Teaching Module: Gender and Legal Consciousness

Are you prepping to teach a course about Law and Society or the Sociology of Gender?  

A goal for Gender and Society is to provide pedagogical support for instructors, professors, and lecturers on gender topics. The G&S Junior Scholar Advisory Board members develop teaching modules in their areas of expertise and research.

A new addition to our teaching modules is created by Advisory Board member Pedrom Nasiri. Their module provides options for teaching about gender and legal consciousness with suggested readings, and class activities. These teaching tools can be used on campus or online.

This module helps instructors introduce students to the sub-field of legal consciousness studies. The provided readings will orient students to the study of gender and the law from an intersectional framework focusing on gender, race, and sexuality.

To access the teaching module, click here.

Pedrom Nasiri is a Joseph-Armand Bombardier scholar in the Department of Sociology, at the University of Calgary. Their multiple award-winning Ph.D. research examines the lived experiences of multi-partner families in Canada and their articulation with ongoing class, gender, and race formation projects.

COVID-19 Makes Transforming the Academy More Urgent

A full year into quarantines, Zoom-everything, no childcare, and facilitating kids’ education at home, there is reason for concern about the long-term consequences for women in academia.

Within academic STEM fields, where women earn about half of the doctorates but are woefully underrepresented in advanced ranks, the impact may be particularly dramatic. The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic directly affect individual women, but also academia itself. The pandemic has amplified inequities within academia and in society more broadly.

Will we recognize these impacts and seize the opportunity to make academia a more inclusive and equitable institution that welcomes the contributions of diverse academic women? If we want the best talent and most innovative research to advance knowledge, we must.

Even before a global pandemic abruptly moved our lives into virtual spaces, women shouldered a greater burden for care work in their families, communities, and workplaces, leaving less time to devote to their scholarship. As the immediate decline in the number of manuscripts submitted to scholarly journals by women demonstrates, the pandemic has exacerbated this inequity.

While some faculty and administrators still insist these are individual problems, the pandemic has confirmed what feminist sociologists have been saying for decades – we have structured our universities to reflect sexist and racist assumptions about who does, and should do, particular kinds of work, and how that work is valued, supported, and rewarded. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how far we are from equity and how easily we can lose ground. 

Faculty worry that administrators will not “let a good crisis go to waste,” as they cut faculty, staff, and academic programs, and reorganize their universities. They also note that many universities have attempted to acknowledge this crisis and responded by extending the time to tenure for faculty and changing the use of teaching evaluations. Some faculty are concerned that these responses may exacerbate rather than alleviate gender inequality. But this does not have to be the scenario.

The Research

My research suggests we are in a critical time that may be a moment for those committed to feminist institutional transformation to push for change. My interviews with feminist sociologists indicate they should be at the decision-making table to steer the response of universities to the pandemic in feminist directions. Why single out feminist sociologists for a central role in shaping policy for a more inclusive academia?

Sociologists are trained to identify and analyze how institutional structures and cultures perpetuate or remediate inequalities. Their expertise can help others to recognize that the expectations, policies, practices, and culture of the university—not characteristics of individuals—maintain inequality.  Feminist sociologists produce knowledge using the tools of their discipline and use that knowledge to inspire, inform, and demand structural and cultural transformation. They combine their disciplinary, methodological, and theoretical expertise with their political commitments to expose the ways these policies, practices, and institutional cultures reflect and reinforce white masculine privilege. This work can help us imagine a transformed institution.

The pandemic has revealed that despite decades of increasing numbers of women and minorities entering the academy, the organizational principles still presume a homogenous faculty composed of heterosexual white men with stay-at-home wives. The faculties have changed but the taken-for-granted assumptions about work and family often do not reflect this reality. Further, we must acknowledge that higher education includes a wide range of institutions serving very different types of students. My interviews with feminist sociologists who work on institutional change suggest that a just academy must reflect and support the lives of the diverse individuals within it. My findings encourage us to consider how our efforts to transform the academy should acknowledge and respond to this broad diversity, rather than impose a one-size-fits-all model of formal recommendations. Feminist sociologists have helped identify principles that could propel changes in policies and practices and re-shape institutional culture.

The current crisis requires change, and universities could use this moment to address the fundamental expectations, policies, practices, and cultures that have long reduced the possibility of meritocracy for women and people of color. Administrators must be aware that decisions made now will have long-term consequences. For example, tenure clock extensions may reduce pressure in the short term, but they will affect life-time salaries and retirement benefits for those who take that extra year now. Women cannot simply “catch up” on their research, and the consequences of the gender gap in manuscript submissions will further exacerbate inequalities.

