In the eyes of society, gender has a huge role to play in many major milestones or characteristics in life; like personality.[16] Males and females are lead on different paths before they are able to choose their own. The colour blue is most commonly associated with boys and they get toys like monster trucks or more sport related things to play with from the time that they are babies. Girls are more commonly introduced to the colour pink, dolls, dresses, and playing house where they are taking care of the dolls as if they were children. The norm of blue is for boys and pink is for girls is cultural and has not always historically been around. These paths set by parents or other adult figures in the child's life set them on certain paths.[17] This leads to a difference in personality, career paths, or relationships. Throughout life males and females are seen as two very different species who have very different personalities and should stay on separate paths.[18]

In the workplace[edit]


93% of workplace deaths (fatal occupational injuries) in the US between 1980 and 1997 were men (97,053 deaths). The male fatality rate (8.6 per 100,000 workers) was 11 times greater than the female death rate of the 1980-97 time range (0.8). This accounts for the other 7% of work place deaths (6,886 deaths).[19]

Income disparities linked to job stratification[edit]

Main article: Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is the average difference between men's and women's aggregate wages or salaries. The gap is due to a variety of factors, including differences in education choices, differences in preferred job and industry, differences in the types of positions held by men and women, differences in the type of jobs men typically go into as opposed to women (especially highly paid high risk jobs), differences in amount of work experiences, difference in length of the work week, and breaks in employment. These factors resolve 60% to 75% of the pay gap, depending on the source. Various explanations for the remaining 25% to 40% have been suggested, including women's lower willingness and ability to negotiate salaries and sexual discrimination.[20][21][22] According to the European Commission direct discrimination only explains a small part of gender wage differences.[23][24]

In the United States, the average female's unadjusted annual salary has been cited as 78% of that of the average male.[25] However, multiple studies from OECD, AAUW, and the US Department of Labor have found that pay rates between males and females varied by 5–6.6% or, females earning 94 cents to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, when wages were adjusted to different individual choices made by male and female workers in college major, occupation, working hours, and maternal/paternal leave.[26] The remaining 6% of the gap has been speculated to originate from deficiency in salary negotiating skills and sexual discrimination.[26][27][28][29] In Montana, women age 16 and older earn 73 percent of what men earn. Indeed, every state in the nation has an earnings gap, but Montana ranks near the bottom at 46th in the nation.[30]

Human capital theories refer to the education, knowledge, training, experience, or skill of a person which makes them potentially valuable to an employer. This has historically been understood as a cause of the gendered wage gap but is no longer a predominant cause as women and men in certain occupations tend to have similar education levels or other credentials. Even when such characteristics of jobs and workers are controlled for, the presence of women within a certain occupation leads to lower wages. This earnings discrimination is considered to be a part of pollution theory. This theory suggests that jobs which are predominated by women offer lower wages than do jobs simply because of the presence of women within the occupation. As women enter an occupation, this reduces the amount of prestige associated with the job and men subsequently leave these occupations. The entering of women into specific occupations suggests that less competent workers have begun to be hired or that the occupation is becoming deskilled. Men are reluctant to enter female-dominated occupations because of this and similarly resist the entrance of women into male-dominated occupations.[31][page needed]

The gendered income disparity can also be attributed in part to occupational segregation, where groups of people are distributed across occupations according to ascribed characteristics; in this case, gender.[citation needed]Occupational gender segregation can be understood[who?] to contain two components or dimensions; horizontal segregation and vertical segregation. With horizontal segregation, occupational sex segregation occurs as men and women are thought to possess different physical, emotional, and mental capabilities. These different capabilities make the genders vary in the types of jobs they are suited for. This can be specifically viewed with the gendered division between manual and non-manual labor.[citation needed] With vertical segregation, occupational sex segregation occurs as occupations are stratified according to the power, authority, income, and prestige associated with the occupation and women are excluded from holding such jobs.[31]

As women entered the workforce in larger numbers since the 1960s, occupations have become segregated based on the amount femininity or masculinity presupposed to be associated with each occupation.[citation needed] Census data suggests that while some occupations have become more gender integrated (mail carriers, bartenders, bus drivers, and real estate agents), occupations including teachers, nurses, secretaries, and librarians have become female-dominated while occupations including architects, electrical engineers, and airplane pilots remain predominately male in composition.[32] Based on the census data, women occupy the service sector jobs at higher rates than men. Women’s overrepresentation in service sector jobs, as opposed to jobs that require managerial work acts as a reinforcement of women and men into traditional gender roles that causes gender inequality.[33]

“The gender wage gap is an indicator of women’s earnings compared with men’s. It is figured by dividing the average annual earnings for women by the average annual earnings for men.” (Higgins et al., 2014) Scholars disagree about how much of the male-female wage gap depends on factors such as experience, education, occupation, and other job-relevant characteristics. Sociologist Douglas Massey found that 41% remains unexplained,[31] while CONSAD analysts found that these factors explain between 65.1 and 76.4 percent of the raw wage gap.[35] CONSAD also noted that other factors such as benefits and overtime explain "additional portions of the raw gender wage gap".

