What’s in a name?—The Controversy Over “Manholes”

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 9.34.52 AMOccupational gender segregation matters and can be attributed to a number of factors.  But, a significant factor is cultural.  Jobs are gendered.  Often not in any necessarily straight-forward way, but jobs acquire gendered attributes and meanings.  In fact, occupational gender segregation probably plays a key role in producing our understandings of what is “masculine” or “feminine” in the first place.  As Joan Acker famously argued, the “abstract worker” is imagined to be a man (here).  This idea is perpetuated in a variety of ways—through formal and informal workplace policies, through curricular gender segregation as areas of study acquire “gendered” meaning, through the ways we frame the work itself as demanding a “masculine” or “feminine” strengths and/or sensibilities, and often, through things as simple as job titles.

The feminist movement fought long and hard to have firemen referred to as firefighters, policemen as police officers, etc.  The lack of gender-neutral language was a subtle, but symbolic, way through which women were culturally excluded from certain occupations (even in cases where no laws or formal policies necessarily precluded women’s entry).  This is a shift that is–to put it mildly–incomplete.  For instance, many high schools, colleges and universities still refer to incoming cohorts of students as “freshmen,” while others have opted for the more gender-neutral language of “first-years” (though not without the occasional backlash).

Language is important.  It’s a small part of a larger system of power and inequality that helps to organize our lives.  Legal feminist scholars have asked that we rid ourselves of language in laws that reflect gender bias.  I know what you’re thinking, but it’s more complicated that clicking Command+F and either replacing “men” with “people” or “men and women” and adding “/she” to the “he’s” or replacing them with “them/their” instead.  The tricky part has been when we literally lack gender-neutral language for something.  As one journalist put it, “Some gender-specific words just aren’t that easy to replace” (here).  While firefighter, police officer, and first-year might have been interpreted as easy changes, more difficulty surrounded words and positions like: ombudsman, penmanship, servicemen.

Screen shot 2013-02-14 at 3.09.12 PMAnd this brings us to the “manhole.”
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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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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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The Bachelor Pad: Myths and Reality

There is not actually a great deal of literature on “man caves,” “man dens,” and the like–save for some anthropological and archeological work using the term a bit differently.  There is, however, a substantial body of literature dealing with bachelor pads.  The “bachelor pad” is a term that emerged in the 1960s.  It was a style of masculinizing domestic spaces heavily influenced by “gentlemen’s” magazines like Esquire and Playboy.  Originally referred to as “bachelor apartments,” “bachelor pad” was coined in an article in the Chicago Tribune, and by 1964 it appeared in The New York Times and Playboy as well.

It’s somewhat ironic that the “bachelor pad” came into the American cultural consciousness at a time when the median age at first marriage was at a historic low (20.3 for women and 22.8 for men).  So, the term came into usage at a time when heterosexual marriage was in vogue.  Why then?  Another ironic twist is that while the term has only become more popular since it was introduced, “bachelorette pad” never took off–despite the interesting finding that women live alone in larger numbers than do men.  I think these two paradoxes substantiate a fundamental truth about the bachelor pad–it has always been more myth than reality (see here, here, here, here, and here). Continue reading

Sean Payton and the Masculinization of Football

In case you’ve been on the moon recently and missed it, football is a gendered space.  While girls and boys, women and men continue to play sports on different teams, at different times, on different courts and fields, and often with subtly different equipment or rules, it’s also true that by and large, they’re playing many of the same sports.  There are only a few sports that have remained the province of men.  Olympic ski jumping is probably my favorite example.  In a classically awful way, it turns out that a woman (Lindsey Van) holds the world record in ski jumping but cannot compete in the Olympic event because it is sex segregated and there is no women’s event.  Football is one such space as well.  Women don’t play.  They don’t play as girls and they can’t play professionally as women.

[SIDE NOTE: It is true that there is a Lingerie Football League that started in 2009 (and yes… it’s exactly as awful as it sounds).  Women play full contact indoor football in the same arenas where men’s professional sports are played.  The game is unsafe and there are a great deal of injuries as a result.  The women wear less padding, but are extreme athletes and go “all out” in front of screaming audiences of men.]

The most recent issue in the NFL is the suspension of the New Orleans Saints’ coach, Sean Payton for what’s being considered unsportsmanlike conduct off the fieldContinue reading

Fast-Food and the Feminization of Health

Advertising has long relied on gendered and sexualized images and text.  Advertising uses hyper-gendered images and text to catch our attention and it participates in (re)constructing stereotypes (see here).  The health food craze of the 80s and 90s hit fast food restaurants hard.  The McDonald’s colors (red and yellow) came to signify unhealthy food.  Many chains changed their logos to include blues, purples, and greens to appeal to what they perceived to be a more “health-conscious” set of standards of American fast-food customers.

For instance, as Americans became increasingly conscious of the detrimental effects of fried food, Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to “KFC” and commercials in the early 2000s implied it was an abbreviation for Kitchen Fresh Chicken.  But in 2007, “Kentucky Fried Chicken” was resurrected and this time period marked a change in the way fast food advertising dealt with what they perceived to be a much more health-conscious population.

While initially, fast-food chains tried to disguise their food in more healthy packaging, from the mid-2000s on many chains charted a different route to address this problem.  Perhaps reminded of Bruce Firestein’s 1982 classic satirization of American masculinity, Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche, fast-food restaurants became emboldened to challenge American men to forgo health concerns in their advertisements.  This theme is probably best illustrated by Burger King’s 2006 commercial, dubbed the “Manthem,” used to promote their newest sandwich to the menu: the Texas Double Whopper.  The commercial rewrote Helen Reddy’s classic “I Am Woman”–a song released in 1971 that was widely held as capturing some of the spirit of feminist activism during that time.

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