Karen Ashcraft. The Handbook of Gender and Communication. Editor: Bonnie J Dow & Julia T Wood. Sage Publications. 2006.
Gender has enjoyed a long presence in organizational communication scholarship, though it has worn many masks and spent much time in the shadows. This chapter traces key ways in which organizational communication scholars have seen gender over the years and proposes a new way of seeing. The primary lens, I argue, has accentuated gender difference. Diverse conceptions and vital developments notwithstanding, scholars of organizational communication remain focused on difference at the organization level, supported by a turn toward analyses of “gendered organizations” (Acker, 1990), as well as a disciplinary tendency to cling to at least some shards of the container metaphor of organization (Carlone & Taylor, 1998; Putnam, Phillips, & Chapman, 1996). I suggest the merits of another way of seeing difference, in and beyond specific organization sites: namely, the gender division and hierarchy of actual labor—of tasks, jobs, and occupations. Organizational communication scholars have largely sidelined the meaning and significance of the actual work people perform. In this sense, my argument merges parallel calls to “bring work back in” to organization studies (Barley, 1996; Barley & Kunda, 2001) and to “include the sweat” in gender studies (Connell, 1995). Accordingly, I draw the contours of a long-standing interdisciplinary inquiry into gendered jobs. My aim is to (1) acquaint communication audiences with this literature, (2) initiate dialogue about how we might learn from and contribute to it, and (3) build a case for the particular promise of studying the multifaceted relationship between difference and occupational identity. My hope is that attending to alternative sites of difference can enhance our vision of the “work” difference does.
Difference in Site: Seeing Gender in Organizational Communication Studies
Elsewhere, I have more extensively considered the development of feminist theory in organizational communication studies (Ashcraft, 2005a), as well as common ways of framing the relationship among gender, discourse, and organization (Ashcraft, 2004). Here, I condense and rework those analyses to provide a historical glance at key visions of gender in organizational communication studies, most of which converge around what I refer to as “difference in site.”
Early Visions of Gender Difference at Work: Contrary Communication Styles
Initially, gender appeared in organizational communication studies as it did in other areas of communication research—as “sex,” a binary, anatomical variable associated with differences in communication predispositions and practices (Canary & Hause, 1993). Of central concern to this literature was the empirical existence of gender differences at work; the source or production of difference was largely ignored. Later difference studies integrated theoretical developments in gender identity, moving beyond the notion of fixed or intrinsic traits linked to biological sex categories and toward cultural theories of difference as acquired outcome or social product (Wood, 2003). Much of this work implied strong connections between symbolic and empirical realms—that is, between socially constructed images of femininity and masculinity and the “real-life” behaviors of women and men.
One strand of organizational research that illustrates such development is the study of gender differences in leadership. For over three decades, this research has largely addressed the empirical question: Do men and women lead differently? Scholars have developed diverse approaches to the matter, ranging from variable-analytic studies of leadership perceptions and behavior (see Eagly & Johnson, 1990; Eagly & Karau, 1991; Eagly, Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992), to projects articulating the distinctive ethos of so-called masculine and feminine leadership (e.g., Natalle, 1996), to research on how actual discourse among women leaders reflects gendered style (e.g., Fairhurst, 1993). Although 30 years of scholarship has generated increasingly complex conceptions of how sex and gender might matter to leading, it has not yielded clear answers to the empirical question of difference (Butterfield & Grinnell, 1999; Walker, Ilardi, McMahon, & Fennell, 1996; Wilkins & Anderson, 1991). Still, many scholars drop confident references to “women’s ways” of leading, periodically nodding to the fact that not all people live up to gender expectations (e.g., Nelson, 1988). The dominant empirical focus has long been accompanied by murmurs about the effects of gendered leadership on women’s professional success. Eventually, scholars invoked claims of gender difference, however empirically suspect, to accomplish multiple aims—to expose the masculine bias of managerial and professional communication, to suggest resulting dilemmas and barriers faced by women seeking advancement (e.g., “double binds” and “glass ceilings”), and even to bill women’s alleged leadership differences as a business opportunity or “feminine advantage” (e.g., Bass & Avolio, 1994; Helgesen, 1990; Loden, 1985; Rosener, 1990).
As the example of leadership research suggests, gender difference studies in organizational communication perform competing ideological functions. Such functions are less visible in empirical projects with positivist leanings (e.g., the sex-variable approach), which tend to suppress moral and political premises by aspiring to a value-neutral stance. Nonetheless, these projects serve to reify a model of gender wherein difference appears as a stable, binary phenomenon that can be known independent of intersections with race, class, sexuality, relationship, institution, and other contextual factors. Most gender difference studies in organizational communication depict difference free from its historical, cultural, political, and structural context (Ashcraft, 2004); and most examine white, middle-class professionals, fueling the problematic assumption that contemporary norms among this population adequately reflect universal perceptions and practices (Calás & Smircich, 1996). By failing to interrogate such factors, most studies miss how current constructions of difference are fraught with inequality and dysfunction, not to mention how easily both different-but-equal and different-but-superior logics can slip into rationales for control and exclusion (Ashcraft, 1999; Ashcraft & Pacanowsky, 1996; Buzzanell, 1995; Calás & Smircich, 1993). That said, it is also the case that gender difference research in organizational communication studies paved the way for the politicization of gender at work. As the leadership literature illustrates, difference studies—however flawed and inconclusive— set the stage for the now customary argument that professional communication tends to favor masculine orientations, engendering difficulties for many women and marginalized men (e.g., Murphy & Zorn, 1996).
Difference in Sharper Focus: Politics, Performance, and Masculinity
Contemporary turns in the study of gender difference and organizational communication redress that ideological conflict—namely, the tendency to investigate difference as if in a vacuum yet utilize difference findings to activate political consciousness. Two particular developments illustrate the diversity of responses. A first turn entails the rise of feminist standpoint theory (FST) in organizational communication studies (e.g., Alen, 1996, 1998; Dougherty, 1999). FST underscores the “location” of particular gendered identities and rejects the notion of gender as an isolated theoretical construct or empirical phenomenon. In this way, it illuminates contextual factors suppressed by conventional difference research, highlighting the relational, political, material, temporal, and spatial character of identity positions, as well as the particular importance of intersections among gender, race, and class. Some FST authors, for example, consider how the embodied experience of gendered labor fosters distinctive ways of knowing and being in the world (e.g., Aptheker, 1989; Harding, 1991; Smith, 1987). As I elaborate later, FST scholars in organizational communication have yet to pick up on this dimension of “material life,” but they do tend to concur with other FST authors on this point: politically located, marginalized perspectives can yield critical standpoints from which to generate alternative knowledge. In this sense, FST casts difference as epistemology and moral politics (e.g., Alcoff, 1988; Alcoff & Potter, 1993; Wood, 1993).
