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Media headlines of late are challenging our presumptions about what is invisible labor.

Amazon, for instance, announced the opening of a store that eliminates the frontline job of cashiers – as well as the checkout lane and all the self-checkout machines. Instead, this work will be done through the automatic scanning of consumer movements around the store and on the shelves. Live employment will be diverted to locations behind the scenes, in labors of preparing and stocking the food.

Likewise, in my home state of Missouri, a waitress at Hooters was fired for failing to do the work of looking right on the job. That labor involved wearing a wig (bought at her own expense) to cover scar on her head after returning from brain surgery, and thus upholding gendered and sexualized appearance rules at work.

Even acts of resistance on the job are telling, like when an African-American employee broke a stained-glass window in the Yale dining hall where he washed dishes. Outraged by a scene depicting slaves picking cotton, he was no longer willing to do the work of idly supporting in a discriminatory organizational environment.

Automation, aesthetic labor, and racial tasks are examples of contemporary ways that the workplace is disempowering workers and submerging the types of tasks they are expected to do. This is the starting point of a new book I co-edited with two legal scholars, Marion Crain and Miriam Cherry.

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Meetingby Steve Vincent

Common sense suggests professional self-employment is liberating, for women in particular. Women are more likely to choose to work reduced hours when self-employed because they bear the burden of domestic responsibilities. As a consequence, careers that promise flexibility can be attractive.

Arguably, self-employed professionals can take control of their working time by spacing contracts with clients. As their work is typically mobilised by technology, they can often choose when and where they work. As a result, they can escape the long-hours culture typical of professional work and pattern their working lives to suit their personal interests.

In short, if employment fails to deliver suitable working patters, self-employed professionals can go their own way.

My recent research questions this common sense view by exploring the practices of self-employed human resources (HR) consultants. The research indicates that self-employed consultants who chose to work fewer hours experienced some fairly intractable forms of disadvantage. Here’s why.

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vip imageAshley Mears, Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston University, has gone where few sociologists have gone: First, the world of high fashion and runway modeling, and now the world of VIP clubs, which often traffic in women. Combining multiple strands of social science theory, her 2011 book, Pricing Beauty (University of California Press), has won multiple prizes. Her recent article in the American Sociological Review, “Working for Free in the VIP,” asks why women workers participate in their own commercial exploitation. Here we sit down with Ashley and ask some “back stage” questions about the course and conduct of her fieldwork.

Steve: Your book, Pricing Beauty, addresses three distinct but overlapping bodies of knowledge (so to speak) –the sociology of economic institutions, of gender, and of work. Wasn’t it a daunting prospect to try to speak to three areas of study, al this while you were a graduate student? Any thoughts about managing one’s ambitions while also addressing broad intellectual challenges?

Ashley: Don’t forget field theory and the sociology of culture! To me, each of these literatures is a tool to be mobilized to solve empirical problems. My work has always been driven by puzzles and phenomena I encounter Read More

Image: UNIDO via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Image: UNIDO via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

by Maria Azocar and Myra Marx Ferree

Important changes are under way in the world of lawyers. Their work has become increasingly dominated by large organizations, globalization has re-structured their work to be increasingly transnational, and demographic changes have redefined the profession. For example, an increasing participation of women in the legal profession is a global trend, with Latin American countries leading the rankings in terms of the number of women who enroll in and graduate from law schools.

What can the sociology of professions say about these changes? The consensus view of the field would be that these changes will translate into increasing jurisdictional battles over lawyers’ claims to expertise. Expertise is sociologically understood as knowledge that people have to accomplish a given task (Abbott 1988; Freidson 2001; Larson 1979). In this scholarship, the focus of study is often on the sites where expertise is produced and recognized, for example in practices of credentialing and licensing. Gender (and other) inequalities in a profession would be analyzed in terms of women’s struggles with men who are often considered more valuable workers or through considering the causes and effects of sex segregation in setting values, rewards or access to power.

These are important insights, but from a gender perspective, expertise not only involves practices of discrimination against women or the segregation of women from men. Expertise can itself be gendered through the differential evaluations of competences and expert claims. Science studies, especially actor-network theory (Latour 1987, Eyal 2013), also suggest asking how objects, technologies, and institutions are gendered and how they acquire stability as jurisdictional boundaries. In addition to claims and competences, networks of social arrangements can be gendered, and their gender can work independently of the gender of the individuals making use of them to advance their relative position.

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It’s been a rough summer for academics. Just in the last few months, two black women sociologists have become the subjects of national news stories when comments they wrote on twitter drew the ire of conservatives who branded them racists and demanded that the institutions where they worked fire them. First Saida Grundy, then Zandria Robinson drew media attention when conservative websites critiqued their twitter comments on the confederate flag, white college men, and other subjects related to issues of race and inequality. In Grundy’s case, she issued a statement saying that she wished she’d chosen her words more carefully, and the furor essentially died down. In Robinson’s case, after public speculation that the university fired her, she wrote a lengthy blog post desribing the details of her long association with her former employer and ultimate decision to leave for another university.

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Time chefsby Deborah A. Harris and Patti Giuffre

Imagine you’ve stepped inside one of those foodie television shows. You know, the ones set in fine dining restaurants where waiters and sous chefs dash around the kitchen at a frenetic pace, calling out food orders, and tasting dishes in hopes they will live up to the executive chef’s exacting palate. The executive chef moves through the kitchen and is clearly in charge of the action. Maybe the chef you’re imagining is barking orders at subordinates. Maybe they’re appraising the kitchen with a cool eye.

Now, imagine you’re in a different type of kitchen—a kitchen in the “typical” middle-class American home. In this setting, the “chef” is grabbing food out of the refrigerator and, instead of sous chefs, young children are whipping around the kitchen talking about soccer games and piano lessons that have to be worked into everyone’s schedule. Instead of worrying about earning another Michelin star or impressing a food reviewer, this “chef” is just trying to get dinner on the table for the family.

In the two scenarios above, what genders did you imagine for the chefs? If you’re like most people, you probably pictured the professional chef as a man dressed in a white jacket and toque while the second scene may have led to visions of harried mothers, perhaps still in the clothes they wore to work, frantically trying to get dinner on the table for her family.

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Image: ScoRDS via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

For the first time in its history, the City Council in my hometown of Austin, Texas is run by a female majority. This important milestone should be cause for celebration. Instead, Austin was embroiled in controversy when it was revealed that the city manager’s office had brought in experts to help staffers “cope” with this new reality.

Consultants from Florida provided a two-hour training session to explain how new approaches would be needed to present issues before the council now that women are in charge. Staffers were told that men and women do not process information in the same way. Nor do they care about the same things: men are interested in the financial bottom line, while women want to know how various issues impact the community, families, and children. Women also ask a lot more questions than men do, and take more time reaching a decision.

The staffers at the event (most of whom were women) were encouraged to adopt a gender-appropriate repertoire as soon as possible because more women political leaders are inevitable, thanks to the inspiration of Hillary Clinton.

This egregious stereotyping of women leaders led to a barrage of embarrassing press coverage. Consequently, the City Manager suspended the person responsible for arranging the training session.

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