Light Skin as Marriage Currency

Black Lives Matter, the anti-racist movement that spread globally after the tragic death of George Floyd on May 2020 in the US, had an unintended but very welcome consequence in India: national debate on India’s deep-rooted and highly gendered practice of color discrimination.

Calls for racial justice around the world resonated with dark-skinned Indians who face colorism, or dark-skin prejudice, in their everyday lives. The backlash forced skin-whitening multinational companies, which rake in an annual revenue of $500 million, to change the names of skin-lightening products.

Growing up in North India as the daughter of a fair-hued mother and dark-skinned father,  the prejudice of colorism was intimate.  Accustomed to hearing “thank god she is ‘wheatish’ in complexion. Imagine if she had inherited her father’s dark skin,” I would then wait for the anticipated dramatic pause from a well-meaning relative or friend of my mother as they assessed me on the color hierarchy. We were all expected to shudder at the imagined future horrors from which  my “wheatish” skin had saved me.  One such possible horror  was rejection by appropriate suitors when I became of marriageable age.

Fast forward with me to a few decades to a village in rural West Bengal in east India. I was conducting a study on a new trend of marriage migration in North India that involved men sourcing brides from remote corners of India. Most homes of prospective, poor, marriageable women that I visited had tubes of frequently used skin-whitening creams lying alongside combs and bindis on the ledges of plastic mirrors hung on walls. Dark-hued young women admitted using these creams to gain favourable marriage prospects and lower dowry demands from local suitors.

Despite the vast majority of India’s people being dark-skinned, the obsession with fair skin dates back historically to the oppressive and exploitative caste system of the Hindus. Fairness is linked to higher caste status, while a darker hue is seen as a feature of  the low caste and those who do menial labor.

Colorism is starkly visible  in India’s arranged marriage market. Fairness of prospective brides is highly prized and newsprint or e-matrimonial advertisements use “fair complexioned” as a desired trait to filter out darker-hued women. In India, global capital has leveraged this national obsession to its advantage by marketing skin-bleaching products as an antidote to matrimonial hurdles.

The Research

In my recently published research article in Gender & Society, I show that colorism is foundational to a new form of gendered violence for dark-skinned poor women. Skin fairness emerges as pivotal marriage capital and diminishes the chances of dark-complexioned poor Dalit (a politically self-aware term for untouchable castes) women to marry in their own communities.

I conducted interviews across 57 villages in the North and East Indian provinces of Haryana, Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Odisha. My interviews and focus groups with women and men in such marriages, their families, and villagers have revealed that light skin operates as a “currency” tradeable for a lesser dowry. North Indian bachelors, faced with a bride deficit due to the sex selective abortion of female fetuses, have begun traveling across the breadth of India to deliberately “source” wives from remote corners of the country. They offer the carrot of “no dowry and all wedding expenses paid” to poor families with darker-hued daughters of marriageable age. This results in women entering colorism-coerced marriage with rural North Indian men. This colorism-coerced marriage migration leads to a lifetime of cultural exile and internal othering in their marital homes and communities.


This oppressive skin-tone bias haunts such migrant brides as married women.  They have fewer fallback options due to distance from their parents and they must contend with their lack of ability to bargain about their own labor with their new conjugal families. Out of 113 interviewed brides, 57 told me that their husband and his family used dark-skin shaming to discipline them into docility and compliance whenever they resisted demands for excessive work.

These women face forcible cultural assimilation in North India, where the culture, language, customs, food habits, and even physical environment is different from their own. Caste discrimination within the family and in the community ranges from caste slurs, exclusion from family and kin gatherings, and segregation because of perceived untouchability. North Indian ethnocentrism, a peculiar blend of ethnic chauvinism, caste discrimination, and colorism directed specifically against east Indians from the provinces of Bihar and West Bengal, exacerbates the stigmatization of dark-hued migrant brides. Their very identity gets invested with connotations of crime, filth, savagery, and dim-wittedness, exposing them to ridicule and hate. My study also revealed that ethnocentric hate extends intergenerationally to the women’s children.