Whereas FST is often said to reflect a critical modernist orientation, a second turn follows a poststructuralist impulse to conceptualize gender as an ongoing, local performance that yields agentic, yet also precarious, subjectivities (Alcoff, 1988; Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004; Gherardi, 1995). The traditional empirical question (Do men and women communicate differently at work?) is thus turned on its head, and the focus becomes not the existence but the appearance of order and its communicative (re)production (How are available social constructions of gender invoked in particular interactions, and how do these performances preserve and/or challenge the fiction of gender dualisms?). Like more conventional difference studies, this perspective acknowledges connections between symbolic and empirical dimensions of gender but presumes fragility instead of stability, asking how the feminine-masculine binary is negotiated in everyday life. While this view has a long theoretical lineage (e.g., Butler, 1990; Kondo, 1990; Weedon, 1987), the work of West and colleagues (e.g., Fenstermaker & West, 2002; West & Fenstermaker, 1995; West & Zimmerman, 1987) is particularly influential in the context of organizational communication studies. Their work challenges psychological models of difference by theorizing gender as something we do together—the situated management of interaction in response to dominant expectations for gender difference. Particular settings supply a variety of resources and enable creative improvisations; thus, we have some room to imaginatively engage social scripts. By expanding the model from “doing gender” to “doing difference,” West and Fenstermaker (1995) integrate concerns for the intersectionality (of race, class, and so on) inherent to identity performances. Applying this framework, many organizational scholars now examine how people “do difference” in varied work contexts (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004; Gherardi, 1994).
Despite such important moves to complicate difference, research on gender difference at work continued to underscore implications for women, with several conflicted consequences. Even as it usefully marked work challenges faced by women, this focus had the effect of casting women as deviant or “special” organization characters. Meanwhile, corresponding privileges associated with masculinity received less attention, and men as gendered figures remained mostly invisible. The female emphasis also implied that feminist organizational communication scholarship was the concern and domain of women. Scholars began to challenge these messages at a conceptual level, suggesting attention to gender relations, or the ways in which women/femininities and men/masculinities are constructed against one another (e.g., Alvesson & Billing, 1992; Ashcraft & Pacanowsky, 1996; Mumby, 1993). By the mid-1990s, however, few had published related empirical projects. Reflecting a larger surge of cultural interest in masculinity, scholars beyond the field of communication, and particularly from the European gender and organization studies community, began to confront the intersection of work and masculinity (e.g., Collinson & Hearn, 1994). Today, a rapidly growing literature explores the construction of masculinity in organizational life (e.g., Cheng, 1996; Collinson & Hearn, 1996b). Concern for masculinity took hold in the organizational communication literature toward the late 1990s and remains a growing research interest (e.g., Mumby, 1998). Still, few communication scholars have examined how masculinities and femininities are co-constructed in the context(s) of organizing (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004).
Difference, then, is a primary way that organizational communication scholars have seen gender. Perspectives vary, ranging from a focus on the biological variable of sex to the behavioral outcomes of early cultural socialization to the interplay of abstract symbolism and mundane life. More recently, FST and “doing difference” models represent divergent efforts to complicate difference, supplanting static dualisms with a sense of multiplicity-in-flux by incorporating relational, cultural, political, material, historical, and other situational factors. The “doing difference” approach is particularly friendly to the recent study of men as gendered actors, as it underscores how we are all held accountable to gender. It also shows how dominant scripts for gender performance tend to equate the accomplishment of masculinities and femininities with doing dominance and doing deference, respectively (West & Zimmerman, 1987). Amid these developments, much gender difference research continues to mark individuals and interactions—not organizations— as the pivotal units of analysis.
A Shift in Sight: Gendered Organizations
In the early 1990s, organizational communication studies encountered another way of seeing gender. Mobilized by Acker’s (1990) influential essay articulating “a theory of gendered organizations,” as well as other works in sociology and political science (e.g., Ferguson, 1984; Kanter, 1975, 1977), communication scholars began to shift focus away from individuals and interactions in organizational settings and toward the premise that organizational forms function as “metacommunication” about gender relations (Mills & Chiaramonte, 1991) or as “gendered discourse communities” (Mumby, 1996). In other words, structures like bureaucracy were seen to supply preferred narratives of gender, power, and work relations, which then shape the everyday process of organizing. Accordingly, scholars began to examine how bureaucratic discourse controls and devalues femininities by promoting hierarchy, impersonal relations, and distrust of “private” concerns in the name of rationality and objectivity (e.g., Martin, 1990; Morgan, 1996; Mumby & Putnam, 1992; Savage & Witz, 1992).
The shift toward organization-level analyses sparked awareness that meaningful social change requires more than creative individual and interpersonal performances of gender; it also requires alternative institutional forms. Scholars thus began to contribute to a growing interdisciplinary interest in feminist forms of organization (Ferree & Martin, 1995). Several authors now approach feminist organizing as the ongoing negotiation of “alternative discourse communities” that seek emancipatory discourses of gender, power, and work amid cultural and material constraints (Fraser, 1990-1991; Mumby, 1996). These scholars investigate the discursive strategies through which members manage the contradictions of alternative organizing, as well as the larger forms of organization implied by their tactics (e.g., Ashcraft, 2000, 2001; Gottfried & Weiss, 1994; Iannello, 1992; Maguire & Mohtar, 1994).
It is difficult to overstate the significance of the turn toward gendered organization. For one thing, the move signaled the rise of systemic and structural (i.e., organization-level) analyses in the literature on gender and organizational communication. Preoccupation with gendered people and practices at work gave way to the more profound insight that gender relations premised on difference are deeply institutionalized. Put bluntly, gender difference is not simply imported by individuals into the workplace; nor is it a handy complement to or an incidental side effect of bureaucratic control. Rather, gender difference functions as a pivotal organizing mechanism that is actively— even strategically—deployed by founders, managers, and coworkers. The field of organization studies has seen a virtual explosion of research premised on this insight (Britton, 2000; Ely & Meyerson, 2000), as well as the steady growth of an international, interdisciplinary community devoted to the study of gendered organization (Martin & Collinson, 2002). Communication scholars have contributed abundantly to this effort.
Indeed, the shift toward gendered organization greatly influenced the shape of gender scholarship in organizational communication. Like scholars in the larger interdisciplinary community, communication researchers began to focus overwhelmingly on gendered organizational form and culture in physical sites of work. In other words, we took organization as a tangible workplace where gender relations are accomplished and gendered cultures produced. This literal and limited reading is not surprising, for it already enjoyed the institutional support of our home field, long dominated by an image of organization as a container in which communication occurs (Putnam et al., 1996). As Carlone and Taylor (1998) contend, even after much criticism of the container metaphor, organizational communication scholarship continues to privilege one articulation of organization and culture (i.e., culture in or of organizational sites) amid other promising articulations (e.g., the formation of working subjectivities in popular/public culture).
