Gender Relations and Social Structures Term Paper

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Women's Studies

Gender and the Law:

Social Structures in France and Cuba

Centuries of inequality and oppression have made many modern societies and governments acutely aware of the way laws and political and social structures govern the relations between different groups of individuals. One of the group distinctions that has received most attention in is that which is based on gender. Whether in France, or in Cuba, women have a long history of being treated as second-class citizens; denied equal opportunities in education, employment, and public life. Both the French and Cuban governments have worked toward eliminating these obstacles to women's success and happiness. Yet, they have approached the problem in notably different ways. To some extent these variant approaches have been shaped by differing histories and cultural attitudes. In other ways, the approaches are conditioned by divergent philosophies. France is a multi-party democratic Republic, a wealthy and industrialized nation with along and proud history as a major political power and cultural leader. Cuba, on the other hand, is a one-party communist state that was, until relatively recently, under colonial or quasi-colonial control; its economy still developing along industrial lines, and its resources and influence distinctly limited on the world scene. France has long been a leader in intellectual and social movements, while Cuba has only begun to make its way in recent years. Nonetheless, both countries share a revolutionary tradition that also shapes current attitudes and policies on gender.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Gender Relations and Social Structures Assignment

A central issue in the fight for gender equality has been the definition of what constitutes assault on a person or group solely because of that person or group's gender. This has led to the development of the concept of sexual harassment. In France, in particular, arguments over the distinction between "group" and "individual" are all important. In a recent French case of sexual harassment at a university, the case of Bertaux-Le Bras, opponents of the action immediately raised the argument that a matter of individual concern was being turned into one of group concern. A newspaper article stated the following:

The petition started by the collective has been transformed into a reading of "for" or "against" Le Bras; and many intellectuals, not all friends of Le Bras, far from that, worry today about the procedural "excess a l'americaine" of its creators. The latter pushed Sandrine Bertaux to bring her case to court.

In other words, the argument over whether a woman was sexually harassed by a professor is essentially different from that of whether the professor abused his authority as a professor. Class and individual are not the same. Such an argument runs counter to precisely the American procedure and thought being criticized by the French intelligentsia. Whereas an American might argue that everything concerning Le Bras' treatment of Bertaux is conditioned by the fact that Bertaux is indeed a woman, French law does not traditionally allow of such a distinction. Under French law all persons are genuinely equal. A bias of class against class would have to be shown to exist before a remedy could be obtained under existing legislation.

Traditionally, French Law has recognized only the "citizen" in the abstract. There is no distinction based upon gender or any other consideration.

An essential feature of the fight for gender equality, as represented by the controversy over sexual harassment, has been the need to understand that despite the abstract precepts of the law, not all French "citizens" are treated alike. The monolithic nature of the French citizenry must be broken down and understood in terms of individuals who are perceived of as members of groups as well as wholly separate beings. An attack, physical or otherwise, that is made upon a woman simply because she is a woman involves automatically the notion that she is being treated differently from other, male, citizens. The French dilemma revolves essentially around four primary anthropological concepts that define interpersonal relationships:

Power distance, which concerns social equality, including the relationship with authority

Collectivism vs. individualism, which considers the relationship of the individual to the group

Femininity vs. masculinity, which deals with attitudes toward competitiveness, assertiveness, and related traits in a given culture

Uncertainty avoidance, which involves tolerance for the unpredictable.

Those who argued against sexual harassment in France argued essentially that the first, second, and third criteria held true in French society, but not the third. Yet, such a position demands for its success a specialized interpretation even of the other three. Clearly, an opposition between the individual and the collective exists, but it is a matter of whether this collective is solely defined as "France" vs. "the individual." Bertaux could not have been sexually harassed because, according to these arguments, sexual harassment is impossible in France, a fact which seems impossible given any logical analysis of human interactions.

That absolute equality does not exist in France re: criteria 1 and 4, is easily proven by the case of recent political developments in the French state. As more women have become actively involved in the higher levels of the political process the discourse has changed. Issues of sexual harassment and gender equality, formerly solely in the hands of radical intellectuals are now entering the mainstream.

Such discussion did not happen before because the public dialog was controlled almost entirely by French men. Now that women are part of the picture, their opinions and concerns are at long last being brought forward. Women in France can begin to demonstrate how their choices have been limited by their gender and not by some perceived lack of equality as French citizens in an absolute sense. French law can begin to take cognizance of the fact that some French citizens have long been less equal than others, their needs either ignored by the existing law, or actively written out of those same statutes. Having been denied an equal voice in the conduct of French affairs, Frenchwomen have been denied an opportunity to share those affairs and to mold French culture in a way that is responsive to their needs as individuals and as women citizens. Indeed, French secular feminists have embraced the recent law banning female headscarves as a sign that the government is beginning to show concern for women's rights and emancipation. In the words of Elisabeth Badinter,

The veil, it is the symbol of the oppression of a sex. Putting on torn jeans, wearing yellow, green, or blue hair, this is an act of freedom with regard to the social conventions. Putting a veil on the head, this is an act of submission. It burdens a woman's whole life.

While involving questions of religious freedom and general human rights, the French head scarf ban is at last bringing forward the deeper recognition that women are treated differently than men, and that individuals, both female and male, are members of groups other than the one group defined as "citizen of France." The concern shown for fundamental women's rights, rights that take the form of human rights that go beyond the customs of one people, reveals a new awakening in French society and within the French legal and political community.

In Cuba too, the emphasis has been on that of the collective of citizens. To an even greater extent than found in France, Cuba, since the Castor's takeover a half-century ago, has embraced the principle that all persons are equal and alike under the law. In fact, Cuba's communist system dictates that there are virtually no material differences between individuals at all. Though heir to a tradition of male dominance and machismo, Cuba has come a long way toward recognizing that women possess the same fundamental rights as men, and that women deserve to have their material and biological needs met in a manner consonant with men. In terms of reproductive rights, Cuban women enjoy a particularly high standard of care and attention. Ninety-nine percent of Cuban deliveries are attended by skilled health professionals, and maternal mortality is comparatively very low.

Cuba also guarantees that all women have the right to receive free education, including university and other forms of higher education. As well, Cuba's women possess the right to take one year's maternity leave, can send their children free to day care from the age of six months, and so forth.

Under the law, virtually all of a woman's material needs are met, both those pertaining to her status as a woman, and to her status as an individual and Cuban citizen. In this sense, Castro's revolution has provided well for women, making great strides over the past. In comparison to many other countries - the United States included - Cuba's women enjoy many benefits. Their access to healthcare and education are not limited by their personal or familial economic status. Consequently, marriage and other choices need not necessarily be determined by external economic factors, or lack of educational or other social opportunities. A woman does not have to be imprisoned by her biological "destiny" through lack of funds or legal choice.

Nevertheless, the legal structures… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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