My research suggests universities would be well served to listen to the experts within their own ranks. Feminist sociologists have the knowledge and skills to identify and analyze organizational problems. And, they have the political commitments that compel them to help change their institutions. While all faculty are tired and over-extended, many feminist sociologists continue to apply their disciplinary expertise to institutional transformation. They are already hard at work documenting and analyzing the effects of the pandemic. Research is revealing disparate experiences for parents and non-parents, with especially dire circumstances for mothers. We must seize this opportunity to devise policy and implement changes in practice, based on recommendations that can push us forward to a more just academy.

Heather Laube is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Michigan-Flint. Her research examines how feminist academics navigate their often-conflicting positions and identities as they strive to maintain their feminist ideals, achieve professional success, and transform the academy. She is also interested in the ways innovative faculty mentoring programs can help individuals thrive and contribute to institutional change. You can find Dr. Laube on Twitter @h_laube.

Gender Division of Labor during COVID: Can Remote Work Improve Gender Equality at Home?

The closure of schools and childcare centers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified pressure on U.S. parents already struggling to balance employment and family caregiving in a country that provides little social support. The move of schooling and childcare into the home – along with the still-unfolding effects on women’s employment – has raised questions about the long-term consequences for gender equality in the U.S.

Some are optimistic that these large-scale disruptions – which, for some, have included new opportunities to work from home – offer a chance to increase gender equality in the division of care and domestic work. As remote work decreases the need for “face time” at the office, classic rationales justifying an unequal division of domestic labor may also recede. Others, however, remain skeptical, noting that if the increased unpaid work falls disproportionately on mothers, the loss of childcare and on-site schooling will only exacerbate existing gender inequalities, especially given women’s greater risk of job loss in the current “shesession.” Additionally, even if remote work offers an opportunity to increase gender equality for remote workers, access to this arrangement remains a largely white-collar privilege that limits such potential gains to a privileged few.

In our study, published in Gender & Society, we ask how families experienced and responded to sudden changes in paid and unpaid work in the early months of the pandemic, focusing in particular on how these experiences varied by parents’ ability to work remotely.

Analyzing nationally representative survey data from 478 partnered parents, collected in April 2020, we examine how the loss of childcare and in-person schooling affected the division of housework, childcare, and children’s remote learning as well as how pressured parents felt about the sudden responsibility for their children’s schooling.

Findings

Our results indicate that among couples with children, the consequences of these pandemic-induced shifts in schooling and childcare largely depended not just on individuals’ own work circumstances but on their partners’ as well.

In families where both parents worked from home, the response to the increased domestic workload was generally egalitarian – mothers and fathers alike reported almost identical increases in housework and childcare and in responsibility for housework and child care as well.  Mothers and fathers in households with two teleworkers also reported feeling nearly equal amounts of pressure about their children’s schooling.  Even in the scenario where both parents worked from home, however, women still bore disproportionate responsibility for unpaid work since similar increases left pre-pandemic inequality intact. Mothers were thus more than twice as likely as fathers to say they were primarily responsible for housework and childcare during the pandemic and over 1.5 times more likely to report taking on the bulk of managing their children’s home learning.

Disparities in housework, childcare, and home education were even greater when only one spouse worked remotely. When mothers worked from home alone, they were more likely than mothers in dual remote-worker couples to have increased their housework time, absorbing the additional domestic work. In contrast, when fathers alone worked from home, they reported far less involvement in domestic work than either mothers working from home alone or fathers in dual-remote working couples.

When domestic workloads increased and neither parent worked from home, mothers mostly picked up the slack – especially when it came to housework and home learning. Among couples not working remotely, mothers were twice as likely as fathers to have increased their household time and were three times as likely to report being primarily responsible for housework. These mothers were also seven times as likely as fathers to say they did the majority of children’s home learning and, consequently, were twice as likely to report feeling pressure related to their children’s remote education.

The takeaway

We cannot yet know the longer-term consequences of the rise in remote work post-pandemic. Taken together, however, these findings suggest that gender remains a powerful force in organizing domestic work despite the greater flexibility that working remotely allows. In the most optimistic scenario, where both partners worked remotely, the gender division of labor remained relatively stable with both mothers and fathers contributing more to housework and childcare in the wake of school and childcare closures. In couples where neither parent worked from home or where mothers alone did so, mothers became the stopgap who absorbed most of the additional caring and schooling of children. For reasons that need greater exploration, fathers who work from home were generally better able to protect themselves from the incursions of unpaid care work. Going forward, our findings suggest that whether remote work fosters more equality or exacerbates preexisting inequalities will depend on the varied forms it takes in families.