It is important to understand how new forms of gendered violence emerge for poor women in contemporary society. Such gendered violence builds patriarchy and caste oppression. Colorism creates a situation ripe for marriage brokers and traffickers to take advantage of poor women’s vulnerability. Societal pressure to marry off adult daughters renders poor parents gullible in the face of such offers and they often fail to check the prospective groom’s background, consigning their daughters to a lifetime of misery.

Multinational companies aggressively peddle feminine skin fairness as “marriage capital” to drive up the sales of their skin-bleaching products. The seductive narrative of a better life outcome has an estimated 60–65 percent of India’s women between 16 and 35 years of age using skin bleaching  products. Global capital which produces and markets these products has a vested interest in keeping such discriminatory hierarchies alive as India is one of its biggest and fastest growing markets. We need to rid ourselves of skin-tone bias and disrupt profiteering by transnational capital if we want to truly dismantle colorism and ensure that this new form of gender oppression gets stamped out.  

Reena Kukreja is Assistant Professor in the Department of Global Development Studies at Queen’s University, Canada. She is cross-appointed to the Department of Gender Studies and Cultural Studies Program at Queen’s University. She divides time between teaching, research, and film-making. Her forthcoming book Partial Truths Negotiated Existences focuses on cross-region marriage migration in India and how the neo-liberal accumulative process in India has dispossessed poor women of matrimonial choice.

Teaching Module: Crime, Law, and Social Control

Image from Pexels

Are you planning your spring syllabus?

Take a look at the new teaching module, from the Gender and Society Pedagogy Project on Crime, Law, and Social Control. It is created by Erin Eife, a PhD Candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago and a member of the G&S Junior Scholar Advisory Board.

If you want your students to understand how crime, law, and punishment are gendered and racialized, this module would be an addition to your syllabus.

This teaching module is designed for a week-long unit and utilizes readings from three different scholars published in Gender & Society, Dr. Susila Gurusami, Dr. Jennifer Carslon, and Dr.  Shannon Malone Gonzalez.  Eife has prepared two 1.5 hour lesson plans that involve partner work, in-class discussions, readings, and media to help students think more critically about the carceral state.

You can find this module on criminology here.

Other teaching modules that might be of interest include::

Erin Eife  is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research focuses on the impact of the legal system on the lived experiences of people who are criminalized. Her dissertation investigates pretrial release, surveillance, and the citizenship rights of people awaiting trial in Cook County, illustrating how people on pretrial release experiences surveillance before their cases are adjudicated.

Is the College Classroom Still “Chilly” for Women?

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

Senator Kamala Harris’s “Mr. Vice President, I’m speaking” and Vice President Mike Pence’s frequent interruptions during this year’s vice-presidential debate were all too familiar to women across the country. 

Women have come out on social media to share their similar experiences at the workplace, at home, and, most strikingly, at schools. While we may hope that our classrooms are more equitable than the vice presidential debate, research suggests otherwise. In fact, a report in 1982 described a “chilly climate” in college classrooms in which women students are largely silent while men tend to monopolize classroom discussions.

In the next two decades, research on elementary school to college classrooms showed boys and men participating more often than girls and women, and women reporting higher levels of discouragement and invisibility. During that same period, women began graduating from college at higher rates than men and with better grades. Thus, 40 years after its initial publication, it is unclear whether college classrooms remain chilly for women students.

To help answer this question, we conducted 95 hours of observation at Oakwood College (a pseudonym), an elite school located in the Northeastern United States. Between January and March 2017, we observed a total of 80 class sessions taught by male and female instructors across 9 different courses, which were all in different academic departments across the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. We recorded each time a student spoke, their gender, and how they started the interaction (e.g., raise hand, speak out, etc.). We also carefully recorded the specific words and body language used by each speaker. We found substantial gender differences in how students occupy their classrooms, how much of the space they fill with their talk.

Gendered Participation Patterns

Men students are more likely to take the floor to talk while women students are more likely to wait for their turns. Across all nine courses observed, men students talk 1.6 times as often as women. In addition, men are also more likely to speak out without raising their hands, interrupt other speakers in the classroom, and engage in prolonged conversations with the professor during class.

Men more frequently use assertive language and tone to convey their arguments, such as “I’m not kidding” or “It’s impossible.” On the other hand, women use a more hesitant and apologetic tone. They often begin their responses with “I don’t know if this is off topic, but…” or “Perhaps this is too specific, but…” As such, men effectively establish themselves as strong participants in classrooms while women remain largely hesitant. More importantly, women students also face a double bind: while they are expected to actively contribute their ideas as students, they are also aware of the possible repercussions for being too assertive as women.