To be sure, site-bound approaches yield vital insights, exposing the accomplishment of gendered control and resistance in the micropractices of work life, as well as the ways in which gendered organizational structures, policies, and narratives assume local shape. And yet, I argue, to overemphasize organization- or site-level analyses of form and culture is to downplay parallel discursive formations that also organize gender and labor. Preoccupation with site minimizes other readings of organization— for instance, how gendered work, workers, and workplaces are (dis)organized across diverse sites of social activity, such as professional or union activities or even popular culture. Simply put, site-bound studies overlook equally important ways in which difference “works.”
To date, then, organizational communication scholars have seen gender mostly in terms of individuals, interactions, and institutions. They have exposed multiple ways in which gender difference becomes a core organizing principle of personal identity, mundane communication, and organizational system design. But by limiting the scope of research to “difference in site,” they have eclipsed other sights (i.e., ways of seeing) and sites (i.e., locations) of gendered organizing. To build a case for the timeliness and promise of a shift in focus toward the organization of gendered jobs, I look beyond the organizational communication literature.
Out of Site: Gender Difference and the Division of Labor
Scholars have not always depicted relations among gender, difference, and work as a matter “contained” in physical sites of organization. Nor is it the case that all contemporary research on gender and labor fails to look beyond the workplace. My aim in this section is to characterize an alternative site of difference largely overlooked by organizational communication studies: the gendered division of labor.
Early Accounts of Occupational Segregation by Sex
Although gender initially surfaced in organizational communication studies as a matter of different professional interaction styles, scholars in other fields saw gender and work differently. Economists, sociologists, and political scientists, for instance, have long considered how gender difference is articulated with societal divisions of labor. Prominent among the abiding themes of this work is the tenacity of job segregation, or the strikingly persistent separation of men’s from women’s work and the associated concentration of women in lower-end, service-oriented jobs (e.g., Anker, 1998; Bradley, 1989; Cockburn, 1985; Crompton & Sanderson, 1990; Hakim, 1992; Kemp, 1994; Mies, 1986; Reskin & Hartmann, 1986). Phillips and Taylor (1980) put it bluntly: “Everywhere we turn, we see a clear distinction between ‘men’s work’ and ‘women’s work,’ with women’s work almost invariably characterized by lower pay, lack of craft traditions, weak union organization, and—above all—unskilled status” (p. 79).
In their pioneering essay, Phillips and Taylor (1980) pay particular notice to the role of skill in producing “ghettoes of ‘women’s work’” (p. 80), arguing that skill is an ideological tool “saturated with sex,” that “the sex of those who do the work, rather than its content… leads to its identification as skilled or unskilled” (p. 85). Indeed, as male workers have struggled against trends toward de-skilling, “craft has been increasingly identified with masculinity, with the claims of the breadwinner, with the degree of union strength. Skill has been increasingly defined against women— skilled work is work that women don’t do” (p. 86). Similarly, other early works documented how male-dominated trade unions defend their skilled status by resisting the twin threats of technology and female labor reserves (e.g., Armstrong, 1982; Cockburn, 1983; Coyle, 1982). Concurring with Phillips and Taylor (1980) that assessments of skill depend on the body performing the task, Hearn (1982) contends that jobs once considered the domain of women are deemed more professional when men take them on. Otherwise, the “semi-professions,” populated by women and managed by men, become “handmaidens” to the professions, performing undesirable labor while serving as the lowly foil against which the professions appear elite. Hearn concludes that professionalization projects amount to patriarchal instruments for extending male control over arenas once female-dominated, like reproductive and emotional labor. Elaborating this point, Carrigan, Connell, and Lee (1985) argue that the division of labor serves not only to affirm men’s control over women, but also to reproduce inequalities among men. In their view, hegemonic masculinity is “embedded in the dynamics of institutions … quite as much as the personality of individuals” (p. 591).
Early scholarship on gender and labor beyond communication studies thus theorized how sexed bodies are entwined with the societal division and valuation of work. Here, the separation and relation of jobs became relevant: Tasks are not just divided along sex lines; their worth is often measured in accordance with the bodies performing them. As Acker (1990) would later note, “Individual men and particular groups of men do not always win in these processes, but masculinity always seems to symbolize self-respect for men at the bottom and power for men at the top, while confirming for both their gender’s superiority” (p. 145). Applied here, the various “collars” workers wear are meaningful only in relation to each other, and the devaluation of so-called pink-collar work serves to shore up the worth of white- and blue-collar labor. Phillips and Taylor (1980) anticipate the irony of this apparent gender victory: In celebrating the manliness of skill, men “recreate for capital a group of ‘inferior’ workers who can be used to undercut them” (p. 87). Attesting to this threat is the devaluation of once male-dominated fields, such as clerical work, librarianship, and public relations, when a critical mass of women entered these occupations (e.g., Calás & Smircich, 1993; Garrison, 1972-1973; Touhey, 1974). Abundant scholarship has elaborated these initial conceptual efforts with empirical investigations of sex-segregated work.
Empirical Studies of “Women’s Work”
Until fairly recently, empirical examinations of job segregation overwhelmingly stressed features of feminized jobs and/or women’s labor. Here, I characterize the more contemporary face of the massive literature that resulted. Continuing the legacy of research on secretarial work, for example, Sotirin and Gottfried (1999) demonstrate how the practice of “bitching” among secretaries simultaneously serves to reify stereotypes of gender difference, disrupt imperatives for professional deference, and temporarily claim status as knowledge workers. Similarly concerned with the simultaneity of control and resistance, Kennelly (2002) compares logics of difference among women in clerical work and furniture sales—jobs that are, respectively, female-dominated and sex-integrated. Whereas the furniture saleswomen adopted a liberal sameness stance that devalued “other” women, most secretaries pushed a cultural difference position bent on revaluing women’s “otherness.” Yet both tactics upheld the gender order of occupations. Only a third perspective, voiced mostly by African American secretaries, aligned with other women yet challenged conventional gender categories. Such projects suggest an array of possible articulations of difference, as well as their conflicted consequences.
To date, Pringle (1989a, 1989b) offers one of the most complex portraits of secretarial work. Her research investigates both the ethos of the occupation (i.e., expectations for the performance of white, middle-class, heterosexual femininity) and its place in organizational life (i.e., the bureaucratic institutionalization of boss-secretary relations). Pringle also brings sexuality into the mix, inviting a nuanced understanding of how women actively negotiate their identities as sexual objects and subjects, even in the context of highly feminized, typically sexualized labor.
