Feminism and Equality of Opportunity
- AQA, Edexcel, IB
Last updated 26 May 2019
As one might expect, feminists are highly supportive of equal opportunities to combat the problem of sexist attitudes towards women. This is most commonly associated with the liberal strand of feminism.
Equality of opportunity is a highly generic term within political ideology that refers to policies and schemes designed to improve life chances to everyone regardless of their social background. Equal opportunities thereby occur when we are provided with an even chance in life regardless of gender (or ethnicity, social class, age, sexuality, disability and religion). In terms of ideology, liberalism is most commonly associated with policies to enhance equality of opportunity.
There is a wide body of official statistics confirming that women are denied equal opportunities to men. Along with issues such as the glass ceiling and the pay gap, another barrier that faces many women within the workplace is the motherhood penalty. This refers to the considerable financial penalties suffered by working mothers. This includes being passed over for promotion, coerced into taking a job below their pay grade when returning to work or simply being ‘forced out’ of the workplace after pregnancy. The long-hours culture also acts as a deterrent to working mothers, and the pay and grading system often devalues ‘soft skills’ largely associated with feminine values.
In the private realm, one might also consider the double (or even triple) burden that faces millions of women. This refers to the uneven burden of responsibility that women face in terms of housework, paid work and what sociologists call emotion work when caring for children and elderly relatives. The uneven division of domestic labour is a major barrier towards female emancipation and one that prevents women from gaining an equal chance in life.
In the political realm, there is also a revealing double standard to consider between the genders. For instance, female politicians without a child of their own often face a level of criticism and commentary that their male counterparts never face. Interestingly, such criticism may well derive from other women (as in the case of Angela Leadsom against Theresa May during the short-lived Tory leadership campaign of 2016). Female politicians must also face a greater level of scrutiny over their appearance and – on a more serious level – face threats of a physical and sexual nature. It seems reasonable to conclude that such barriers prevent ambitious women from entering a political arena which may well seem rigged against them.