Women in Business at the White House. Photo by BusinessForward, Flickr CC
Women in Business at the White House. Photo by BusinessForward, Flickr CC

It’s no secret that the U.S. lags behind many other countries in terms of the number of women in politics. In Congress and state legislatures, women occupy less than a quarter of available positions. Hillary Clinton enters this arena, hoping to be the first female president in the US (but not first in the world: see Mindy Fried’s “Global Women at the Top”). Sexist critiques of Clinton range from criticizing her voice for being too loud, too shrill, and too naggy, to anti-Clinton merchandise that reads, “Don’t be a pussy. Vote for Trump,” or “Hillary sucks but not as hard as Monica.”

While there is some incentive for women to enter male-dominated fields–the pay and status is often greater–there are also negative consequences. Sexual harassment may function as a form of backlash against powerful women who challenge gender norms by entering male-dominated fields or positions. Many women report sexual harassment at work and female supervisors report especially high levels. These consequences occur on a much broader scale, as well. For instance, when women enter occupational fields traditionally dominated by men in large numbers, the average pay for those jobs decreases over time. To explain this phenomenon, scholars point to society’s devaluing of women’s work more generally.
So, what happens when men enter fields traditionally dominated by women? In workplaces where women often outnumber men, such as nursing, men actually advance much faster and to higher positions than their female counterparts. This mechanism is known as “the glass escalator.” Moreover, when men are outnumbered by women in a workplace, they perceive more support from coworkers and supervisors than women who work in male-dominated jobs.

Overall men benefit from working in female-dominated fields, while women face greater burdens when they work in male-dominated fields. It is no surprise that Hillary Clinton is experiencing her fair share of harassment and critique: Not only is she pursuing a position dominated by men, but one that has only been occupied by men.

For more on this, check out our TROTs on female leaders and sexual harassment in law professions, as well as this Soc Images post, “Why Aren’t There More Women in Politics?”