Despite these clearly unequal gender patterns in class participation, we find that how professors organize their courses and intervene during the class greatly affect the interaction patterns. One practice involves deliberately trying to distribute and equalize the responses across students by saying things like “Let’s get other people’s thoughts in here as well” or coming back to students who no longer have their hand raised but did not speak.  By doing this, professors provide more opportunities for different students to contribute to the discussion.

Another practice involves enforcing clear classroom rules for participation, such as raising hands, so that all students have the opportunity to be recognized without having to assertively compete for the chance.  Being aware that men and women students may come into classrooms with different practices and actively trying to distribute their opportunities to speak sends the message to all students that their voices matter regardless of style.


Despite great gains in women’s access to and achievements in higher education, contemporary college classrooms seem to have remained “chilly.” Our observations suggest that men students continue to occupy advantaged positions while women students are largely hesitant to take up space in classrooms. These differences occur regardless of students’ or professors’ awareness of these inequalities. Like in the vice presidential debate, race and gender together may contribute to these patterns, and we encourage future researchers to take an intersectional approach, being careful not to tokenize the experiences of students of color.

But our finding that professors have the ability to transform such unequal patterns should be a beacon of hope. Instead of expecting our students to speak up more and organize their thoughts faster, we should expect our professors to be more mindful of the power imbalance in classrooms and be sure to distribute the opportunities to contribute equally to women and men.   

Jennifer J. Lee is a doctoral student in the sociology department at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her primary research interests include gender, higher education, and social psychology.

Janice M. McCabe is an associate professor of sociology at Dartmouth College. Her book Connecting in College: How Friendship Networks Matter for Academic and Social Success and other research focuses on how gender, race/ethnicity, and social class operate as social identities and how they shape social networks.

Working in the Post-COVID World: Does Coworking Offer Greater Gender Equality?

It has been nearly a year since the World Health Organization classified Covid-19 as a worldwide pandemic. Accompanying this declaration were massive changes to how and where men and women perform their paid work, with substantial numbers of workers transitioning from working on-site to working remotely.

As a result, organizations and their employees have begun to question whether workers really need to work on-site in all occupations, and whether engaging in alternative work arrangements might work as well, or even better for both employees and their employers. If organizations decide to allow employees more alternatives to working on-site full-time, after the pandemic, what might these look like? Also, what might these changes to alternative work arrangements mean for gender equality at work?

Our study, published in Gender & Society with colleague Rosalyn Sandoval, asked exactly this question. Specifically, we investigated one alternative work arrangement, coworking, on the rise in the U.S. prior to the pandemic. Coworking is a work arrangement where employees from different companies come together to work in a shared space. The purpose of coworking is to bring people across occupations and industries together in one space to network and build community as they conduct their work. Coworking organizations maintain little organizational control over their members, lack management oversight of member activities, and have few rules in place to dictate member behavior. Coworking spaces, thus, are a new organizational form that blends the benefits of working inside a traditional office (i.e., social interactions, networking, etc.), with the autonomy and flexibility typically associated with working independently.

Substantial research has been conducted regarding the dynamics of gender (in)equality in traditional organizations, but how might gender dynamics differ in alternative work arrangements, like coworking organizations? We spent over 700 hours inside nine different U.S. coworking spaces and interviewed 78 men and women coworking members to find out.


We found that certain aspects of coworking organizations reduced inequality among men and women in coworking spaces, whereas other aspects facilitated gender inequality.

Reducing Gender Inequality in Coworking Spaces

Taking an intersectional approach to analyzing our data, we found coworking spaces were perceived by white women and racial minority men and women as places where they experienced less gender and racial inequality on an everyday basis.

Three major factors contributed to the reduction of inequality in coworking spaces.

First, affordable pricing policies made coworking organizations accessible to more diverse groups of people and reduced feelings of tokenism for some minority women.

