BIAS AGAINST CAREGIVERS AT WORK

As Covid-19 cripples the institutional supports – daycares, schools, summer camps, and community centers – that families rely on, parents struggle to fulfill both the demands of their jobs and caring for their children and families.  While this struggle is exaggerated by the pandemic, it is not new. The clash between work and care, especially for women, existed long before Covid-19 shuttered daycares and classrooms. Indeed, reports of employment discrimination against caregivers were climbing in the decade before the pandemic and now show signs of an even steeper ascent.

The notion of the “ideal” worker – the (fictional) worker who can commit themselves fully to work, unfettered by family obligations – can lead employers to give preference to workers without caregiving responsibilities. Employers may hire, promote, and reward workers based on their real or presumed caregiving duties, or lack of them. Though discrimination against caregivers is damaging for all workers, women are hit especially hard as they still shoulder the lion’s share of caregiving in two-parent heterosexual households. 

In our new study published in Gender & Society, Christina Treleaven, Sylvia Fuller, and I show how work and caregiving clash through an analysis of caregiver discrimination claims, brought mostly by parents, to Canadian Human Rights Tribunal. In Canada, discrimination against workers because of their family responsibilities is unlawful. Workers can bring formal legal claims to Human Rights Tribunals, which are quasi-judicial bodies that hear cases and make legally binding decisions.

We analyzed case documents and tribunal decisions of all 164 caregiver discrimination cases resolved by Human Rights Tribunals between 1985 and 2016. We examined how gender affects who is seen as an “ideal” worker, who is assumed to be responsible for caregiving, and who is deemed deserving of workplace accommodations.

THE FINDINGS

We found gender differences in both the types of claims workers bring and how these claims are evaluated by tribunals. Women filed more claims (73%) as compared with men (27%).  This is unsurprising given women’s disproportionately large care burden.

We also uncovered gender differences in the type of discrimination alleged. We identified two forms of caregiver bias. The first  is when  employers make decisions about hiring, firing, pay, promotion, scheduling, or other issues based on assumptions or stereotypes about how workers with caregiving duties will behave or perform on the job. For instance, research shows that employers assume mothers are less competent, less committed, and less reliable than non-mothers as they divide their attention between work and care. The second type of discrimination is where employers discriminate against caregivers based on their actual caregiving responsibilities and the need to accommodate them.  Employers may deny requests for flexibility or family-compatible accommodations or retaliate against workers who use them.

We found that claims over accommodations for care were split relatively equally, 61% for women and 39% for men.  But cases involving discrimination based on stereotypes of the “unreliable, uncommitted, or incompetent” worker were almost exclusively brought by women (94%). Thus, women caregivers are doubly disadvantaged – first in needing accommodations for actual care duties and second in being stereotyped as bad employees. Women were three times as likely as men to have their cases dismissed due to lack of what the tribunal considered “reliable” testimony and evidence.

In terms of case outcomes,  women more frequently received favorable outcomes (54 %) than men (42%). On the one hand, this is encouraging, as it shows that tribunals recognize the unique difficulties women face in balancing work and care.

But on the other hand, it shows that men struggle to assert their legal rights as caregivers. Men’s cases were dismissed twice as often as women’s for failing to meet the legal standard for discrimination. This happened when men, mostly fathers, failed to cite their kids as the reason for requesting accommodations. And when men did name their children as why they needed accommodations,  tribunals assumed that someone else (usually mom) should be available to care for the kids so dad could work. This is consistent with research as male caregivers are often reluctant to use family policies and instead choose to “care in secret,” quietly tending to children without outing themselves as caregivers.

THE TAKEAWAY

Bias against caregivers affects women and men, however there are gender differences in how workers experience discrimination and whether it is recognized under the law. Both women and men clash with employers when making accommodations to fulfill actual family obligations. But women caregivers also face stereotypes of being unreliable, uncommitted, and under-performing at work. In other words, women are stereotyped as a less than ideal worker by both employers and legal decision makers.   

Men often do not openly cite their care obligations as the reason for requesting accommodations but doing so is critical for legal arguments of bias. Men need to be transparent about their responsibility for caregiving to show employers and the courts that they too are responsible for daily care duties and that mom is not the default “carer in chief.”

Now, more than ever, employers, policy makers, and legal bodies can not ignore the dire situation workers face in managing fulltime work and fulltime care – and the uneven toll it takes on women. Stronger legal protections for caregivers and entitlements to family-compatible policies are desperately needed for all workers, not just women or parents. This will ensure that workers can assert their legal rights to care, negotiate accommodations, and keep their jobs, both during the pandemic and beyond.             

Elizabeth Hirsh is Associate Professor of Sociology and Canada Research Chair of Law and Inequality at the University of British Columbia. She studies employment discrimination, legal claims, and how law and policy can promote gender and racial equity at work.