The glass ceiling effect is also considered a possible contributor to the gender wage gap or income disparity. This effect suggests that gender provides significant disadvantages towards the top of job hierarchies which become worse as a person’s career goes on. The term glass ceiling implies that invisible or artificial barriers exist which prevent women from advancing within their jobs or receiving promotions. These barriers exist in spite of the achievements or qualifications of the women and still exist when other characteristics that are job-relevant such as experience, education, and abilities are controlled for. The inequality effects of the glass ceiling are more prevalent within higher-powered or higher income occupations, with fewer women holding these types of occupations. The glass ceiling effect also indicates the limited chances of women for income raises and promotion or advancement to more prestigious positions or jobs. As women are prevented by these artificial barriers, from either receiving job promotions or income raises, the effects of the inequality of the glass ceiling increase over the course of a woman’s career.[36]

Statistical discrimination is also cited as a cause for income disparities and gendered inequality in the workplace. Statistical discrimination indicates the likelihood of employers to deny women access to certain occupational tracks because women are more likely than men to leave their job or the labor force when they become married or pregnant. Women are instead given positions that dead-end or jobs that have very little mobility.[37]

In Third World countries such as the Dominican Republic, female entrepreneurs are statistically more prone to failure in business. In the event of a business failure women often return to their domestic lifestyle despite the absence of income. On the other hand, men tend to search for other employment as the household is not a priority.[38]

The gender earnings ratio suggests that there has been an increase in women’s earnings comparative to men. Men’s plateau in earnings began after the 1970s, allowing for the increase in women’s wages to close the ratio between incomes. Despite the smaller ratio between men and women’s wages, disparity still exists. Census[39] data suggests that women’s earnings are 71 percent of men's earnings in 1999.[32]

The gendered wage gap varies in its width among different races. Whites comparatively have the greatest wage gap between the genders. With whites, women earn 78% of the wages that white men do. With African Americans, women earn 90% of the wages that African American men do.

There are some exceptions where women earn more than men: According to a survey on gender pay inequality by the International Trade Union Confederation, female workers in the Gulf state of Bahrain earn 40 percent more than male workers.[40]

In 2014, a report by the International Labor Organization (ILO) reveals the wage gap between Cambodian women factory workers and other male counterparts. There was a $25 USD monthly pay difference conveying that women have a much lower power and being devalued not only at home but also in the workplace.[41]

Professional education and careers[edit]

The gender gap also appeared to narrow considerably beginning in the mid-1960s. Where some 5% of first-year students in professional programs were female in 1965, by 1985 this number had jumped to 40% in law and medicine, and over 30% in dentistry and business school.[42] Before the highly effective birth control pill was available, women planning professional careers, which required a long-term, expensive commitment, had to "pay the penalty of abstinence or cope with considerable uncertainty regarding pregnancy."[43] This control over their reproductive decisions allowed women to more easily make long-term decisions about their education and professional opportunities. Women are highly underrepresented on boards of directors and in senior positions in the private sector.[44]

Additionally, with reliable birth control, young men and women had more reason to delay marriage. This meant that the marriage market available to any women who "delay[ed] marriage to pursue a career... would not be as depleted. Thus the Pill could have influenced women's careers, college majors, professional degrees, and the age at marriage."[45]

Studies on sexism in science and technology fields have produced conflicting results. Corinne et al. found that science faculty of both sexes rated a male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than an identical female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant.[46] Williams and Ceci, however, found that science and technology faculty of both sexes "preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles" for tenure-track positions.[47] Studies show parents are more likely to expect their sons, rather than their daughters, to work in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field – even when their 15-year-old boys and girls perform at the same level in mathematics.[48]

A survey by the U.K. Office for National Statistics in 2016 showed that in the health sector 56% of roles are held by women, while in teaching it is 68%.[49] However equality is less evident in other area; only 30% of M.P.'s are women and only 32% of finance and investment analysts. In the natural and social sciences 43% of employees are women, and in the environmental sector 42%.[50]

Customer preference studies[edit]

A 2010 study conducted by David R. Hekman and colleagues found that customers who viewed videos featuring a black male, a white female, or a white male actor playing the role of an employee helping a customer were 19 percent more satisfied with the white male employee's performance.[51][52][53][54][55]

This discrepancy with race can be found as early as 1947, when Kenneth Clark conducted a study in which black children were asked to choose between white and black dolls. White male dolls were the ones children preferred to play with.[56][57]

Gender pay differences in the medical field[edit]

Although the disparities between men and women are decreasing in the medical field,[58] gender inequalities still exist as social problems.[59] From 1999 to 2008, recently qualified female doctors in the US made almost $170,000,000 less than their male counterparts. The pay discrepancy could not be explained by specialty choice, practice setting, work hours, or other characteristics.[60] A case study carried out on Swedish medical doctors showed that the gender wage gap among physicians was greater in 2007 than in 1975.[61]

At home[edit]

Gender roles in parenting and marriage[edit]

Gender roles are heavily influenced by biology, with male-female play styles correlating with sex hormones,[62] sexual orientation, aggressive traits,[63] and pain.[64] Furthermore, females with congenital adrenal hyperplasia demonstrate increased masculinity[65] and it has been shown that rhesus macaque children exhibit preferences for stereotypically male and female toys.[66]

Gender inequality in relationships[edit]

