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The divisions of
gender with respect to employment is a very important topic when studying gender
and geography. It is crucial to think about the spacial divisions of labour in
terms of the dissection of the city which reveals gendered issues about how men
and women move through this space. Historically, gender has been used as a term
to distinguish between the biological sex and aspects of femininity and
masculinity. West and Zimmerman argue that gender is not a personal trait but
“an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and a
rationale for various social arrangements, and as a means of legitimating one
of the most fundamental divisions of society” (West & Zimmerman 1987,
pg.126). Paid work and employment has long been seen as the central aspect of
human life, determining daily activities, people they meet and the relationships
that form (Feldberg & Glenn 1979). The study of gender and employment
reveals problems found in the literature and research available. Studies tend
to concentrate on white males, particularly those in managerial, blue-collar
and professional occupations (Hesselbart, 1978). The academic research
surrounding work on employment opportunities for men and women is often one-sided
because of ideas and definitions being ‘appropriate’ in either the analysis of men’s
work or in women’s work, although not in both. There is a divided opinion
between the body being ‘real and accessible’ readily available through senses,
to the concept that it is socially constructed and continually changing and
influenced by external factors. ‘The body is always already culturally mapped;
it never exists in a pure or un-coded state’ (Fuss, 1990, pg.6).


This essay will
focus on the constructions of the gendered body; investigating and finding
explanations for the shifts, throughout time, in the way gender is experienced
in the division of labour. It will look at how different periods in history,
social attitudes and political influences towards the gendered body have had an
effect on employment chances. The essay will concentrate on changing attitudes
over time, beginning by comparing women’s employment opportunities throughout
time with men, then moving onto more recent patterns of gender involvement in
the labour market. It will look into how the gendered body has impacted
circumstances in different sectors of the economy, from low paid work to the
more competitive higher paid industries. Finally, an overview of whether
opportunities and choices of men and women continue to be outlined by
constructions of the gendered body will be provided, examining why inequalities
still exist today and the suggestion of future research to decide whether they
will ever be equal.

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A major trend is the
historical lack of women in the labour market or the placement of women in very
particular employment areas. Patterns shifted around both of the World Wars
where greater involvement of women in the labour market was seen. At this time,
they were not perceived as regular participants and so the Wars saw employing
women as a ‘reserve army’ of labour. Women’s involvement in the labour force
showed significant increases in the 1940s, resulting in accreditation being
given to World War II for encouraging economic and social change (Goldin,

Gender patterns in
the labour market are driven by the economic need for labour, for example in
times of crisis women have been called upon to work. Over the long run, women
joined the paid labour force because of factors changing the nature of the
work, including surges in the professional sector and improved educations opportunities
for women (Goldin, 1983). The advancements made during the Second World War
proved to be ephemeral as women were demobilised from the socially constructed ‘men’s
work’, because of the constructions of their gendered body, to allow for the
returning servicemen, similar to what occurred after the First World War. ‘The
proportion of women in the labour force as a percentage of women of working age
(15-64) increased from 45.9% in 1955 to 51% in 1965’ (National Statistics, 2013,
pg. 3). Over 90% of the increase in women’s employment in the 1970s and 80s was
in part-time work. There were also several advances to address discrimination
and inequalities in the work place that have historically affected women’s
place at work. The overall patterns and trends of men and women in paid employment
in the labour market shows rising recruitment for women and falling for men
over the last 40 years. The subsequent part of this essay will look at why the
gendered body impacts gender division of labour, critically examining the
contention that the employment opportunities for men and women continue to be
framed by the constructions of the gendered body.