Teaching Modules: In the classroom

Sociology of gender constantly changes, and the media we use to teach sociological concepts are in flux as well.   Most university classes now use incorporate  podcasts, YouTube videos, quiz websites, memes, as well and articles and books to teach sociology.   Such pedagogical tools show us that learning happens across a variety of digital forms.

The Gender & Society Pedagogy Project is taking a major leap into providing more holistic teaching modules. We now have a  Junior Scholar Advisory Board facilitated by the Managing Editors and their project is to bring creative ideas to instructors teaching about gender.    These teaching modules will be based around Gender & Society articles but incorporate a variety of active learning techniques and suggestions for other media that can be used to teach sociological concept. 

We are rolling out this exciting new project with modules on sexual assault, masculinities, contraception, and digital media. We will continue to add modules each semester, so before you finish your syllabus each semester, check in to see our new teaching materials.   Each teaching module has been peer reviewed by the author of the central article and a Gender & Society editorial board member. 

We are thrilled to offer these modules for the fall of 2020:

Challenging Intersectional Inequality through Digital Media Images by Lara Janson

Men and Masculinities by Yuchen Yang, Melissa Kinsella and Jihmmy Sanchez

Sexual Violence by Mary Ann Vega

Health & Medicine Module on Contraception by Jane Pryma

Local Gender Norms Across the United States

Image: Kara Muse via Pexels

Chicago is the city of big shoulders, New Orleans is known for its laid back vibes of the Big Easy, and Nashville for its southern charm and country music. Places throughout the United States have unique cultural reputations that are not only marketed for tourism, but are a source of pride for local residents. Alongside these popular cultural features, however, places are often associated with a set of gender norms. New York is popularly portrayed as a place of women’s independence in sitcoms such as Ally McBeal and Sex and the City. The Motor City of Detroit is home to men’s adoration of muscle and manufacturing (Home Improvement). Southern depictions of “southern belles” and “cowboys” are rather explicit gender norms associated with cities such as Dallas (conveyed in the soap opera named after the city).

We wanted to learn more about whether gender norms varied across cities in the U.S. and if so, and what this means for gender equality. Although we often revel and delight at places’ unique cultural flair, does this local culture also contain  elements that convey different expectations for women and men? Our analysis and results are published in a recent Gender & Society article. We highlight our key findings below.

MAPPING LOCAL GENDER NORMS ACROSS THE U.S.

We measured local gender norms by focusing on the way they’re reflected in personal attitudes about gender (e.g. beliefs that women are better caregivers than men and beliefs about women’s suitability for politics) as well as revealed preferences behavior (e.g. age of mothers’ first birth and the segregation of college majors). Focusing on differences in these indicators across commuting zones, we found that cities and their surrounding areas (commuting zones)  fall into four general categories of gender norms:

  • Liberal-egalitarian areas have norms that convey values of gender equality. In these locations, women and men are expected to contribute equally to caregiving and are viewed as having similar skills and leadership qualities. Places with these norms include Burlington, VT, Honolulu, HI, San Francisco, CA, and Washington, DC.
  • Egalitarian-essentialist places have local norms that support women’s labor force participation and leadership, but where people hold  gender essentialist beliefs that women and men are inherently suited for different types of work. Areas with egalitarian-essentialist norms include Charlotte, NC, Milwaukee, WI, and Orlando, FL.
  • Traditional-breadwinner norms exist in places where people hold  beliefs that the ideal family is one where men work and women tend the home. In these areas, women and men are not viewed as essentially different, but instead expected to hold different responsibilities. Places with these norms include Knoxville, TN and Tulsa, OK.
  • Traditional-essentialist locations are places where people believe in the essential difference between women and men with norms that women should focus primarily on family responsibilities. Places with these norms include Little Rock, AR, Charleston, WV, and Midland, TX.

By identifying four types of place based gender norms, we identify gendered aspects of local culture.  But where do these gender norms come from? How are they sustained?

WHAT SUSTAINS LOCAL GENDER NORMS?

In a time where internet, social media, and remote work make geographical location less consequential than ever, we found it is surprising to observe such variation in gender norms. To understand how these differences emerge, we studied  two possible contributing factors.

First, we wondered whether some places have certain gender norms because of the type of people who tend to live there. For example, since highly educated individuals tend to be more supportive of gender equality, it is possible that some places have egalitarian norms because more residents have a college degree. But we also wondered about a second possibility, whether the experience of living in an area with certain gender norms influences individuals’ attitudes and behaviors.

We found greater evidence that people are influenced by the gender norms where they reside rather than their personal characteristics, particularly if they live a city with traditional-breadwinner or traditional-essentialist norms. In those traditional places, even residents with a college degree, who tend to show more support for gender equality, were much more likely to oppose women’s leadership and feel that men should be earners and women caregivers than college graduates who lived in more egalitarian environments. Residing in a place with traditional norms appears to cause those who would otherwise support gender equality to, instead, endorse more conventional beliefs about women’s leadership and the gendered division of labor.

