19 May 2022


The Conflict Theory and its Stance on the Gender Inequality Question

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For many the forefather of the school of thought that a social structure should be devoid of social and economic stratification, was a visionary concerned with the exploitation of the working populace by the rich and the mighty. Neglected for the entirety of his life, his ideals and teachings became famous nearly 80 years after his death. Often viewed as a conflict theory, Marxism explains society as being divided by conflict between the classes who make up society, while functionalists see society as consisting of shared values. Marxism later formed part of the argument that feminists used in their struggle for equality in the late 1970s.

Ralf Dahrendorf, in 1959, wrote a book, titled Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society, detailing the problem of social inequality in the capitalistic world. Although he disagreed with Marx’s too narrow a view of social integration, his theory conferred with Marx’s belief that society at every point is subject to the process of change. Both schools of thought believed that coercion came from the people in power (Dahrendorf, 1969)

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Although not to the same scale as the slavery days of yore, the oppression of women was a reflection back to the racist period where basic human rights were held back from black people to ensure their dependency on the richer, white masters. Society, traditionally, defined the social roles to be performed by different genders and mocked, sometimes even punished, those who dared to break the social norm. The propagation of this outdated system where women received fewer opportunities for social improvement, just as in the days of slavery, ensured their dependency on men by counting on them to provide for their basic needs of food, shelter and clothing. The conflict theory maintains that social problems come about when a dominant group asserts it’s social, political and economic power over the subordinate group. Frederich Engels likened the dependence of women to men to the age old class struggle of the industrial revolution, where women depended on men for their daily needs. (Frederich Engels, 1884)

Furthermore, men, considered to be the stronger and more intelligent gender, were allowed to go to school and were endowed with different skills needed in the daily functions of society. Women, on the other hand, were not afforded similar opportunities to learn these various skills but were instead expected to learn the daily chores of running a homestead. This phenomenon, initially, manifested itself in the inequality of pay where men were paid commensurate to their work while women were expected to perform their domestic homestead chores for free, or according to their naysayers, for personal satisfaction. Even when women did indeed get the opportunity to work jobs traditionally reserved for men, their pay was less than that of men. This was explained away by different reasons that did not hold up to scrutiny. This lack of equal opportunities furthered a repressive society that sought to keep women in their standing in society while men ran rampant while still being considered heirs to the earth (Marx and Friedrich, 2000). Conflict between these two groups is what caused the Woemn’s Suffrage Movement and other similar movements calling for social change.

Although the discrepancy in inequality of salaries is a macro sociological problem and rampant in all aspects of life, nowhere is it more evident, blatant even, than in the sports world. Sports, long considered a meritocracy, where hard work and talent take precedent over all else, has seen women athletes legitimately complain about the pay inequality. Women athletes, despite practicing as much as their male counterparts, while also dedicating as much of their time as men are paid far less than men despite, in some cases, being more successful. A prime example is the United States Soccer Teams where the more successful women’s team is paid less for winning 20 games in a year than the men are for losing all their 20 games in the same year.

Although critiques state that the conflict theory ignores social unity based on mutual interdependence and shared values and that these views are political and not steadied in scientific objectivity, proponents steadfastly maintain that a continuation of the system as is currently constituted will be a major failure of society as a whole. In a modern society where opportunities are afforded to a majority of the population, irrespective of gender or race, and in accordance with the teachings of Marx and Dahrendorf, salaries should reflect this change.  


Dahrendorf, R. (1969). Class and class conflict in industrial society (Soziale Klassen und Klassenkonflikt in der industriellen Gesellschaft, engl.). Stanford: Stanford U. P.

Marx, K., & Engels, F. (2000). The Communist manifesto. Place of publication not identified: Filiquarian Publishing.

Frederich Engels, (1884). The Origin of The Family, Private Property, and the State: in the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan(Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privati=eigenthums und des Staats)

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