gender

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Even in 2017, when more and more women enter historically male-dominated fields, archaic notions of what counts as “men’s work” or “women’s work” continue to persist in many workplace environments. A recent article in The Globe and Mail covers a study that shows how gender stereotypes hurt both men and women at work, and it particularly hurts employees in new fields.

Jobs in new industries are considered to be more gender-neutral than older professions, but gendered perceptions still take hold in these new roles. Using data from a microfinance bank in Central America, Laura Doering and Sarah Thébaud examine how initial interactions with either a man or woman in a gender-ambiguous position shape future perceptions of that role. They find that a client’s initial interaction with a male or female loan manager shaped their perceptions of the entire position as more masculine or feminine. As Doering points out,

“For example, if we first encounter a man in a new or gender-balanced job, we begin to associate the job with masculine stereotypes.”

Clients not only quickly attach gendered perceptions to the position, but are more likely to comply with the demands of the male rather than female managers. However, if the borrower first encounters a woman in the management position, they attribute less authority to the next manager, regardless of gender. As for ways to combat this bias, the authors suggest that one possible solution is an endorsement from a high-status employee among the presence of clients or other colleagues. Doering concludes,

“Such endorsements from high-status individuals can nudge clients and other employees toward more equitable treatment of workers in female-typed roles.”

Photo by © Jose Luis Pelaez, Inc./Blend Images/Corbis

While previously male-dominated factory jobs have been on the decline for decades, today the fastest-growing occupations are those that are typically female-dominated — occupations like nursing and physical therapy.  So, it would make sense if we begin to see men entering into traditionally female-dominated occupations at higher rates, but a recent article in the New York Times discusses why many men are hesitating to do so. 

Ofer Sharone studies middle-aged, white collar workers who are struggling to find a place in the current labor force.  He found that many men avoid these jobs because they fear it will be a blow to their masculinity, but several men who are willing to take a pay cut and do the work were persuaded not to by their wives and significant others who encouraged them to keep looking for other forms of work. He explains, 

“Marriages have more problems when the man is unemployed than the woman. What does it mean for a man to take a low-paying job that’s typically associated with women? What kind of price will they pay with their friends, their lives, their wives, compared to unemployment?”

However, it’s not just that men and their families are less enticed by these “pink collar” jobs. Sharone and sociologist Janette S. Dill have found that pink collar employers are often biased towards women. Negative stereotypes about men as at best poor care workers and at worst as potentially dangerous create biases against them in jobs like child and elderly care. And Dill also suspects that this bias has something to do with keeping wages low in these types of jobs, which hurts both men and women. She states,

“I sometimes wonder if health organizations don’t want men to come into these jobs because they’ll demand higher wages … They’re happy to have a work force of women they can pay $8 or $9 an hour.”

Photo by Steve Baker, Flickr CC

The 2018 mid-term elections are seeing more women than ever before expressing interest and taking steps to run for office. Some people suggest that this is the result of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, as well as a response to the numerous ways that President Trump has been criticized for his sexist behavior. One might think that this means that women will vote for female candidates in droves, but sociologists Leah Ruppanner of University of Melbourne and Kelsy Kretschmer of Oregon Sate University, along with political scientist Christopher Stout of Oregon State University, caution against such sweeping predictions in a recent article for RawStory.  

Using data from the American Election study to describe relationships between marriage and behavior at the polls, the researchers find that white and Latina women who are married are less likely to see their own fates as tied to that of other women. By contrast, single white and Latina women, and black women in general, are more likely to see themselves and other women as interconnected. As a result, women who are married and feel less connected to other women are more likely to vote for conservatives, while single women and those who feel more connected to other women are more likely to vote for liberals. The researchers explain,

“Some married women perceive advances for women, such as lawsuits to mitigate pay discrimination, as coming at the expense of their male partners. In part, this captures the shift in married women’s alliances from the individual to the marital union. Women who depend on their own income are more supportive of feminist issues such as abortion, sexual behavior, gender roles and family responsibilities, which widens the political gap between single and married women.”

They discuss how marriage has been shown to alter people’s behaviors and beliefs, and they suggest that married women can think less about women’s issues such as abortion and gender norms than single women do. However, an important caveat to their findings is that they did not observe significant differences between married and single black women. The researchers warn,

“Don’t assume that married women will connect to other women based on a notion of shared womanhood. Rather, feminist messages of discrimination and sexism may be more compelling to women who shoulder disproportionate levels of inequality, poverty and job insecurity – single, divorced and black women.”