Allison Dunatchik is a PhD student in Sociology and Demography at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research centers on gender, work and family, with a focus on how public policies affect gender and class inequalities inside and outside of the household.

Kathleen Gerson is Collegiate Professor of Arts & Science and Professor of Sociology at New York University. She is the author of “The Science and Art of Interviewing” and “The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and Family,” among other books. She is currently writing a book on the collision of work and caretaking in contemporary America.

Jennifer Glass is the Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts in the Department of Sociology of the University of Texas–Austin, and Executive Director of the Council on Contemporary Families. Her recent research explores how work–family public policies improve family well-being, and why mothers continue to face a motherhood pay penalty as their income generating responsibility for their children grows.

Jerry A. Jacobs, Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, is the co-founder and first president of the Work and Family Researchers Network. Jacobs has written extensively about women’s careers and work-family issues. His six books include The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (2004) with Kathleen Gerson and the Changing Face of Medicine: Women Doctors and the Evolution of Health Care in America (2008) with Ann Boulis.

Haley Stritzel is a PhD candidate in Sociology and a graduate student trainee in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Haley uses a range of quantitative and demographic research methods to study the family and neighborhood contexts of child and adolescent health. Her dissertation focuses on the geographic distribution and correlates of foster care entries associated with parental substance use.

The Pandemic Reveals: Home, Work, and Health Care Disadvantages for Women of Color

What do we miss when we don’t bring an intersectional lens to analyses of the pandemic?

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we, as women of color, occupy crucial spaces and confront oppressive systems in multiple spheres of our lives on a daily basis.  

Gendered and racialized inequities have unfolded in front of ours eyes, bringing to bare the harsh and unjust realities that many women of color experience. These challenges have not changed due to the current pandemic; many of these inequities have simply been amplified.  In our recent article in Gender and Society we suggest that we must look at racism and sexism in tandem to understand the root cause of health problems and inequities facing women of color in the pandemic. We focus on the impacts of COVID-19 on three (3) important settings occupied by women of color: home, health care, and work.  

Women of color as devalued in the home.  

With shelter in place orders starting in March 2020, home was presumed one of the safest places for people to be to avoid contracting the COVID-19 virus. Despite home being a safe place for many, this privilege did not apply to all. Reports of domestic violence increased dramatically, often in the presence of children and other family members. Talha Burki reports that “Some 243 million women are thought to have experienced sexual or physical abuse at the hands of an intimate partner at some point over the last 12 months”. These instances will have lasting impacts, introducing a number of public health implications. Even in homes without physical and mental abuse, home may not be a space of refuge. Since the beginning of the pandemic, women, especially women of color have reported higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression due to an overburden of labor in the home. This labor includes traditional household duties (i.e. cleaning) in addition to homeschooling responsibilities. These added expectations coupled with social isolation and resource insecurity foster an unhealthy living experience. Finally, women of color have also experienced increases in housing insecurity and homelessness due to financial constraints (i.e. loss of income) and abuse.  

Women of color as disposable in work settings.  

It is evident that the pandemic has impacted jobs and employment. For example, we prioritized and encouraged workers in positions deemed essential to work outside of their homes. However, being essential was far less than equitable. For women of color, being essential did not mean increased pay, benefits, and respect; being essential often constituted increased risk of COVID-19 exposure and working under even more stressful conditions. Women of color in health care make up a large percentage of the COVID-19 deaths. For example, nurses of Filipino descent account for a shocking 31.5% of the workforce’s COVID-19 deaths, yet make up only 4% of the workforce. For women of color in non-essential positions, loss of job security, loss of income, and loss of health insurance were prominent concerns that have a direct impact on one’s physical and mental health. 

Women of color as dismissed in health care settings.  

There is a long history of women of color being mistreated, dismissed and ignored in health care settings. This has been no different during the pandemic, as we are presumed incompetent, even if we are in positions of perceived power and privilege. For example, many are again outraged after Dr. Susan Moore, a Black woman, filmed herself in the hospital and reporting on mistreatment and the rush to send her home: “This is how black people get killed when you send them home and they don’t know how to fight for themselves”. Sadly, she died at another hospital after advocates pushed for her transfer—though perhaps “murdered by the system” is a more accurate description. Unfortunately, this example is one of many and we continue to see occurrences of neglect and silencing of Black women in health care settings. Access to quality and equitable health care disparities are visible on a daily basis and have been brought to light during this pandemic with testing, treatment and now vaccines.  

