Intersections: Too feminine?

January 17, 2017 by Bill Ivey

Yesterday, Mark Anthony Neal shared a link to an article in the New York Times by Claire Cain Miller entitled, “Job Listings That Are Too ‘Feminine’ for Men.” Among the key points:

  • Many of the fastest-growing job fields have traditionally been female-dominated.
  • Job descriptions in fields that have traditionally been female-dominated use language like “empathetic,” “caring,” and “families.” They attract more women than men, and are more likely to lead to a female hire.
  • Job descriptions in fields that have traditionally been male-dominated use language like “manage,” “forces,” and “superior.” They attract more men than women, and are more likely to lead to a male hire.
  • That said, women have been more ready to enter traditionally male-dominated occupations than men traditionally female-dominated occupations.
  • Gender-neutral language in job descriptions causes vacant posts to be filled more quickly.

I notice (and I realize Ms. Miller probably didn’t write the headline herself) that the headline focuses on men being turned off by “feminine” job descriptions while the article itself looks at the issue from the perspective of both men and women, examining both the feminine and the masculine. The title itself telegraphs the underlying problem. Language matters, both influenced by and influencing social context.

I can not think of a single reason why “empathic” or “caring,” never mind “families,” should be words so associated with femininity that they would be off-putting to men. Isn’t empathy a positive trait across genders? Shouldn’t we all be caring? Don’t people of all genders (not all, but certainly many of us) have or dream of having families? So - why are these concepts seen as “feminine” (with the quotes echoing the headline and undercurrent of Ms. Miller’s article) and, moreover, why should whatever we designate as “feminine” all too frequently be seen as somehow negative in the first place?

Similarly, language associated somehow with masculinity such as “manage” and “exceptional” leads to a higher number of male hires. Yet, why wouldn’t women be equally able to manage? Why wouldn’t women have an equal chance of being exceptional? What role is being played by gender bias among those making the final decision? And along with that, are women somehow self-selecting out of these jobs?

Attacking the problem from the realm of the job description itself is certainly one important strategy. As Ms. Miller notes, “gender neutral” language such as “handle” a fast-paced schedule rather than “manage” it can attract a more diverse pool of applicants. And the benefits of a diverse work force are well known.

In the back of my mind is the notion that my students will one day be out in the world applying for jobs. Our mission calls us to support them in being their own best authentic selves, and I don’t want them to be - however unconsciously it might be happening - restricting themselves based on the subtle gendering (and underlying misogyny) of job descriptions. Our ensuring they are aware of the issue is one crucial step. Pushing for more inclusive job descriptions is also important. And at the same time, we need to be constantly working to expand notions of feminine and masculine to embrace the full spectrum of people who identify as either female or male, and to expand the notion of gender itself to embrace the full spectrum of people.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: gender stereotypes, Feminism, Intersections