An Essay on Which Matters More in the Shaping of One’s life: Social Class or Gender?
The influential criteria of occupational stratifications differ from one society to another depending on its culture. If we ask two people, one living in America and the other in Palestine, whether their genders or their social classes have a deeper impact on their lives, their answers will conflict. The social class that an individual belongs to unquestionably affects the shaping of her or his life. Social class is associated with economic status. The higher a person’s social class is, the more potentials and education and work opportunities are available for that person, regardless of gender. However, I think in an eastern society like Palestine, gender has a greater influence on one’s life than social class.
In previous centuries, almost all societies were patriarchal ones in which men were the dominant power and women were seen as “insignificant other”. The stereotype was that men were to work outside, while women were to be housewives and work at home. They played almost no role in the labor force. Women suffered from a degrading view everywhere, so that many of them believed they were inferior to men. They had little or no voice in their political, economic, and social issues of their societies. Women had difficulty even expressing their voices. Female writers had to use masculine pen names to express themselves and to have their voices heard, such as Mary Anne Evans, who wrote as George Eliot.
However, times have changed. In World War I, women filled men’s roles in society. The hardships which forced them to depend on themselves to earn incomes for their families made them realize their inner strengths and abilities. In advanced western societies like America, gender matters less than social class does nowadays. Men and women are almost equal in rights. Thanks to the feminist movement, the woman’s status has been upgraded. She has become an affective member of society, not an inferior to the man as previously depicted. But still, even in modern societies, women are found in the upper occupational stratifications much less than men.
Therefore, I personally think the gap between classes in modern societies is greater. There have been more advances made in terms of gender equality than class equality. A poor man faces the same obstacles that a poor woman faces due to the social class that they were born into. When I was in America, I saw female taxi drivers as well as male taxi ones. I saw policewomen just like I saw policemen. But I also saw women in very high positions in the university and the State Department. The only thing that a woman has not become in America is a president of the United States. But when I think about what made one woman a taxi driver and what made the other a minister, I find one reason: their social classes. The female minister must have been raised in a higher social class that could afford to educate her to the highest levels, which contributed to making her qualified enough to be a minister. But the female taxi driver was not as lucky when she was born into a lower social class that suffered economical problems.
It is important to remember that there is still some discrimination against women, even in “advanced” societies like America. There is a lot of social pressure on women to meet an ideal model, that is impossible to meet, in terms of appearance. When it comes to men, they face none of this social pressure. For example, the woman’s appearance is considered as one of her qualifications. The prettier woman has more potential to be considered for a job opportunity than a woman who is less attractive but has more occupational qualifications. Moreover, a man is paid more than a woman in the same job. Apart from that, women’s bodies are used as a commodity and sex object to sell products, ignoring their intelligence.
In eastern societies, women are becoming more aware of their rights and their abilities to be as effective members of society as men. However, in many ways, women are still seen as extensions of men or inferiors due to cultural reasons, not to religious ones as claimed by many people. The rate of working women is notably less than that of working men. Moreover, men usually occupy the highest occupational stratifications. Few women are ministers, managers, or even doctors.
Many Palestinian men think that they are superior and would feel ashamed if their wives were more educated or had higher positions. For this reason, researchers report many cases of oppression and violence committed by men.
In Palestine, women tend to stay at home regardless of the social class to which they belong. In the rich families in Palestine, educated women tend to be dependent on men and enjoy lavish lives without having to work and earn their own incomes. However, in the poor families, women suffer hard conditions with fewer opportunities for education. And if they want to work, they seek crafts like being either hairdressers or seamstresses.
The types of work that is available for women are more limited as well as the places of occupation. When a young women graduates from her high school and decides to attend university, she usually encounters many obstacles. Her father might not allow her to go to university for financial reasons. Even if her father can afford to pay her university expenses, he will influence her decision of what specialization to undertake. My mother studied nursing. But she always describes how society considers nursing as an inappropriate specialization for women to study for cultural reasons. Female secretaries and doctors suffer the same degrading view of the society. It is not as bad as it was couple of decades ago though.
In our societies, in many families where women can continue their university studies, they tend to become only teachers. When my elder sister graduated from school, she wanted to become a journalist. However, my father recommended that she study mathematics. He did not force her, but he insisted, thinking so much of the social acceptance of women as teachers rather than journalists, that she eventually agreed. But she wanted so badly to study journalism. After studying one year of mathematics, she realized that she could not see herself in that position, where she could never be as creative as she wished. Thus she changed her specialization. Thankfully, we have an open-minded father who has respected her wish. What happened with my sister repeats itself thousands of times in our society but fathers who respect their daughters’ decisions are rare.
Many men still think that women have been created to be merely wives. Their understanding of a wife is someone whose responsibility is to satisfy their husbands’ sexual desire, deliver and bring up children, and do the housework. “Your certificate will eventually hang on your kitchen’s wall” is a sentence that I often hear people address to women. Palestinian fathers tend to be more willing to pay for their sons to further their studies, as their sons can eventually work and contribute to making money for their families. Contrastingly, they believe that it is pointless to pay for their daughters to study, as they will eventually marry and leave the house.
Over recent years in Palestine, the way society looks upon working women has differed from the times of economic difficulty to the times of relief. When Palestinians were allowed to work in Israel, it was socially acceptable for women to join the labor force in Israel during times of economic difficulty. My grandmother worked in an Israeli hospital at that time. However, in better economic conditions, the same behavior was considered as “shameful”. My grandmother said that she retired because of social pressure. However, it’s obvious that the status of women in our societies is getting better. More women are pursuing education, and working women have become more respected.
The role that women and men play in each society depends on the social, cultural, political, economical, and religious factors surrounding them. Those factors differ from one society to another and sometimes from one area to another in the same country. Therefore, it is hard to make a generalization about whether social class or gender matters more in the shaping of one’s life. But hopefully, in today’s world, all societies will move towards increasing equality in both spheres.
P.S: This is an assignment I did for my Literary Criticism class at university. That’s why it is very formal.