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Tag Archives: gendered work

Even after years of studying gender as a sociologist, I was not prepared to see a man in the infant room on my daughters’ first day at a new child care center in August 2011.  I assumed the man was a dad.  When my three year old happily introduced me to “Teacher Adam” the next day, I realized that he was the first male child-care worker I had ever met (thus, my Biblically-based pseudonym for him– “Adam”).  I left the center very pleased that my family had chosen a seemingly progressive child-care facility in the small California city to which we had just moved.

I soon found out that not all of the parents or female staff were so pleased.  These staff and parents believe that men should not care for small children, especially infants, in a child-care facility, and that any man who wants to do so is a pedophile.  Thanks to their beliefs, Adam, the only man ever to be hired in the 25 year history of my daughters’ child-care center, no longer works there.  In fact, he will no longer be able to work with children ever again.

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Like Lata Murti, I, too, have been thinking, teaching, and writing about men and women at work for a long time, and my initial reaction to her story is one of regret for Adam.  Nearly simultaneously, though, I think about my own daughter and what my spouse and I expect of the people who care for her.  When I look back at the history of her baby-sitters, the majority of them (all but one) were women.  And when I’m honest with myself, I’m not sure I can dismiss the possibility that each of those independent decisions was gendered in some way.

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A recent WSJ article by Kay Hymowitz (Why Women Make less than Men, April 26, 2012 ) reports that “most people have heard that full-time working American women earn only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Yet these numbers don’t take into account the actual number of hours worked. And it turns out that women work fewer hours than men.” Hymowitz continues, citing Labor Department statistics indicating more than half (almost 55%) of workers who work more than 35 hours per week (what the department defines as full time work) are men and suggests that the sex wage gap is “to a considerable degree a gender-hours gap.”

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I recently read an article that I’m recommending to all of my colleagues and will adopt for my graduate seminar next year.  It’s Robin Ely and Debra E. Meyerson’s “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms.”  It is methodologically exciting—they performed a case study of two offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and analyzed case data of published work on men doing “dangerous” work (e.g., miners, wild land firefighters, military service).   It is also theoretically provocative—they theorize that organizations can “disrupt conventional masculinity’s masculine elements” (page 5).  Organizations, they conclude, have the capacity to change deeply rooted work cultures; namely, organizations can both “do” and “undo” gender at work.  In their case, an organization initiative on one of the oil rigs designed to increase safety, had the unexpected effect of allowing men to “de-masculinize” their behaviors—to openly admit and share responsibility for mistakes, to work for the collective, to express their feelings, and reduce the typical need to express “toughness” common among men doing dangerous work.    They actually found that the new organizational initiative reduced men’s need to compete or otherwise affirm their masculine credentials.

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A recent article in the Sunday New York Times reported on the growth of health professionals earning doctorate degrees and how this has generated “a quiet battle over not only the title ‘doctor,’ but also the money, power and prestige that often comes with it.” The article reports that, as would be expected, physicians are none too happy with this development. Laws already exist in Arizona and Delaware that limit the right of nurses to use the title of ‘doctor’. And a bill proposed in the New York State Senate would bar nurses outright from using the title, whether or not they hold a doctorate.

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