This 1 minute commercial for Pantene, running in the Philippines, is getting a lot of praise. It does a powerful job of pointing out the way that women are disadvantaged in corporate contexts. The men and women in the ad are portrayed similarly, but the women are judged for the behavior while the men are praised.
But then the end. Oh Pantene. The answer to this systemic double bind that damns women if they do and damns them if they don’t is, apparently, to “be strong and shine.”
I suppose we shouldn’t expect much more from a shampoo ad, but I lament the ending anyway. It resonates with a wider cultural trend in which feminist empowerment has been conflated with individual gain within a patriarchal system, not a collective effort to end patriarchy once and for all.
This is the lesson of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In: the system’s all set up to fuck you over, she acknowledges, but then she whispers: I will try to help you get to the top anyway. No matter if you have to step all over lots of other women on the way. That’s not feminism, that’s self-interest. And it’s certainly not progressive change.
In the midst of the recession a new occupation emerged: the sign spinner. These individuals stood on sidewalks outside of businesses, dancing with signs or arrows that they threw and twisted in the air and around their bodies. Some of them were pretty cool, actually.
Yesterday NPR discussed the replacement of some of these spinners with mannequins. Robots that are programmed to spin the sign. Of course, they aren’t nearly as good as a halfway decent human sign spinner. But, it was argued, they’re getting the job done.
From human to machine, then. But no one commented on the bizarre race- and sex-change that accompanied this shift. In my part of the country, most human sign spinners are black or Latino men. I suspect that’s true wherever there’s a substantial non-white, non-Asian population. But the mannequins appear to be overwhelming white women.
The Google image search for each somewhat supports this narrative. The mannequins are overly white women and the humans are almost all men and, arguably, disproportionately men of color.
When the business owner or manager can make choices about what race and gender they prefer, they choose white females. Presumably because “sex sells,” the female body (in a bikini) is the universal symbol for sex, and white women are the most valuable commodity in that market.
When we’re hiring low wage human workers, however, business owners and managers have less control over the race and gender composition of their workforce. It appears most would prefer to hire white women in bikinis for everything but, because of institutionalized racism and the sex segregation of occupations, they get men and, perhaps, men of color.
How amazing that something so simple — the evolution of the sign spinner — can tell us so much about who we value and why.
Here’s a commercial for the new robotic sign spinners, to drive the point home:
Bri & Alex sent in one of those “oh sigh” submissions. It’s a marketing poster illustrating a gadget that makes it easier to open your door when you have your hands full. With what might you have your hands full? Well, if you’re a dude, it’s probably a briefcase and suitcase from a business trip. If you’re a woman, it’s probably laundry and groceries.
Today is Labor Day in the U.S. Though many think of it mostly as a last long weekend for recreation and shopping before the symbolic end of summer, the federal holiday, officially established in 1894, celebrates the contributions of labor.
Here are some SocImages posts on a range of issues related to workers, from the history of the labor movement, to current workplace conditions, to the impacts of the changing economy on workers’ pay:
Gender job segregation is the practice of filling certain occupations with mostly male or mostly female workers. Today 40% of women work in jobs that are 3/4ths female or more and 45% of men work in jobs that are more than 3/4ths male (source). Job segregation is the main cause of the wage gap between men and women because jobs that employ women pay somewhere between 5% and 19% less than ones that employ men (source).
Job segregation decreased during the decades following the women’s movement, but progress towards integration stalled out in the ’90s and hasn’t budged since. There are lots of reasons why job segregation why gender persists; one of them is recruitment and selection. That is, employers sometimes have preferences for whether a man or woman is suited for a job. Usually these preferences match historical trends/stereotypes.
Philip Cohen offered an example of this over at The Atlantic. It’s a photograph of a recruitment banner for a window replacement company that he came across in the University of Maryland Student Union. The banner features men as representatives of employees who do sales and installation, but a female in the role of customer support.
Cohen also observed the behavior of the white male job recruiters accompanying the banner. He writes:
In 20 minutes, as dozens of people walked by, the recruiters approached 18 men and 0 women, asking them, “You guys looking for a job?” (or, in the case of a black man, “Hey man, you looking for a job?”).
This is one way that jobs remain segregated by gender. We have an idea of who is suited for what jobs, we illustrate that supposed “fit” in imagery, and employers actively recruit men into “male jobs” and women into “female jobs.” Doing so doesn’t just slot men and women into different jobs, but into different and unequal ones.
The world’s first flight attendant was a man. He was a German named Heinrich Kubis and he was a steward on LZ-10 Schwaben zeppelin, a rigid blimp like aircraft that began ferrying passengers in 1912. Here’s Kubis at work:
The first flight attendant to serve on an airplane was a 14-year-old boy named Jack Sanderson. It was 1922 and he was hired by The Daimler Airway (later part of British Airways):
When commercial airlines took to the sky in the U.S., it was with an all-male staff. A 19-year-old Cuban American named Amaury Sanchez was the steward for Pan American’s inaugural flight in 1928. Pan Am maintained an all-male steward workforce for 16 years.
Like Kubis’ suit and bow tie, Sanderson’s military-style jacket, and our anonymous steward’s white coat reveal, the steward role was taken very seriously: they played an important role in an elite world. This would change with the democratization of air travel and the introduction of the female flight attendant during World War II. By the ’50s, many airlines would only hire women and the occupation would become increasingly feminized and trivialized, just like the once all-male activity of cheerleading.
Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.