More recently, scholars have extended studies of secretarial work to consider the case of temporary clerical workers and their heightened susceptibility to organizational and occupational controls (e.g., Gottfried, 1994; Henson, 1996; Rogers, 2000). In particular, Rogers and Henson (1997) undermine Pringle’s hope for sexual agency, showing how the structural vulnerability and gendered subtext of temporary secretarial jobs collide to compel deferential feminine performances and compromise resistance to sexual harassment.
Sexuality is a recurring theme in many studies of feminized labor, in which the tacit sexual contract endemic to all employment often becomes more visible (Gherardi, 1995). Mills (1997), for example, demonstrates how flight attendants in the British airline industry were crafted around the “dueling discourses” of desexualization and eroticism. The latter came to prevail as British airlines, largely in response to international trends, began to reverse their common practice of hiring mostly male flight attendants. Revitalizing Pringle’s (1989a) interest in irony and sexual agency, Linstead (1995) examines how flight attendants embroiled in a labor dispute effectively utilized their institutionalized sexual objectification to mobilize public opinion in their favor, illustrating the “liberating repression of subjectivity” (p. 205). In a similar vein, other scholars observe how women workers can deploy the very feminized sexualities used to subordinate them, embracing but also reworking logics of difference as a resistance tactic (e.g., Edley, 2000; Hossfeld, 1993; Young, 1989).
Emerging from this literature are common challenges that characterize feminized work, such as expectations for deference, emotional service, and sexualized labor, as well as the ambivalent responses of many women. Simultaneously, studies of feminized jobs capture the notable diversity of women’s experience, illustrating the FST claim that particular cultural and material situations matter. Many of the secretarial studies reviewed above, for instance, take care to elucidate the intersection of race, class, and gender hierarchies, demonstrating how white, middle-class, heterosexual feminine performances are aligned with front-office space, while “other” femininities are often tucked out of sight (e.g., Pringle, 1989b; Rogers & Henson, 1997). Other authors attend to the gender, race, class, and sexuality dynamics of “dirtier” work, such as factory labor, restaurant service, and cleaning jobs (e.g., Ehrenreich, 2001; Hossfeld, 1993). Rollins (1997), for example, explores the contradictory identity dance of domestic labor, wherein invisibility can cultivate hyper-consciousness of and resistance toward those served, as well as deferential job performances that naturalize class and race privilege. Adib and Guerrier (2003) provide a powerful demonstration of the multiplicity and fluidity of job identity among hotel cleaning laborers, who marked and denied the salience of various identity features as they struggled to negotiate power and difference. Also emerging from this literature, then, is a refusal of any monolithic account of femininity at work.
A final consensus across this literature is that women are disadvantaged—at the very least, economically—by their subordinate status in both horizontal and vertical segregation. In short, women are not only crowded into the least valued occupations (i.e., horizontal); wherever they work, they are also concentrated toward the bottom of job hierarchies (i.e., vertical). Because conventional economic theories, which assume that rational individuals seek to maximize their lifetime earnings, inadequately account for segregation (Jacobs, 1999), many scholars debate alternative explanations. One account maintains that gender socialization develops distinctive orientations or strengths, such that women are likely to feel more skilled at and comfortable with pursuits like the caring professions. A variant of that answer accentuates women’s distinctive motivations and needs, such as those for less demanding or time-consuming work due to their domestic responsibilities. Some authors combine such logics to acknowledge personal satisfaction with individual choice amid cultural socialization (e.g., Hakim, 1992, 1995; Marshall & Wetherell, 1989; Marshall, 1989). Turning away from a focus on women’s complicity, other accounts look to subtle processes of institutional discrimination that reproduce subordinate status in the labor market. This vein of explanation has been expanded to include more individual agency, for example, in projects that consider how women variously interact with educational messages and peer cultures (e.g., Eisenhart & Holland, 1992). Other analyses of institutional discrimination stress social and historical context (Greene, Ackers, & Black, 2002) and weigh the possibility, elaborated below, that institutional discrimination emanates as much from embedded masculine symbolism as it does from actual men (Faulkner, 2000; Hinze, 1999).
Empirical Studies of “Men’s Work”
A second major branch of the empirical literature investigates masculinized occupations and/or men’s labor. Although much newer to the scene than studies of feminized work (Jackson, 1999), this research has quickly grown to contemplate masculinity in relation to a range of occupations. One common focus is the social construction of blue-collar labor and working-class identities. Just as sexuality is a core concern in the literature on feminized work, so the body has become a prominent theme in the literature on men’s manual labor. This emphasis both reflects and interrogates popular associations of working-class men with images of raw physicality—with grueling work performed by sweaty bodies exuding a primal, even savage sexuality (e.g., Collinson, 1992; Fine, Weis, Addelston, & Marusza, 1997; Gherardi, 1995; Willis, 1977). In a move to develop “embodied sociology,” for example, Monaghan (2002) examines identity work stemming from the commodification of blue-collar bodies in the private security industry. His analysis specifically probes how nightclub bouncers craft competency in relation to corporeal performance amid the perpetual threat of violence.
Like studies of feminized labor, this literature attends to discursive practices surrounding workers’ bodies and to the multiplicity of gendered subjectivities as simultaneously raced, classed, sexualized, aged, and so on. In response to Collinson and Hearn’s (1994, 1996a) call for the study of “multiple masculinities” at work, many authors strive to explicate diverse connections between masculinities and occupations. Their work takes seriously the insight afforded by concepts like hegemonic masculinity (Carrigan et al., 1985; Connell, 1993; Donaldson, 1993): that gender inequality is not merely binary (i.e., men/masculinity over women/femininity) but also entails dynamic hierarchies among men and women (i.e., dominant and subordinate masculinities/femininities).
Scholars have thus considered the gender coding of managerial and professional identities as well and, specifically, how competing masculinities assist the symbolic and material division of mental (i.e., white-collar) from manual (i.e., blue-collar) labor. For instance, against masculine images of working-class physicality, “professional” figures appear as refined masculine subjects who rein in bodily excess to perform the higher-order work of the mind (Mumby, 1998). These dependent images supply both characters with resources and vulnerabilities at the meeting of class and gender (Ashcraft & Flores, 2003). Blue-collar masculinities are susceptible to appearing uncivilized, but their “primal” subjectivities enable a kind of rule over the “soft” bodies of women and white-collar superiors. Despite its intellectual and institutional privilege over blue-collar identities, professional masculinity is vulnerable to feminization, given its bureaucratic sterility, suppression of the body, self-imposed discipline, and obligatory ingratiation (Bederman, 1995; Ferguson, 1984). In such ways, working masculinities play off one another in ongoing political struggle. As this discussion suggests, a growing body of work conceives of management as a relatively coherent occupation, however contextually variable (e.g., Aaltio-Marjosola & Lehtinen, 1998; Kerfoot & Knights, 1993; Kerfoot & Whitehead, 2000; Linstead, 1997; Roper, 1996). Common to this work is the claim that organization scholars have long treated managerial professionals as gender-free characters; hence, it is high time to examine “men as managers, managers as men” (Collinson & Hearn, 1996b).
