Women’s Equality Day (August 26) commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote in the United States. This year marks the 95th anniversary of the historic event. In the near century since this law passed, how much have women’s rights changed? Take a look at some sociologists’ views on women and society, and ask yourself . . . do you think they are true?
“The declaration of independence bears no relation to half the human race.” —Harriet Martineau (1802–1876)
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was established on the principle of equal rights for all. Martineau highlighted the hypocrisy of a society that prided itself on liberty, yet continued to oppress women.
“White women have been complicit in this imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.” —bell hooks (1952– )
“Women are not passive victims of oppressive structures. They have struggled to change both their immediate circumstances and the wider social structures.” —Sylvia Walby (1953– )
In the 1990s Walby argued that the concept of patriarchy is a system of social structures and practices in which men dominate, oppress, and exploit women. The structure is made up of the family household, paid work, the state, male violence, sexuality, and cultural institution.
“Women make a resource out of feeling and offer it to men.” —Arlie Russell Hochschild (1940– )
Since the 1960s, increasing numbers of women have entered into the workforce, with many joining the service industry. For Hochschild this is not necessarily a positive development; she claims that women are more inclined to make a resource out of feeling, which they in turn sell back to men. The negative effect of this is that women often are more emotionally prone to burnout, leading to feelings of estrangement and alienation.
“Differences between the sexes are cultural creations.” —Margaret Mead (1901–1978)
Mead believed that gender is not based on biological differences between the sexes, but rather reflects the cultural conditioning of different societies. After researching non-Western civilizations in the 1930s and 1940s, she claimed that US society expressed gender and sexuality in ways that restricted both men and women through a series of punishments and rewards that encouraged gender conformity.
“Women’s domesticity is a circle of learned deprivation and induced subjugation.” —Ann Oakley (1944– )
Sociologist and feminist Ann Oakley’s studies reveal that women report feelings of alienation from their work. This is due in part to their sense of social isolation as housewives—many of them had careers before marriage, which they subsequently gave up, preventing them from reaching their full potential. Oakley’s findings remain significant today as others have shown that forty years later, women are still doing most of the housework, despite engaging more in paid employment.
Learn more about women and society, plus other sociological theories in the completely digestible and intriguing The Sociology Book, which explains more than eighty groundbreaking ideas from the key thinkers in the field.