Gender and Intersectionality

Both men and women experience job discrimination when occupations are closely associated with either masculinity or femininity.  In my research on “men who do women’s work,” I found that men are often excluded from occupations that involve close contact with children due to stereotypes about male sexuality and suspicions of pedophilia.  Homophobia is often at the core of these damaging and destructive stereotypes.

Partially because of these stereotypes, men constitute only 2-3 percent of all preschool and kindergarten teachers.  However, those who remain in the occupation seem to do pretty well.  Data on median weekly earnings indicate that men out-earn women in this occupation by a sizeable amount—more than $700 compared to women’s $600.  (However, note that the occupation as a whole is woefully underpaid—no one is exactly thriving in these mostly dead-end jobs!)

So men are both discriminated against AND they earn more money than women.  How can we make sense of this paradox?

The concept of intersectionality may have the answer.  That is the idea that race, class, sexuality, and gender form a “matrix of domination”; an individual’s placement on this matrix determines their access to job opportunities and other social rewards.  I would venture to guess that the men who are able to stay and thrive in the preschool probably embody a privileged place on this matrix (i.e., white, straight, middle class).

That said, I’m not sure about how to react to the preemptive actions of this preschool.  We’ve just witnessed the horrible cover-up of a sexual predator by the Penn State football program.  Could it be that the administrators were overly cautious due to the heightened sensitivity to the issue?  Context always matters when interpreting specific events.  Sociology is best for studying forests, not trees.

  1. Jay Fox said:

    Is it possible that the wage disparity is a consequence of where these individuals are working as opposed to their gender?
    Taking into consideration the fact that cites like New York and San Francisco have higher costs of living and tend to offer higher wages than rural communities, and that the former may be more accepting of male childcare workers than the latter, it stands to reason that the difference in salaries may arise because female childcare workers are to be found in virtually all American communities, while male childcare workers are concentrated primarily in more progressive, urban ones. Just a thought. I do not have the numbers to back this conjecture up.

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