Gender equality in relationships has been growing over the years but for the majority of relationships, the power lies with the male.[67] Even now men and women present themselves as divided along gender lines. A study done by Szymanowicz and Furnham, looked at the cultural stereotypes of intelligence in men and women, showing the gender inequality in self-presentation.[68] This study showed that females thought if they revealed their intelligence to a potential partner, then it would diminish their chance with him. Men however would much more readily discuss their own intelligence with a potential partner. Also, women are aware of people’s negative reactions to IQ, so they limit its disclosure to only trusted friends. Females would disclose IQ more often than men with the expectation that a real true friend would respond in a positive way. Intelligence continues to be viewed as a more masculine trait, than feminine trait. The article suggested that men might think women with a high IQ would lack traits that were desirable in a mate such as warmth, nurturance, sensitivity, or kindness. Another discovery was that females thought that friends should be told about one’s IQ more so than males. However, males expressed doubts about the test’s reliability and the importance of IQ in real life more so than women. The inequality is highlighted when a couple starts to decide who is in charge of family issues and who is primarily responsible for earning income. For example, in Londa Schiebinger’s book, "Has Feminism Changed Science?", she claims that "Married men with families on average earn more money, live longer and happier, and progress faster in their careers," while "for a working woman, a family is a liability, extra baggage threatening to drag down her career."[69] Furthermore, statistics had shown that "only 17 percent of the women who are full professors of engineering have children, while 82 percent of the men do."[70]

Attempts in equalizing household work[edit]

Despite the increase in women in the labour force since the mid-1900s, traditional gender roles are still prevalent in American society. Women may be expected to put their educational and career goals on hold in order to raise children, while their husbands work. However, women who choose to work as well as fulfill a perceived gender role of cleaning the house and taking care of the children. Despite the fact that different households may divide chores more evenly, there is evidence that supports that women have retained the primary caregiver role within familial life despite contributions economically. This evidence suggest that women who work outside the home often put an extra 18 hours a week doing household or childcare related chores as opposed to men who average 12 minutes a day in childcare activities.[71] One study by van Hooff showed that modern couples, do not necessarily purposefully divide things like household chores along gender lines, but instead may rationalize it and make excuses.[67] One excuse used is that women are more competent at household chores and have more motivation to do them. Another is that some say the demands of the males’ jobs is higher.

There was a study conducted at an "urban comprehensive school". They were asked questions regarding their views in sexual inequality. Many parents were for the equal pay for men and women. They also were in favor for men to help with the housework. In this study, the majority of the people who were interviewed wanted gender equality and more people wants a change in gender roles. Where men stay home, cleans, and cooks while the women can work and help support the family.[citation needed]

Gender roles have changed drastically over the past few decades. In the article, it says that in 1920-1966, there was data recorded that women spent the most time care-tending with the home and family. There was a study made with the gender roles with the males and females, The results showed that as women spend less time in the house, men have taken over the role as the mother. The article also said that women who work spend less time within the house and with their children if they have any. Furthermore, men are taking the roles of women in the homes and its changing as time goes on. Robin A. Douthitt, the author of the article, "The Division of Labor Within the Home: Have Gender Roles Changed?" concluded by saying, "(1) men do not spend significnatly more time with chil- dren when their wives are employed and (2) employed women spend signifi- cantly less time in child care than their full-time homemaker counterparts, over a 10-year period both mothers and fathers are spending more total time with children." (703).[full citation needed]

Gender inequalities in relation to technology[edit]

One survey showed that men rate their technological skills in activities such as basic computer functions and online participatory communication higher than women. However, it should be noted that this study was a self-reporting study, where men evaluate themselves on their own perceived capabilities. It thus is not data based on actual ability, but merely perceived ability, as participants' ability was not assessed. Additionally, this study is inevitably subject to the significant bias associated with self-reported data.[72]

In contrary to such findings, a carefully controlled study that analyzed data sets from 25 developing countries led to the consistent finding that the reason why fewer women access and use digital technology is a direct result of their unfavorable conditions and ongoing discrimination with respect to employment, education and income.[73] When controlling for these variables, women turn out to be more active users of digital tools than men. This turns the alleged digital gender divide into an opportunity: given women's affinity for ICT, and given that digital technologies are tools that can improve living conditions, ICT represents a concrete and tangible opportunity to tackle longstanding challenges of gender inequalities in developing countries, including access to employment, income, education and health services.

Property Inheritance[edit]

Many countries have laws that give less inheritance of ancestral property for women compared to men.[74][75]

Structural marginalization[edit]

Gender inequalities often stem from social structures that have institutionalized conceptions of gender differences.[citation needed]

Marginalization occurs on an individual level when someone feels as if they are on the fringes or margins of their respective society. This is a social process and displays how current policies in place can affect people. For example, media advertisements display young girls with easy bake ovens (promoting being a housewife) as well as with dolls that they can feed and change the diaper of (promoting being a mother).

Gender stereotypes[edit]

Main article: Gender stereotypes

See also: Category:Feminism and the arts

Cultural stereotypes, which can dictate specific roles, are engrained in both men and women and these stereotypes are a possible explanation for gender inequality and the resulting gendered wage disparity. Women have traditionally been viewed as being caring and nurturing and are designated to occupations which require such skills.[clarification needed][citation needed] While these skills are culturally valued,[clarification needed] they were typically associated with domesticity, so occupations requiring these same skills are not economically valued.[citation needed] Men have traditionally been viewed as the main worker in the home, so jobs held by men have been historically economically valued and occupations predominated by men continue to be economically valued and earn higher wages.[31][page needed

Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers, by sex, race, and ethnicity, U.S., 2009.[34]

Public and international discourse on the debate for gender equality focuses on the oppression of women, as it rightly should. However, the influence that traditional male stereotypes have on the perpetuation of gender inequality, at a transnational scale, also needs to be addressed. This essay asks how do male stereotypes affect the manner in which males engage with gender equality? By encouraging males to analyse their socially constructed gender profiles, it is possible to educate them on how their social roles may impact gender equality. This will involve analysing the entrenchment of traditional male stereotypes in society and their consequent impact on women. Firstly, the essay will establish that male stereotypes operate within a larger structure of the gender paradigm. Then, it will define gender equality and its various interpretations. This will then lead the essay to discuss the trajectory of the progress towards gender equality and why males must be viewed as fundamental actors. Certain masculinities preserve and promote the inequalities experienced between men and women, and, in order to achieve gender equality, they must be dismantled.