LOCAL GENDER NORMS AND PROGRESS TOWARD GENDER EQUALITY

When we travel across the U.S., we encounter diverse gender norms. In Burlington, VT women and men are expected to contribute equally in families and at work, but things are very different in Little Rock, AR where women are expected to focus primarily on families with little support for their careers.

Our research indicates that local gender norms can play a powerful role in shaping individuals’ beliefs and orientations toward gender equality. By raising awareness of the role of local norms, we can be more intentional about changing them in ways that advance gender equality more broadly.

William J. Scarborough is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of North Texas. His research examines the cultural and economic determinants of gender and race inequality across the U.S. His recent work appears in Social Science Research and Gender, Work & Organization. He is also co-editor of the Handbook of the Sociology of Gender.

Ray Sin is a Behavioral Scientist at Early Warning Services. His research focuses on financial decision-making, and more recently, on how money can be sent easier, safer, and faster to friends, family and trusted contacts. His recent work appears in Gender & Society and Journal of Financial Planning.

Women left behind: do women experience more autonomy in the absence of men?

Photo by Ahmed

In the absence of a patriarchal husband, does a woman left behind acquire greater decision-making power and control over her and her children’s lives?  I investigated this question by interviewing 25 women over a three-year period who were left behind in rural Southern Punjab, Pakistan between 2015-2018.

We know very little from research about women who do not migrate themselves when their husbands do, especially in South Asia. Yet, women are directly impacted by migrations and development programs in developing countries. My focus on women and their lived experiences sheds light on how women’s lives are impacted by migration given their cultural context.

Findings

The women I met in these areas were home-based workers, primarily in charge of care work for the elderly and children. Their economic activity included care of livestock and making handicrafts. Women usually lived in “joint families” such that in-laws live either in the same house or nearby. Women of the household subsequently spend much of their time together and also do chores together in a common area outside their house(s). It was here that most of my focus group interviews were conducted. Younger wives often seemed too shy or uncomfortable to speak in front of their mothers-in-law and would find excuses to show me around their house to speak with me more comfortably in private.

Most participants in my study were very poor to lower middle class. The families made barely enough to feed themselves and maintained makeshift homes or old structures. All the migrant husbands in my research lived two to five hours away by bus or motorcycle and visited between once every two weeks to once every three months, depending on the distance from work, available money for travel, and/or ability to take time off work for holidays.

While left behind wives may attain slightly increased levels of autonomy in the absence of their husbands, I observed increased levels of decision-making powers and mobility only in certain households, those with less strict family structures and norms, often situated closer to urban areas. Most families simply replace the one missing husband with another male patriarch, the migrant husband’s father, or brother. If there is no alternative male in the household, a male relative close by can assume this patriarch role. 

In some cases, an older mother-in-law becomes the acting “patriarch.” The usually male head of the household has decision-making and veto powers, including the power to grant permission to activities that impact women in the home directly, such as allowing big expenditures and decisions about children, especially marriage. Given the local customs and norms, most women primarily remain inside the home doing informal work such as making embroidery and handicrafts to sell. Women were not usually literate as access to schools was quite limited.  

I did find some exceptions to this pattern in my study: women living independently and/or working outside their homes in the absence of their husbands. But these cases were very rare in the rural setting I studied, although more common  closer to cities.

Within the household among women, a hierarchy exists such that the mother-in-law usually gave orders to the other women in the household. She determined who did chores and what goods were made in the household. While women working together on house chores might be a good way for them to share life experiences and lessons learned, the hierarchy which was silently observed also meant that women were not always able to do what they wanted when they wanted. They had to check with their mother-in-law or other older women in the household before they could make their own choices.

Are women who work outside the home in a better position to make their own decisions when their husbands migrate to a city nearby? The three women left behind who were formally employed as female community health workers had to abide by the same cultural customs that restricted their freedoms despite the opportunities their employment may have given to them. Women who lived closer to urban areas and/or who belonged to middle-class families were more likely to experience slightly higher levels of autonomy than their counterparts in rural areas.

Women left behind do not have autonomy simply because their husbands are no longer in residence. In rural Pakistan, women in working-class and poor families are embedded in patriarchal family structures that continue even if their husbands are absent.  

Sarah Ahmed is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Oregon. Her primary research interests include gender, development, healthcare, rurality, and qualitative methods. Her dissertation includes interviews with female healthcare workers in rural Pakistan who negotiate power and space with their families and employers to explore how women understand their own collective identity, gender and labor value.

Gendered Views in a Feminist State: Swedish Opinions

Photo from Pikist

Sweden adopted a feminist foreign policy in 2014. Women are politically mobilized and Sweden’s internal social policy has tried to reduce gender stereotypical thinking.

