Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Inequality

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Social class has been traditionally defined by an individual’s occupation, education, and/or income and are then compared between individuals, if you fall somewhere within the same category as another you are then thought to be a part of the same social class (Hurst, 2013, p. 15). Something overlooked in terms of how we see the social class is the ignoring of intersectionality and its effects on a person’s social class. 

Now, what is intersectionality? Intersectionality is how different aspects of an individual intersect together in a way that can produce experiences of oppression and disadvantages them (Hurst, 2013). By only looking at the different parts of an individual separately, much of what that person’s faces are lost, you must look at the wider picture first to see how the different parts of a person intersect and influence the outcomes in their lives. Three specific topics covered in Charles E. Hurst’s book Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences that can intersect together to influence a person’s social class is their Gender, covered in chapter 6, their sexual orientation, covered in chapter 7, and lastly their race, which was covered in chapter 8. To intersect the topic’s, it’s important to understand what each chapter covered in relation to being discussed in this paper. In Chapter 6: Sex and Gender Inequality, Hurst discusses the lack of inequalities taken into account when discussing earnings and job-related placement between men and women. An important topic brought up within this chapter was “Multiracial Feminist Theory” which shows that not all women are the same position because race, class, and gender intersect and put women of color in many different positions opposed to white women. This theory exposes the dangers of generalizing all women as one homogeneous entity in one standard position (Hurst, 2013, p.146). 

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The second chapter that is being discussed is chapter 7: Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Inequality which describes the inequalities people of homosexual orientations face by being stigmatized and having to fight for their civil rights for being anything other than heterosexual. The chapter brings awareness to the psychological, economic, social, legal, and health problems that can result from being part of a stigmatized group (Hurst, 2013, p. 167). I can be argued however that the chapter does not discuss nearly enough about the intersectionality of sexual orientation and racial identity and how the two intersects to affect the social class of certain individuals, something that will be discussed in this paper. The last chapter that was examined was chapter 8: Racial and Ethnic Inequality. This chapter discussed the disadvantages and inequalities of minority groups in comparison to whites in the US. The lower incomes, earnings, and occupational statuses in contrast to whites can work to explain social class for certain individuals of different racial-ethnic identities than the majority. 

An important concept specified was the idea of microinequities experienced by minorities which are everyday humiliations through stereotypes and labels that work to remind individuals of how they aren’t yet thought of quite as equality (Hurst, 2013, p. 185). How do gender and sexual orientation intersect to influence a person’s class? When an individual’s sexual orientation does not fit the box that has been deemed acceptable for them, a person can be cast aside for going against the grain of society. The societies individuals live in construct the idea of what is right and what are wrong behaviors for men and women, monitoring each person’s sexual practices, beliefs, and behaviors and deeming them right or wrong (Institute for Development Studies, n.d.). Take for example a man who goes against our current idea of masculinity in a patriarchal driven world. The hegemonic masculinity, our current held belief of what it means to be masculine, demands for a heterosexual norm, as well as many other factors. If a man were to not conform to that idea, his social class could take a massive hit causing for tragic repercussions, like the loss of a job meaning loss of income and occupation, two factors discussed as affecting an individual’s class. We currently have no laws that protect these minority individuals from losing their jobs for sexual orientation and gender identity (Hurst, 2013, p. 166). Ideologies around sexuality, a part of sexual orientation, work to regulate women as well, carefully policing them and implementing punishments if they step outside the norm of femininity (Institute for Development Studies, n.d.). 

Women’s gender and sexuality together is used to silence and/or discredit them, trying to make them seen as not “lady enough” or lesbians or promiscuous (Ilkkaracan & Jolly, 2007). Social class can be reflective of socioeconomic status as well and research has shown that in heterosexual relationships women’s economic marginalization can result in women entering into sexual relationships where they have less economic power than their partner (Institute for Development Studies, n.d.), this meaning their economic stability and social class are in the hands of a partner. Now that a line connecting gender identity and sexual orientation has been drawn, another way that sexual orientation can intersect to influence a person’s social class is sexual orientation and an individual’s racial identity. One factor that has been found to be affected by the intersection of these two characteristics in a minority is in their higher education. In a study by Mitsunori Misawa, 

The Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation in Adult and Higher Education, Misawa was regarding how and in what ways do the intersections of race and sexual orientation impact gay men of color particularly in higher education. Seven male college students that identified as gay and were men of color, ages ranging from 20 to 30, were interviewed to gain knowledge of their experiences. A conclusion drawn from all 7 interviews was that words could be extremely powerful, in both a positive and a negative way that can make each man feel either welcomed or marginalized. Gary, one of the men interviewed, in reference to his college major’s programs, said that he felt marginalized in the classroom’s environment (Misawa, 2005). To him, it lacked a diverse perspective, either of a non-white or non-heterosexual, causing him to not feel included. Gary shared in his interview that he felt he had to hide his identities on campus feeling that it was not a place where he could share either of his identities. In conclusion of Misawa’s study, he found that men who have both racial and sexual minority perspectives were one, aware of being alienated in the classroom and on campus, two, formed these impressions based on interactions with their professors and peers in the classroom and on campus, and three, felt there needed to be a place on campus that provided them with the feeling of being included (Misawa, 2005). What does this lack of feeling included on campus mean for these individuals? It can mean individuals without a sense of belonging at college may drop out, insisting it was not a place they were welcomed or made for them. These feelings of not belonging are no doubt being amplified by a lack of inclusive perspective from both of their identities. This dropping out of higher education due to not feeling included leaves these individuals at a severe disadvantage. Without higher education, some will be forced to instead work lower-wage jobs without so much as a chance to work their way up on any ladder. They may then be pushed into lower socioeconomic status. 