Complicating any simplistic notion that men’s work comes only in two collars, scholars have investigated other masculinized fields of work as well (e.g., Wright, 1996). Hodgson (2003) considers how the masculine ethos of sales jobs influences forms of organizational resistance. His analysis shows how the particular breed of manly individualism associated with the salesman image enabled some resistance to technocratic surveillance, even as it disabled resistance to other controls by institutionalizing isolation and dependence on managerial affirmation. In another analysis focused on the intersection of occupation and organization, Mills (1998) examines multiple masculinities as they emerged in conjunction with certain jobs at British Airways— namely, the pilot as professional hero, the engineer as technical scientist, the steward as boy or small (and later gay) male servant, and the indigenous male worker as “native boy” employed in menial tasks. Taking a closer look at the formation and maintenance of airline pilot identity, my own work has also begun to explore the merging of conflicted class symbolism and the resulting “anti-managerial professional” embodied in the work of airline pilots (e.g., Ashcraft, 2005b; Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004). Such projects indicate the often fuzzy lines that demarcate mental from manual, professional from non-professional, and skilled from unskilled labor.
As reviewed thus far, studies of feminized and masculinized jobs simultaneously embrace and challenge binary conceptions of gender. A binary model persists to the extent that men’s work and women’s work have generally been analyzed in isolation, but dualistic visions are concurrently shattered by findings of diverse experiences within sex groupings. The literature has also stepped beyond binary conceptions in two other ways: (1) studies of the co-construction of masculine and feminine work and (2) studies of “crossover” attempts.
Gender Relations: The Co-Construction of Masculine and Feminine Jobs
The rise of interest in masculinity and job segregation has entailed a promising turn toward analyses of the co-construction of occupational masculinities and femininities. In an early example, Collinson and Knights (1986) begin their analysis of job segregation with the gendered symbolism of skill in the insurance industry. Moving to an organizational level of analysis, they reveal how management practices of recruitment, supervision, and promotion interacted with members’ defensive identity work to reproduce a gendered labor divide. Similarly, Morgan and Knights (1991) contend that job segregation is best understood within the political, industrial, and organizational economies wherein divisions of labor are enacted. They urge particular consideration of how corporate strategy development shapes local divisions of labor. Such pleas for organization site analyses read rather oddly now, but only in the wake of the striking shift in scholarly attention from gendered jobs to gendered organizations. Most importantly, the authors depict men and women vying over visions of difference at work, which change in relation to one another and in response to particular managerial strategies.
Several scholars have since taken up the study of job segregation and gender relations, particularly at the organization level. For example, Mills (1995) draws on his research with British Airways to show how images portrayed in corporate texts minimize occupational integration by aligning specific demographic profiles with certain jobs, while Pierce (1995) describes the construction of “Rambo litigators” against “mothering paralegals” in a large law firm. Alvesson (1998) puzzles over the strict gender division of labor in an advertising firm that subscribed to a feminine ethos and minimized bureaucracy. His analysis of the complex interplay among masculinities and femininities indicates how local constructions of gender can depart from global images; it also suggests a looser connection between the domination of masculinities and domination by men. Taking heed of calls for analyses situated in organizational and larger political economies, Greene et al. (2002) interpret resistance to job integration in two manufacturing firms in light of the social and material history of familial relations in the surrounding community. Looking beyond organizational sites to understand interaction within them, this analysis powerfully reveals how men and women become deeply invested in the gender division of labor.
Jackson (1999) provides one of the most direct articulations yet of a gender relations perspective on work segregation, arguing that the conventional focus on women’s/ feminized labor neglects the interdependency of femininities and masculinities. She proposes an innovative agenda for the study of masculinity and work that underscores embodied labor, probes how men and women make use of hegemonic masculinity, and takes seriously the point that “male domination is relational and comes at a price,” as in the case of poor men whose struggle to achieve manly ideals can involve “risks of bodily self-exploitation, high mortality and morbidity risks” (p. 104). Faulkner (2000) also illustrates how gender difference is employed to maintain hierarchies of masculinity among engineers and to support occupational dualisms like technical/social and specialist/generalist.
Other scholars have also strayed from the organization level, stressing gender configurations in the context of particular occupations. Lawson (1999) explains how job segregation persists amid increasing demand for women workers in the Ecuadoran garment industry: The “tailor” is distinguished from the “seamstress,” and the former’s artisan status rests on the latter’s susceptibility to domestic duties. Hinze (1999) examines the social construction of specialty prestige in the medical profession. No matter which bodies do the work, she says, gender symbolism characterizes and rationalizes perceptions of difficulty and value within the profession, such that surgical specialties associated with strong, intervening hands and “balls” trump specialties like pediatrics and psychiatry. This work supports Alvesson’s (1998) claim of a loose link between male and masculine domination and complicates early claims that gendered assessments of skill stem mainly from the body performing the work (e.g., Phillips & Taylor, 1980).
Across these projects emerges a sobering portrait of gendered job segregation as a ubiquitous, tenacious division that organizes the labor process, traversing time and culture, cutting across and within occupations and organizations. With pervasive ideological and institutional support, the divide has been shored up time and again by the identity work of men and women facing the complex political and material realities of labor. Pointing to trade education as a vital site of both institutional support and identity work, Prokos and Padavic (2002) analyze the “hidden curriculum” of police academy training, which teaches recruits that a certain breed of masculinity is essential to job performance and not easily enacted by women. They highlight how the presence of a few women in male-dominated work serves up a visible foil against which manliness can be defined and elevated. In doing so, they join a large crowd of scholars watching what happens when the gender lines of labor are crossed.
Out of Place: Transgressing the Labor Divide
The gender divide may be crossed in a variety of ways (Bradley, 1989; Morgan, 1992). As already noted above, jobs deemed the domain of one sex may become the terrain of the other, as in the feminization of clerical and public relations work or the masculinization of midwifery and spinning. Studies documenting such reversals in the majority population tend to bring a historical lens to an occupational level of analysis. Another stream of studies investigates the experience of “minorities” in gendered jobs—those attempting to buck the divide. Rather than stress occupational makeovers, these studies examine individual job infiltration.
