Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Equal Opportunity Employment

When women enter the modern day workforce, especially in the white collar world, we are held to the same expectations as men, which is to say that we are expected to uphold and conform to the cornerstones of masculinity identified by Brannon and David in 1976:
  1. No Sissy Stuff: Never do anything that even remotely hints of femininity. “Real” men always steer clear of any behavior or characteristic associated with women.
  2. Be a Big Wheel: Masculinity is measured by success, power, and the admiration of others. Consequently, men need wealth, renown, and prestige to be identified as “real” men.
  3. Be a Sturdy Oak: Manliness requires rationality, toughness, and self-reliance. A man must remain calm in any situation, show no emotion, and admit no weakness.
  4. Give ‘em Hell: Men must exude an aura of daring and aggression, must be willing to take risks and “go for it” even when reason and fear suggest otherwise.
Women are, in short, to actively work to deny themselves and their needs and to deliver a persona that is actively not a woman. Men and women alike are held to this corner office expectation that laundry, homework, grocery shopping, little league games, dinner, teacher conferences, all get done by some invisible magic staff, working diligently in the background and on the sidelines while the real, important work of furthering the corporate bottom line is accomplished.
Our corporations have defaulted on the contract made at the dawn of the twentieth century: the contract to take the best years of a the white, middle class, family man’s life and turn his hard work and dedication of twenty years into a secure existence for himself and his family, up to and including retirement. This contract was poison from the outset, demanding the years during which children would be born and grow into young adults, the community ties that would be fostered, the companionship that results from partnership over time. White, middle class men gave up friendship, family and community in order to secure the future and survival of the family unit through white-collar careers. When women entered the halls of corporations, the deal remained largely unchanged, though by the Seventies, employers were looking to get out of the pension and benefits trap. Aided as they were in the Eighties by a favorable economic environment, employers swapped pensions for private, optional stock plans, and swapped benefits for private insurance plans. At the time of implementation, these changes were lauded at the time as great accomplishments for America.
This sense of corporate career over all is pervasive and has been internalized so deeply that career women in twenty-first century United States’ corporate culture actively brag about how little maternity leave they take, to the point that Time featured a story of Marissa Meyer’s two week absence to have a baby, as if she were going on holiday and not bringing a tender life into the world at great effort; it’s not called labor without reason.

While we are certainly doing women a disservice with this corporate culture, the disservice is one borrowed from the men’s code, one upon which the patriarchy is founded, and one which, at the core of it all, must be dismantled for real change to take place. As long as we define the best-paid and highest-status jobs as one which deny our right to be people first, and people in families and communities, we cannot hope to have real, lasting, meaningful change for any of our citizens, men and women alike.

Robert Brannon & Deborah S. David, The Forty Nine Percent Majority: The Male Sex Role, (Random House: 1976).