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Gender and Ethnicity

According to the United Nations Report women constitute half the world's population and perform nearly 2/3 of its work hours, receive 1/10 of the world's income and own less than 1/100 th of the world's property. According to Helen Mayer Hacker a minority group is any group of people who because of their physical and cultural characteristics are singled out from others in the society which they live for differential and unequal treatment and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.

By comparing the situations of American Blacks and women Hacker indicates some of the advantages of classifying women as minority group. Firstly both groups have high social visibility for blacks in terms of their racial characteristics and to some extent their styles of dress, women in terms of their sexual characteristics and feminine clothes. Other scholars disagree with this statement. Anthony Giddens states that it seems a little contradictory to term what could consist the majority of the population a minority group. He writes that we sometimes hear the phrase women and other minorities in discussion of inequalities in the western world although women form over half the population. It seems least likely to confuse us if we use the term minority group only where the people discriminated against do not make up the bulk of the populace.

Giddens emphasized that the notion of ethnic minorities or minority groups so widely used in sociology involves more than mere numbers. He says that however this notion will not hold true for the women. The three features of a minority group would be – its members are disadvantaged as a result of discrimination against them by others. Discrimination exists when rights and opportunities open to one set of people are denied to another group. Members of the minority have some sense of group solidarity of belonging together. Experience of being the subject of prejudice and discrimination usually heightens feelings of common loyalty and interests. Members of minority groups often tend to see themselves as a people apart from the majority. Minority groups are usually to some degree physically and socially isolated from the larger community. They tend to be concentrated in certain neighborhoods, cities or regions of a country. People in the minority group might actively promote endogamy in order to keep alive their cultural distinctiveness.

While the form and intensity of discrimination varies widely it would not be wrong to state that in all societies women are disadvantaged in relation to men. Matrilineal societies like the Khasis are often cited to rebuff the idea that women in all societies are discriminated. Recent writings have shown how even among a matrilineal society like Khasis control of property and decision-making within the family often resides with the male head the brother. Despite differences in a very important sense ethnic groups and women are marginal in decision making, less powerful, less visible and more often than not prejudiced against.

The importance of logical distinctions not withstanding differences is hierarchized. Both ethnic minorities and women face a great deal of antagonism, prejudices and discrimination. Prejudice operates mainly through the use of stereotypical thinking. Both women and ethnic groups have high visibility. They look different. A woman is supposed to shorter than man, weaker but also dress, walk, speak, gesticulate differently. Both the ethnic minority and women are also attributed with other qualities that are not obvious. Anthony Giddens writes that the word sex as used in ordinary language is ambiguous referring to both to a category of person and to acts which people engage. We must separate these two terms .We can distinguish sex meaning biological or anatomical differences between women and men from sexual activity. We need to make a further important distinction between sex and gender. While sex refers to physical differences of the body, gender concerns the psychological, social and cultural differences between males and females. For Giddens ethnicity refers to cultural practices and outlook that distinguishes a given community of people. Members of ethnic groups see themselves as culturally distinct from other groupings in a society. Many different characteristics may serve to distinguish ethnic groups from one another but the most usual are language, history or ancestry, religion and styles of dress.

In both the case of women and ethnic minority the tendency of the dominant sections of the society is to attribute qualities as naturally given biologically endowed. It is also important to state that the ethnic group in question or women are compliant in accepting a self-definition socially on them. The feminist scholars have argued that gender is a set of performances. From a time we are born a baby leans how to perform in the right gendered manner. They have also argued that the gendered differences are arbitrary and often what is considered male and what is considered female behavior vary widely both across cultures and time. The important fact is that gender is a social construct and a natural given. The same is true for ethnic group. Black is different from white. It seems a natural and self-evident fact. But the meaning that we give black and white is social.

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