When analysing male stereotypes, in the context of gender equality, it is important to recognise that they do not operate in isolation. Male stereotypes, or masculinities, function ‘… as an aspect of a larger structure’.[1] This structure is gender. Gender denotes the social phenomenon of distinguishing males and females based on a set of identity traits. The gendering of the sexes produces and sustains socially constructed differences.[2] Men and women are constructed to behave and interact in ways that perpetuate their gendered identities. However, there is a vital distinction at work here, one that will underpin this essay — the difference between sex and gender. Although this difference is highly contentious and widely contested, it will inform the essay’s discussion of gender equality. Sex and gender are classifications for differentiating between men and women. Sex, in contrast to gender, refers to the determination made based upon scientifically accepted biological criteria. The distinction of sex can be made through the classification of ‘… genitalia at birth or chromosomal typing before birth’.[3]

The terms gender and sex are often understood to be the same thing and used interchangeably.[4] However, this only serves to conflate biological anatomy with socially constructed identities. The problem with this misconception is that in societies, such as those in the West, it is assumed that the reproductive function of males and females is a sufficient basis for prescribing psychological and behavioural characteristics onto members of society.[5] In response to this, Peterson and Runyan assert that:

‘… gender should be understood as a social, not physiological, construction: Femininity and masculinity, the terms that denote one’s gender, refer to a complex set of characteristics and behaviours prescribed for a particular sex by society and learned through the socialisation process’.[6]

In other words, society, not biology, confines males and females to particular masculine and feminine character profiles. This means that gender is not fixed. Christian states that ‘… it is perfectly feasible for gender to change while biological sex remains the same’.[7] Gender should be considered an adjustable and fluid concept, as opposed to the more static disposition of biology.

According to Freud, the human subject has always been sexed, and that despite the biological differences, males and females have become particular social subjects.[8] The biological individual can be viewed as a blank canvas upon which gendered identities are projected and performed through socialisation. Therefore, the supposed differences between men and women are accentuated through the legitimisation of social stereotypes. These stereotypes, presented as inherent, are influenced by the social environment to which one is subjected. Male and female gender profiles are normalised to the extent that they appear natural, biological. Freud, who pioneered early psychoanalysis of the unconscious, was able to examine the ‘… continuity between normal and neurotic mental life, the concepts of repression and the unconscious, and the metal process to be ‘read’ through dreams, jokes, slips of the tongue and symptoms’.[9]

His work provided much needed insight into understanding inherent and normative views of gender identities. By definition, psychoanalytic theory aims to deconstruct what is explicitly or unintentionally communicated to illuminate the latent ‘… fantasies, anxieties, and desires of the speaking subject’.[10] In relation to gender, psychoanalysis stresses that our biology is experienced within culture, not nature, and ‘… that the effect of culture is to transform and channel biology and instinct in particular ways’.[11] Thus, the psychological differences between males and females are mostly, if not entirely, socially constructed.

This view, however, is not universally shared. In his paper titled, Feminism Against Science, Goldberg argues that the cognitive and behavioural differences between men and women are established through their respective physiologies, and that society and gender are a reflection of biological realities.[12] Moir and Jessel also advocate for biological determinism, arguing that to proclaim that men and women ‘… are the same in aptitude, skill, or behaviour is to build a society based on a biological and scientific lie’, and that biological reality reveals a comparative relationship of sexual asymmetry.[13] The argument raised by Goldberg, Moir, and Jessel is allegedly based on solid scientific findings. The ethos offered by ‘science’ is easy to succumb to. However, these ‘findings’ and results are often filtered and manipulated to strengthen the author’s argument. In her book, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities, Halpern contends that throughout her study, the most important lesson she learnt was that ‘… researchers, like the rest of us, maintain a particular world view that they use in interpreting research findings’.[14] So when analysis arguments about gender, nothing should be unquestioningly accepts as irrefutable, scientific fact.

Discussions about gender are often adjacent to discussions that attempt to determine the intellectual capacities of either sex. Debates of this nature were generated in the late nineteenth century, when it was determined, with scientific vindication, that the challenges and complexities of academia were deemed too overwhelming for the female mind.[15] This attempt to distinguish sex difference on the basis of physiology is one found in evolutionary theory. The theory argues that men and women ‘… pursue distinctive strategies to achieve reproductive effectiveness, with sometimes significant divergence’.[16] This view reduces human existence to the reproductive function. It supports the idea that the only factor of sexual differentiation that needs to be considered is the reproductive process.[17] The pursuit of survival is thus contingent upon successful reproduction, which creates a lineage of evolution for both men and women. Wilson, a Darwinist evolutionary theorist argues in his book, The Great Sex Divide, that for individuals who ‘… perform their sex role more successfully, their genes would have superior survival value, and so we would expect progressive differentiation of physical and mental equipment as parallel evolutionary developments’.[18] That is to say, human evolution is based on the propensity of an individual to fulfil their biological function. Therefore, sex differences are of vital importance to survival. Wilson also contends that the differences between men and women ‘… are observed, fairly universally, regardless of species or culture, time or place’.[19] This kind of argument lies at the very centre of gender inequality. Differentiation can unintentionally, and intentionally, cultivate a culture of discrimination. In categorising the differences between two subjects, one is automatically participating in a process of judgment. This judgment can manifest as a destructive bias or a positive comparison.

