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History of Unfairness: Social Classes and Women’s Struggle

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”

— Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (1)



Regardless of the time period, societies have had classes. Even though the criteria those classes separate varies over time and according to the geography, there is one mistreatment that still continues, and that is gender discrimination. Examining the class struggle without mentioning the discrimination against women would not be just, especially, during Women’s History Month. Of course, the millennia worth of class struggle cannot be reduced to gender discrimination, so, I will look at them both in this article. First, the definition and the criteria of the class throughout human history will be discussed; second, I will analyze gender discrimination and the importance of celebrating Women’s History Month.


Class and Unfairness


Different societies have different ways of classifying the population, the one common point of them is they classify the population in the past and in the present. The classification criteria vary from culture to culture and century to century, however, the common points are more than expected. Wealth, skin color, nobility, religious significance, and occupation are the common criteria of the social classification. To see the pattern of classification, we should look at some examples throughout history.


The Indian Hindu Caste System separates the population into four categories based on lineage: Bhramin, Khsatryia, Vaishya, Sudra, and the outcasts of the society: Untouchables. Bhramin and Khsatriya are the upper classes of the society which includes religious commissaries and the family of Monarchy. The class of Vaishya includes the merchants, farmers, and artisans which is the equivalent of today’s middle class. The rest of the cast consists of the Sudra class and the outcasts do not count as part of the cast system. The issue with the Indian caste system is that mobility among the classes is near impossible because of the belief that people in the upper classes will reincarnate as the people in the lower classes and vice versa, and this belief system persuades people to believe and live according to this cast system. The second issue of this cast system that it still is part of the Indian society since Hinduism and the reincarnation belief are continuing to be a part of their culture. (2) Chinese and Japanese societies have had similar triangle-shapes social class structure, to sum up, the general state of the social classes, saying The Emperor is the pinnacle of the triangle and the rest is sorted by the “usefulness” of their occupation would not be wrong, we must add the mobility between the classes is very easy and common in Chinese and Japanese social classes compared to the Indian Caste System. (3)

by Hülya AFAT

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To compare with the western culture and the social structures, we can look at the feudalistic structure of Europe during the 5th-12th century and the current western societal structure. Feudalism is the governance practice where the local lords are the strongest authority since they hold control of the arable land and the people that form the army force for the monarchy. (4) After the rise of the central government which is the kingdoms in the 13th century, France had the estates classification below the king where the First Estate included the noble families of the religious group, the Second Estate included the noble families that provide soldiers for the kingdom, and the Third Estate included the richest of the bourgeois. The rest was not counted in any decision-making that relating to the public at all. Currently, in the United Kingdom, the parliament consists of two chambers: House of Lords which represents the hereditary upper class, House of Commons which represents the rest of the population. Of course, as in any other monarchy (absolute monarchy until the beginning of the 18th century), the queen or king is the pinnacle of the social classes, and the rest was classified very similarly to the Estate system of France. (5)

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Moving on to the Post-Industry Revolution Europe, we can observe the blatant change that the French Revolution caused at the global level for the benefit of democratization. Industrial Revolution did not only brought mass production, and it also caused the lines of the social classes to get blurry. Also, the term society and the concept of many people living closely (which is a direct result of industrialization and the urban population growth) caught the attention of philosophical scholars. Social Inequality and stratification are some of the topics that political philosophers from the post-Industrial Revolution Europe such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and J.J. Rousseau discussed that paved the way for more profound arguments about social class. (6) We cannot discuss social class and not mention Marx. Karl Marx was a philosopher and sociologist that lived in the 19th century and the author of the “Das Kapital” where he criticized capitalism and provided another economic system. Marx’s analysis about the social classes can be summarized in a sentence such as “In Marx's analysis, the capitalist class could not exist without the proletariat, or vice-versa.” (7) The co-dependency of the two classes which are the capitalist class and the proletariat (working class) makes the cycle of treatment vicious under capitalism because everyone wants to profit and no one has the obligation to treat the other in a good manner or even fair. Marx proposes the idea of the workers being able to afford what they are producing with the wages that the capitalist class is paying them, of course, this idea was refused by the ruling class which is very parallel to the capitalist class at the time. Hence, here we are in 2021, and the richest 1% of the world owns 44% of the world’s total wealth. (8)


Since now, we talked about the social classes of the past, but the social classes still exist, only now, they are only money-based. On the one hand, since the modern social classes are only money-based, the mobility between the classes is very possible and common. On the other hand, money-making is still about the advantages that come from birth, because intergenerational wealth still exists, the fact of people of color and the genders other than cisgender men earns less is very well known. (9) (10) (11) The fact that someone being different than a cisgender heterosexual white man in any aspect makes them earn less makes the social class divisions still about the lineage, but this time the money is the mediator.


Society’s Classification of Women


All of this history written and played by men, women only have a voice for just over a hundred years, and still no voice in some parts of the world. Until New Zealand allowed women to vote in 1893, none of the women living on earth had to right to vote. (12) As seen on the map below, half of the women did not have a right to vote until 80 years ago. (13) Today, women have the right to vote, however, men still want to be able to control and regulate women’s bodies, just like the good old days(!). Women’s right to decide upon their own body still is not full liberty, unfortunately, the oppression that the women of color, transgender women, non-heterosexual women, and any other women who are not in the lines of society’s expectations of them face is more than the ones in those lines face. After women getting into the workforce (since Industrial Revolution actually, due to the subdued wages) and the sectors that previously men-dominated since the 1970s, women starts having their own money, own social status, and the own social circles which made them also part of the working class and a different side of the society. Inescapably, they demand their own decision-making about their body, they spoke up about the mistreatments they receive from men such as harassment, abuse, and violence in sexual and social contexts.

Women’s ideal to achieve full equal respect in the society as men is still continuing; abolishing the laws that limit the right for abortion, charging the criminals responsible for harassment, abuse, and/or assault, receiving the same amount of payment as men for the same work, putting an end to the enforced social gender roles such as marriage, motherhood, and obedience to men, and ending the entitlement that society has to judge a woman’s sexual history are some of the modern demands of the women struggling to live a respected life and trying not to get constantly judged by the society. In the past, women had no place in the social class triangles; their fathers, husbands, and brothers had while they were living in the box that society put them. In the future, we wish to live in a society to allow women to create their own box, or to not judge if a woman chooses to not live in a box.




Social classes are a very crucial and cruel part of living in a society. Will it be possible to abolish any classifying in the society in any part of the future? We cannot know, and one can only hope. As we have seen so far, all of the classifying throughout history benefitted no one but the privileged and the already powerful ones. Acknowledging the inequality and the mistreatment the social classes cause in any period or context is harmful is a good start to change something in the boxes we are put in by society.

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