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Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, the presence of social movements and protests has grown substantially. Most notable among this phenomenon have been large marches, such as the Women’s March and the March for Science. And according to an article in the Washington Post, these movements are showing no signs of slowing.    

Sociologist Dana Fisher, Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland, investigates what has motivated people to more actively participate in democracy.  In the article, she explains that this shift to more collective and vocal action is to ensure people are heard, especially in light of the current administration.  According to Fisher,

“Most people used to be content to vote every four years and then disengage from politics … but many Americans no longer feel like their concerns are being heard just by voting.”

The protests have also been more ethnically diverse than is typical, and Fisher’s research shows that the rates of bachelor’s degrees among the protesters is higher than the general US population. Perhaps the most significant shift is the variety of issues in which participants are protesting. At the Women’s March, 60 percent said they were protesting for women’s rights, 36 percent indicated they were there for the environment, and 35 percent for racial justice. Fisher explains,  

“Since the inauguration … the resistance has become the umbrella for a suite of issues that used to have their own individual movements … They are not just coming out for the one issue that is their big issue. They have a much more intersectional sense of an identity as an activist.”

The Walk a Mile in her shoes program is a domestic violence awareness program. Photo by David Rizzico, Flickr CC

Generally, domestic violence is something we think of as linked to, and limited by, the boundaries of the home. The recent tragedy in San Bernardino, however, makes us rethink such notions, as the attacker shot his wife — an elementary school special-education teacher — at the school, killing an 8-year old student in the process. Incidents like this highlight the ways that domestic violence not only affects the domestic sphere, but also the community at large.

In an article on Angelus, sociologist Silva Santos of the Social Security Institute in Uruguay discusses how, out of all the homicides that occur among people who know each other in the United Nations, 79 percent of the victims are women. This phenomenon is reflective of a general social trend wherein women are already treated unequally in public spaces. As Santos describes,

Domestic abuse is based on gender violence, as well as in other types of violence that society chooses to ignore. For example, street bullying, or within the work environment are behaviors that society overlooks, but they who bully grow accustomed to seeing women as their property or as objects with which they can do whatever they wish.”

In essence, the gender discrimination and harassment women face on a routine basis forms the foundation from which domestic abuse is enacted, a platform wherein women are already treated like second-class citizen in the general community. This is mirrored by incidents such as the shooting in San Bernardino, where domestic violence spills out of the home and affects the community at large. Moving forward, it will be important to consider how issues of gender violence and domestic abuse are interconnected.  

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The recent media attention surrounding Fox News and accusations of sexual harassment are high-profile examples of the everyday experiences that many victims of sexual harassment face in the workplace. An article in the New York Times explores research on the factors that discourage people from reporting harassment, citing work from University of Illinois sociologist Anna-Maria Marshall and others.

Sexual harassment often goes under-reported, especially in male-dominated settings with rigid hierarchies like the military and large corporate companies. Sometimes victims are uncertain of what qualifies as illegal harassment — one meta-analysis by Remus Ilies and colleagues found that reports doubled when asked about specific behaviors rather than just using the term “sexual harassment.” Many women also fear retaliation for pursuing formal action, or at the very least disbelief or inaction from their employers. These fears appear to be well placed, however, and one study found that two-thirds of workers reported retaliation from their employers after reporting mistreatment.  

While many startup companies do not have human resource departments to handle sexual harassment issues, Marshall’s research demonstrates that even organizations with official harassment policies and procedures create hurdles that keep legal action from being taken. Marshall finds that policies on paper are much different in practice, and that managers often interpret policies to protect the interests of their organization, and not the employee. Marshall explains,

“Companies put [policies and procedures] into place as mini litigation defense centers … The way employers deal with it is to prepare to show a court or jury that they did everything they could, rather than to protect women in the workplace.”

Photo by Jonty Fisher, Flickr CC

Policies around parental leave have received a lot of attention recently, both in the U.S. and abroad. Conversations about paternity leave often focus on the lack of support for new fathers who want to stay home with their newborn, but a recent article in The Guardian looks at why fathers who are given the option of paternity leave in the U.K. often don’t take it.