Second, most coworking spaces had an open space design that encouraged regular interactions between members, effectively diversifying member networks. Work areas (offices and desks) were assigned on a “first-come, first-served” basis which resulted in members of diverse gender and racial statuses regularly working side-by-side during the day or running into each other in the common spaces. These spacing practices, as respondents reported, fostered cross-gender and cross-racial collaborations. Together, these two factors enabled men and women of diverse backgrounds to benefit both socially and professionally from one another’s expertise and networking connections.

Finally, the absence of policies that created rankings of members by occupation or job role facilitated more equal, everyday interactions among men and women inside coworking spaces. Several women, including women of color, we interviewed mentioned feeling more equally positioned to men because their occupation or rank (e.g., manager level) did not matter in the space, as it typically would in a traditional organization.

The fact that women perceived more equal interactions is important because people who regularly face microaggressions in workplaces tend to also be isolated and excluded from career opportunities and are more likely to leave their organization.

Increasing Gender Inequality in Coworking Spaces

Not all coworking spaces offered positive gender-related work benefits. One coworking organization we observed fostered gender inequality among its members. This coworking site  was different from others as it had the largest proportion of members who were men and it was in a high-profile location. But the factor that seemed to matter most for gender inequality e was the pricing policy.

Unlike other spaces, where prices were kept affordable, this space had extremely high membership fees, with some internal office spaces renting for thousands of dollars per month. The high prices to access this space restricted membership to only those who could afford it. Those who could afford this cost were mostly men in high-paying jobs (like finance or IT) working for large companies willing to pay the fees, or men running or working for already-successful entrepreneurships.

The result? Men generally had the means to access the best space inside the coworking organization which effectively segregated them from the few women working there. Additionally, the higher presence of teams from larger or already successful companies, already segregated by gender, meant that workers perceived few organizationally sanctioned reasons for men and women to interact with one another. Consequently, men and women interacted much less inside this space, possibly precluding women from certain opportunities to grow their careers and businesses via exposure to men’s powerful networks.

Major Takeaways

The post-COVID world may look very different from the pre-COVID world if organizations embrace alternative work arrangements for their employees. Coworking may be a viable alternative to working entirely on-site or entirely at home, as coworking organizations provide many social and professional benefits for workers as well as affordable options to access space for businesses.

Our study suggests coworking spaces may also have potential for reducing some of the unequal gender dynamics often found in traditional organizations which is a positive aspect of  opting to cowork. On the other hand, coworking organizations that enact exclusionary pricing policies or practices that restrict membership by income level may ultimately perpetuate gender inequality.

Amanda C. Sargent is a Ph.D. candidate in Organizational Science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research areas are gender, race, and class inequality in the workplace; supportive supervision; and justice/fairness in organizations.

Jill E. Yavorsky is an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Organizational Science at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research areas focus on patterns and mechanisms of workplace inequality; gender, work and family; and economic elites.

Teaching Module: Contraception

Today we share a third module of the Gender and Society Pedagogy Project.  These modules are aids for teaching, bringing  creative ideas for instructors to use in the classroom.  This module is for teaching about gendered embodiment based on an article about contraceptive use.   

Image from Unsplash

The author is  Jane Pryma, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Pryma was a member of the 2020 Gender and Society’s Junior Scholar Advisory Board.  The module based on a 2013 article by Krystale Littlejon incorporates  readings and media to assist teachers in the college classroom.

Every teaching module we publish has been peer-reviewed by one of the  authors of a highlighted article  and a Gender & Society editorial board member. This teaching module highlights  the  2013 article  ‘It’s Those Pills That Are Ruining Me’: Gender and the Social Meanings of Hormonal Contraceptive Side Effects in Gender & Society by Krystale E. Littlejohn. 

Dr. Pryma provides suggestions for additional readings and other media  expand student’s knowledge:

  • How gender identity shapes medical decision-making for hormonal contraception use
  • How beliefs about sex and gender inform our understanding of medical technologies
  • How race, ethnicity, and class, in addition to gender, affect decision-making related to contraception

You can find this module about contraception here.

Teaching Modules also exist about Digital Media,  and  Men & Masculinities.

Dr. Jane Pryma is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Connecticut. Her research explores the intersection of medical expertise, politics, and gender with a focus on pain management and the opioid crisis. Her work appears in Social Science & Medicine and Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy.