Of particular relevance to the literature on infiltration is Kanter’s (1977) account of tokenism, which anticipates largely negative consequences suffered by individuals in the numerical minority. For example, a wealth of research examines the experience of women in male-dominated jobs (e.g., Davey & Davidson, 2000; Fletcher, 1999; Jorgenson, 2002; Martin, 1994; Miller, 2002; Spencer & Podmore, 1987). Particularly since management has been long been men’s turf, the extensive women-in-management literature can be read as perhaps the most copious illustration. As hinted by the sheer volume of this literature, most studies of women entering men’s work emphasize white, upper-middle-class women and men in the context(s) of white-collar labor. In the spirit of the token thesis, such work tends to highlight subtle barriers (e.g., the “glass ceiling”) women encounter as they attempt hierarchical advancement and managerial work.
The tokenism premise predicts that men in female-dominated work would suffer similar adverse effects, and a recent wave of research on men who do women’s work enables empirical consideration of that claim (e.g., Williams, 1993). Young and James (2001) are among the few still supporting the primacy of demographic composition. They find that Kanter’s (1977) three perceptual conditions of tokenism— exaggerated contrasts between majority and minority members, minorities’ high visibility, and related assimilation pressures— negatively influenced the work attitudes of male flight attendants, though with some mediating variables. In contrast, most of the research on men in women’s jobs complicates the significance of token status and underscores the gendered direction of infiltration. Long ago, for instance, Segal (1962) concluded that male nurses encountered negative experiences, not only because they were few in number but also due to status contradictions stemming from feminized work, since “many common ways of using one’s occupation as an expression of virility in our culture … are closed to male nurses” (p. 38). Nearly 30 years later, Heikes’s (1991) study of male nurses similarly challenged Kanter’s (1977) theory of proportions, arguing that gender norms and other sociocultural factors appreciably influence group interaction patterns.
Abundant research supports the claim that token experiences are distinctively gendered. Indeed, it appears that gender may even reverse the effects of tokenism, such that men in feminized jobs often enjoy benefits denied to women. The leading proponent of this argument is Williams (1989, 1992, 1993, 1995), whose research with male nurses, elementary teachers, social workers, and librarians suggests that men who do women’s work face gendered threats and enjoy subtle privileges. White men in particular seem to ride a “glass escalator” to the top of feminized occupations, concentrated as they are in specialties with higher pay and status. For example, Evans’s (1997) study of male nurses demonstrates how feminized work can entail a high valuation of men and masculinity, facilitating men’s disproportionate rise to administrative positions. Aided by gendered institutions and even some female colleagues, many men effectively achieve distance from both the women with whom they work and the hazards of occupational femininity.
Such findings raise the question of whether crossing the gendered lines of labor reflects a move toward equality or more of the same. In particular, scholars have debated the conflicted meanings of men performing traditionally women’s work. Bradley (1993), for example, suggests that men’s movement toward female-dominated occupations, compelled by the decline in jobs associated with masculine skill, subjects men to the stigmas of feminized labor and, thus, represents an opportunity to undermine the history of gendered labor relations. Donaldson (1993) seems to concur, arguing that the degradation of so-called masculine work opens possibilities for even relatively elite men to criticize hegemonic masculinity. Calás and Smircich (1993) also imply grounds for unrest in their analysis of the feminization of management, which reveals how women’s difference gets invoked to exacerbate class disparities. In varied ways, then, these authors grapple with the political implications of Phillips and Taylor’s (1980) initial insight that sex segregation creates “a group of ‘inferior’ workers who can be used to undercut” men’s privileged labor status (p. 87).
Following Williams’ (e.g., 1995) lead, other scholars caution that men’s presence in feminized labor is far from transformative. For example, Cross and Bagilhole’s (2002) interviews with men employed in caring, cleaning, and teaching occupations suggest that men’s efforts at remasculinization “have enhanced their career opportunities over women” and that “men’s entry into non-traditional jobs does not necessarily signal a change in men’s dominance as a sex” (p. 223). Hence, “any investigation of possible sites of changing masculinities should not ignore or disguise the continuing material dominance of men over women … even in female-dominated occupations” (p. 224). In a similar interview project, Lupton (2000) calls attention to the contradictory position of men doing women’s work, at once beneficiaries of the so-called glass escalator and targets of considerable gender assessment. He examines how men perceive and respond to this conflict, ultimately reframing their work in ways that downplay feminine associations or recrafting their masculinity to fit a female-dominated work setting.
Henson and Rogers (2001) treat male temporary clerical workers as a particularly telling case that confronts the divergent conclusions of Kanter (1977) and Williams (e.g., 1995). Such men face a profoundly gendered tokenism wherein their efforts to align with hegemonic masculinity become especially tricky, given the absence of secure employment with a clear occupational hierarchy. And yet, even without “a real job” and its “glass escalator,” male clerical temps find ways to “strike a hegemonic bargain, retracing the lines of occupational segregation and reinvigorating hegemonic masculinity and its domination over women and subaltern men” (Henson & Rogers, 2001, p. 236). Specifically, participants affirmed the feminine character of the job yet rejected its application to them by reframing their work, distancing themselves from it with a “cover story,” and resisting expectations of deference.
Such research indicates serious limits to the transformative promise of transgressing the gendered labor divide. Clearly, the conventional gender coding of labor can be revised to maintain strands of masculine privilege when women or feminized men enter male-dominated work (Ashcraft, 2005b; Britton, 1997), and even men employed in the most vulnerable forms of feminized labor can reinscribe the traditional gender order (Henson & Rogers, 2001). Thus far, then, individual job infiltration seems more likely to yield re-segregation (i.e., gendered divisions and hierarchies of labor within occupations) than de-segregation, while occupational makeovers (e.g., the feminization of clerical work) simply redraw the boundaries of segregation. In either case, the gender balance of power remains tipped in favor of men and masculinity. Simply put, small- and large-scale shifts appear to yield more of the same. It is equally clear, however, that reproducing the gendered division of labor is no tidy process. Extensive research on women and men in non-traditional jobs indicates the complex, situated contradictions entailed in crossing over; and the responses of tokens and colleagues function mostly to accommodate, but also to resist, gendered occupational systems.
Whereas most studies stress identity work among token members, particularly men’s discursive efforts to maintain “workable” masculinities, Sargent’s (2000) examination of elementary teachers is rare for its attention to “structural impediments that exist from the perspective of the men who might choose to cross over” (p. 430). In addition to facing ambiguous expectations for role modeling and for hyper-performance of physical and disciplinary tasks, men working with children encounter close institutional scrutiny, based on the embedded assumption that “women’s laps are places of love. Men’s are places of danger” (p. 416). Such work serves as an important reminder of the continued need for sensitivity to gendered organization, or the ways in which institutional contexts facilitate certain kinds of identity work.