With a lack of proper higher education and a low-wage job, their social class would not surprisingly be affected by this practically forced decision. That last two identities to be discussed in this paper that intersects together and influences a person’s social class is their gender and racial-ethnic identities and how the two affects their self-esteem. In a study on the gender identity and racial-ethnic identity of African American and Latino/a youth, these two identities influence their self-esteem. It is found that there is an association between the pressure one feels to be true to their gender identity and a pressure to act in accordance to their race-ethnic identity coming from pressure and opinion of the family and their peers (Aoyagi, Santos, & Updegraff, 2018). What happens if an individual’s gender identity goes against what is perceived as socially acceptable for their race-ethnic identity or vice versa? No longer in conformity, it’s likely for an individual to feel the pressure from the family to conform and can drastically lower the self-esteem for feeling like a failure to others. 

Why is self-esteem so important? After examining data that was collected from three previous groups of National Survey of Families and Household, it was used to assess a model which focused on the influences of parenting practices and attitudes on their children’s self-esteem and used these to estimate if these variables had affected the college attendance for these children. College attendance was then used as an indicator of social class accomplishment, this due to the role higher education plays on an individual’s future occupation and financial security (James & Amato, 2013). Two crucial instruments in the development of a person’s self-esteem is reflected appraisals, how others react and evaluate them that helps to secure their self-concept as being negative or positive, and an engaging learning environment which works to “encourage problem-solving, exploration, and experimentation”, both promote a high self-esteem (James & Amato, 2013). These are both mechanisms that a child is more likely to be exposed to when their parents are at a higher socioeconomic status, especially the engaging learning environment. 

Therefore, this study provides evidence of the role of self-esteem in social class outcomes. Intersectionality is an important concept that brings awareness of the inequalities and oppression of others due to the characteristic of themselves they can’t control and even the life chances they’re born into. Taking a deep look into how these characteristics intersect helps display the full image of what an individual life may be affected by and the consequences they face. Gender and sexual orientation, sexual orientation and racial identity, and gender and racial identity, as seen above, all intersect to affect a person’s social class. Thru awareness and visibility of these intersections, hopefully, others who are privileged will be allies and supporters of bringing to light how social class is influenced by things outside of a person’s control and how their own life chances are responsible to their privileges. Another optimistic outlook is how this visibility may help push for change on a governmental level. Knowledge of how important having non-discrimination laws to protect from discrimination at the workplace due to sexual orientation, how important feeling included in college is as to show everyone they are equally deserving of education as anyone else, and how early childhood learning environments can influence the chances of a child reaching a higher education so there should be a push for more equal learning opportunities for children of any socioeconomic background, these are all do-able thru government policy and funding, these are all changes that could be enacted and help fight against the oppression people of these intersectionality’s face. 

Works Cited 

  1. Aoyagi, K., Santos, C. E., & Updegraff, K. A. (2018, Jan). Longitudinal Associations between Gender and Ethnic-Racial Identity Felt Pressure from Family and Peers and Self-Esteem among African American and Latino/a Youth. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 47(1), 207-221. 
  2. Crook, T., Chippewa, T. M., & Cobia, D. C. (2009). Masculinity and Sexuality: Impact on Intimate Relationships of African American Men. Family Journal, 17(4), 360-366. 
  3. Hurst, C. E. (2013). Social Inequality: Forms, Causes, and Consequences. Boston, MA: Allys and Bacon. 
  4. Ilkkaracan, P., & Jolly , S. (2007). Gender and Sexuality: Overview Report. BRIDGE development – gender. Institute for Development Studies. (n.d.). What is the link between sexuality and gender? Retrieved May 2019, from Sexuality, Poverty and Law Programme: http://spl.ids.ac.uk/sexuality-and-social-justice-toolkit/1-issues-and-debates/what-link-between-sexuality-and-gender
  5. James, S. L., & Amato, P. R. (2013). Self-Esteem and the Reproduction of Social Class. Soc Sci Q., 94(4), 933-955. Retrieved from US National . 
  6. Misawa, M. (2005). The Intersection of Race and Sexual Orientation in Adult and Higher Education. Adult Education Research Conference.
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Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Inequality. (2021, Apr 24). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/sexual-orientation-gender-identity-and-inequality/