Outline & Explain how Ethical Issues might affect Sociological Research 
Ethics are moral principles that govern our behaviour and ethical issues in sociological research occur when these principles conflict with the nature of the study or methods used to conduct a study. The British Sociological Association (BSA) provides guidelines for ethical practice during research. In Hebson’s study on how social class shaped women’s lives and identities, ethical issues caused Hebson difficulties in accessing a representative sample of women. The main issues in question were confidentiality, company image and disruption.
The Confidentiality of participants always needs to be considered in sociological research, particularly when the subject matter is of a sensitive nature. The BSA guidelines demand that every participant has a right to confidentiality and privacy and their identities should remain private. Assuring participants confidentiality and anonymity is important because it means people will be more willing to participate and also potentially increases the validity of the data as people are more likely to be honest and truthful if they know their names are not made public.
Company Image may be a consideration for any study taking part in the workplace. Few companies want negative publicity and it would be a risk for companies to be openly associated with the personal views of their employees. The confidentiality guidelines of the BSA could be logically extended to companies as well as individuals to encourage companies to participate.
The BSA guidelines also demand that research should not affect participants in a negative way. This could be applied to protecting company image, and also to minimising disruption in the lives of participants. People are unlikely to willingly take part in research if they know if will be disruptive to their lives – but it is also important for the validity of research to ensure that lives are not disrupted, as research should be focused on the truth and reality of people’s lives, not a disrupted version of those lives.
Outline & Assess the view that Unstructured Interviews are the best way to research Class and women’s career aspirations 
Unstructured Interviews are interviews that are based around conversations. There is no formal structure or set of questions, but the researcher will know the topics and have an outline of the sort of things he/she needs to find out. Unstructured Interviews are used by interpretivists to gain qualitative data. They are rich in depth and detail and enable the researcher to ask further questions of the participant, developing a rapport and enabling true verstehen (empathy and understanding) to be gained.
Hebson used unstructured interviews to find out about women’s experiences of their work, perceptions of their future careers and their views on a range of related issues. She interviewed a sample of 36 women; a fairly small sample which may therefore not be representative of all women – and focused in one area of England, which may reduce the generalizability of the data. Small samples are inevitable when using unstructured interviews, however, as this method is unpredictable and potentially very time-consuming (with no structure, there is no real time-limit on unstructured interviews). The data collected can also be difficult and time-consuming to interpret, as potentially it will entail the researcher(s) going through many hours’ worth of dialogue, making links and identifying patterns. For example, Hebson found links between the aspirations, access to resources and class position of the women she studied. There is a danger here, however, of researcher imposition, meaning that the researcher ends up imposing their own views or ideas onto the words of the respondents, or seeks only the patterns and links that match his/her hypothesis.
Unstructured interviews tend to be low in reliability, because they are essentially ‘conversations’ which are shaped by that particular moment in time. People do not tend to have exactly the same conversation more than once and if another researcher were to visit the same sample of women with the same agenda as Hebson it is still likely the findings would be different, as conversations are also shaped by the personalities of the individuals involved. On the other hand, the method tends to be high in validity as the level of depth and detail available and the power of the interviewer to explore issues further (as well as the freedom of the interviewer to talk about what is most relevant to them) gives a truthful and genuine picture of the social reality of the individual.
Hebson’s aims (to find out about the experiences, perceptions and views of women) made a qualitative approach such as this one logical; a quantitative approach (such as tightly structured interviews, featuring pre-determined questions only and no opportunity for the interviewer to expand on answers) would have been quicker, more reliable and afforded a larger sample but would have had limited validity and possibly not even been fully fit for purpose as it is arguably impossible to reduce people’s views, experiences and perspectives to numbers/statistics.
Although it is not made clear in the case study, Hebson’s research could be classified as feminist research, referring to the collection of studies and research conducted by feminists for the benefit of women and their place in the social structure. Feminist research is usually qualitative as it seeks to listen to women and gain an in-depth understanding of their views and struggles. However, Oakley (1999) has been very critical of this approach, arguing that feminist research should take a more scientific quantitative approach in order to be taken more seriously (thereby gaining more influence – and funding). The use of unstructured interviews is therefore typical of feminist research, but would be criticised by some feminists such as Oakley.
Outline the evidence that Men are advantaged in the contemporary UK 
Gender is considered the main source of social inequality in the contemporary UK, with feminists in particular arguing that British society remains patriarchal and androcentric (male dominated and male-centred), resulting in men having clear and continuous advantages over women in many areas of social, private and working life.
Employment is arguably the area within which gender differences are most clear: In the contemporary UK, men remain more likely than women to be in work. Although this has grown much more equal over the past 30 years, men are significantly more likely to be in full-time work (nearly half of all working women are in part-time employment, compared to 10% of working men) and are better paid than women (the average wage for women is around 82% that of men).
Women are more likely to have unpaid caring responsibilities (particularly to their children), which would go some way towards explaining differences in patterns of employment, but this is also a form of evidence of male advantage: Why is the mother/housewife role still dominant? Why does the expectation remain that women stay at home to look after house and children while men go to work? A study by Dermott (2006) found that men who are fathers work longer hours than women who are mothers. This could suggest male advantage in the workplace, as it would make it likely they would have a higher income and greater human capital, but again, it raises questions about why the female parent is most commonly tasked with the unpaid position of childrearing. In the contemporary UK, it is becoming less unusual for mothers to combine paid work with unpaid domestic work – a dual role – but as well as traditional expectations, there are many factors that make this difficult, not least the cost of childcare (the contemporary UK is one of the most expensive societies in the world for childcare).