Sex difference has been biologically substantiated, and, in some cases, justified in the development of evolution. However, some argue that males and females are increasingly similar than different. For example, Epstein, in her book Deceptive Distinctions, maintains that distinctions based on gender identities serve more harm than good, and that attempts to divide the sexes based on intelligence present dysfunctional consequences for society.[20] In many ways, the argument returns to the age-old question: Are women mentally inferior to men? Some scholars argue in the affirmative, that men and women exhibit asymmetrical cognitive capabilities. However, scholars such as Seligman answer in the negative: ‘no, [women] are not. Data are now being laid on the table that show that, on average, men and women are equal in mental ability’.[21] Since the late nineteenth-century, research has studied sex difference across a plethora of psychological planes, such as mental abilities, attitudes, interest, personality traits, and emotions. Moreover, Connell, like Seligman, states that ‘… sex differences, on almost every psychological trait measured, are either non-existent or fairly small’.[22]

Across many social and academic spheres, the question of who is the smarter sex is deemed unanswerable. Given the tendency of researchers to favour a sex, most concede then that men and women are ‘even’[23] Researchers are gendered subjects, conditioned by sociocultural gender constructs. They may support the superiority of a particular sex, which in turn, is deliberately or intuitively reflected in their respective research. This is why psychoanalysis ‘… does not assume the existence of an a priori “self” or “ego”’, but asserts that personal identity is contingent upon social conditioning.[24] Researchers do not operate, nor conduct their research, in isolation of reality. They are thus influenced by universal social discourses such as race, gender, and class. Absolute scientific objectivity is a standard difficult to uphold. Halpern warns of the existence of researchers that allow their bias for either sex to direct their study outcomes, such as Rushton and Jenson who ‘… steadfastly maintain that women are less intelligent than men’.[25] Views such as this intensify the gender divide by supporting the notion of male dominance, which further solidifies gender disparities. As Gaitanidis states, the conditions, which produce gender identities, are not quasi-universal; sociocultural and historical forces intrude in our lives to shape our personal identities.[26] Therefore, favouring certain data can be a symptom of cultural influences, such as gendered sex roles.

Sex difference has been largely debunked, or at the very least, considered inconclusive. The general consensus is that neither sex is psychologically superior. The emphasis is rather on the socialisation of difference, where the male and female gender constructs are influenced by worldviews, perceived norms and the unconscious. The variation of positions on sex difference indicates how pervasive the gender paradigm is, and how even purportedly objective areas of study, like science, can be skewed to perpetuate the idea of male intellectual dominance. The revolutionary work of feminists and social constructivists over the past four decades has highlighted the impact and influence of gender constructs on sociocultural life and knowledge.[27] Kimmel summarises the scale and influence of gender as an organising principle of society by stating, ‘virtually every society known to us is founded upon assumptions of gender difference and the politics of gender inequality’.[28] This point becomes foundational when answering the question of how traditional masculinity affects the manner in which men engage with gender equality. At this juncture, the essay needs to address this question.

Debates about gender equality refer to the asymmetrical power balance experienced between men and women due to differences in their gendered identities.[29] On this, Peterson and Runyan contend that:

‘… the social construction of gender is actually a system of power that not only divides men and women as masculine and feminine but typically also places men and masculinity above women and femininity and operates to value more highly those institutions and practices that are male dominated and/or representative of masculine traits and styles’.[30]

This is a contemporary analysis of modern gender constructs and the relations between the sexes, yet the idea of gender equality has been a major international principle of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[31] Despite this, Grossman and McClain argue that progress towards achieving gender equality have failed to substantially materialise, and that there still exists ‘… a stark gap between formal commitments to the equal rights and responsibilities of men and women and against discrimination and subordination based on sex the gendered realities of women’s lives’.[32]

The term ‘gender equality’, when deconstructed in isolation, unveils fundamental problems. Some argue the term is a paradox; gender is a system based on difference, and thus could never transform into a state of equivalence.[33] Parvikko frames equality ‘… as a concept which obscures differences’, and states that in contemporary liberal political thought, equality and difference are incommensurate.[34] Such difficulties in the application of the term have resulted in some people proclaiming that gender equality should be considered a discourse rather than a fixed term. This approach is much more constructive, as it recognises gender equality as a fluid concept that responds to the unique requirements of specific contexts.[35] Gender equality has many variants and interpretations, such as formal substantive equality.[36] This essay will consider equality as a system that facilitates equal opportunity. As echoed by men and women across all continents, in the World Development Report conducted by The World Bank, gender equality was seen to encompass three key elements: ‘the accumulation of endowments (education, health, and physical assets); the use of those endowments to take up economic opportunity and generate incomes; and the application of those endowments to take actions, or agency, affecting individual and household well-being’.[37] This is not an exhaustive list of what constitutes gender equality, but it provides a solid foundation for what it should entail. With this in mind, the essay will now discuss the relationship between masculinity and gender equality.

Gender is an organising principle of social life, and change towards equality will require exceptional institutional and gender identity reform.[38] Realising gender equality is strongly weighted on the contribution of males, because ‘… the very gender inequalities in economic assets, political power, cultural authority, and means of coercion that gender reform intend to change (ultimately) mean that men control most of the resources required to implement women’s claims for justice’.[39] In Australia, men make up the overwhelming majority of key decision-makers. In 2012, women comprised only 26.5% of Federal Parliament, and in the private sector constituted approximately 10% of company board members and 24.7% of managers.[40] Thus, men are an essential enabler for gender reform. Masculinities and male stereotypes must be studied and deconstructed in order to effect change in how men relate to women.

