The divisions ofgender with respect to employment is a very important topic when studying genderand geography. It is crucial to think about the spacial divisions of labour interms of the dissection of the city which reveals gendered issues about how menand women move through this space. Historically, gender has been used as a termto distinguish between the biological sex and aspects of femininity andmasculinity.
West and Zimmerman argue that gender is not a personal trait but”an emergent feature of social situations: both as an outcome of and arationale for various social arrangements, and as a means of legitimating oneof the most fundamental divisions of society” (West & Zimmerman 1987,pg.126). Paid work and employment has long been seen as the central aspect ofhuman life, determining daily activities, people they meet and the relationshipsthat form (Feldberg & Glenn 1979).
The study of gender and employmentreveals problems found in the literature and research available. Studies tendto concentrate on white males, particularly those in managerial, blue-collarand professional occupations (Hesselbart, 1978). The academic researchsurrounding work on employment opportunities for men and women is often one-sidedbecause of ideas and definitions being ‘appropriate’ in either the analysis of men’swork or in women’s work, although not in both. There is a divided opinionbetween the body being ‘real and accessible’ readily available through senses,to the concept that it is socially constructed and continually changing andinfluenced 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 willfocus on the constructions of the gendered body; investigating and findingexplanations for the shifts, throughout time, in the way gender is experiencedin the division of labour. It will look at how different periods in history,social attitudes and political influences towards the gendered body have had aneffect on employment chances. The essay will concentrate on changing attitudesover time, beginning by comparing women’s employment opportunities throughouttime with men, then moving onto more recent patterns of gender involvement inthe labour market. It will look into how the gendered body has impactedcircumstances in different sectors of the economy, from low paid work to themore competitive higher paid industries. Finally, an overview of whetheropportunities and choices of men and women continue to be outlined byconstructions of the gendered body will be provided, examining why inequalitiesstill exist today and the suggestion of future research to decide whether theywill ever be equal. A major trend is thehistorical lack of women in the labour market or the placement of women in veryparticular employment areas. Patterns shifted around both of the World Warswhere 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 employingwomen as a ‘reserve army’ of labour.
Women’s involvement in the labour forceshowed significant increases in the 1940s, resulting in accreditation beinggiven to World War II for encouraging economic and social change (Goldin,1989).Gender patterns inthe labour market are driven by the economic need for labour, for example intimes of crisis women have been called upon to work. Over the long run, womenjoined the paid labour force because of factors changing the nature of thework, including surges in the professional sector and improved educations opportunitiesfor women (Goldin, 1983). The advancements made during the Second World Warproved to be ephemeral as women were demobilised from the socially constructed ‘men’swork’, because of the constructions of their gendered body, to allow for thereturning servicemen, similar to what occurred after the First World War. ‘Theproportion 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 wasin part-time work. There were also several advances to address discriminationand inequalities in the work place that have historically affected women’splace at work. The overall patterns and trends of men and women in paid employmentin the labour market shows rising recruitment for women and falling for menover the last 40 years. The subsequent part of this essay will look at why thegendered body impacts gender division of labour, critically examining thecontention that the employment opportunities for men and women continue to beframed by the constructions of the gendered body. Through looking atthe reasons behind the changing gender division within paid work, it can beassessed whether opportunities are still framed by the constructions of thegendered body.
Gender assumptions about who should participate in certain typesof work has always been prevalent. The first explanation attributed to changeis 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 andturning natural resources into products. This sector has stereotypically beenseen as ‘masculine’, a set of attributes, behaviours and roles associated withmen. Masculinity is both socially constructed and biologically created (van denWijngaard 1997).
The decline can be credited to technological advancements andthe offshoring of production to developing countries where labour and materialsare cheaper. McDowell (2009) argues that traits related with caring have beensocially constructed to be more associated with female bodies and their naturalabilities to distinguish between emotional work and physical labour. Avoidingthe social constructions of the female body is difficult, despite advancementsin healthcare and increase in the number of women in waged labour forces.
McDowell states thatfemaleness still carries with it a penalty, creating job segregation and acontinued gender pay gap. However, as mentioned, there has been a recent rise inthe service sector industry. This has created more opportunities for women andthe perception of the female body. Embodied men and women are said to be rankedin terms of desirability for particular types of jobs in the service basedeconomies. The service sector differs greatly from the manufacturing economy.The servicing body incorporates emotions that become part of the provision ofthe service that can be felt by either or both the workers and consumers. Embodimentis now at the centre of the servicing industry and how bodies connect, or donot, with clients is a key issue.
Zimmerman (2015) frames emotional labour as aprivate experience, while others focus on it as a formal workplace issue. Asmore and more women enter formerly male dominated professions, it is arguedthat more ‘female type’ work is expected of them (Hackman, 2015). This clearlyhighlights that opportunities for men and women continue to be framed by theconstructions of the gendered body. Emotional labour can be defined as thesocial expectations of a specific service being provided and the idea thatemployees must adhere either their actual feelings or the appearance of thesefeelings in order to meet the anticipations of the recipient. Hochschild (1983)accredits the idea that, due to their subordinate position, women have aparticular relationship to emotion work.
