Ideologies and Their Influence on Gender Constructs

Image: Richard Dunstan
Image: Richard Dunstan

As a basic premise, we should understand that gender constructs do not exist in a vacuum. They become prevalent, instead, through the spread of ideologies by means of intellectual influence, social pressure, and sometimes even institutional force. We have seen the pendulum swing both ways throughout history, as Nancy Bonvillain explains, with patriarchal ideologies resulting in certain constructs and more socialized ideologies resulting in others (Bonvillain 278). When the ideals of gender equality and egalitarianism were articulated in an economic sense by individuals like Karl Marx and John Maynard Keynes, they were not necessarily speaking objective truths. Their conclusions were based largely on their desires to implement a counter-ideal. Put differently, the demands and expectations that are produced out of any ideology should not be viewed as automatically correct by anyone. Rather, they must be proven to be so through careful, critical analysis of its theoretical foundations and logical outcomes.

Although a non-egalitarian himself, libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard nevertheless provides some balanced insight in his work Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature. Rothbard affirms that he would “not go so far as the extreme male ‘sexists’ who contend that women should confine themselves to the home… that any search for alternative careers is unnatural.” Neither, though, could he find a great deal of support “for the opposite contention that domestic-type women are violating their natures” (Rothbard 162-3).

In principle, a gender egalitarian considers one sex to be just as fundamentally equal to and as capable as the other; to seek the implementation of this belief through societal and political influence, of course, is another matter entirely. As one example, a political egalitarian would—as a result of his or her ideology—demand to see a basically equal number of males and females within white-collar professions. But this warrants some caution on our part. Is such a demand not merely begging the question? Even if a society were able to equalize the number of male and female CEOs, it would not necessarily demonstrate that females were objectively more oppressed in the past. It could be just as true that most females previously had no desire to be CEOs; now, however, they are being pressured to go into such a profession because of new societal and ideological expectations. In similar ways, it is disingenuous for one to observe a lower average income among women and automatically assume discrimination as being the cause. In the first place, as Rothbard argues, there is the simple fact that “the overwhelming majority of women work a few years and then take a large chunk of their productive years to raise children, after which they may or may not decide to return to the labor force” (Rothbard 159-60). Because of this, great deals of civilized women have always had a propensity to seek out jobs, if they even do, which offer that kind of flexibility. This is the same flipside of socialized ideological bias that Bonvillain discusses, which after World War II had become focused on eliminating perceived gender inequities by encouraging both sexes “to want to do different kinds of work” (Bonvillain 278). As a result of this new ideology, understandably, females found themselves participating to a greater extent in the workplace.

Substituting one ideology for another, though, does not necessarily ensure positive outcomes. Even non-patriarchal ideologies can have unintended, detrimental effects on society. By creating a significant change in society’s expectations, one negative result of the ideological pressure of egalitarianism might be women wholly abandoning the pursuit of bearing, nurturing, and raising children. This would inevitably cause declines in population, just as we have seen in recent years with young women in Japan, who are leaving motherhood and even committed relationships behind for professional opportunities. There, the population is expected to decrease to one-third of its present number by the year 2060 (Hanrahan). From a sociological perspective, it is difficult to imagine how any society abandoning those roles which are exclusive to the female sex (esp. childbearing) would be able to sustain a growing population for very long. If anything, adoption might be able to make up for this lack for at least a limited number of years. Regardless, however—with such a large-scale forsaking of motherhood for pursuits like full-time careers—it is unquestionable that something as basic as childbirth would see significant decline in such a scenario.

Works Cited

Bonvillain, Nancy. Cultural Anthropology. 3rd ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Hanrahan, Mark. “Japan Population Decline: Third Of Nation’s Youth Have ‘No Interest’ In Sex.” Huffington Post. N.p., 31 Jan 2012. Web. 8 Oct 2012.

Rothbard, Murray N. Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays. 2nd ed. Auburn, AL: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2000. Print.

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