Who Knows? Theorizing Violence through Activism

In the 1970s and 80s, feminist anti-violence activists founded hundreds of domestic violence shelters, hotlines, and drop-in centers across the United States. Their aims were radical: to dismantle the oppressive systems that allowed domestic violence to occur and to undo the cultural mythologies that blamed victims for abuse. They marched, they demanded funds, they protested against the police, they heckled psychiatrists, they published the names of suspected rapists in underground papers, they hid battered women in their homes. Activists were diverse and they served diverse communities: early documents from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reveal that many of the first shelters served queer and trans women and that the shelter movement was “born in [the] gay bars” of cities across the country. One of the first shelters in the country (in Cambridge, Massachusetts) was started by two queer mothers on welfare who opened their apartments to women fleeing their homes.

The Research

Many of you likely already know that feminists protested against rape and domestic violence in the 1970s. But what I explore in my Gender & Society paper is how those activists also produced new theories of abuse while they were organizing. Protest movements are knowledge production movements: they pursue new ways of knowing about inequality. When feminists constructed shelters, they constructed surveys. When they organized hotlines, they organized studies. In consciousness-raising groups, they sketched out novel theories of power. Activists created powerful new frameworks to explain abuse and they revolutionized how we understand violence in the home. Their theories weren’t perfect – in fact, they were often exclusionary – but they were rooted in the experiential knowledge of survivors and activists.

Feminists didn’t do this knowledge production work without adversaries. What’s known as “family violence” research had more power than feminist research at the time, since it emerged from sociology and psychology departments complete with National Institute of Mental Health funds. Family violence researchers conceived of abuse as a set of incidents of physical violence found within the home – punching, slapping, kicking, strangling – an incident that anyone could perpetrate against anyone else.

Feminists challenged this popular model of abuse – they opposed the idea that violence in the home could be separated from gender inequality outside the home. Abuse isn’t just an incident. “Private” abuse is connected to how women are excluded in workplaces, ignored in school, sexually harassed in public, stereotyped by bureaucrats, shoved outside of leadership positions. As they developed programs for abused women, activists also called for an end to the family violence research paradigm.

In a 1980 speech, activist Susan Schechter bemoaned the fact that existing research only gave “excuses for why individual men beat up individual women.” She called for research to be “redone” by “formerly battered women, women of color, and working-class women.” In 1982 newsletter, organizers demanded their own research programs, since existing questionnaires were “biased” and relied on the “unnatural constraints of the scientific model.” Activist Barbara Hart wrote about her efforts to get “feisty women” on the boards of academic journals in order to demand studies rooted in women’s experiences (1985).

Based on archival data such as these, I show that feminists produced theories of abuse that went against the grain of “family violence” theories. Family violence researchers depicted violence as thing-like. Feminist activists, on the other hand, used women’s experiences to theorize abuse as a system or structure, exposing inequality across “public” and “private” spheres – challenging the idea that “separate spheres” existed at all. Feminists were able to “see” this because they relied on women’s stories as the foundation of their theories, rather than on researcher-gendered categories. Feminists were standpoint theorists: they placed direct experiences of violence and marginalization at the center. Since survivors experienced abuse, they should know best.

This image from a feminist march theorizes violence as something that is experienced multiply, connecting physical harm in the home to legal discrimination in public settings. Feminists built models of abuse that refused a separation between intimate violence in the home and gendered exclusion in institutions. Domestic violence could never be imagined as a set of discrete incidents in the home because this would have belied the reality of abuse, which survivors insisted operates across boundaries of public/private.

Photo by Betty Layne. Courtesy of Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

I argue in this paper that this historical story questions for sociologists about how we produce knowledge and about whose accounts we privilege.

Paige L. Sweet is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. Her work focuses on gender/sexuality, gender-based violence, and the politics of health. Her book The Politics of Surviving: Domestic Violence in Traumatic Times is forthcoming with the University of California Press. 

Everyday Gendered Nationalism, The inclusion and exclusion of migrants in South Korea

Cooking class for marriage migrants at a Multicultural Family Support Center 
Image from Gyeongju City

Nationalism is on the rise around the world, often accompanied by strong anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia toward “those who don’t belong”. Recent examples of this include the increasing level of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies in the USA, the anti-immigrant public conversation surrounding Brexit, the European migrant crisis, and apparent strengthening of various nationalist movements during the COVID pandemic. Given this globally prevalent apprehension, it is not surprising that migrants are consistently subject to laws and policies that limit their rights and marginalize them within the nation-states that they now call home.  

