Is equality possible?

If men and women are different, is equality really possible?

Men tend to be bigger and heavier than women, so it could be argued they are better suited to physically demanding jobs.

Yet most human characteristics – unlike (for the most part) sexual features – are not ‘either/or’, but instead vary across a population. Hence there are plenty of women who are bigger or stronger than plenty of men.

So it is perhaps understandable on a biological basis that some jobs have disproportionate numbers of one sex (though complete exclusion of one sex rarely seems justified); for other jobs it is not. This implies cultural and social factors are of much greater significance. And if we want to, we can take steps to tackle these inequalities to ensure more equal representation of the sexes – whether that means more women in male-dominated professions or more men in female-dominated vocations.

A major snag is that male-dominated professions tend to be viewed as high status (law, business) and female-dominated activities as being of lower status (nursing, secretarial work). And it seems to be true that when females begin to enter a field, its status drops (as some believe is happening now with medicine), even if its quality does not. Again, the reasons for this are likely to be complex. It may, however, encourage some to resist moves towards greater sex equality.

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in January 2006 and reviewed and updated in October 2014.

Careers, Genetics and genomics
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development