Notes on Gender and Work-Related Death

Occupational sex segregation is really nothing new. As more and more women entered the workforce, they were often headed into different spaces from the men (sometimes entirely different physical locations, and sometimes only subtly differentiated spaces). This might mean different buildings, but even within buildings, occupations can be sex segregated. So, women and men are both working. But this simple statement disguises the fact that they’re not necessarily doing the same work–not precisely. In fact, it’s a smaller proportion of people than you might think who work alongside someone doing the same work, with the same occupational title, on the same shift. Approximately 1 in 10 workers in the U.S. labor force fit this description of a gender-integrated occupation. So, if you’re one of them, take a moment to count yourself lucky and consider just how truly odd you are.

Roughly one third of the 66,000,000 women in the workforce in the early 2000’s could be accounted for by only 10 (of the 503) occupations listed on the U.S. Census. That’s occupational segregation! The “occupational ghettos” that have been feminized are often “rewarded” with more care work, less pay, and lower levels of cultural status and prestige. These are the jobs we sometimes refer to as “pink-collar work.” Some of men’s occupational preserves are rewarded with higher status, more money, and a great deal of power. But this is not true of all of men’s jobs.

Blue-collar work has been in sharp decline in the U.S. for some time. We may “put things together,” but by and large, we don’t build things from the ground up like we used to in the U.S. That said, blue-collar work has not completely disappeared. And blue-collar work is sometimes “rewarded” by ranking among the most life-threatening occupations.

NPR story picNPR’s “Planet Money” blog just ran a story on the jobs with the highest rates of work-related deaths–the “deadliest jobs”. Collecting data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2011, they produced the graph here (right) to illustrate those jobs with some of the highest (and lowest) rates of on-the-job deaths compared with the national average of 3.5 deaths per 100,000 full-time (or equivalent) employed persons.

It’s an interesting image. But in the short post, I was struck that gender was not mentioned once. Looking down the list of jobs with the highest work-related deaths listed, gender seemed to jump out of the figure at me (fishermen, loggers, pilots, farmers and ranchers, police officers, construction workers). These are all jobs that most Americans probably picture a man “doing.”

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A Brief History of the Masculinization of the Garage

In the U.S., garages did not really become a part of the “typical” American home (if we can say such a thing) until the start of the 20th century.  Certainly garages existed; but they weren’t seen as a necessity.  Two things you’d probably guess drove garage production initially: the increasing presence of cars owned by individual families and suburbanization.  But,garage-mtneerman-2006 suburbanization was also accompanied by a renewed interest in a sort of “do-it-yourself” lifestyle, and garages played a role in this history.  There’s some disagreement concerning whether a “do-it-yourself” zeitgeist prompted suburban retreat or the other way around.  But, the important bit is that they are related.

Industrialization and suburbanization brought about fantastic transformations in family life and gender relations.  Men and women began to rely upon one another in new and unprecedented ways.  Divisions between work and leisure became more pronounced for men and this same boundary was probably blurred more than ever before for women.  The same forces that led Lasch to call the family “a haven in a heartless world” were inequitably distributed between family members.  This fact is reverberated in our design and use of home architecture.

If you have a home built in the early 20th century that hasn’t been remodeled, it’s likely that you have a fairly closed-off, small kitchen and probably only one centrally-located bathroom.  These are just two examples but they’re a powerful illustration of an important issue to do with gender and space.  Small kitchens, structurally isolated in homes are a remnant of a particular set of gender relations in families.  When architects were designing homes for my grandparent’s generation, kitchens were small and segregated because few people were thought to have reason to inhabit them.  Multiple bathrooms seemed a waste of space until the hustle and bustle of dual-earning couples’ morning routines became a national norm.

Garages, basements, and more, have historically served as spaces to which men retreat to work on projects around the house, hobbies, to read, watch television, or “to tinker” as my grandmother-in-law says of her husband.   Continue reading

Daryl Vocat–Challenging the Boy Scouts through Art

My parents never signed me up for Scouts. So, I’m always an outsider when groups of men have the “How close to Eagle Scout were you?” conversation. The object of this status game (as far as I can tell) is to have been closer than your opponent, or – in the event of a tie – to have had a cooler, more daring, or more significant project to have achieved the rank. I remember thinking (or better said: I remember correctly realizing) that the outfits were ugly. But I did like the idea of collecting the badges. Even before I studied masculinity academically, I also remember thinking that tying knots and pitching tents were sort of odd things to decide that all “real boys” ought to know.