Despite this xenophobic trend, migration into South Korea might be considered an exception to the efforts of nation states to minimize the presence of foreigners living within their boundaries.

In Korea, marriage migrants – mostly foreign women from countries like China, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand – who have come to Korea to marry Korean husbands, have been welcomed.  For the last two decades, they have also been targeted as a key group requiring of integration into the national collective.

In 2008, the Korean government created the ‘Multicultural Families Support Policy’ to support marriage migrants’ settlement and successful integration into the country. The outcome of this policy was the establishment of more than 200 ‘multicultural’ Centers, which offer free programs such as Korea language classes, family counseling, children’s education, and events to promote diversity.

In Korea, this disproportionate ‘positive’ attention given to marriage migrants (in comparison to the far more numerous population of labor migrants) is driven by the public belief that marriage migrants are a potential solution to country’s fertility crises and the aging of the population. Privileging marriage migrants as the solution to this national crisis is paradoxical given that the Korean national culture promotes the country’s monoethnic ‘pure blood’ imagery. Given the concern for ‘pure’ Korean blood, why is the state openly embracing these new arrivals?

My research asks how Koreans and migrants explain and experience these cultural integration centers  “from the ground up”? 

To answer this question, I both conducted observations and interviews at two such Centers which link state policy to the daily experiences and interactions of Korean staff and marriage migrants. I illuminate specific examples of how gender relations are directly linked to everyday nationalism, and discuss the implications for social hierarchies in South Korea.  


I found that the Korean staff generally welcomed migrants as new members of the nation. This approval, however, was conditioned upon the migrants’ fulfillment of their role as gendered laborers and caregivers for Korean families.  They defended the social support given to migrants for their childbearing, domestic work, caring, and the upkeep of traditional family practices, all of which were seen as the migrants’ invaluable contribution to the nation’s well-being.

Yet, this perspective was based on the Korean staff’s double standard of gender expectations toward Koreans and migrants: the staff believed that Korean women were entitled to a greater level of gender egalitarianism in marriage and independence. Ironically, migrant wives were more likely to engage in wage-earning than their married Korean women, and so more financially independent of families. Nor were Korean women exempt from the familial burdens of the national patriarchy.  

While the Korean staff believed the migrants willingly followed the traditional gendered hierarchies within the Korean family, the migrants I interviewed told me that traditional gendered expectations were the primary source of their problems in Korea.

My fieldwork confirmed that the idealized migrant woman who spends her time happily caring for her parents-in-law, cooking, educating children, and doing domestic chores, would be unlikely to have the time or freedom to even attend the Centers programs.

Yet, although the migrants were critical about the patriarchal family norm imposed on women in Korea, they appreciated the Centers’ programs such as cooking classes, despite they were designed to reinforce their requirements to be as gendered caregivers.  The migrants reported that learning Korean cultural mores was a  “survival strategy” to navigate their relationships with their husbands’ family. They also actively endorsed helping their children become fluent in Korean language through Centers’ various language development programs. They accepted the primacy afforded to them as the bearers of new Korean citizens and highlighted their value as mothers to “Korean” children. This childrearing labor helped to defend their entitlement to state benefits and justify their position over other migrants. Therefore, instead of resisting the governmental and public conception of their gendered expectations, migrants strategically embraced the logic of “gendered nationalism” to justify their presence in Korea.  


My analysis offers two important points about the relationship between gendered immigration and nationalism in Korea.

First, gendered expectations for marriage migrants illustrate how newcomers can be both ‘us’ and ‘them’.  These women are integrated into the state to fulfill roles that Korean women are presumed to have left behind, and yet they are never truly considered Koreans.

Second, the attention given to marriage migrants, but not labor migrants, shows how state policy reproduces gender and social inequality. At least in the case of Korea, I argue that these intersectional forms of inequality sustain both ethnic hierarchies and patriarchal division of labor nationwide.  

