Throughout history, women have made up a sort of “minority” in the world’s many societies. They have been looked upon as property to husbands and fathers. Their place was deemed the male’s home. Women were to provide services to men, ranging from carrying an heir (hopefully a male) to providing a clean home and cooked meals. Women in high-income nations still continue to face challenges because of their gender, and those in low-income nations often remain thought of as property. From a symbolic interactionist perspective, gender is an issue that is based on many underlying historical concepts, and it continues to contribute to world-wide poverty.
As symbolic interactionists view social problems using a microlevel perspective, they see that gender roles are learned behaviors taught by individual socializing agents in each society. Parents immediately begin teaching their children what it is to be a male or female in how they treat their sons and daughters. For example, parents are more likely to play rough with their sons, who are often dressed in clothes pertaining to superheroes. This teaches the young male that strength, athletic ability, and courage are “desirable.” He might then try to epitomize this throughout his lifetime. On the other side, a daughter is often dressed in frilly outfits depicting maidens in distress (Cinderella, for example), and they are usually kept inside from getting dirty to learn homemaking skills. Throughout their lifetime, then, they will remember what it is to be a female according to their parents. Thus, from birth, children are subjected to differing gender roles within a society.
Symbolic interactionists also see that gender roles could be taught with something as seemingly insignificant as communication. Linguistic sexism, which is patterns of communication that degrade a particular sex (usually female), is often cited as employing the dominance of one gender to perpetuate traditional gender roles. For example, the English word “mankind” includes every human being on Earth, whether male or female, even though it conjures up the idea of a group of males. Also, if a female enters a medical profession, she is often referred to as a “female doctor” to avoid confusion in this traditionally male-dominated job. Even nonverbal communication can perpetuate dominance. A female that always touches a male at her prerogative in public is easily viewed as the dominant figure within the relationship. Eye contact can be used to stress the dominance of one over another (as in animals, when a “stare down” has been won, the winner has taken dominance). As communication is passed from parent to child in every generation, until it changes, it will perpetuate inequality.
Though women’s roles in the world are changing rapidly in high-income nations, many still face problems regarding poverty through all sociological perspectives. Not all women will grow up to become doctors and lawyers, as these fields are still dominated by males. According to the glass ceiling idea, women can only go so far in their dominated jobs. However, the glass elevator idea lifts men to reach even higher than women in female-dominated jobs, such as nursing. Men are typically paid more and regarded as being able to handle more complicated problems (so they are well-suited to move up in companies and manage others). Therefore, women without husbands to help them may not be able to provide the usual income it would take for her to live above the poverty level. This is restrictive to single mothers who are trying to provide for themselves as well as their children. If they cannot move up in their job, they will not be able to provide money for food, housing, child care during her work hours, and other basic necessities (such as clothes for her children). She may get help from the government, but as soon as she gets above a certain income level (which is still on the poverty line), she is cut off of federal aid. It will then take her months to get back into the system, even though she has already been in it before. This creates a cycle of poverty for the woman and her children, who, growing up in poverty, will be more likely to be stuck in poverty throughout their lifetimes. Therefore, the inequality of women in the economy and government as compared to men burdens them in different ways. Since the government does not bother to consider these differences when coming up with plans of action, poverty is still perpetuated.
However, the government has tried to cut back on poverty by giving states incentives (additional funds) for having less poverty. This legislation is known as B.O.B. and encourages states to solve the poverty problem from its roots to wipe it out. Resolutions have also been introduced to reinforce less discrimination against women.
These macrolevel answers have little to do with the problem on the microlevel, which has yet to be solved. Language and gestures are hard to change, even over generations and generations. Traditions ebb and flow on their own with regards to advancing technology, ideas, and beliefs. Therefore, from a symbolic interactionist perspective, there is not yet a true solution to the problems of gender inequality and resulting poverty.