This prompted us to ask: Are there gender differences in political attitudes or does movement toward equality lead to fewer gender differences of opinion? We are particularly interested in opinions about vital issues of security such as military threats, criminality and terrorism.

When women have power do their attitudes still differ from men? To answer this question, we carried out focus groups and a large nationwide representative survey with 3078 participants. We found some intriguing gender differences in attitudes.

The findings

In the focus groups, we learned that women seemed to more prone to link security threats to personal safety, while men associated security with military threats to state and society. Young women, in particular, talked about fears of going to musical concerts, airports, or larger cities, due to the risk of terror acts and sexual harassment.

This personal reflection on security was predominant amongst women and almost totally lacking among men. The survey further confirmed significant differences in the opinions of men and women about the causes and solutions to military threats, criminality and terrorism.

Our findings support an argument that women and men develop use different voices in moral reasoning. Women’s responses to moral issues tend to conform to an ethic of care, showing concern for protecting the vulnerable, viewing human beings as interrelated. Men were less inclined to support an ethic of care.

Women were significantly less likely to support repressive measures than men. Women were also more inclined to understand security problems as structural and referred to such causes such as macho cultures, segregation and injustices.

Men were more willing to focus blame on individuals or particular groups. Women, more often than men, supported preventive measures to provide individuals with opportunities to choose ‘the right path’, such as education and supporting socio-economically deprived areas in Sweden. Women were also greater supporters of diplomacy and dialogue in international security.

We also noted generational differences Young men were, for example, less opposed to structural explanations than older men. Young women were also more likely to adopt an ethic of care than older women were. Young women were most supportive of female leadership as a way of reduce military threats. Young women most echoed the governmental strategies of the feminist foreign policy.

The takeaways – progress or backlash?

We saw clear evidence that women and men differ in their understanding of security problems and solutions. Yet, more research are needed in order to explain the causes of those of differences. We wonder if security policies guided by an ethics of care might be met with backlash. We noted several negative comments about Sweden’s feminist foreign policy in response to open-ended questions. Answers included respondents saying that the causes of military threat was the ‘foreign minister Margot Wallström’ (who crafted and held major responsibility for the feminist foreign policy), ‘women’, and ‘feminism’.

Perhaps when women and feminist ideas gain ground and guide policy, counter reactive forces set in play. Such reactionary could create turmoil even as Sweden’s feminist foreign policy tries to move us forward to better international relations.

Charlotte Wagnsson is Professor of Political Science at the Swedish Defense University. She received her PhD from Stockholm University in 2000 and has published on a range of issues relevant to European and global security. Wagnsson currently directs a research group focusing on malign information influence and the use of strategic narratives in the security sphere. She has published her work at Routledge and Manchester University Press and in journals such as International Political Sociology, New Media and Society, Journal of Common Market Studies and Journal of European Public Policy.

Framing “Gender Equality” in the French Civic Integration Program

How do new immigrants come to be accepted as belonging in a nation?  My new research on the French civic integration program offers some insights to address this question. Immigrants seeking to reside in France are required to sign an integration contract, committing to taking courses on French history and laws and to respecting the stated values of the French Republic. These stated values include “gender equality.”

I place quotation marks around “gender equality” to emphasize the social framing of what this concept means in different settings.  While “gender equality” would appear to  aid immigrant women by extending equal rights to them, it can be used to exclude immigrants from belonging in France.

The concept of “gender equality” that appears in the legislation of the French immigrant integration policy is an exclusive one. The legislation defines “gender equality” as a universal principle, doesn’t  acknowledge other forms of inequality, and identifies immigrant communities as the source of gendered oppression. Indeed, the assumption that immigrants must be taught to value “gender equality” reflects the French use of stereotypes about culture to devalue generations of immigrants from Africa and Asia, including those who are born in France.

In my research, I ask if it is possible that when this integration policy is implemented on the ground, the resulting program may actually work to include a wider variety of people by framing “gender equality” without  racist stereotypes and by drawing attention to how multiple systems of inequality intersect in the lives of immigrants.  For example,  immigrant women’s access to education is shaped by race, class, and gender.

In my new study published in Gender & Society, I examined “gender equality”  in the French civic integration program. I analyzed the contents of official program materials, such as a booklet that was given out to participants, a slide deck for the courses, and the Reception and Integration Contract itself.  I also spent seven months in 2010-2011 observing and interviewing  frontline workers who interacted with program participants and taught courses on French civics, “The Rights and Duties of Parents,” and “Life in France.”

The Findings

I found that the official program materials framed “gender equality” as a central French value and illustrated the concept using examples of prescribed and prohibited practices.