Sojin Yu is a Postdoctoral Research Scholar at the University of Maryland –College Park, where she is part of the team “Woman’s Empowerment Data for Gender Equality”. Her primary research interests include gender, migration, family, and nationalism. She uses both qualitative and quantitative research methods to understand the social formations of inequality and power.  

Teaching Modules: Men & Masculinities

Are you prepping to teach a new class or a Spring course? Do you want to incorporate a section about men & masculinities, but aren’t sure what you want to integrate for readings and activities?

This week Gender & Society is highlighting a teaching module about men and masculinities from our new Pedagogy Project. This module was co-authored by three members of the G&S Junior Scholar Advisory Board – Melissa Kinsella, Jihmmy Sanchez, and Yuchen Yang.

This lesson plan introduces a variety of ways to teach concepts introduced by Tristan Bridges, Raewyn Connell, and James Messerschmidt.

When these teaching materials are incorporated into the classroom, students will gain a deeper understanding of concepts such as hegemonic masculinity, hybrid masculinity and sexual aesthetics. This module includes articles published in Gender & Society as well additional readings, digital media, and activities for students in the classroom.

To see the lesson plan in this module, click here.

Melissa Kinsella is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Loyola University Chicago. Her research focuses on gender, masculinities, sexual violence, and sexual consent.

Jihmmy Sanchez is a third year PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His research interests center around the performance of masculinity. In particular, what role status plays in the construction and policing of masculine identity.

Yuchen Yang is a PhD Candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago. His research interests include gender and sexuality, men and masculinities, childhood studies, social theory, and East Asia.

Working Mothers and the COVID 19 Pandemic in the US

photo from Splash

Working mothers have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Recent studies show that mothers are more likely to be managing their children’s remote schooling, are interrupted more when working from home, and have reduced their paid work hours or quit jobs to cope with their additional responsibilities (Carlson, Petts, and Pepin 2020; Collins, Landivar, Ruppanner, and Scarborough 2020). An analysis by the National Women’s Law Center shows that over 800,000 women left the work force between August and September 2020, compared to 216,000 men.

As qualitative sociologists, we wanted to investigate the gender, family, and work dynamics that were shaping this situation. In June and July 2020, with a Quick Response Grant from the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, we conducted in-depth virtual interviews with 33 parents (23 women, 10 men) in the Boulder/Denver area. The interviewees were mostly highly educated, married, heterosexual professionals with children under 18.  We coupled the interviews with a national online survey that received 300 responses.

The working mothers we interviewed felt overwhelmed by remote schooling and lack of childcare, and voiced frustration, anger, stress, and sadness. Many were concerned about their careers and some discussed tensions in their marriages. Yet nearly a third of the working mothers reported that their families were managing the additional labor more equitably. The interviews revealed that that the differences between working mothers who reported being substantially more burdened and those whose households seemed to be managing more equitably hinged on parents’ job flexibility, particularly for men in heterosexual households.

Most working mothers in our sample said their husbands were very involved in childcare and housework, yet when schools closed, these mothers found themselves handling more of these tasks. This seemed to happen for two reasons. First, in this emergency, couples often prioritized the higher paying job, and this is typically the man’s job. Husbands’ jobs were also usually perceived as more demanding in the sense of needing to work for longer periods of time without interruption. Second, some working mothers prior to the pandemic were working less than their husbands, often 25-30 hours per week. This was often because mothers wanted to spend more time with their children as well as because of the high cost of childcare. We found few working fathers who had made such a choice. In fact, several of the eight heterosexual men we interviewed called their jobs “more than full time.”  They described a pre-pandemic division of labor in which their wives handled most child-related tasks, and thus, not much changed during the pandemic except for the addition of remote schooling.

For a minority of working mothers, the household division of labor seemed more equitable. They reported greater satisfaction with how childcare and school related tasks were being shared (or in a few cases, done primarily by husbands or partners). These households tended to share one or more of several characteristics: the working mothers were more likely to be breadwinners or have jobs that they and their partners considered more demanding; husbands were unemployed; children were older and more self-sufficient; husbands’ workplaces were sympathetic to childcare needs; and in some cases, there was an existing commitment to gender equity in the household. Nevertheless, many of the working mothers who felt that their division of labor was more equitable said that they still did more of the emotional labor and school related tasks, both before and during the pandemic.