Stereotypes, or gender profiles, play an important role in the discussion of gender equality. They attribute certain characteristics to whole segments of society with the intention of presenting perception as truth.[41] In relation to gender, stereotypes form the basis of how society believes men and women should act. The scale to which gender stereotypes impact society is articulated by Epstein who argues:

‘no aspect of social life — whether the gathering of crops, the ritual of religion, the formal dinner party, or the organisation of government — is free from the dichotomous thinking that casts the world in categories of “male” and “female”‘.[42]

Gender stereotypes are inherently political; they can be used as tools for manipulating power relations between men and women. They are naturalised within society through a process of reproduction and maintenance. To this end, gender stereotypes become ‘… self-fulfilling: if we expect certain behaviours, we may act in ways that in fact create and reinforce such behaviours’.[43]

Masculinities, as is the case with femininities for women, are socially constructed gender profiles under which men are categorised. However, they are not created equal. For men, there is ‘… a culturally preferred version that is held up as the model against which we [men] are to measure ourselves’.[44] The dominant model to which men must aspire is what Connell describes as hegemonic masculinity. It is a location within the male gender hierarchy that occupies the hegemonic, or top position.[45] However, hegemonic masculinity is not a fixed position, and occupying the position is contestable. Masculinity can be viewed as a social order that lends analysis and structure from Gramsci’s notion of class relations. As such, hegemonic masculinity retains the dominant position of social life, while other masculinities, such as homosexual masculinity,[46] and women are subordinated.[47] The current, and historical, occupier of this hegemonic position is traditional masculinity, which:

‘… refers to the stereotypical twentieth-century male-chauvinist outlook and activities resulting from the kinds of gender socialisation conventionally seen as appropriate to males in Western societies since at least the late Victorian times’.[48]

An example of how gender stereotypes are cultivated in society, and how hegemonic masculinity is highly valued, is in New Zealand where some schools are pressured to employ male teachers. The rationale for this is to preserve boys’ masculinity through the appointment of ‘real men’ teachers who exhibit characteristics consistent with hegemonic masculinity.[49]

Men who exhibit the traits of traditional masculinity are considered to possess hegemonic masculinity. In order to aspire to this social classification, there is a particular set of core features that a man must demonstrate. These include: power/strength, rationality, heterosexuality, risk-taking, dominance, leadership, control, and repression of emotions.[50] Given that identities, and indeed gender profiles, must be defined, reconstructed, and performed, it is argued that the construction of masculine identities by men is a conscious attempt to maintain their power within the gender hierarchy.[51] This may be true in some cases, however, to apply this universally is problematic. New contends that while ‘men are frequently the agents of the oppression of women, and in many cases benefit from it, their interests in the gender order are not pre-given but constructed by and within it’.[52] To achieve gender equality, it must be recognised that hegemonic masculinities can be altered, or even replaced, through the socialisation process from which they are initially constructed.

Public and private engagement with gender equality is scarce among males, which often obscures the issue and manifests dismissive attitudes. One of the main issues regarding gender equality is that men do not comprehensively understand how traditional masculinities disadvantage women. Many men are unaware they exist within socially constructed gender structures that disenfranchise subordinated gender profiles, and therefore do not recognise a problem.[53] Thus, engaging in discussion about gender equality is often a pointless experience for men who find it challenging to appreciate how entrenched the issue is in society. Fortunately, attitudes, and the gender profiles they are associated with, are subject to social construction and transformation. Christian argues that:

‘sexist attitudes and actions are currently an integral part of the dominant masculinity, but if masculinities are socially constructed by and for each generation of males growing up, rather than genetically inherited, then masculinities can change and sexism can in principle be eradicated’.[54]

However, social construction and indeed, deconstruction, is contingent upon the participation of relevant stakeholders. The supportive involvement of all those affected by gender is required to effect gender equality. In other words, the global community as a whole.

Worldwide, Plan International found three general categories for men’s attitudes towards gender equality: those who recognise gender inequality and seek to address it — the smallest group; those who acknowledge gender inequality but are afraid that empowering girls will come at the expense of boys; and, those who either do not perceive an imbalance, or do not believe in equal rights — the largest group.[55] The significance of this research highlights the overwhelming percentage of men who do not recognise a problem, or do not believe in equal opportunity. These attitudes present a considerable hurdle in reaching gender equality, as they are taught to children and carried on through the generations. A research program commissioned by Plan of over 4,000 adolescent children in different countries including the United Kingdom (UK), Rwanda, and India, found that: 83% of boys and 87% of girls in India and 67% of girls and 71% of boys in Rwanda agree with the statement ‘changing diapers, giving kids a bath and feeding kids are the mother’s responsibility’. More than 60% of participants agreed that ‘if resources are scarce it is better to educate a boy instead of a girl’ and 65% of children in Rwanda and India agreed that ‘a woman should tolerate violence in order to keep her family together’.[56] While this research was conducted among a limited sample, it highlights the startling reality of gender inequality and the continuity of male dominance.

One of the major principles of traditional masculinity that harms gender equality is that women are fundamentally inferior to men. This view can be traced back to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who based this claim on the principles of reason. He surmised that ‘masculinity was equated with the human rationality of men, and women were marked by sexuality, emotion, and their bodies’.[57] The notion that men are intellectually superior has already been disproved; however, what Aristotle articulates about women and their bodies remains relevant. According to the French feminist philosopher, Beauvoir, men consider humanity to be constructed in their image: ‘it is clear that in dreaming of himself as donor, liberator, redeemer, man still desires the subjection of women’.[58] This idea of male superiority and female inferiority is one that must be maintained by traditional masculinity if it is to occupy the hegemonic gender identity. Attitudes that stem from traditional masculinity, such as ‘… the notion that “real men” are tough and hard and that the only appropriate emotion for them to display is anger’,[59] present a significant barrier towards gender equality.