We as a community should continue to advocate for women of color in home, work, and health care environments. We challenge scholars, advocates, journalists, and wider publics worldwide to consider how we have embedded both gender and racial inequities into the very fabric of our society and the perpetually negative implications that has for women of color.  The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed already stark inequality… what’s our next move?  

Dr. Whitney Pirtle (sociology) and Tashelle Wright (public health) are researchers at the University of California, Merced (UCM). Their most recent work takes an intersectional approach to exploring and analyzing preventable health disparities among Black women and women of color. Pirtle and Wright address the implications of racism and sexism on women of color during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Whitney Pirtle was recently recognized as one of the newest John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Chairs and Tashelle Wright was recently awarded a UCM Black Research Fellowship.  You can find Dr. Pirtle on Twitter at @thePhDandMe and Tashelle Wright @WrightTashelle.

Good-bye to “You Guys”

Image credit: Christian Helms

Teaching about sexist language should be easy. After all, our classes have “gender” in the title and the vast majority of the students are women. Some of our courses are cross-listed in Women’s Studies. As a colleague once put it, “You have the selection effect going for you.”

And yet, even under the best of conditions, it’s hard.

We’re not referring to sexist terms that men (and some women) use to demean women, such as whore, slut, or the c-word. No, we’re talking about so-called male “generics,” such as freshman, chairman, and the ever-present “you guys.”

In the late 1960s, feminists pointed out the problems with these terms: They make women invisible and reinforce the idea that men and masculinity are the norm. Linguistically subsuming an oppressed group under a privileged group can’t be a good thing for the oppressed, though it may feel good to some. A woman might find it flattering when a man refers to her as “one of the guys.”    

And that’s part of the problem: How can “you guys” be harmful when it’s normalized and used by almost everyone?

We’ve found that understanding resistance to using true generics is more difficult than understanding why sexist language matters. What’s going on? What stands in the way of good people adopting you all, y’all, hey folks, or “you,” which is both singular and plural? “What can I get you to drink” works for one person in a room or 10.

The Research

To examine liberals and feminists’ resistance to using true generics, we analyzed negative comments to online essays that critiqued “you guys” (one posted on AlterNet in 2007 and another shared on Facebook in 2015). We found five types of resistance: appeals to origins; appeals to linguistic authority; appeals to aesthetics; appeals to intentionality and inclusivity; and appeals to women and feminist authorities.

Resistance to seeing the problems with “you guys” is linked to beliefs in U.S. society about harm. People believe that harm exists only if an action is initiated by an individual, the individual has bad intentions, and the consequences of what is said or done are immediate, visible, and extreme.

But inequality can be reproduced unconsciously; the harms to a group as a whole may be indirect. In the case of “you guys,” the harm doesn’t lie in occasionally addressing a group of women or a group of women and men with the term, but in the cumulative effect of men and women saying it over and over, and just about everywhere. “You guys” is insidious; no bad intentions required. With analytic distance, one can see “you guys” operating as a form of sexist conditioning.

It helps to imagine people using “you girls” or “you gals” as a generic term. Students find that possibility funny, ridiculous, absurd. They also say that men wouldn’t put up with it. Soon it’s not a big leap for them to see that men treating a woman as “one of the guys” has a lot more value than women treating a man as “one of the girls.” 

Our analysis suggests that people who value their feminist identity, like those in our classes, resist dropping “you guys” because it’s hard to take criticism for not living up to feminist ideals. For a social movement to succeed, however, participants must be willing to get rid of any practices that undermine their principles. Without adopting self-criticism as a life-long project, participants will expend more energy pushing against a simple call for change than making a change for the good.

Sherryl Kleinman is Emerita Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has published extensively in the areas of inequality, symbolic interaction, qualitative methods, and feminist analysis (e.g., Feminist Fieldwork Analysis). She also writes creative nonfiction, essays, and poems.

Martha Copp is Professor of Sociology at East Tennessee State University. She is co-author of Emotions and Fieldwork with Sherryl Kleinman. Her research and teaching interests include the reproduction of social inequalities, qualitative methods, work, and emotions.

Kalah B. Wilson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at North Carolina State University. Her dissertation focuses on Appalachian residents’ responses to changing rhetoric about coal mining during the Trump Era. She examines elites’ media framing of coal and the connections between identity, masculinity, and environment for Appalachian residents.

Latina/o Physicians and Gender Discrimination in American Medicine

“I have never taken care of more Spanish speakers, undocumented patients, Latinx patients…than I have during the pandemic” exclaimed Dr. Susan López, a Latina internal medicine physician working in a Chicago hospital late last year.