Before the pandemic, working mothers in the US were already disadvantaged by lack of family friendly workplace policies, the gender wage gap, and expensive childcare. The pandemic took away school and childcare, exposing the arrangements within households that childcare had previously alleviated.

In most of our interviewees’ households, the amount of unpaid labor has increased, but the gendered division of labor has not shifted greatly. The pandemic has amplified the inequities that already existed, including mothers doing more childcare. The scholarship on disasters and epidemics shows that such events tend to magnify pre-existing inequalities, and this seems to be the case with the current pandemic as well.

Research shows (Gerson 2011) that without structural changes, individual commitments to equity cannot necessarily be carried out. Many working mothers in our study were aware of the dynamics in their households but felt unable to resolve inequalities related to husbands earning higher wages and having less flexible jobs. As one interviewee said: “It’s not that he is not used to doing that type of work or he thinks that he is above that…I truly think that he thinks that he is participating and making that effort…I don’t believe that he is thinking that [its] my role…  but that’s how it plays out.”

Rachel Rinaldo is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her research interests include gender, culture, religion, development and globalization, and qualitative methods, with a focus on Southeast Asia. 

Ian M. Whalen is a 4th year Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado Boulder. His research interests include Gender, Men and Masculinities, and Virtual Methodologies.

The unholy trinity of ultra-orthodox women in the high-tech industry

Ultra orthodox women work on their computers at the Malam Group IT company in Beitar Illit. 2009. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90

How do ultra-orthodox women who face many community restrictions integrate into  professional employment? How do different aspects of religiosity — the monitoring of women’s sexuality and the strong social ties — affect the ability to negotiate work-family policies that fit their ultra-religious  lifestyle?

Our research published in Gender & Society is based on many years of observations and interviews with ultra-orthodox women and their managers in the Israeli high-tech industry. We conducted observations at work and interviews with ultra-orthodox women and their managers, as well as state officials who are responsible for formatting labor policy. We examine how three patriarchal institutions — the state, the ultra-orthodox community and the labor market  compromise to allow ultra-religious women to enter the labor force.  These women must meet contradictory demands of the state, their religious community and the employer. However, their affiliation to an organized religious organization does enhance the religious community leader’s power to negotiate vis-à-vis the employers.

The systems by which these women are allowed employment are complicated and contradictory. The Israeli state seeks to reduce the funds given to underprivileged groups in the welfare state, including their ultra-orthodox community. To this end the state promotes the employment of ultra-Orthodox women in a field with a shortage of workers. 

The women’s employment provides relatively high wages to them and their families. But to ensure the entry of ultra-orthodox women into the labor market, the state must cooperate with the ultra-orthodox authorities which enjoy considerable political power in Israel and which strictly control these women’s  daily lives.

Employers who need cheap workers participate in this agreement to provide unique working conditions for ultra-orthodox women, and in return  receive state financial support that makes the employment of ultra-Orthodox women economically worthwhile.

From the point of view of all three of these patriarchal institutions, it is important that women enter paid employment, but this has nothing to do with ensuring gender equality or improved working conditions.

How do the ultra-orthodox women manage to conduct themselves at work?

They achieve unique benefits that allow them a  balance  caring for their large families, meeting religious obligations, and work demands. For example, unlike their secular colleagues in the high-tech industry, they manage to limit their working hours with almost no overtime and no work from home on weekends as this is restricted by the religious authorities. They are not required to travel abroad, so they do not have to be away from home or neglect  maternal duties. They take frequent maternity leave according to the rabbis’ requirements for community expansion. In addition, employers must provide them segregated  women-only spaces, in order to reduce their interaction with men,  to meet the strict dictates of religious rules on modesty.

The Findings

Our findings show that the penetration of the male dominated religious community into the work space produces for these women a substitute for a strong and capable union for collective bargaining.  

The intersectionality of religion and gender can be both repressing and empowering. Thus, we must pay attention to the role of power relations and organized systems in negotiating work-family policies.

Michal Frenkel is an Associate Professor and the Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has published extensively on gender, race, nationality,and religiosity within and around organizations.

Varda Wasserman is Associate Professor at the Open University of Israel in the Department of Management and Economics. She is an organizational sociologist  interested in organization aesthetics, organizational control and resistance, embodiment and gender identities (femininities and masculinities).