According to the article, only one in 100 men requested parental leave in the year after a U.K. policy was instituted that allowed shared parental leave. Even when shared leave is available, only 2-8% of men are likely to take it, and unless the leave is specifically for the father, a mother will be far more likely to take the shared parental leave. One reason for fathers not taking advantage of the policy is that they fear damaging their careers or their family’s income by asking for leave. Women have long been viewed as the primary caretakers for children, and fathers reported that they faced discrimination in the workplace if they asked for parental leave, including remarks by their coworkers and management that they were not taking their jobs as seriously.

Sociologist Tina Miller believes that the solution to this low uptake in paternity leave could be to allocate separate leave that is just for fathers and is nontransferable to the mother. She says,

“If we are serious about men being involved, it’s the only way. Mothers and fathers don’t take decisions about who takes leave from a level playing field – it’s gendered, it’s historically unequal.”

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Support for gender equality in the work place — such as equal pay and equal chance of promotion — has continued to grow.  However, a recent article in Time suggests that young people today are less supportive of gender equality than they were 20 years ago when it comes to household norms and roles.

Joanna Pepin, a sociology doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland, finds that millennials are supportive of gender equality in the workplace but still prefer standard gendered roles at home, a stark contrast to previous expectations based on other generations’ dispositions towards the matter.  In 1994, only 42% of high school seniors agreed that men should be the primary breadwinners and women should manage domestic life and raising of the family.  Now 58% of high school seniors believe that these traditional gender norms are best.

“We thought that as women entered the workplace, as they gained more access to income and their days started to look more like men’s, that that would translate to more equality in the home … but that’s really not what these attitudes trends are showing.”

Pepin and her co-authors argue that a new cultural ideology of “equal, but different” has taken hold. However, Daniel Carlson, a sociologist at University of Utah, points to obstacles that working families face as the primary reason for reduced gender egalitarianism in the home. Carlson argues,

“As couples struggled with inflexible workplaces and public policies that didn’t support working families, they’ve ‘reverted to conventional gender arrangements and traditional beliefs, transmitting their attitudes to their teenage children.'”

Either way, these new trends highlight the complexity of gender attitudes and the various social forces that shape them.

Trump received more support from white men than any other group in the presidential election, but this was expected, at least according to sociologist Michael Kimmel. His research is part of the new but growing field of “masculinity studies,” and in a recent interview with The Guardian, he talks about his book Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. His research specifically looks at how people join, and leave, white-supremacist or neo-Nazi groups, and he states that masculinity is an important part of the process.

Kimmel talks at length about many parts of this picture, including the men’s rights movement on the Internet, the role of testosterone (or the lack thereof) when it comes to men being disproportionately aggressive, and why “men are naturally aggressive” is a poor argument to defend domestic abuse.

In the interview, Kimmel explains how feelings of “aggrieved entitlement,” a sense of a loss for masculine power and tradition, can stimulate feelings of humiliation. In turn, this can drive men to join local neo-Nazi groups. There, the camaraderie and sense of community can validate a neophyte’s masculinity, convincing him to stay. In essence, masculinity is very tied up in how people join and leave hate groups and extremist enclaves. As Kimmel states,

“The camaraderie of the community validates their masculinity, and – even more importantly than that – gives them a sacred mission. That is really powerful for these guys … If you ignore masculinity in understanding how these guys get into these movements, you will not be able to help them get out.”

Photo by Elia Scudiero, Flickr CC

Students hoping to head off to exclusive colleges may do so for a wide variety of reasons, be it a personal challenge, the impressive academic reputation of the university, or a hope to make more money down the road. However, a new study discussed in New York Magazine shows that this potential financial payoff is not equally shared.

The study, which was conducted by Dirk Witteveen and Paul Attewell, reveals that there is an increase in pay for those who attend higher tiered universities, but that women from these elite universities make about 16% less than their male counterparts. The study notes a variety of factors that might contribute to this trend, including different college major choices, but the authors emphasize that “full-time working women graduates earn a lot less than their male counterparts from equivalent colleges.”

The New York Magazine article also references sociologist Lauren Rivera, who came to similar conclusions in her own study. Rivera explains:

“The people doing the hiring at fancy firms (read: old, privileged white guys) assume that accomplished women are really after a husband and some kids, meaning they’re not down to scrape out long hours, meaning they get passed over for a dude whose background better reflects theirs. Privilege is invisible, and it replicates itself.”

The political debate over closing the gender wage gap is far from over; just this week, a Utah Republican argued against equal pay for equal work, reasoning that it prevented mothers from remaining in the home. Though his comments led to widespread outcry and his eventual resignation, this moment is just one of many that shows how both implicit and explicit sexism still play a role in the workforce.