A world of system designed to keep people in unjust and unequal positions is held in place by several interrelated expression of power over: political power, economic power, physical force, and ideological power (Bishop, 1994: 36). So, we can say power is defined as a possession of control, authority or influence over others. In terms of power of dominant groups over subordinate groups, we define power as domination of one group of people over another in major important spheres of life.
Power inequities have been in existence throughout the history of humanity and the ways of manifestation evolved from extreme overt oppression to subtle, covert oppression. Three major forms of power inequalities discussed in this paper are based on property (class), domination whites over others (race) and men over women (gender). Property owners as a dominant group have power over a subordinate group who do not own property. Karl Marx, one of the greatest economists of the XIX century, defines domination from the purely economic point of view.
To Marx, a class is defined according to the ownership and control of the means of production; and therefore two major classes present in capitalism are bourgeoisie and proletariat. Bourgeoisie owns and controls the means of production. Proletariat, on the other hand, owns nothing and it sells its labour as a commodity in return for money. The power presented here is this constant antagonism between those who own and control and those who do not possess the means of production. By possessing control over these means of production, they ultimately control labour force itself.
Bourgeoisie makes proletariat to work long hours with less pay, makes workers comparative with jobs, and alienated workers just make enough for living. For if you are forced to sell your labour force as a commodity in order to survive, you are treated by those who buy this same commodity not differently that any other commodity available on the market that is necessary for the multiplication of capital. In Marx’s time, workers lacked bargaining power through unions, legal strikes or sabotage (Grabb, 1997: 17). As a result, they could not form a united front against employers, and give themselves a power of collective resistance.
In our society, we still can recognize basic elements of Marx’s theory. Today, at the end of twentieth century, capitalism is still a strong and developed system that will most likely remain to be so for some time. One thing that has changed is that through the establishment of workers unions, the gap between bourgeoisie and workers has narrowed. The 8-hour work – 8-hour rest – 8-hour sleep system that Marx proposed seems to be in place in many of the countries around the world. Despite these accomplishments, the power over subordinate group still exist.
Grabb argues that oppression on the class basis may seem absent in capitalist societies today, because workers are legally free to choose whether or not to accept to work for a capitalist (Grabb, 1997: 16). But, are workers really free to decide? In other terms, what are their options? For a worker who, by definition, does not own means of production, there is no other choice to earn a living than to sell his/her labour to the capitalist. Contrary to Marx’s theory that bases class inequality only on the economic ground, Webber adds two more components, prestige, and political power.
He argues that those who are members of dominant classes, status groups, and party associations are able on the whole to exact compliance to their wills, on a regular basis, from the remaining population (Grabb, 1997: 54). In the previous centuries, this compliance was accomplished by physical force when violent social action was absolutely primordial(Grabb, 1997: 54). However, in the late twentieth century, different forms of domination emerge, i. e. control over communication and media, control of innovation and developments etc. Therefore, we can conclude that class antagonism is present, only it is changing in form.
Today, the capitalist class owns and controls the media, and therefore controls what information is disseminated to the rest of the population through TV, newspapers, Internet, etc. According to Anne Bishop, ordinary people are constantly exposed to the version of the truth carried by these information media, a version of the truth acceptable to the owners of the media (Bishop, 1994: 38). The large businesses are the ones funding the research and development activities, and they are in a position to control the direction of innovation and the impact of the innovation of our society.
For example, large business owners contributed funds for the developments in the computing field and made it impossible for an individual to function at the end of this century and not own a PC. Another example, large corporations that move to countries which do not have law about minimum wage so in that countries workers are paid less. And also neither politicians nor capitalists influence our thinking, such as actors, writers or athletes. Power inequalities related to racism issue have its base in one, dominant group-whites, labeling the other groups as inferior and restricting their rights.
According to Miles a society that is dominate by white is racist (Class notes). Beliefs and images categorize people of real or attributed differences when compared self whites (subject) with other(object) (Miles, 1989: 11). Racism is socially constructed by white over the course of history. The way racial power over subordinate group were manifested range from institutionalized overt racism to covert polite racism that is very common in our society. The example of the institutionalized racist system is the apartheid system in South Africa.
In that society, all whites, regardless of their origin enjoyed comparatively greater rights, simply based on their skin color. Legal policies, laws and regulations were created to visibly separate population of black people from whites. This system was a combination of an institutionalized racism and red neck racism, because not only was it legal to discriminate against blacks, but the people were proud of doing it. However, black people as a subordinate group of South Africa provided resistance through various actions; sabotage, protests, strikes, riots and finally won the fight for their freedom.
According to Henry Frances, racism is, and always has been, one of the bedrock institutions of Canadian society. The most obvious example is the treatment of Aboriginal people. Besides introducing the system of indirect rule and segregation through various Indian Acts, British (whites) as dominant group imposed norms from their society on Aboriginal people. British failed to recognize that Aboriginals have their own culture, customs, social organization and values that guide their everyday living.