Through looking at
the reasons behind the changing gender division within paid work, it can be
assessed whether opportunities are still framed by the constructions of the
gendered body. Gender assumptions about who should participate in certain types
of work has always been prevalent. The first explanation attributed to change
is the decline in primary industry and manufacturing, typically viewed as
‘masculine jobs’ and a rise in service sector jobs traditionally done by women.
The primary industry includes occupations such as mining, agriculture and
turning natural resources into products. This sector has stereotypically been
seen as ‘masculine’, a set of attributes, behaviours and roles associated with
men. Masculinity is both socially constructed and biologically created (van den
Wijngaard 1997). The decline can be credited to technological advancements and
the offshoring of production to developing countries where labour and materials
are cheaper. McDowell (2009) argues that traits related with caring have been
socially constructed to be more associated with female bodies and their natural
abilities to distinguish between emotional work and physical labour. Avoiding
the social constructions of the female body is difficult, despite advancements
in healthcare and increase in the number of women in waged labour forces.


McDowell states that
femaleness still carries with it a penalty, creating job segregation and a
continued gender pay gap. However, as mentioned, there has been a recent rise in
the service sector industry. This has created more opportunities for women and
the perception of the female body. Embodied men and women are said to be ranked
in terms of desirability for particular types of jobs in the service based
economies. The service sector differs greatly from the manufacturing economy.
The servicing body incorporates emotions that become part of the provision of
the service that can be felt by either or both the workers and consumers. Embodiment
is now at the centre of the servicing industry and how bodies connect, or do
not, with clients is a key issue. Zimmerman (2015) frames emotional labour as a
private experience, while others focus on it as a formal workplace issue. As
more and more women enter formerly male dominated professions, it is argued
that more ‘female type’ work is expected of them (Hackman, 2015). This clearly
highlights that opportunities for men and women continue to be framed by the
constructions of the gendered body. Emotional labour can be defined as the
social expectations of a specific service being provided and the idea that
employees must adhere either their actual feelings or the appearance of these
feelings in order to meet the anticipations of the recipient. Hochschild (1983)
accredits the idea that, due to their subordinate position, women have a
particular relationship to emotion work.


Typically, aggression
in men is seen as masculine and positive, however when women express anger, it
is viewed as damaging and unnecessary. Hochschild goes on to argue that women
are more often employed commercially for emotion work; the nurses who support
rather the doctors who diagnose. The main concern in her research was the
‘commercialisation of feeling’ and focused on the airline industry in the 1980s
where emotions become a commodity. Hackman’s (2015) research highlights that
emotion work can be very mentally tiring but this is rarely recognised as a legitimate
strain and therefore is not compensated for in wages. This proves that
opportunities and choices that women face in the labour market are framed by
the constructions of the female body. Even in sectors considered to be male
dominated, women are expected to undertake ‘female roles’ which as research
shows, often pay less. In spite of this Walsh (2017) argues against labelling
men and women with particular traits as he believes it could reverse the efforts
in the strive towards gender equality. He states that “Women and men vary only
slightly in terms of their inherent skills and traits. Both are more than
capable of succeeding, but unfortunately women have historically faced enormous
social and institutional barriers. Although these formal barriers have begun to
erode, evidence suggests that there is still a long way to go before achieving


It is clear that the
constructions of the female body impacts the employment opportunities and
chances available to women. However, there is also research which proves and
indicates that the constructions of the male body also influence the chances available
to them in paid work. Linda McDowell’s exploration into young working-class men
unveils them to be especially disadvantaged as they are found to be the least
appropriate of all possible labourers. Approximately three million people work
in low-paid jobs involving direct contact with the bodies of others, including
bars, shops and cafes. Many young, working-class men lack the social skills
that are required to perform these types of roles to the standard expected in
hospitality. They are also rejected from high status and high paid roles, such
as lawyers or the financial services sector due to a lack in the education made
readily available to them. McDowell (2009) carries on to say that the
constructions of their male gendered body renders them unsuitable from the
remaining reasonably paid manufacturing jobs. Young, working-class men find it
difficult to listen and take instructions from superiors as they see it as a
challenge to their sense of masculinity. Connell (1995, pg.86) argues ‘that
instead of possessing or having masculinity, individuals move through and
produce masculinity by engaging in masculine practices.’ These young,
working-class men believe, because of their upbringing and interaction in
social spaces, that they have to conduct themselves in certain behaviours that
deem them to be masculine. They believe it makes them objects of desire and
sexuality in the social arena (Connell, 2000). In spite of this, it causes the
constructions of the male gendered body to influence their paid work


