Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Gendered Workers/market Equality

Academic journal article Texas Journal of Women, Gender, and the Law

Gendered Workers/market Equality

Article excerpt

I. Market Gender Constructs: Men Will Be Men And So Will Women

So far, gender equality has meant that women have become freer to be men; now the task is to free men to take on women's roles. Social support for childcare requires that it be transformed from women's work to citizens' responsibility.

Feminism and other civil rights movements have subverted gender status in an unexpectedly close alliance with the market and the very different agenda that the market encourages. Markets have a dynamic and a baseline of their own that make certain wrongs obvious and others hard to see. The market alliance powered civil rights victories. But it also limits the change: our markets continue to function within a strong culture of status.

Decades of feminism have freed women from many longstanding gender roles. Men, however, remain more constrained. Women now wear pants, but men still do not wear dresses. Mothers of young children overwhelmingly work in the paid labor market, but male housewives remain rare. Tomboys have won some acceptance, but boys are still expected to be boys.

The result is predictable. As women have taken on traditional male roles, they have continued to be responsible for female roles as well.1 Someone, after all, has to take care of the children and do the laundry and the cooking and the cleaning and the shopping and the entertaining.

In the upper echelons of the workplace, female executives have succeeded when, just like their male counterparts, they have put their careers ahead of family obligations and responsibilities. In the rest of the economy, women-now dominating both the routine clerical workforce and the part-time swing labor market-have also won the right to be treated as men. Instead of workplaces adapting to the needs of families, women have adapted to the needs of the workplace, taking lower pay and less interesting work in exchange for at least marginally greater time-flexibility.

The gender reverse, however, has not been true. In the upper echelons, men are still assumed to have a wife or to otherwise be willing and able to put their lives on hold when the office calls. In the less rarified strata, men remain in short supply in those sectors of the job market organized to accommodate a significant family role. Often this is due to more or less overt discrimination-it is not easy for a semi-skilled young man to get a pink collar job. Deindustrialization and the feminization of the back-office working class have left too many uneducated young men without any socially useful role at all-still barred from nurturing roles in the family, no longer needed in the workplace, little left to do but riot or rot in jail.

In short, much of the success of the feminist movement has been in allowing women to act like men.

A. The Unencumbered Worker: Liberation from the Family Wage

In one area, men are now treated more like women. The male "family wage" is dead. Male wages are still higher than female wages, but on an hourly basis the gap has shrunk dramatically, and in the bottom half of the income distribution almost entirely by a decline in male wages.2 In the great middle of the income distribution, men have lost the ability support a family financially, without gaining a new role in actual family activities.

But this male to female gender reversal can be seen the other way-perhaps it is more accurate to see the departed family wage as having itself been a gender reversal. Men were treated like women, as responsible caregivers and supporters of dependants. The demise of the family wage means that the employment market now treats men and women alike as single, unencumbered monads, each responsible for himself or herself alone. In short, family men and women alike have been reconstructed as single bachelors.3

In the old days (say back in the days of the Feminine Mystique),4 status rules limited the labor market and imposed a gendered division of labor. …

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