All Aboriginals were labeled Indians not recognizing the diversity of various tribes. To justify their actions toward Aboriginal people, British used stereotypes to label them as uncultured and uncivilized, and decided that it is their job to bring Aboriginal people to the greater states of civilization by enforcing European norms in Canadian society (Frances, 2000: 121-123). One of the policies in 1857 even allowed for the voluntary release from the Indian status for the individuals of good character, which was a direct attack on the integrity of the Aboriginal community.
This attempt to destroy the identity and the firm land base of the Aboriginal community was recognized and was resisted by Aboriginal people through a non participation in this process (Frances, 2000, 129). The above oppression of Aboriginal people by British (whites) was a systemic type of racism that is deep rooted and built in the system to a degree that it was normalized. Another example of racism in Canadian history is a Canadian immigration policy that for a long time favored white people, predominantly West and North Europeans.
Asian and South Asian people were allowed to enter the country only if there was a temporary demand for unskilled labour. However, the workers were never allowed to bring their families since this was viewed as a threat in terms of increasing numbers of Asians present on Canadian soil (Frances, 2000, 67-75). In 1960s, the immigration policy was changed to a point system, so that people are not discriminated by their race, but admitted to Canada on the basis of their education, age, knowledge of language, skills, etc. Nevertheless, covert racism on the society level still exists.
One of the most common instances is a requirement of Canadian work experience for any type of employment in Canada. This is discriminatory practice that targets racial minorities and prevents them from getting suitable employment. Their work options became limited to positions for unskilled labour, even though the studies show that immigrants on average have higher level of education than Canadians. The reason for this is that Canadian system fails to recognize the education and credentials obtained in immigrants’ country of origin (Frances, 2000: 93-95).
These unwritten policies present barriers for new immigrants and reserve the high earning positions for white Canadians. The way the racial minority immigrants resisted the domination of the white Canadians is by creating their own communities that provide them with a security and support lacking outside of their community borders. Oppression of women is evident in past centuries as well as in today society. Previously, women were believed to be the property of men, and they were considered to be subordinate to their husbands and to men in general.
This domination was so strong that at the certain point in history it was a husband’s right to kill a wife or to physically molest her if he so wished. Men as a domination group determined what roles are suitable for women and what are not, and excluded women from any form of power in the society. This concept of a women’s role was socially constructed by men so that is naturally defined to fulfil roles that are important for men’s well being (Hubbard, 1998: 32). Power relationship and inequalities on the basis of gender are present in all spheres of life because norms and rules are defined by the dominant group: men.
An obvious example of this is a question of a gender-based language. Analysis of the language shows that it has sexism deep rooted in it; words such as woman has it root in word man, or he makes males linguistically visible and she linguistically invisible, and another word is history but not herstory and so on. This clearly shows the domination of males and ignores and negates an existence and significance of female population. Other aspects of gender inequalities are skills and body. Masculine skills are more mechanical and logical, better paid and males enjoy higher status.
On other side feminine skills are delicate and more soft which lead to low paid and low status. Third one inequality is gender bodies. Woman’s body is seen as a sexual and woman is sex objects in males’ eyes that can lead to sexual harassment. Again sexual harassment is way of male domination and controlling woman trough sex. There have been attempts to change the gender-based nature of language, differentiation trough skills and stop sexual harassment. However, it is difficult to do this because our environment is based on dominant culture values and attitudes, which are again determined by male population.
As a result of oppression, women formed an active social movement: feminist movement. Only in the second part of the twentieth century has this movement gained strength, since women previously were dependent on their husbands economically and in other way, and their awareness was not on the appropriate level to provide organized resistance to the oppression. At a certain point in history, women organized unions in order to fight for better work conditions and salaries for women. However, the tradition union organizations showed their limitations since they were based on labour process in the male domination workplaces (Curtis, 1993: 306).
In today’s society, when men and women are considered to be equal by law, a systematic sexism is still present. Work of women, as a housewife is under valued since it does not have a specific financial value assigned to it. This is automatically degrading since ours is a male dominated society in which everything of value has a financial value. Women in the workplace still have a glass ceiling that prevents them from obtaining a position of power in the hierarchy created and dominated by man.
Some attempts have been made to address this issue, i. Employment Equity Policy, a policy created by government, still dominated by man. In order to come to final liberation, women need to fight for it on the united from, and attempt to gain equality on all aspects of life, from recognition of their housewife role to access to the positions of power. However, the power struggle between genders will always exist, for once females become equal, the male populations will start feeling endangered and oppressed, and will start providing resistance to female domination.
Inequalities on the basis of class, race and gender still exist today as they existed long time ago but they are not so ready visible as before. One has to get inside the society and get more involved in it to truly experience the nature of this relationship. Nevertheless, we learn everyday about many successes in fighting racism, fighting job related inequality between a male and a female, and in my opinion this society is on the right track. By openly discussing many issues that until recently were not allowed to be discussed, we are in better position to understand each other and our society as a whole.