Class and gender are two separate but related concepts in the sociological analysis and understanding of inequality and oppression in society. A definition of class is "A group of individuals ranked together as possessing common characteristics; as, the different classes of society; the educated class; the lower classes." (Definition of class)
According to the sociologist Max Weber class is defined in relation to the way that goods and services are distributed or allocated in a society.
All communities are arranged in a manner that goods, tangible and intangible, symbolic and material are distributed. Such a distribution is always unequal and necessarily involves power. "Classes, status groups and parties are phenomena of the distribution of power within a community."
(MAX WEBER: Basic Terms)
Class therefore refers to the categories in a society of those who have access to wealth and privilege and those who do not. Class is also linked to social status and standing. Those with greater access to services and assets in the society are seen as having a higher social status and class than others. Class structures are therefore the way that a society is divided or stratified. Class structures were the central focus of the Marxist view of society. This view states that society is controlled by an elite class which is small in number but which has access to most of the services and assets; while the rest of the society is relatively poor. Therefore inequality or access to opportunity and the wealth of a society is a central aspectof social class and the divisions in society. From a Marxist and socialist point-of-view, class is an oppressive system where small segments of society -- the "upper" classes -- have all the wealth and power in that society.
Gender is also a term that has been associated with oppression and inequality in society. Similarly to class, gender differences and disparities are also related to differences in the access to position and assets in a society. The concept of gender is actually a neutral term, referring simply to the differences in sex in the society. However, it is also associated with various forms of oppression in society, as most societies have different roles for men and women and many societies been relegated women to an inferior status.
Both gender and class are therefore viewed as concepts that describe inequalities and forms of oppression in a society. Many sociological analyses of society stress the relationship between these forms of inequality and oppression. For examples, one of the central issues in terms of Marxist analysis is power and privilege, as well as conflict within society on the basis of class and gender and race. In other words these inequalities and social disparities lead to conditions that create oppression and conflict within society.
2. Oppression and inequality.
In sociological and economic terms, inequality refers to the unequal distribution of wealth and resources in a society. Inequality is therefore a form of oppression as it leads to the economic, social and psychological denial of the rightful and fair share of opportunities and happiness within the society. The unequal distribution of goods and services is a particular social system is, in Marxist theory, a result of class structure and the division between the owners of production and the workers. Other sociological theories of inequality emphasize the stratified nature of society as a cause of the unequal distribution of wealth, goods and services within Capitalist Society. The following is a working definition of social inequality:
Social inequality refers to economic and social disparities in a population in terms of various indicators such as income, wealth, education, occupation, social class, and deprivation. These indicators are often encompassed under the theoretical concepts of "social stratification" and "social class."
(Cohen, C.I. 2002)
Classical Marxist theory for example, sees Capitalist society made up of the "have and have not's." In essence, Marxist theory posits that the society is in continual conflict between the producers of goods or workers and the owners of the means of production. In terms of this theory the unequal distribution of goods and services is the essence of modern capitalist society which results in ongoing conflict between the different classes and between those who hold power and those who do not.
There are many factors which can contribute to social inequality, such as racial and gender issues, which are seen to have the potential to create false inequalities within the class and economic structures of society. All of these forms of social inequality have a profound impact on health and the allocation of resources, services and provisions in a society.
3. Ideology and alienation
Oppression in society takes many forms. While there are more obvious forms of oppression such as economic and political oppression, some of the worst forms of oppression are those that are caused by unfair and incorrect ideas, images or stereotypes of others. The oppression of ideas or ideologies is possibly one of the worst denials of personal freedom and individuality.
Ideology refers to the way in which reality is represented. The re-presentation of reality through certain cultural and sociological perspectives constitutes the ideological framework of that society and period. In some sociological theories, the concept of ideology is used specifically to refer to the distorted and often partial views of reality practiced by the upper and middle classes or bourgeoisie. In this view ideology is essentially used as a method to enslave the workers according to the ideology or world-view of the bourgeoisie. This is achieved by hiding and distorting the true nature of oppression and exploitation.
Another important concept that stems from the idea of representation and ideology is the concept of reification. Reification refers to the dehumanization of human identity and relationships though the representation of human relationships as a relationship between things. The process of reification is one which denies the innate humanity of people. It is in effect a kind of falsification and destruction of healthy human relationships and perceptions of reality. This form of oppression leads to a psychological of alienation. This form of oppression will be discussed in relation to the stereotypical image of women in society.
The concept of alienation is a central aspect in the critique of society and societal oppression. Exploited men and women are alienated in a Capitalistic mode of production from the product of his or her labor. This is alienation not only from the product but also from the individual's true human nature and from the environment. In other words, he or she has no control over the conditions and parameters of existence. In the ideology of the dominant class, the person becomes or is represented as a depersonalized element of the industrial machine. This is a central theme in many contemporary works of literature
Gender, class and oppression
The oppression of women in society is seen by many sociological theorists as a related to class divisions and generally to the way that society is structured in terms of different categories or 'classes' of people.
The root of women's oppression lies not in biology, but in social conditions. While feminists blame men for all the ills of women, Marxism sees the liberation of working class women as a part of the struggle for the liberation of the working class as a whole. "
(Sewell R. 2001)
Therefore, the oppression that arises from gender discrimination and particularly the discrimination against women, is related to the categories and make-up of society, and cannot just be linked to ideas of male dominance. The following quotation expresses the relationship between gender and class oppression, which is particularly evident in third world counties.
The oppression of women in the third world has reached abominable levels. It is accompanied by child prostitution, bonded-labour and slavery ....Recently, an Iranian Islamic court found a woman guilty of adultery. For this heinous crime, she was sentenced to death by stoning. Here, in its most cruel and brutal form, is reflected the worse features of class society. In the 'civilised' west, working class women are treated as second-class citizens, many of who are forced into the menial jobs on poor wages. Despite equal pay legislation, employers still continue to discriminate against women in terms of pay and conditions.
The caste system in India is an example of the intersection between gender and class, where women are oppressed not only because of their gender, but because they belong to a certain caste or class.
The concept of alienation in the class structure of society also relates to the reality of gender. Gender roles which are promoted and enforced by society are in fact a form of oppression that denies the freedom of the individual. A subtle form of oppression is the denial of self-esteem and a sense of worth, especially in younger children. This form of oppression is particularly prevalent among the youth in western and more industrialized counties.
Gender differences, particularly among females, often make themselves felt from an early age.…