For instance, the welcome booklet asserted that in France, “…the husband and wife are equal and stand together in making important decisions” and repeatedly stated the illegality of genital cutting and polygamy in France.  The program materials thus framed “gender equality” to represent the French as gender-equal and immigrants, by contrast, as having patriarchal and even violent gender relations.

The instructors and staff also employed this version of “gender equality” by framing immigrants’ cultures and religions as the sources of gender inequality. Instructors voiced stereotypes of immigrants from different origins as they tried to engage participants. For instance, one North African woman instructor told a civics class that immigrant women needed to get out and visit important places, and “not just stay home and make couscous.”

Instructors also reiterated stereotypes through targeted questioning, for example, asking Sub-Saharan African men about polygamy. In interviews, frontline workers expressed their commitment to saving immigrant women, especially Muslim women, from isolation and domestic violence, thereby affirming stereotypical representations of immigrant women as victims.

Conversely, the instructors and staff also challenged that restrictive definition of “gender equality” by  arguing that “gender equality” was an ideal not yet achieved in France and warning participants about the racism they would likely experience, thereby drawing attention to multiple, intersecting inequalities. Frontline workers who were immigrants also used their firsthand knowledge to challenge certain stereotypes of immigrants’ countries of origin or religions. For instance, one North African woman instructor told a civics class that, “there are women lawyers and doctors [in Tunisia], we were more advanced than France in some ways.” 

The Takeaway

The official materials of the French civic integration program largely exhibited a version of “gender equality” which valorized the French and stereotyped the cultures of immigrants.  The frontline workers who implemented the policy often reinforced this exclusionary framing of “gender equality.”

However, the program staff and instructors also challenged the representation of the French as gender-equal and some of the stereotypes of immigrants. Many of the frontline workers who had immigrated from North Africa likely faced racism themselves, despite being French citizens. For some of them, a commitment to the value of “gender equality” could have been a way to claim belonging in France.

An inclusive, feminist immigrant integration policy should follow the frontline workers’ lead to break down the stereotypical contrast between the French and immigrants, and acknowledge and provide resources for navigating the intersecting structures of inequality that shape immigrants’ lives in France.

Elizabeth Onasch is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. Her research focuses on the intersections of immigration, race, gender, and nation from a comparative, critical race perspective.

Who does the ‘housework of the university’ during a pandemic? The impact of Covid-19 on precarious women working in universities

Several academic publishers in both the UK and US have revealed that since the outbreak of the pandemic, the number of articles submitted by women has tanked. Recent research indicates that while in lockdown, women in heterosexual relationships continue to provide the bulk of housework and childcare. However, it is not only at home that women do most of the housework; as Ann Oakley argued in 1995, they do it in the university as well. 

There already exists significant gender disparities within universities and most notably with regard to the valuing of work, career progression, pay and working conditions. Cleaners and caterers are typically paid minimum wage and work with few benefits. By contrast, senior managers – mostly men – are paid six-figure salaries. Teaching and the accompanying administrative and pastoral work is considered less prestigious and beneficial to career advancement than research and publishing. Frontline engagement  with students is the housework of the academy and it usually falls at the feet of women, women who are junior, women of colour and especially women who are precariously employed.  

The deeply gendered nature of this work is further exposed when we look to the academic ranks of the casually employed. In the UK, for example, women hold only 39 percent of full-time teaching and research positions but 67 percent of part-time research-only positions.

While part-time teaching is sometimes contracted on a sessional basis (similar to the US adjunct model), in Ireland and the UK there is a marked overreliance on hourly paid work (where workers are not paid per course but typically only per classroom hour) – a form of work that comes without any rights, protection, and is extremely poorly remunerated, with workers in our study often earning less than 10.000 euro (USD 11.000) per year. Official figures typically exclude many hourly paid workers, student workers and those employed through agencies and ‘partner’ corporations.

Our research in Ireland indicates that women experience precarity more acutely than male counterparts and for longer. They are trapped in the most exploitative forms of precarious work – work that earns less than the minimum wage comes with no job security, sick leave, or other entitlements.

Precarious Bloc at Dublin MayDay march, 2015 Photo courtesy of Third Level Workplace Watch 

The gendered impact of Covid-19 

As universities tighten budgets, they target the most vulnerable category of workers: the disposable, precarious workers on short-term contracts who can be dismissed without resource-consuming formal processes. Being over-represented in this category, women are heavily impacted. In the UK, many universities chose to dismiss rather than furlough teaching staff. As campuses in both countries were emptied of student populations, catering and cleaning staff – overwhelmingly women on precarious contracts – were made redundant. Furthermore, many hourly-paid workers were fearful of contracting Covid-19 with no sick leave or entitlement to pay should they be unable to cover designated hours.  

Secondly, ongoing gender equality campaigns have come to an abrupt halt. While gender inequality and casualisation were two of the ‘four fights’ UK higher education staff recently striked over, unions are now prioritising workers’ health and safety, fighting redundancies and spiralling workload inflation.  