It is interesting to note that, unlike the literature on women’s work, empirical studies of male-dominated labor are not generally accompanied by debates about how or why men come to such work. Likewise, analyses of gender job segregation tend to seek explanations for women’s subordinate status, not men’s dominant position (e.g., Jacobs, 1999). However, an emerging body of research has begun to ask how men arrive in female-dominated occupations (e.g., Chusmir, 1990). Perhaps the formulation of “relevant” research questions reflects our own participation as scholars in naturalizing the gendered division of labor.
It has not been my aim here to provide an exhaustive review of the literature on gendered jobs. Even the lengthy review provided, of necessity, omits much. My intent was to render an accessible portrait of an interdisciplinary arena of inquiry for a communication audience accustomed to seeing gender, difference, and work in other ways. I painted the literature in broad strokes, highlighting early conceptual themes and their development across four interrelated streams of research: (1) women’s work, (2) men’s work, (3) gender relations and the maintenance of the labor divide, and (4) crossover attempts. Across all of these streams emerges a resounding conclusion: Though in different ways, and to different degrees, work tasks appear to be divided along gender lines around the globe, within and across occupations and organizations. Again and again, aided by men and women colleagues and gendered institutions, certain men and/or masculinities rise to the top of job hierarchies (which, importantly, means that many men occupy the middle and bottom as well). As Cross and Bagilhole (2002) declare,
Gender segregation in the labour market operates horizontally and vertically; not only are men and women allocated qualitatively different types of jobs, the labour market is marked with women overwhelmingly concentrated at the lower levels of the occupational hierarchy in terms of wages or salary, status and authority. (p. 206)
Their summary echoes the observation made almost 25 years earlier by Phillips and Taylor (1980), with which this section began. And, if recent statistical analyses are any measure, little hope for gender occupational integration waits on the horizon. Segregation decline rates seem to be stagnating, while the wage gap appears to be reaching a plateau (Jacobs, 1999). Organizational communication scholars have yet to confront the magnitude and persistence of these material realities. It is time for another vision of difference—the gendered division and hierarchy of labor—to move into our line of sight.
Back to Work: Alternative Sites of Difference in Organizational Communication Studies
In many respects, this chapter is part of a larger movement to “bring work back in” to organization studies (Barley, 1996; Barley & Kunda, 2001). My ultimate purpose is to find a foothold in organizational communication studies for Connell’s (1995) claim that “the sweat cannot be excluded” (p. 51). As Jackson (1999) observes,
“Including the sweat” is a good idea, not as a means to validate male strength, since women’s work also involves considerable physical effort, but as an approach which offers a fuller understanding of the gendered experience of work and equity in labor sharing. (p. 97)
Here, I wish to build on this momentum and sketch a new sight/site of (gender) difference for organizational communication scholars: the organization of occupation.
Attention to the evolution of occupational identity across arenas of social activity holds particular promise. In foregrounding occupational identity, I mean to encompass a wide range of phenomena entailed in the dynamic relation between the abstract image and actual role performance of a job. By image, I refer to larger, public discourses of occupational identity, manifest in popular, trade, and even mundane conversational representations of the essence of a job and the people who perform it. I use role to refer to enacting a job, to the micropractices of actually performing the work. Of course, both (and other possible) dimensions of identity entail performance, but I associate “image” and “role” with different kinds of realities. The latter negotiates the former in the context of everyday work life, as people try on occupational selves and carry out job responsibilities.
Central to this chapter is how the study of occupational identity, broadly conceived, can enrich our understanding of work as a fundamentally gendered performance. Thus far, organizational communication scholars have devoted their attention to gendered identity work in particular organizations or to the gendering functions of particular organizational forms. By and large, the workplace has become our overwhelming focus, while the actual tasks getting done— not to mention the impact of occupational messages and (sub)cultures within and beyond specific organization sites—have fallen to the periphery. We have not yet begun to explore the full range of Acker’s (1990) original formulation of gendered organizational processes, and the literature on gendered jobs forcefully exposes what Acker hints in passing: Gender is an organizing principle of occupational identity, which, in turn, is a vital means of reproducing the division and hierarchy of labor.
Occupational identity traverses sites of organizing (e.g., workplaces, labor associations, regulatory agencies, trade education, family socialization, and popular culture) as a host or carrier of narratives regarding what counts as legitimate and valued work, who “naturally” belongs in certain lines of work, and so forth. In particular, occupational image supplies an emotional and rational grounding for assigning value (i.e., social, political, material standing) to and pursuing (i.e., job choice and related identity work) particular kinds of labor, whereas occupational role performances suggest the practical limits, tensions, variability, and negotiability of image discourse. For example, Faulkner (2000) concludes that descriptions of jobs are often more gendered than the actual work entailed, thereby increasing the likelihood of traditional occupational choice in response to “unrealistic” job previews. As this suggests, examining the communicative (re)production of occupational identity across sites of organizing can clarify how the gender division and hierarchy of labor is or was accomplished.
For organizational communication scholars, this requires expanding the current focus on how organizations, as physical sites or structural forms, are gendered. The bigger question becomes what “work” gender does in the organization of labor. In other words, where (including and exceeding workplace sites) and how does gender (and related axes of difference) play into the material configurations of work, such as who does what job, with what sort of bodily performance, at what social and economic value? With its eye for dialectical relations between discursive and material processes and products, such a question is sufficiently expansive to facilitate dialogue across critical modernist and postmodernist feminist stances (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004).
Specifically, the question invites multiple and complex stances on difference. Returning to the two theoretical developments described earlier, organizational communication scholars might take up the insights of FST theorists (Aptheker, 1989; Harding, 1991; Smith, 1987) by exploring labor activity (i.e., sustained engagement with certain occupations and tasks) as a critical nexus of “material life” that engenders different standpoints. Or, through the more postmodern lens of “doing gender,” scholars might ask how discourses of difference are woven together to distinguish “professions” from “semi-professions,” to naturalize occupational borders, to regulate laboring bodies, to produce the intense pleasure and pain of doing and resisting work. Clearly, these stances hinge on some competing assumptions. For example, FST maintains that different realities are produced by the lived experience of different cultural and material conditions, whereas “doing gender” holds difference as an unstable fiction, the “truth” of which social actors secure through shifting, situated performances. Yet both perspectives can inform gendered occupational identity, variously illuminating its discursive generation and tangible effects.
Despite their tensions, FST and “doing gender” also share some assumptions about difference—points of convergence that can be further cultivated in the study of occupational identity. First, both stances recognize gender difference as a relational construction. Not only are femininities and masculinities constructed in terms of one another, but also in relation to multiple discourses of identity and difference. For example, even as the gendered jobs literature demarcates “women’s work” from “men’s jobs,” it undermines the viability of a dualistic account, marking the simultaneous significance of class, sexuality, race, and so on. Careful attention to the intersectionality of occupational identity can usefully challenge easy references to “male domination” or “the pink ghetto.” Such attention can even reveal how narratives of difference are strategically invoked to police and resist occupational borders (Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004).