The Boy Scouts has always been a movement about masculinity. From its beginnings, The Boy Scouts of America was understood as necessary as economic transformations caused men to play smaller roles in the raising of their sons. As families moved from farms to cities, many worried that young men would never learn to embody the manliness forged in the daily toil of rural life. American boys–so we were told–needed traditions restored that were thought to be responsible for turning their fathers and grandfathers into the men they became. So, the Scouts stepped in at a historical moment in which men were stepping out of family life, creating “masculine” social spaces in which men could help turn boys into men.

There’s a nostalgia that surrounds the group that can’t be ignored. The Boys Scouts are an organization that we like to think can do no harm. Sure they segregate boys and girls, but there are Girl Scouts too. Sure they’ve systematically denied access to non-heterosexual boys and Scoutmasters, but those cases were brought to court. And most recently, sure they participated in a cover-up of that concealed instances of child abuse and molestation, but… Well, we’re still waiting to hear how this “but” gets worked out.

Scouting manuals are a source of tremendous cultural nostalgia as well (see Kathleen Denny‘s work on Girl and Boy Scout handbooks here). The Scouts and Scoutmasters were drawn in a very particular style. You know the style: we still use it for “how-to” instructions when we depict people in them. White, heterosexual-appearing, middle- middle-upper class boys and men were drawn as well-groomed, of medium weight and build, casually interacting in ways that illustrated focused attention on a common goal. It’s potentially the case that few boys experienced Boy Scouts as it was depicted in those manuals, but the power of those stuffy old anesthetized images is palpable.

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Material Feminists – Challenging the Shape of and Relations between Domestic Spaces

screen-shot-2012-10-22-at-10-19-47-am  Cross-posted at Femme-O-Nomics

Vernacular house forms are economic diagrams of the reproduction of the human race; they are also aesthetic essays on the meaning of life within a particular culture, its joys and rituals, its superstitions and stigmas.  House forms cannot be separated from their physical and social contexts. (Hayden 1984:  98)

The history of American home architectural design and the design of suburban space were never foregone conclusions.  From about 1870 through 1930, American home architecture was the topic of heated debate.  The homes that we live in today, their spatial arrangements, barriers, rituals, and traditions, and the shapes, uses, and meanings of our neighborhoods were fiercely debated topics.  And the debates that emerged out of the late 19th century still structure our lives today.

What kind (of kinds) of home(s) Americans needed has always been a question without a simple answer—with many competing perspectives.  The designs of our home not only allocates our belongings throughout the house, it structures the ways in which we interact with one another and the communities in which we live.

Dolores Hayden suggests that building programs competed to define American homes.  Overly simplified, a “building program” is a statement concerning the spatial and architectural requirements of some built space, typically defining the type of building along with a list of the sorts of activities that the building is intended to shelter (sleeping, eating, cooking, playing, lounging, entertaining, etc.).  At a general level, building programs communicate the requirements (economic, technical, social) of a building, including an explanation of how the built space accommodates the activities it is intended to house.  But buildings do more than accommodate social interactions.  They also structure our interactions, preclude or present the possibility of interactional flexibility, and make symbolic boundaries physical.

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Gendering Your Household by Smell

There’s a small body of work on the sociology of smell that deals with gender.  Scents, their cultural meaning, and our experiences of them are culturally mediated processes (here, here, and here).  What women and men ought to smell like is, in some ways, just another of the various ways in which we are all held accountable to recognizable performances of gender.  Controlling one’s own scent is a small part of this process.  And controlling the scent of your home–perhaps in different ways for different spaces within the home–is a piece of gendering our social environments as well.

Yankee Candle stores are always fun.  I generally find myself in one some time in winter or fall when I want my house to smell like I just baked something with apples in it or like a fir tree had an accident in my living room.  Like a great deal of stores dedicated to selling niche home décor, Yankee primarily caters to women.  Desiring your home to smell like “Fluffy Towels,” “Autumn Leaves,” a “Bahama Breeze,” or “Home Sweet Home” is something that many people likely classify as a “feminine” desire (regardless of the gender of the desirer in question).