Thirdly, due to imbalances in workloads and expectations, women – and often those on precarious contracts – have had to shoulder the bulk of the additional work of switching to online teaching. Creating online lectures is extremely labour intensive, yet hourly paid workers are not usually compensated for preparation. Pastoral care work has also increased significantly as those who interface with students must now support increasingly distressed students anxious about the completion of coursework in the middle of a pandemic. When this work falls to hourly paid staff it is often done without remuneration and at a personal expense as institutions do not pay for internet and phone charges, computer or office equipment.  

o photo description available.
Protest action against casualisation Photo courtesy of Third Level Workplace Watch 

The future  

As was the case in the last recession, women may also be disproportionately affected by austerity measures that even the wealthiest universities are likely to implement, such as redundancies, pay reductions, increased workloads and further casualisation.  

In the highly marketized and competitive context of higher education, it is likely that universities decide to offer face-to-face teaching to attract students while maintaining existing levels of fees and profitable campus accommodation occupancy rates. There are indications that come September, academics will be instructed to offer ‘blended learning’, a mix of online and small group face-to-face provision; with increased individual student support to make up for the diminished campus experience. This will increase workloads considerably – likely more than a full move to online teaching. Some institutions have curtailed unfunded research to increase teaching workloads, leaving only those winning large research grants time to conduct research and publish. Given the existing imbalance in the distribution of teaching, and systematic biases against women as well as against Black academics in the allocation of research grants, this will again disproportionately affect women, and Black women even more so. 

Questions also remain as to who will be assigned the administrative coordination and health and safety work necessary for a return to campus. Will this fall to the disproportionately female administrative staff? When campuses reopen will cleaners and caterers be brought back to do more risky work under the same exploitative conditions?  

Covid-19 brings into sharp focus existing injustices that shape the lives of women and especially women of colour, women who are trans, migrants, working-class or from other marginalised communities. The Covid-19 fallout reveals the fragility of the gains for gender equality in the university. It also shows the extensive damage done by decades of casualisation. Yet, in these bleak times there is still hope. Precarious academics are organising in many institutions in the UK and Ireland as the issue is more visible now than ever before.

Going forward, any conversations about gender inequality in the university must centre the most marginalised of women if we hope to affect real change. If we wish to de-gender the housework of the university, we must prioritise fighting for better working conditions for all, not just those in secure academic posts, and resist attempts to further casualise and outsource work in any corner of the university. 

Dr. Theresa O’Keefe is a Lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at University College Cork in Ireland. Theresa writes on precarity, feminism in conflict zones, the gendered violence of the state and has published in a range of feminist journals including Feminist Review, International Feminist Journal of Politics and Women’s Studies International Forum. You can follow Theresa on twitter @theresa_okeefe.

Dr. Aline Courtois is a Senior Lecturer in Education at the University of Bath. Aline writes on precarity, higher education and elite schools and has published in the Journal of Education Policy, Higher Education, The British Journal of Educational Studies and other sociology of education journals. You can follow Aline on Twitter at @Aline_Courtois.

As long-term precarious workers, they founded Third Level Workplace Watch in 2013, a collective of precarious academics who came together to resist casualisation in Irish higher education institutions. Their joint publications on academic precarity can be read here (open access) and here (paywalled). 

What Can The Experiences Of Young Muslim Women Teach Us About Domination, Power, And Resistance?

Oppressed. Fundamentalist. Unassimilated. Voiceless Victims. Conservative.

These are deeply entrenched ideas about Muslim women that frame what we hear and see in the media in Western societies. Muslim women in the media headlines are often represented  as the “victim of men’s violence.”

For example, the well-known writer and Somali-Dutch American, Ayaan Hirsan Ali, was embraced by right wing politicians as a brave hero after renouncing her faith and criticizing the West for not doing enough to “save” Muslim women from Muslim men’s misogyny.

Ghazala Khan was reproached by President Trump for not talking about her deceased son, a former Army Captain at the Democratic National Convention, because “maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say,” as he assumed both her faith and husband didn’t allow her to speak.

My research in Gender & Society follows an untold story of Muslim women. Many of them are leftist, smart, politically astute, and powerfully working at the helm of social movement organizations for justice and social change.

My research provides the story of 75 young women involved in social justice organizing in the United Kingdom and the United States during the intensity of President Trump’s Muslim Ban and the UK’s passage of Brexit. These respondents were, fighting against a fierce racist climate in xenophobic times. They are among a generation of young Muslim women born to stateless Palestinian exiles, working class Pakistani immigrants, Somali refugees, and immigrant Arab and Black communities.

While incredibly diverse, the thread my research identifies is their collective political organizing and commitment to social justice. They have been involved in the decolonize movement and solidarity struggles. They fight against gendered Islamophobia, state violence, war, and surveillance. They fight for immigrant rights and racial and gender justice. They organize on university campuses, in the community, in mosques, civil rights organizations and nonprofits, and alongside other grassroots social justice struggles.