These words echo the results of my recent research on gender and racial/ethnic inequality among Latina/o physicians in the state of California who, for the most part, work in minority and Latino immigrant communities.

In our work with Latina/o physicians, Maricela Bañuelos and I examine how ethnicity (such as language use) and gender intersect in American medicine. We examine the distinct experiences that men and women have in the U.S. medical workforce when performing their daily job tasks. We draw on interviews 48 Latina/o physicians (26 women, 22 men) mostly in the Southern California area. The doctors included in the study identified as Mexican, Central American, South American and Puerto Rican, with varying degrees of Spanish language ability. We coupled the interviews with observations in their places of work and medical galas/events to offer a behind the scenes look at interpersonal relations between these men and women with co-workers, nurses, staff and patients. 

FINDINGS

We find that bilingual and bicultural Latina doctors were expected to perform Spanish/English translating work at all times, and when they said “no” or explained that it wasn’t their job, they were more likely to experience hostility or were accused to being difficult to work with by their co-workers, pushing them to manage their appearance and behaviors.

It was more readily acceptable, on the other hand, for Latino doctors to say “no” or not do Spanish/English translations when they were asked. Often nurses or staff members would find someone else, or were ready to jump in and perform this translating and other work for them.

Bilingual Latina Doctors Pay a Tax

Both Latina/o physicians described their Spanish/English bilingual and bicultural abilities as an asset in their jobs. But, they also felt burdened by translation demands–with women having to do the lion’s share of this work. Latina/o physicians noted that Spanish/English bilingualism often meant they performed tasks outside of the bounds of their job description. For instance, specialists and doctors from other facilities failed to provide translations and often relied on the referring bilingual doctor to their work. Bilingual Latina physicians were often pulled in to perform this labor, especially for women patients, and coupled with being the “lonely only” bore the brunt of this work.

Latina/o doctors described instances in which they were not readily accepted as doctors and in which patients assumed they were not the attending doctor because they looked “too young.” Latina doctors stated that it was more common that patients mistook them for holding a lower occupational position. Moreover, only women reported unwanted comments about their appearance and racially-based sexual harassment from patients.

Latino Doctors’ Advantages

Our analysis underscores that Latino physicians held a gender advantage over Latina physicians when it came to demonstrations of respect in interactions from nurses and staff, regardless of racial/ethnic background. Men physicians noted that nurses would often “jump in” and perform simple tasks for them like drawing a patient’s blood. Women physicians noted that nurses would take “forever” to complete simple tasks while performing it quicker when the request was made by Latinos. This resulted in Latina physicians modifying their behavior so their coworkers would follow through on their task, but on most occasions they performed the tasks of others themselves to get the work done.

Both Latina/o physicians modified their self-presentation to fit a profession that favors medical providers who conform with the conventional white male norm of high-status occupations.  Unlike Latinas, however, men said they tried to overcome the ageism colleagues and patients subjected them to by “proving themselves” or subtly modifying their physical appearance.

MAJOR TAKEAWAYS

Bilingual Latina physicians often find themselves performing Spanish/English translations at all levels of the medical hierarchy– in their own specialty, for nurses and staff, and for medical personnel in entirely different facilities. Even though Latino doctors faced marginalization because of race, they also benefited from the sexism that Latina physicians experienced daily. We find that everyone—from physicians to nurses and staff to patients—is complicit in maintaining this inequality across the medical education pipeline and into their jobs.

Even when wearing the white coat—the traditional garb doctors wear—and their name badges, both Latina/o doctors were regularly mistaken for not being the attending physician, confused as housekeeping staff at times. While men said they could simply grow out a beard to look older, Latina doctors were encouraged to take greater measures to fit in.

We must pay attention to how racism and gender discrimination manifest for physicians and also recognize that bilingualism and biculturalism are assets in the job in order to renumerate physicians that possess those skills appropriately.

Glenda M. Flores is an associate professor of Chicano/Latino Studies at UC, Irvine. Her book Latina Teachers: Creating Careers and Guarding Culture and new research on Latina/o/x physicians focuses on gender, race and class inequality in white-collar occupations.

Maricela Bañuelos is a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at UC, Irvine. Her research focuses on Latinas/os/xs in higher education and educational equity.

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.

MARRIED LIFE SHAPED BY COLORISM

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.

WE MUST “OUT” THIS NEW FORM OF GENDERED VIOLENCE

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.

Takeaway

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.

Findings

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.