Typically, aggressionin men is seen as masculine and positive, however when women express anger, itis viewed as damaging and unnecessary. Hochschild goes on to argue that womenare more often employed commercially for emotion work; the nurses who supportrather the doctors who diagnose. The main concern in her research was the’commercialisation of feeling’ and focused on the airline industry in the 1980swhere emotions become a commodity. Hackman’s (2015) research highlights thatemotion work can be very mentally tiring but this is rarely recognised as a legitimatestrain and therefore is not compensated for in wages. This proves thatopportunities and choices that women face in the labour market are framed bythe constructions of the female body.
Even in sectors considered to be maledominated, women are expected to undertake ‘female roles’ which as researchshows, often pay less. In spite of this Walsh (2017) argues against labellingmen and women with particular traits as he believes it could reverse the effortsin the strive towards gender equality. He states that “Women and men vary onlyslightly in terms of their inherent skills and traits. Both are more thancapable of succeeding, but unfortunately women have historically faced enormoussocial and institutional barriers. Although these formal barriers have begun toerode, evidence suggests that there is still a long way to go before achievingequality.” It is clear that theconstructions of the female body impacts the employment opportunities andchances available to women. However, there is also research which proves andindicates that the constructions of the male body also influence the chances availableto them in paid work.
Linda McDowell’s exploration into young working-class menunveils them to be especially disadvantaged as they are found to be the leastappropriate of all possible labourers. Approximately three million people workin low-paid jobs involving direct contact with the bodies of others, includingbars, shops and cafes. Many young, working-class men lack the social skillsthat are required to perform these types of roles to the standard expected inhospitality. They are also rejected from high status and high paid roles, suchas lawyers or the financial services sector due to a lack in the education madereadily available to them. McDowell (2009) carries on to say that theconstructions of their male gendered body renders them unsuitable from theremaining reasonably paid manufacturing jobs. Young, working-class men find itdifficult to listen and take instructions from superiors as they see it as achallenge to their sense of masculinity.
Connell (1995, pg.86) argues ‘thatinstead of possessing or having masculinity, individuals move through andproduce masculinity by engaging in masculine practices.’ These young,working-class men believe, because of their upbringing and interaction insocial spaces, that they have to conduct themselves in certain behaviours thatdeem them to be masculine. They believe it makes them objects of desire andsexuality in the social arena (Connell, 2000). In spite of this, it causes theconstructions of the male gendered body to influence their paid workopportunities. Perhaps an exceptionto 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 inlicensed 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 constructedbodies of door staff and bouncers as ‘big and intimidating’ to control unrulybodies in public spaces. His research exposes that the working-class young menenjoy the power and the supposed masculinity that is associated with securityemployment. Although, it can be further argued that the constructions of thegendered body also play an influence in this example. Having a strong body is anecessity, as violence certainly plays a part in the role of door staff.
Forceand aggression often has to be utilised to control intoxicated people andcontrol crowds (Hunt, 1996). A slim, small framed male is unlikely to beconsidered for the role compared to a stocky, well-built male. The employmentopportunities and choices accessible to men and women tend to increase wheneducation and training are made more readily available. This is an example ofhow the constructions of the gendered body do not entirely influence paid workchances. There is an indication that higher education has the effect ofcontributing significantly to ‘meeting the needs of the economy’ and helping toensure future competitiveness (Ball, 1990).
From a historical perspective,accessible education has greatly expanded over the past two centuries. Globalliteracy rates have increased aswell as secondary and tertiary education, ‘withglobal average years of schooling being much higher now than one hundred yearsago’ (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina 2017). It is evident that advancements inavailable education have been made which correlates with increasingopportunities and choices for both men and women in paid work.
This proves the argumentthat employment is not completely fair, many factors leverage chances offeredin paid work and constructions of the gendered body are very influential. Genderinequality is present in economic activity and represents itself in the form ofunequal access to economic resources, opportunities and higher positions(Jackson, 2017). Strong social and cultural attitudes and beliefs are stillpreventing the constructions of the female gendered body from educationalopportunities to the same extent as the male gendered body. Women are perceivedto be less valuable once educated due to the socially constructed ideas thatwomen’s work should be focused on the family and the domestic home. These ideasthat cause education opportunities to be limited for women have the direct impactof reducing the employment opportunities and chances available to women becauseof the constructions of their gendered body.
From the research conducted and presented in thisessay, it can be concluded that employment opportunities and choices for men andwomen still continue in modern day and are framed by the constructions of thegendered body. Both men and women’s participation levels in the labour markethave fluctuated over time for a number of reasons, including the decline in themanufacturing industry and the rise in the service sector, flexible workingpatterns, changing attitudes towards women who have paid work and theavailability of education. This essay has reflected upon women, who even whenthey manage to attain work in ‘male dominated’ industries, research suggeststhat they are still expected to undertake ‘feminine’ assumed roles, such asemotion work. Socially constructed ideas that deem women to understand andmanage emotion better than men, has enforced the idea that they undertake theseroles; a clear example of the gendered body influencing employment choices.
Analysis has also found that men’s opportunities are framed by the constructionsof their gendered body, looking further into the work of Monaghan (2002) who investigatesthe lack of opportunities available for young working-class men. Monaghanargues that they are among the most disadvantaged within the labour market, as dueto the constructions of their gendered body, they do not suit either low orhigh paid work. Academic literature reveals that factors which influence employmentother than gender, for example, education, are still subjective to the bodywith gender equality gaps. Exploring future trends to see if employment and paidwork will ever become fair and not framed by the constructions of the gendered body,will be a stimulating case study.