The situation for men and women in the workplace is perhaps made more difficult still by the role and visibility of women in powerful influential areas of society. Men are very obviously advantaged in the worlds of big business, politics and the media. For example, there are very few female CEOs. Of the FTSE 100 companies, only 4 CEOs are female. In politics, only 146 out of 650 MPs (23%) were female at the last general election. In the mass media, the ratio of men to women on television has barely changed in the last decade and female television presenters remain unrepresented. When combined with age, this shows considerable disadvantage: A 2013 study, for example, found that of all over-50s presenters on the BBC, only 20% were female. In 1985, Allison Bechdel devised the Bechdel Test, for assessing the role of females in fiction. To past the test, a work of fiction has to feature more than one female character who talk to each other about something other than a man. Passing the test suggests that the work of fiction depicts a female viewpoint. To show how bad the situation is, very few major Hollywood blockbusters pass the test, including the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings trilogies, the Harry Potter movies and Avatar.
There is evidence of both horizontal and vertical segregation in the UK labour market. Horizontal segregation refers to a situation whereby gender is split into different types of jobs. In the UK, for example, women are significantly more likely to be secretaries, primary school teachers, child-minders and nurses (all of which fit with their traditional nurturing gender role). Vertical segregation refers to a pay gap, and men dominating in highly paid positions, which I have already provided evidence before. The presence of vertical segregation suggests there is a glass ceiling for women; an obstacle that prevents them reaching the highest status positions in society. This seems particularly strange when we consider the fact that females perform significantly better than males at all levels of education in the UK up to (and including) degree level. The fact that females outperform males in education, gaining more vital qualifications and working harder – yet are still unable to compete with males in the primary labour market, where such qualifications are so important, is perhaps the single biggest indicator of male advantage in the contemporary UK.
Outline & Assess Feminist explanations of gender inequalities 
There are many different forms of feminism and, whilst they all tend to agree that society is patriarchal and unequal, they each have different ways of explaining and addressing this. This essay will consider the explanations of Liberal, Marxist and Radical feminists and assess these explanations in relation to each other and in relation to alternative views and perspectives.
Liberal Feminists generally seek to address inequality by identifying the sources of inequality and campaigning for changes in legislation or attitudes to address this. Friedson (1963) claimed that the reason gender inequality existed is because it had gone historically unchallenged. The ‘first wave’ of feminism came with the suffragette movement, which gained influence around 1912, campaigning for the female vote. Prior to this, there had been little in the way of organised campaigning for any form of gender inequality – and even afterwards, nothing much happened until the second wave, sparked by women like Friedson in the 1960s. Oakley (1974) claimed that the source of gender inequality was the dominance of the mother/housewife role, which Oakley considered a product of gender-role socialisation. Each wave of liberal feminism has been geared towards addressing these issues; raising awareness of inequality and trying to change attitudes and laws, bringing society closer to gender equality.
Some feminists use the concept ‘genderquake’ to describe a collection of legislation that – partly as a result of this campaigning – has been introduced to ensure greater equality between genders (e.g. the Equal Pay Act and Sexual Discrimination Act in the 1970s).
Marxist Feminism is an example of a dual-systems theory, meaning that it uses two areas of thought to explain an issue. In this case, ideas around patriarchy and economics are combined to explain gender inequality. Marxist Feminists would tend to agree with the Marxist concept of a reserve army of labour. This refers to the idea that capitalist societies maintain a section of the workforce who can be easily hired and fired to suit the economic needs of the time. Marxist Feminists would argue that women tend to be part of this reserve army because their part-time positions make them more vulnerable to redundancy and they are less likely to be unionised.
Benston (1972) further argued that women have always been used to benefit the development of capitalism by providing free childcare and housework and providing emotional support to male workers. It is in the interests of capitalism that things remain this way, resulting in the mother/housewife stereotype of women continuing to be projected as the norm through the media, religion and other aspects of the ideological state apparatus.
Radical Feminists are interested in exploring the ways in which women are controlled and oppressed in patriarchal societies and in trying to reverse this. Walby (1990) believed that gender inequality is inevitable, because in every society, men will attempt to control and oppress women (though the ways in which they do this are culturally variable). Firestone (1971) believed that the source of oppression/control in patriarchal societies was usually biological; in other words, that men used the biological differences between men and women (the female ability to give birth in particular) as justification for inequality. The suggestion is that, because women can become pregnant and give birth, they should be the primary caregivers to the children and prioritise this over careers and other aspects of life. Patriarchal societies make it seem as though this is normal and inevitable and some support has been offered within Sociological thinking for this view. For example, Functionalists such as Parsons (1955) argued that women and men have different, innate, gender roles. However, various studies have found contradictory evidence, for example Mead (1948) studied tribal cultures in which men stayed home to raise children whilst women when out to ‘work’, demonstrating that gender roles are social constructs, not biological facts.
Whilst different feminist perspectives offer different explanations, they do agree that gender inequality is unfair, disadvantages women and is the result of men being historically dominant in the most influential areas and institutions of society. Hakim (2004) however, disagrees with this. Her Preference Theory suggests that gender inequality is actually caused by the personal preferences of women. She identifies three different ‘types’ of women – Adaptive (balancing work and family), Work-Centred and Home-Centred – and argues that in modern societies, women can choose what type they want to be. According to Hakim, then, gender inequality persists because most women choose an adaptive role. Many feminists may be critical of this theory, arguing that inequality is not a choice and – especially – questioning why males are not put in a position where they have to make a similar choice.
This website is designed for the use of Sociology students at Northampton College. Please note that views and opinions expressed on this site may not necessarily reflect the views of Northampton College itself. Resources on the site are created and published by the NC Sociology department and should not be redistributed or republished elsewhere without permission from the creators.