Perhaps an exception
to the social constructions of the working-class male body is the ‘masculine’
security work that predictably requires force over negotiation. Monaghan (2002)
has carried out research into this notion. Working in the security sector in
licensed premises, such as bars and nightclubs, can be a dangerous profession,
especially in Britain’s quickly expanding night-time economy. Monaghan (2002)
explores this work, deemed as masculine, including the socially constructed
bodies of door staff and bouncers as ‘big and intimidating’ to control unruly
bodies in public spaces. His research exposes that the working-class young men
enjoy the power and the supposed masculinity that is associated with security
employment. Although, it can be further argued that the constructions of the
gendered body also play an influence in this example. Having a strong body is a
necessity, as violence certainly plays a part in the role of door staff. Force
and aggression often has to be utilised to control intoxicated people and
control crowds (Hunt, 1996). A slim, small framed male is unlikely to be
considered for the role compared to a stocky, well-built male.


The employment
opportunities and choices accessible to men and women tend to increase when
education and training are made more readily available. This is an example of
how the constructions of the gendered body do not entirely influence paid work
chances. There is an indication that higher education has the effect of
contributing significantly to ‘meeting the needs of the economy’ and helping to
ensure future competitiveness (Ball, 1990). From a historical perspective,
accessible education has greatly expanded over the past two centuries. Global
literacy rates have increased aswell as secondary and tertiary education, ‘with
global average years of schooling being much higher now than one hundred years
ago’ (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina 2017). It is evident that advancements in
available education have been made which correlates with increasing
opportunities and choices for both men and women in paid work. This proves the argument
that employment is not completely fair, many factors leverage chances offered
in paid work and constructions of the gendered body are very influential. Gender
inequality is present in economic activity and represents itself in the form of
unequal access to economic resources, opportunities and higher positions
(Jackson, 2017). Strong social and cultural attitudes and beliefs are still
preventing the constructions of the female gendered body from educational
opportunities to the same extent as the male gendered body. Women are perceived
to be less valuable once educated due to the socially constructed ideas that
women’s work should be focused on the family and the domestic home. These ideas
that cause education opportunities to be limited for women have the direct impact
of reducing the employment opportunities and chances available to women because
of the constructions of their gendered body.


From the research conducted and presented in this
essay, it can be concluded that employment opportunities and choices for men and
women still continue in modern day and are framed by the constructions of the
gendered body. Both men and women’s participation levels in the labour market
have fluctuated over time for a number of reasons, including the decline in the
manufacturing industry and the rise in the service sector, flexible working
patterns, changing attitudes towards women who have paid work and the
availability of education. This essay has reflected upon women, who even when
they manage to attain work in ‘male dominated’ industries, research suggests
that they are still expected to undertake ‘feminine’ assumed roles, such as
emotion work. Socially constructed ideas that deem women to understand and
manage emotion better than men, has enforced the idea that they undertake these
roles; a clear example of the gendered body influencing employment choices.
Analysis has also found that men’s opportunities are framed by the constructions
of their gendered body, looking further into the work of Monaghan (2002) who investigates
the lack of opportunities available for young working-class men. Monaghan
argues that they are among the most disadvantaged within the labour market, as due
to the constructions of their gendered body, they do not suit either low or
high paid work. Academic literature reveals that factors which influence employment
other than gender, for example, education, are still subjective to the body
with gender equality gaps. Exploring future trends to see if employment and paid
work will ever become fair and not framed by the constructions of the gendered body,
will be a stimulating case study.

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