Due to the fact that traditional masculinity discourages the expression of emotion, men rarely discuss their feelings. Evidence of this is presented in the positive relationship between traditional masculinity and depression among male university students in the UK and United States. It was ‘… found that conformity to Western masculine norms in and of itself is a risk factor for developing depression’.[60] Men compound the issue of depression by aligning with traditional masculinity. Hanninen and Valkonen argue that the principles of masculinity inhibit the expression of weakness or emotional distress and the seeking of help to remedy it.[61] In addition, analysis into the individual accounts of men’s depression ‘… reveals how depression threatened a man’s masculine identity and how recovery presupposed reconstructing one’s self-image and masculinity’.[62] This identifies a lack of openness to change in traditional masculinity. In other words, traditional masculinity is not equipped to respond to challenges that threaten its integrity, such as depression (perceived as emotional weakness) and gender equality.

Changing or altering traditional masculinity should be more widely recognised as an important step towards realising gender equality. In light of this, some gender equality advocate groups around the world have identified the need to promote masculinities that are more conducive of change. MenEngage is a group for boys and men whose primary function is to advocate for equality between males and females.[63] To this end, they have identified that ‘… questioning men’s and women’s attitudes and expectations about gender roles is crucial to achieving gender equality’. Those who acknowledge the existence of gender equality, and seek to address it, agree that equality cannot progress without the contribution of males.[64] It is increasingly evident that the deconstruction of traditional masculinity presents a primary concern, as its uncompromising nature makes it less responsive to revolution.[65]

By encouraging males to become more open and discuss their masculinities, it is possible to educate them on how their social roles and responsibilities impact women. Developing male attitudes towards open acknowledgement of the gender profiles they operate within is an important step in reaching gender equality. The absence of such progress would only serve to maintain the ‘… disempowerment of girls and young women down the generations — and the restriction of boys and young men to traditional “male roles”’.[66] Efforts in this approach to gender equality have yielded that: according to the United Nations Population Fund, boys that grow up with positive male role models are found to be more critical towards negative gender stereotypes and inequalities; men who maintain a healthy engagement with their children are less inclined to be depressed, suicidal or violent; and, boys that have more engaging fathers are less inclined to exhibit risky sexual behaviour.[67] Latin American NGOs also found similar character traits in young men who supported gender equality. These similarities included: having a peer-group or group of friends that were more accepting of gender-equitable attitudes; having personally suffered the negative impacts of traditional masculinity such as domestic violence; and, having a positive adult role model that represented an alternative to traditional gender roles.[68] This indicates that positive, nurturing, and engaging character traits exhibited by males are constructive towards gender equality. Furthermore, this suggests that gender equality is achievable through the deconstruction of traditional masculinity as the hegemonic masculinity.

Male stereotypes affect the manner in which males engage with gender equality, and traditional masculinity acts as the dominant masculinity for men. Although different masculinities exist for men, the idea of traditional masculinity remains the most influential. Realising gender equality is difficult, because the fundamental characteristics exhibited by traditional masculinity defend against change. For global gender equality to progress, males must recognise themselves as fundamental actors and actively work to change the patriarchal structures, which benefit them to the exclusion of all others. Without the supportive contribution of males, gender equality is doomed to perpetuate existing power imbalances that favour traditional masculinity. To progress towards gender equality, efforts must be made to deconstruct traditional masculinity.


[1] R. W. Connell, Masculinities, 2nd ed. (Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2005), p. 67.

[2] M. Hughs and P. Paxton, Women, Politics, and Power: A Global Perspective, 2nd ed. (London: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2014), pp. 24-25.

[3] D. Zimmerman and C. West, ‘Doing Gender’, in A. Aronson and M.Kimmel (eds.), The Gendered Society Reader, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 122.

[4] V. S. Peterson and A. Runyan, Global Gender Issues (Oxford: Westview Press, 1993), p. 17.

[5] Zimmerman and West, op. cit. (2014), p. 122.

[6] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1993), p. 17.

[7] H. Christian, The Making of Anti-Sexist Men (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 6.

[8] M. Gatens, Feminism and Philosophy: Perspectives on Difference and Equality (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), p. 102.

[9] Connell, op. cit. (2005), pp. 8-9.

[10] D. Britzman, ‘Psychoanalytic Theory’, in Encyclopaedia of Curriculum Studies (Online: Sage Publications, Inc., 2010), p. 693.

[11] Gatens, op. cit. (1991), p. 103.

[12]S. Goldberg, ‘Feminism Against Science’, National Review, vol. 43, no. 21 (1991), p. 30.

[13] A. Moir and D. Jessel, Brain Sex: the real difference between men and women (London: Mandarin, 1997), p. 6.

[14] D. Halpern, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities, 4th ed. (New York: Psychology Press, 2012), pp. 97-98.

[15] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 21.

[16] J. Ashfield, The Making of a Man: reclaiming masculinity and manhood in the light of reason, 2nd ed. (Australia: Peacock Publications, 2004), p. 154.

[17] G. Wilson, The Great Sex Divide (Washington, D.C.: Scott-Townsend Publishers, 1992), p. 20.

[18] Ibid., p. 19.

[19] Ibid.

