Structural Inequality

Kendra Carson

What is inequality?

As Judith Lorber says, gender is a process and a structure. It is a paradigm through which we experience our world and that stratifies us into two groups: the “unmarked” or default gender and the “other” “marked” one.

One great illustration of how this idea bleeds into many aspects of life is made by linguist Deborah Tannen in her essay, “There Is No Unmarked Woman” (link at the bottom of post). Tannen delves into the ways in which every decision a woman makes carries weight in her representation in society, while men often have the option of making an unmarked choice (think simply of the deliberation a woman goes through to dress in “business casual”).

In her Introduction to The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir asserts that “woman has always been man’s dependent, if not his slave: the two sexes have never shared the world equally” (35). However, the inequality present in our structure is also harmful to the unmarked gender as its strictness can apply unnecessary pressures on men as well. Thus inequality is harmful to all though a mode of oppression for the marked.

Finally, my favorite explanation of what inequality is comes from Gloria Steinem. “It starts when you’re a little girl [looking at the world] and something inside you says ‘that’s not fair.'”

1. Beauvoir, Simone De. “The Second Sex: Introduction.” Introduction. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf, 1953. 32-40. Print.
2. Lorber, Judith. “The Social Construction of Gender.” Reconstructing Gender: A Multicultural Anthology. By Estelle Disch. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006. 113-20. Print.
“Marked Women, Unmarked Men” by Deborah Tannen: http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/tannend/nyt062093.htm
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