Like a number of products catering primarily to women, Yankee has developed a “men’s line.”  I’ve always thought that gendering scents has been somewhat ridiculous–that the line between perfume and cologne was less clear than it’s often depicted.  Smells don’t have a gender, do they?

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Feminism as a Gendered Space — “Gendering Feminism”

Feminism isn’t really a space—but it’s certainly an ideological terrain of sorts.  It’s an identity people “adopt,” a stance people “take,” and insult people “hurl,” a set of theories people “cite,” a part of a movement people “join,” and more.  British suffragist Rebecca West famously stated: “Feminism is the radical notion than women are people.”  Feminism—to me—is the revolutionary idea that gender inequality exists, but that it doesn’t exist of necessity or inevitably.

In my research on men’s participation in marches dedicated to raising awareness about issues of violence against women (here), I came to think of feminism as a gendered space—as gendered ideological terrain.  Men’s adoption or support of “feminist” views or issues often seemed to be implicitly understood as a gender transgression.  This was all the more interesting, because, at the particular events I observed, men were required to transgress other gender boundaries as well—they dressed in drag.

Walk a Mile in Her Shoes®” marches require participants to walk one mile wearing “women’s” shoes—which are almost also understood as high heels.  The event is gender segregated by design: men walk, women watch.  Playing on the adage that to truly understand someone else’s experience requires walking a mile in her/his shoes, this event makes literal that which was perhaps never meant to be taken literally.  The movement-sponsored shoe is a 4-inch, red, patent leather, heel.  Men (not all, but some) at all of the marches I attended referred to these shoes as “stripper heels”).  Some men wear traditional masculine attire aside from the shoes (business suits, sports team uniforms, jeans and shirts, etc.).  But many men take the event as an opportunity to dress in drag.  And when these–primarily heterosexual–men dressed in drag, they often also performed stereotypes of women and gay men that seemed directly opposed to the message organizers sought to send with the event.  Although I did see examples of women (and less often men) uncomfortable with some of the men’s behaviors, the majority of marches and audience members laughed with and at them.

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On Masculinity and Home Improvement

– Cross-posted at Femme-O-Nomics

Home improvement stores are gendered spaces.  I know next to nothing about home improvement.  I come from an elite enough background that when something in our home needed improving, we didn’t (for the most part) do the work ourselves.  We hired others (always men) to come in, assess the situation, make a recommendation, and do the work involved.  This weekend, I thought I was faced with having to improve my own home, but thankfully, I found someone to do it for me at Lowe’s–someone who, as it turns out, was a woman.

My family and I got back from a morning outing only to realize that we neglected to bring our house keys.  [We have so many keys at our new house that we keep them on separate sets, though we had a garage key made for our car keys as a result.]  So, we pulled up to our garage, and realized that we had no way of entering our house.  We left a window unlocked, but had to tear a screen to get into the house.  So… short story long, we had to repair a screen—something we know absolutely nothing about.  I brought the whole screen with me thinking I would just get a new one that size.

When we got to Lowe’s, a woman–Carla*–confronted us as we entered asking what we were looking for.  Holding up the screen, I smiled (with a bit of embarrassment) and said, “Screens and keys.”  She said, “I can take care of both of those for you.”  She brought us over to the screen section.  I didn’t even realize we were there.  She asked what kind of screen we wanted.  I considered trying to act knowledgeable, but said, “We want to make this,” gesturing to the broken screen, “look like new for as cheap as possible.”

“Have you ever done a screen?” she asked.  I laughed—but not as hard as she laughed at me after I laughed.  If it’s far beyond hammering something or turning a screw, I’m a bit out of my league.  So, I asked, “Is there any way you could help me with this?”  Excitedly, she said, “Yeah!  I’ve changed tons of these.  I just did my whole house last year.”  I was struck in many ways because I don’t think I’ve ever been able to say this about a residence I’ve lived in.  I’ve never “done” anything to my whole house.