The young Muslim women activists that I interviewed made it apparent that they are simultaneously experiencing and resisting multi-faceted challenges in their lives. My research shows how Muslim women’s position in society provides an important and unique place to explore how they contest power and domination. For instance, in response to the US Muslim Ban, women activists were an integral part of confronting this new terrain of state sanctioned Islamophobia. For example, Rasmiah, a socialist and Palestinian activist was arrested while challenging the detaining of an immigrant, Iraqi woman with breast cancer as she was to de-board a plane at the Los Angeles International airport, demonstrating collective solidarity with immigrant Muslim women globally as they oppose unjust state policy.

In the UK, Muslim women activists in my sample opposed PREVENT, a national counter-terrorism security mandate. They were core organizers in kickstarting the “Students not Suspects” campaign that contested the widespread surveillance and criminalization of students, which was commonplace on university campuses, a form of political tracking of students’ viewpoints. Their organizing also took on new meaning when they confronted public attacks on women wearing hijab, and the political smearing of Muslim women activists in the media.

While I was interviewing Sana, a National Student Union organizer who also organized with a community organization representing mosques in London, she pointed out that “we can only be victims of sexism, but never racism.”

Sana discusses the dominant portrayal of Muslim women as worthy victims to be “saved” by the West only when it is from Muslim men’s patriarchy. However, this pervasive idea obscures the racism they routinely experience within British (and US) society. Without wanting to lose sight of how they experienced multiple forms of domination, a collective of Muslim women student activists started a campaign in the UK, that focused on organizing a gendered Islamophobia tour, where Muslim women could articulate their experiences at the structural intersections of racism and sexism.

Experiences of inequality permeate Muslim women’s lives but are also distinct based on their diverse backgrounds. Particular experiences vary depending upon one’s racialization, immigration background, socioeconomic status, and whether she wears the hijab/niqab, among other factors. There is no singular, monolithic Muslim woman. There is no one story.

These are 75 compelling stories of the complex lives of young Muslim women activists living in the US and the UK. My research reports their hard work, frustrations, political analyses, ethical disobedience, and hopes for social change. Their experiences and insights inform us of new ways to understand domination, resistance and social justice.

BIO:
Dr. Sabrina Alimahomed-Wilson is an Associate Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach. During this research, she served as an Honorary Research Associate at the University of College London, Centre for Muslim Education and Research. She publishes on the topics of racialized surveillance and counterterrorism, gendered Islamophobia and state violence, and capitalism and the privatization of the domestic War on Terror. To find out more about her research and teaching, please visit Dr. Sabrina Alimahomed-Wilson. You can also follow @DrSabrina_Ali on Twitter.

Gendered COVID-19 Research

Almost immediately on the outbreak of COVID-19 and the world-wide spread of the coronavirus that causes it, research on how gender matters began. 

It appeared that men had a higher death rate from Covid-19 than women and were more likely to develop a severe illness. Why would men be more at risk?

Possibilities that involve their behavior include higher rate of smoking and less attention to washing hands. Most of the touted reasons were about chromosomes and hormones. The theory used to explain men’s higher risk is that women have two X chromosomes which carry 2,000 genes that interact with women’s cells. Cells can use genes on one X chromosome to destroy invading viruses, and genes on the other X chromosome to kill infected cells. Also, XX chromosomes produce estrogens which stimulate immunological responses, while testosterone seems to suppress them. The protective effect of estrogens led to trials of administering estrogen to men and post-menopausal women with COVID-19 as possible means to lessen the severity of the illness. 

An entirely different set of research studies focus on the effects of the lockdown that keep workers home and school closings that keep children at home. Employers had to adopt flexible work schedules and telecommuting for men and women employees, a policy for which many women have long fought for.

Another result of the lockdown is the availability of fathers for child care and home schooling. Where mothers work outside the home, as medical providers or grocery and pharmacy employees, fathers have to became the main child caregivers.  

Reports on sharing housework and child care by heterosexual cohabiting partners working from home were mixed. In one study men partners claimed to be doing half the home-schooling while women with heterosexual partners claimed that they were doing 80 percent.

Another study of 1060 heterosexual couples on their early COVID-19 experiences found an increase in sharing housework from 26 percent to 41 percent; similar results were reported for shared care of children. If men really do more during the shelter at home months, the continuance of such behavior would be a positive outcome of the pandemic

A serendipitous gender effect was that women were in the leadership role in countries that most successfully combated the coronavirus. The eight countries with the best outcomes of controlling cases and deaths thus far all had women leaders who acted early and decisively: Bangladesh, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Georgia, Hong Kong, Namibia, Nepal and Singapore. Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, also led strong and successful responses to the virus. There are other countries governed by women that have not controlled the coronavirus so well. What was different about the more successful women leaders?  A comparison of the two groups of women leaders might indicate what leadership skills mattered in this crisis. Leadership styles are often culturally gendered. Men leaders are prone to using war metaphors with the coronavirus as the enemy to be attacked aggressively and vanquished. The more successful women leaders focused on communal efforts and careful planning that demanded shared long-term  sacrifice, a leadership style that is considered “feminine.” 

