There are only two sexes, male and female – not one, not three – and this is one of the brute facts of the universe. The existence of two sexes, a biological differentiation, results in what is also one of the most important kinds of social differentiation.
In no society males and females do the same things, occupy the same statuses, share identical interests, conform to the same norms, or aspire to the same kinds of achievement. All societies canalise the conduct of the sexes in different directions, just as they signalise the difference by the distinction in dress.
No society treats its men and its women exactly alike. In all societies they think differently, and do different kinds of work. Some writers have even spoken of ‘male culture’ and ‘female culture’ to denote their diverse way of life. In any event, it is certain that the biological fact of sexual differentiations has manifold social consequences.
Sexual Differentiation is Cultural Also. It is wrong to presume that sexual differentiation is basically a biological and not a cultural one. It is cultural also. The male is not the dominant sex everywhere. There are communities wherein female is the dominant sex. In such communities women initiate sexual behaviour.
They are the aggressors in courtship and they only make the marital decisions. In such communities prostitution is a male and not a female institution. If we are male, our society bends our conduct in one way; if we are female, in another. How much of this difference is due to nature, how much to culture? This question is answered differently by different thinkers.
Women – The Weaker Sex? The general belief everywhere is that man is the dominant sex and the woman is the weaker sex. The woman is called the second sex. The philosopher Nietzsche regarded women as the ‘God’s second mistake’.
Robert Bierstedt writes: ‘In all societies it is woman who has been subject and slave; man who has been ruler and master. Woman is vessal, receptacle, and utensil. She is conquered, subdued, vanquished, in sexual encounter as in life. Man takes, woman gives; man acts, woman waits’.
Plato thanked God for he had been born free and not a slave and that he were a man and not a woman. St. Paul concluded that “the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman: but the woman for the man”.
It is significant to note that women have greater immunity to diseases than men. The rate of infant mortality is comparatively less in women than in men. In a way, man is a weaker sex.
The general belief is that men are more intelligent and do greater achievements than women. Robert Bierstedt writes that ‘men of genuine distinction appear in positive profusion in comparison with women of distinction’.
Margaret Mead writes: ‘A woman’s life is punctuated by a series of specific events: the beginning of physical maturity…., the end of virginity, pregnancy and birth, and finally, the menopause…. Sex in its whole meaning, from courtship through parenthood, means more to women than it does to men’. ‘Indeed, a woman is always reminded that ‘A woman can never forget her sex’.
All societies differentiate their members on the ground of age also. In no society the same norms govern the behaviour of the very young, the very old and the adult members in the same way. Age, as a biological factor contributes to social differentiation. It distributes privileges and responsibilities, rights and duties, in terms of separate statuses.
Age statuses, like sex statuses, are ascribed and not achieved. In almost all the societies the following age groups are recognised: 1. Infancy, 2. Childhood, 3. Adolescence, 4. Adulthood, and 5. Old Age. In some societies, the unborn and the dead individuals are also given some importance.
Age stratification or age grading is here in all the societies. Thus one has to attain a certain age in order to go to school, to join a church, to be considered responsible (or a ‘major’) in a court of law, to sign a valid contract, to be guilty of a crime, to vote, to marry, to earn a commission in the armed services, to sit in the Parliament, and so on through an entire roster of abilities and disabilities.
We expect people to conform to the norms attached to their age statuses. We become surprised and sometimes shocked when deviations take place from this. When an old man marries a young woman, for example, or vice versa, we tend to respond with some discomfort. It becomes the ‘new’, it may become even scandal.
Age and Social Expectations:
Further, our social expectations are also woven around different ages. We do not expect college students to be in their fifties, their professors in their teens. Workers may not like to have a ‘boss’ who is considerably younger to them.
Definitely, certain ages are right for certain activities and wrong for others. We expect people to occupy certain statuses at definite stages in their lives. Seniority is a factor in all associational life, whether in business, the army, the university, or elsewhere.
Finally, people who associate with one another informally also tend to segregate themselves in terms of age. For the very young, a difference of a year to two is a very large difference.
In a college a final year student, i.e., a senior student may not like to have close friendship with the fresh students. Later on, differences in age of ten years or more may seem very little. Outside of families, intimacies rarely develop among people of different generations.
The factor of age is rarely neglected in social intercourse. Neither can it be ignored in sociology. ‘Like sex differentiation, it (age) is one of the ties that bind people together as well as one of the barriers that keep them apart ‘.-Robert Bierstedt.
Age and sex differences are no doubt obvious foundations of specialisation everywhere. So too different occupations create conditions for variation in roles and statuses. At the same time, they foster interdependence also. An occupation is more than simply a way of earning money. It is an index and symbol of the style that people live and the level of prestige that is accorded to them by others.
The concept of ‘occupation’ is more or less appropriate for most modern industrialised societies. But it is less appropriate in many primitive and traditionalistic societies. In every society there is some degree for role differentiation according to function, whether this differentiation is ‘occupational’ or not. It is significant to note that occupation is the most used measure of class system.
One of the best-known attempts to rank occupations in the U.S.A. was made by P.K. Hatt and C.C. North. In this test a nationwide sample of adults was asked to rate ninety occupations in accordance with prestige [associated with each occupation].
Thus, ‘physician’ with the highest prestige occupation, and ‘shoe shiner’ was the lowest. In between these came the other professional occupations, clerical and sales occupations, skilled and unskilled workers, etc.
Occupation and Prestige:
There is no doubt that occupations are related to social status in advanced industrial societies. People in those societies perceive the prestige differences between occupations.
Two factors seem to account for greater prestige of some occupations: (i) The functional importance of an occupation to the social system in which it is rated: and (ii) the scarcity of personnel for the occupation relative to demand.
For example, the occupation of physicians is associated with higher prestige in many societies because of its importance and the scarcity of the physicians to meet societies’ actual needs.
Income is a factor in occupational prestige but it is not only factor. One of the tests conducted in U.S.A. has revealed that the majority of people rate occupational prestige not on the basis of money but on something else. It is found that factors such as responsibility for public welfare and highly specialised training influence the prestige of an occupation to a great extent.
Occupational statuses are often symbolised by various kinds of costume. These vary all the way from the complete uniform to a distinctive kind of cap or hat. Policemen, priests and soldiers are, for example, easily distinguishable by differences in dress.
In hospitals the white uniforms of the doctors and nurses prevent them from being mistaken for patients and visitors. Briefcases are status symbols for sales representatives, diplomats, professors and attorneys. Rank within an occupation, moreover, may also be designated by differences in dress and badges [as it is in the case of the army].
In the modern industrial societies the occupational roles are more complex and the functional expectations are more specifically stated. Occupations or jobs are ranked in terms of number of criteria such as education-qualifications, higher intelligence and skill, experience and difficulty of performance.