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Teaching Privilege without Perpetuating Privilege

Most of the courses I teach center on contemporary issues and inequality.  It’s common practice now, I think, to talk about issues of privilege and advantage in courses on inequality.  I know when I ask undergraduate to raise their hands to see who has ever been assigned Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege Checklist,” a portion of the class always seems to have come across it in one class or another.  There are a variety of strategies for leading classroom discussions about privilege–some more successful than others.

I’ve seen a strategy put into use, however, that I think deserves more attention.  It’s not something I’ve ever done in a class; but I understand the idea behind it.*  Some teachers ask students to raise their hands to a series of questions about their social backgrounds and identity categories to get them to think about issues of privilege and inequality.  In a more extreme example, students are asked to stand against a wall and to take steps away from the wall based on their answers to a series of questions about various advantages and disadvantages associated with their identities. So, depending on how you run this activity, the end result is either a group of young, able-bodied, heterosexual, white men standing against a wall watching other non-young, non-able-bodied, non-heterosexual, non-white, non-men walk away from them or vice versa.

While this seems like it might (and I stress might here) be a really powerful experience for the young, able-bodied, heterosexual, white men, I’ve always wondered what it might be like for everyone else in class.

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Are “Gender-Neutral” Spaces for Children Doing Anything?

Harrods–an internationally renowned department store in London–has changed the ways in which children encounter toys in the store. Rather than creating gender-specific areas and aisles, they have elected to group toys thematically. Harrods is calling it their “first gender-neutral toy department.” It’s interesting and wonderful to think that feminist critiques of toy store segregation might possibly be behind this move. I think it probably has much more to do with creating a children’s “fun zone” where you don’t realize that you’re actually shopping–though everything’s for sale. It did cause me to pause though and think about what the heck “gender-neutral” actually means.

My son–Ciaran–was born on April 4, 2011. Preparing for a child was an interesting process. Even before you start trying, you start reading (and there is NO shortage of material), and–if you live in the U.S.–you develop your “parenting philosophy.” This encompasses things like what research you support, agree with, or choose to acknowledge; whether you’ll be breastfeeding and for how long; whether you’ll allow your child to “cry it out” at night; and much much more. Lots of new parents think about gender. It’s something about which we thought a great deal. It’s not that we don’t want Ciaran to have a gender, or to be gendered, or even that we think that’s possible. But, we wanted to control some of the ways in which gender (as an organizing principle in the world around him) was introduced to him on a daily basis.

This issue becomes particularly important if you will need or want to rely on family and friends to help you buy some of the things you acquire when having a baby. Certainly clothing is gendered, but so are pacifiers, baby carriers, bottles, strollers, car seats, teething rings, crib sheets, mobiles, children’s books, most of children’s media (if you use it), toys, sleeping sacks, diaper bags, and more.

We responded in a way that I’m guessing is typical of many couples like us when asked, “So, what can we get for you?” We ended up sprinkling the phrase “gender neutral” into lots of those early conversations.

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Gendering Women’s Athletic Performances

Women’s participation in athletics has been one of the victories of the feminist movement.  Policies like Title IX demanded equal access and funding (even if that hasn’t yet been realized) in federally subsidized programs.  Though the amendment had to do with much more than women’s participation in sports, this is what discussions of Title IX are often all about.   Title IX stated,

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Title IX)

The bill says nothing about which sports women would be allowed to play, or how they would be allowed to play them.  There are lots of small differences between men’s and women’s sports.  But, while women’s basketballs are slightly smaller, softballs are much larger than baseballs–a feature that necessitates differences in pitching, hitting, and throwing the balls.  Men’s and women’s athletic outfits also differ.  Consider men’s vs. women’s professional tennis clothing.  But, gendered performance expectations are also lying behind many of the rituals and traditions we hold most dear in many sports.

In watching 2012 Olympic trials for gymnastics, there was one moment during Anna Li’s routine on the uneven bars that caught my attention in the sportscaster conversation following the judging.  We often don’t think about gender performance expectations; we simply don’t have to.  They don’t even typically feel like expectations because many of us are eager to take part in them.  But when gender expectations are disrupted, we know something significant happened, and there is typically a great deal of collective work done to repair the breach.  Anna Li did just such a thing.  I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about gymnastics, so I missed it when it happened, but the significance of the event was not lost on more seasoned fans and commentators.

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