We need more research to understand what leadership style works in national emergencies such as pandemics. Comparisons need to be made within gender as well as between them. Women leaders are not all alike, nor do they all use what is culturally considered a more consensus or “feminine” leadership style. More importantly, men too can adopt “feminine” leadership styles if that is what research tells us what most efficacious at keeping us all alive.  

Adapted from The New Gender Paradox: Fragmentation and Persistence of the Gender Binary, Polity Books, forthcoming. 

Judith Lorber is Professor Emerita of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Brooklyn College and the Graduate School, CUNY. She is the author of Breaking the Bowls: Degendering and Feminist Change, Gender Inequality: Feminist Theories and Politics, Paradoxes of Gender, and Women Physicians: Careers, Status and Power. With Lisa Jean Moore, she is the author of Gendered Bodies: Feminist Perspectives and Gender and the Social Construction of Illness. Judith Lorber is the Founding Editor of Gender & Society.  

Women’s work: How gender facilitates investment deals in risky markets

Photo provided by Yu & Hoang

When you think of women in the male-dominated finance and investment industry, what comes to mind? In the U.S., media and scholarship has popularized two possibilities: as either subordinate workers trying to fight gender pay gaps, sexually hostile work environments, and the lack of female leadership, or as service workers that provide men with entertainment and “arm candy.” But this is an incomplete story about the role of women—and the importance of gender—in the male-dominated investment industry. Gender plays an active role in the facilitation of how money moves internationally—not simply as a passive accessory to men or as an identity that shapes women’s experience of inequality.

To understand the role of gender in the investment world, Hoang studied foreign investors trying to secure deals in the risky emerging market of Vietnam. Global capital that ultimately settles in Vietnam faces a local market characterized by blurred lines between government and private industry. As a result, foreign investors in Vietnam must rely on local government bureaucrats who play a large discretionary role in granting business deals. To facilitate favorable deals from local bureaucrats, investors must ultimately finesse relationships with government officials.

Women and Whiskey

How do investors create and maintain these trusting relationships with local officials who can make or break their business deals? As one respondent put it, “a lot of beautiful women and whiskey.” In interviews with 300 respondents—including representatives of investment companies, local entrepreneurs, and attorneys and bankers—the 60 people Yu & Hoang interviewed that discussed this process were exceptionally up front about the role of gendered entertainment in facilitating investor-bureaucrat relationships. Male investors develop and sustain these relationships with one another in entertainment spaces filled with women, ranging from holding meetings in bars filled with young women to sex parties in private homes. But while respondents describe this reliance on these spaces as par for the course in Vietnam, not everyone enjoyed or agreed with this way of investing. We interviewed people who differed on how they reacted to this reliance on women’s bodies: those who went along with it, those who tried to reform it, and those that opted out.

Photo provided by Yu & Hoang

Those who maintain this system of using women and whiskey see value in how gendered relations facilitate business deals. They see this status quo as involving the appropriate role for men and women in the industry, and the use of women’s bodies as a powerful tool in relationship-based deal-making.

In contrast, there are those that try to reform this system. They try to change the reliance of trust building in gendered spaces without fundamentally leaving the industry. For example, these people either find markets with women-owned businesses or push their companies to find relationship-building activities that are less reliant on the presence of women’s bodies, such as golfing.

There are also those who simply leave the system. They defect, exit the industry entirely and seek alternate investment strategies. Those who leave seek financing models that have no government oversight and therefore do not require relationships with government officials who broker deals in these gendered settings, which ironically often means utilizing offshore investment strategies. For example, several people we interviewed discussed entering the technology sector instead of the historically gendered entertainment-dependent real estate sector. They see themselves as part of a new, younger generation of entrepreneurs and investors pushing the way of doing business in a new direction.

We expect that the whiskey and women deal-making system is not confined to the case of Vietnam. As we read stories of American financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual crimes and reexamine scenes in films (such Wolf of Wall Street) depicting the role of women and parties in the investment industry, the women-based brokerage of business deals is likely to occur in established markets as well, it may even be a key characteristic of capitalism across the globe.

Lilly Yu is a PhD Student in Sociology & Social Policy at Harvard University she is also the Wiener PhD Scholar in Poverty and Justice.
Kimberly Kay Hoang is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the College at the University of Chicago. She is also the Director of Global Studies at UChicago and the author of Dealing in Desire.