Tag Archives: gender: work

Mother, Sex Object, Worker: The Transformation of the Female Flight Attendant

While the first flight attendants were male and many early airlines had a ban on hiring women, flight attending would eventually become a quintessentially female occupation.  Airline marketers exploited the presence of these female flight attendants.  Based on my reading — especially Phil Tiemeyer‘s Plane Queer and Kathleen Barry’s history of flight attendants’ labor activism – there seem to have been three stages.

First, there was the domestication of the cabin.  As air travel became more comfortable (e.g., pressurized cabins and quieter rides), airlines were looking to increase their customer base.  Female “stewardesses” in the ’40s and ’50s were an opportunity to argue that an airplane was just like a comfortable living room, equally safe for women, children, and men alike.  Marketing at the time presented the flight attendant as if she were a mother or wife:

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Twenty years later, air travel was no longer scary, so airlines switched their tactics. They sexualized their flight attendants in order to appeal to businessmen, who still made up a majority of their customers. Here’s a ten-second Southwest commercial touting the fact that their stewardesses wear “hot pants”:

The intersection of the labor movement and women’s liberation in the ’60s and ’70s inspired women to fight for workplace rights. Flight attendants were among the first female workers to organize on behalf of their occupation and among the most successful to do so.  Their work won both practical and symbolic victories, like the discursive move from “stewardess” to “flight attendant” that transformed women in the occupation from sex objects to workers.  A quick Google Image search shows that the association — stewardess/sex object vs. flight attendant/worker — still applies. Notice that the search for “stewardess” includes more sexualized images, while the one for “flight attendant” shows more images of people actually working.

“Stewardess”:

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“Flight attendant”:Screenshot_2My impression is that today’s marketing tends to feature flight attendants in all three roles — domestic, sex object, worker — echoing each stage of the transformation of the occupation in the public imagination.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post, Pacific Standard, and Work in Progress.

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.

Men Feel Bad Around Smart, Successful Women

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

 You know all those badass ladies out there that are inexplicably single? Well, maybe it’s not so inexplicable.

In a study contending for most-depressing-research-of-the-year, psychologists Kate Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi tested how a romantic partner’s success or failure affects the self-esteem of people in heterosexual relationships.  The short story: men feel bad about themselves when good things happen to their female partners.  Women’s self-esteem is unaffected.  Here’s some of the data.

The vertical axis represents self-esteem. In this experiment, respondents were told that their partner scored high on a test of intelligence (“positive feedback”) or low (“negative feedback”).  The leftmost bars show that men who were told that their partners were smart reported significantly lower self-esteem than those who heard that their partners weren’t so smart.

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In the second condition, respondents were asked to imagine a partner’s success or failure.  Doing so had no effect on women’s self-esteem (rightmost bars).  For men, however, imagining their partners’ success made them feel bad about themselves, whereas imagining their failure made them feel good.Screenshot_2

The various experiments were conducted with American and Dutch college students as well as a diverse Internet sample.  The findings were consistent across populations and were particularly surprising in the context of the Netherlands, which is generally believed to be more gender egalitarian.

We’ve got a long way to go.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Pacific Standard.

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.

Gender-Swapping Christmas

Gendered nonsense wasn’t on the Pew Research Center survey about what people don’t like about Christmas, but it’s in my top five!

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.

The Solution to Patriarchy? Pantene says Shine!

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.

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1Pretty neat.

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.”

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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.

Thanks to @yassmin_a at Redefining the Narrative, Keely W., and Jacob R. for the link!  Cross-posted at the Huffington Post.

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.

The Curious Evolution of the Sign Spinner

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.

Google search for “sign spinners” (click to enlarge):

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Google search for “‘mannequin sign spinners”  (click to enlarge):

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Isn’t. This. Interesting.

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:

Cross-posted at Racialicious and Pacific Standard.

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.

Men’s and Women’s Work: It’s the 1950s at Brinks Home Security

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.

1The commercials are equally gender stereotypical.

Good work, Brinks Home Security!  You wouldn’t want to offend a customer by suggesting that women have jobs or men do laundry!

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.

Course Guide: Sociology of Work

Course Guide for
SOCIOLOGY OF WORK
(last updated 9/2014)

Developed by Lisa Wade
Occidental College

Disclaimer: I am not a sociologist of work.  If you are, I would love to see someone take a more expert crack at this.  Please feel free to volunteer!

The Social Construction of Work

Work in Popular Culture

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the “Class War”

Unions and Unionization

Economic Change, Globalization, and the Great Recession

Gender and Work

Work and Racial, Ethnic, and National Identity

The U.S. in International Perspective

Specific Occupations

Flight Attendants

Sex Workers

Academia

Just for Fun

Updated Sep 2, 2014, at 3:30am

From Our Archives: For Labor Day

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:

The Social Construction of Work

Work in Popular Culture

Unemployment, Underemployment, and the “Class War”

Unions and Unionization

Economic Change, Globalization, and the Great Recession

Gender and Work

The U.S. in International Perspective

Just for Fun

Bonus!

Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.