[20] G. Sharwell, ‘Review of Deceptive Distinctions: Sex, Gender, and the Social Order by Cynthia Fuchs Epstein; A Woman’s Wage: Historical Meanings and Social Consequences by Alice Kessler-Harris’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences, vol. 517 (1991), p. 229.

[21] D. Seligman, ‘Gender Mender’, Forbes (41998), available online: (accessed 22 October 2013).

[22] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 21.

[23] Halpern, op. cit. (2012), p. 96.

[24] Gatens, op. cit. (1991), p. 100.

[25] Halpern, op. cit. (2012), p. 96.

[26] N. Gaitanidis, ‘Benign Masculinity and Critical Reason’, Psychotherapy and Politics International, vol. 10, no. 3 (2012), p. 220.

[27] M. Kimmel, ‘Introduction’, in A. Aronson and M. Kimmel (eds.), The Gendered Society Reader, 5th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 1.

[28] Ibid, p. 2.

[29] World Bank, World Development Report 2012: Gender Equality and Development (Washington D.C.: The World Bank, 2012), p. 4.

[30] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1993), p. 18.

[31] R. Connell, Confronting equality: gender, knowledge and global change (UK: Polity Press, 2011), p. 15.

[32] J. Grossman and L. McClain (eds.), Gender Equality: Dimensions of Women’s Equal Citizenship (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), p. 1.

[33] J. Flax, ‘Gender Equality’, in M. Horowitz (ed.), New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005), p. 701.

[34] T. Parvikko, ‘Conceptions of Gender Equality: Similarity and Difference’, in E. Meehan and S. Sevenhuijsen (eds.), Equality Politics and Gender (London: SAGE Publications, Inc., 1991), p. 36.

[35] C. Bacchi, ‘Review of Promblematizing “Gender Equality” by Magnusson, Eva, Malin Ronnblom and Harriet Silius, eds,’ Nordic Journal of Feminist and Gender Research, vol. 17, no. 4 (2009), p. 304.

[36] Parvikko, op. cit. (1991), p. 48.

[37] World Bank, op. cit. (2012), p. 4.

[38] Connell, op. cit. (2011), p. 17.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Department of Social Services, ‘Background Paper: ‘The role of men and boys in gender equality’ (2013), available online: (accessed 21 October 2013).

[41] Peterson and Runyan, op. cit. (1994), p. 21.

[42] C. Epstein, Deceptive Distinctions (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), p. 232.

[43] Peterson and Yunyan, op. cit. (1994), p. 22.

[44] Kimmel, op. cit. (2014), p. 4.

[45] Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 76.

[46] Homosexual masculinity is considered to be a gender profile that is subordinated in relation to the hegemonic masculinity. — R. Connell, ‘A Very Straight Gay: Masculinity, Homosexual Experience, and the Dynamics of Gender’, American Sociological Review, vol. 57, no. 6 (1992), p. 735-737.

[47] Christian, op. cit. (1994), p. 7; and Connell, op. cit. (2005), p. 77.

[48] Christian, op. cit. (1994), p. 7.

[49] J. Clarke and P. Cushman, ‘Masculinities and Femininities: Student-Teachers Changing Perceptions of Gender Advantages and Disadvantages in the New Zealand Primary School Environment’, in J. Aston and E. Vasquez (eds.), Masculinity and Femininity: Stereotypes/myths, Psychology and Role of Culture (New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc., 2013), p. 2.

[50] H. Mansfield, Manliness (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 23; and Clarke and Cushman, op. cit. (2013), p. 2.

[51] D. Collison and J. Hearn. 1996. ‘”Men” at “work”: multiple masculinities/multiple workplaces’, in M. Mac an Ghaill (ed.), Understanding Masculinities: Social Relations and Cultural Arenas (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1996), p. 65.

[52] New as quoted in O. G. Holter, ‘Social Theories for Researching Men and Masculinities: Direct Gender Hierarchy and Structural Inequality’, in R.W. Connell, J. Hearn and M. Kimmel (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 15.

[53] Department of Social Services, op. cit. (2013).

[54] Christian, op. cit. (1994), pp. 7-8.

[55] IRIN, ‘Gender Equality: Why involving men is crucial’ (2011), available online: (accessed 18 October 2013).

[56] Plan, Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2011 – So, what about boys? (Plan International, 2011), p. 3.

[57] J. Gardner, ‘Men, Masculinities, and Feminist Theory’, in R.W. Connell, J. Hearn and M. Kimmel (eds.), Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 36.

[58] S. de Beauvoir and H. Parshley (trans. ed.), The Second Sex (New York: Bantam Books, 1968), p. 172.

[59] Plan, op. cit. (2011), p. 4.

[60] J. Oliffe et al., 2010. ‘Masculinities and college men’s depression: Recursive relationships’, Health Sociology Review, vol. 19, no. 4 (2010), p. 466.

[61] V. Hanninen and J. Valkonen, ‘Narratives of Masculinity and Depression’, Men and Masculinities, vol. 16 (2012), p. 161.

[62] Ibid, pp. 161-162.

[63] MenEngage, ‘What we believe’ (2008), available online: (accessed 20 October 2013).

[64] Ibid.

[65] Mansfield, op. cit. (2006), pp. 31-32.

[66] IRIN, op. cit. (2011).

[67] Plan, op. cit. (2012), p. 4.

[68] V. Fonseca et al., ‘Program H and Program M: Engaging young men and empowering young women to promote gender equality and health’ (2010), available online: (accessed 21 October 2013).

Written by: Aydon Edwards
Written at: University of Queensland
Written for: Dr. Samid Suliman
Date written: November 2013