A second common interest follows from a shared commitment to intersectionality. Though in varied ways, both stances are concerned with the relation between discourse and the working body. The study of occupational identity marks the embodied character of work—the physical, mental, emotional, and even sexual “sweat” entailed in labor activity. In particular, the gendered jobs literature points to the ways in which managerial and professional discourse works to conceal the body and suppress the presence of sweat (literally and figuratively), whereas labor aligned with many femininities, non-white racial identities, and working-class subjectivities tends to at once demand and censure the heightened visibility of the body.
Finally, both stances increasingly call for dialectical and historically informed perspectives on mundane work activity. For the most part, the gendered jobs literature portrays the division and hierarchy of labor as an unfolding accomplishment—the ongoing struggle of real people to make conflicted choices amid institutional contradictions. Most studies model the complex interplay of control and resistance; some conduct diachronic analyses of shifts in job segregation (e.g., Frehill, 2004; Gray, 1991; Milkman, 1987); and a few have begun to consider how occupational identities are crafted in response to political and economic exigencies (e.g., Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004; Witz, 1990, 1992). Arguably, with its sensitivity to multiple sites and levels of organizing activity over time, the study of occupational identity requires a research sensibility that blends concern for mundane, discursive identity work with an institutional, historical consciousness.
The specific proposal of this chapter, then, is that organizational communication scholars draw on these productive tensions and alliances to examine how “difference matters” (Allen, 2003) to the organization of occupation. Such a charge invites at least two specific shifts in focus: (1) organization site-level analyses can take work (i.e., task, job, occupation) more seriously; and (2) extra-organizational analyses can clarify other sites and ways in which difference and work organize one another. On the first shift, the gendered jobs literature clearly indicates that workplaces are a pivotal site for enacting and negotiating the division of labor; it also avows that organizational forms and contexts can shape members’ identity work. For these reasons alone, it makes little sense to trade organization-level for occupation-level analyses. Yet as others have argued, there is much we miss when we forget the job being done (Barley, 1996; Barley & Kunda, 2001; Bloor & Dawson, 1994), including the ways that (gender) difference is integral to the organizing process.
But the gendered jobs literature is equally clear that the organization of occupation exceeds particular sites of work. The division of labor is accomplished far beyond the walls of organizational sites, in what communication scholars might call settings of “anticipatory socialization” (e.g., Clair, 1996)—familial configurations of work, career advice from family and friends, messages in various educational settings, popular representations of work, and occupational recruitment or public relations campaigns, to name a few. Two decades ago, Hearn (1982) noted a growing scholarly tendency to examine the division of labor as manifest in the workplace and urged the devotion of similar energy to the gender dynamics of professionalization projects—historical moments wherein occupational members exercise collective agency, strategically representing their jobs and selves in a struggle for legitimacy, monopoly, and membership closure (e.g., Macdonald, 1995; Witz, 1990, 1992).
Davies (1996) updates the call for more systematic theorizing of the relation between gender and profession. Drawing on parallel insights from the study of gendered organization (e.g., Acker, 1990; Savage & Witz, 1992), she suggests an alternative to the usual focus (reviewed above) on token women seeking a place in male-dominated professions: The current preoccupation with many women’s exclusion from elite men’s work obscures the equal import of inclusion. Women have long served as silent partners in professionalism, she argues, pointing to the dependence of much professional practice on feminized adjunct labor in ill-defined, non- or semi-professional support roles. Hence, professionalization projects are fundamentally gendered, entailing “a specific historical and cultural construction of masculinity” (Davies, 1996, p. 661). Such conceptual work paves the way for organizational communication scholars like me, who wish to explore occupational formations beyond the usual boundaries of organization (e.g., Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004).
As that last sentence implies, this chapter serves twin functions. On the one hand, it invites a shift that I sincerely believe can enrich understanding. Simultaneously, the chapter marks—and even builds an initial case for the significance of—turns in my own research. It is not surprising, of course, that these moves go together. At some level, scholarly writing is just another occupational representation, rife with identity work. I mention that now because I want to conclude with a “wish list” of sorts for our field, should we choose to engage occupational research. The list is meant to invite reflection on the politics of such research and, in so doing, brings my own way of seeing more explicitly to the table.
Wish 1: Scholars of gendered jobs seem highly cognizant of the costs of segregation, especially for women. May we also consider the costs for men and prove just as willing to confront the pains of integration. The gendered jobs literature hints at such costs. Greene et al. (2002) illustrate how men and women become deeply invested in segregation. Jackson (1999) draws attention to the corporeal costs of segregation for marginalized men, as well as to the possibility that some women strategically utilize hegemonic masculinity. In an arresting pair of reports, Wharton and Baron (1987, 1991) find that women in male-dominated work settings expressed the most job satisfaction; meanwhile, men in integrated work environments experienced significantly lower job satisfaction and self-esteem and higher job-related depression than men in male-dominated or female-dominated work. My own research with commercial airline pilots has begun to explore some men’s fears about the diversification of pilot identity (Ashcraft, 2005b; Ashcraft & Mumby, 2004). Even as a feminist member of an increasingly feminized field, I understand their concerns for the tangible, material consequences of de-segregation.
A related second wish: Scholars of gendered jobs seem comfortable with studies of men’s efforts to maintain masculinity when performing women’s work. May we also welcome studies of men’s identity work when women enter male-dominated professions (e.g., Britton, 1997). In my airline pilot project, for example, I have begun to examine men’s narratives of declining privilege and the largely neglected tactics of resistance they engender (Ashcraft, 2005b). More broadly, may we embrace studies that investigate not only the experiences of token members, but also the (often politically unpopular) perspectives of majority members encountering crossover attempts or de-segregation.
Wish 3: For all our interest in the sexuality of organization (e.g., Hearn, Sheppard, Tancred-Sheriff, & Burrell, 1989), scholars of gendered jobs and of organizational communication seem reticent to research sex work—a trend that likely reflects disciplined assumptions about “legitimate” labor, not to mention feminist ambivalence about the multiple and slippery meanings of terms like working women orprofessional women. As we expand empirical studies of sexuality at work, may we confront latent anxieties and engage the study of sexual labor. Importantly, such study could complicate dualisms (and entailed values) of central interest to feminist organizational inquiry—such as public and private, love and labor, power and pleasure, economy and emotion—while also exposing and challenging the subtext of feminist inquiry (e.g., Zatz, 1997). Put plainly, may we step beyond current theoretical accounts and examine the myriad ways in which sex “services” the organization of work.
A final wish: However we opt to see, in whatever sites we choose, may we develop useful visions of the “work” of difference— as it is, and as it could be.