Women take a hit for reporting sexual harassment, but #MeToo may be changing that

A cultural shift may be underway that reporting sexual harassment won’t necessarily impede a woman’s career advancement.
By Chloe Grace Hart

An unprecedented number of women have come forward to share stories of workplace sexual harassment since the #MeToo movement gained momentum in late 2017.

Yet their allegations are not always well received. Questions like “What took her so long?” and “Why didn’t she report it when it happened?” have become a refrain. They imply that women who initially chose not to report sexual harassment handled it incorrectly – even incompetently.

But my research shows that woman have rational reasons for staying quiet because reporting sexual harassment can come with career risks. An experiment I ran five times in the early months of the #MeToo movement, though, suggest that things may be changing for the better.

Self-reporting stymies promotion

In a national survey experiment, I asked Americans to read the fictitious employee file of a woman named Sarah, described as a satisfactory employee who was enthusiastic about her work. Everyone read the same information about her work performance.

However, study participants saw different information about mistreatment Sarah had experienced. In one condition, Sarah reported to HR that a coworker had repeatedly made sexual comments about her body; in a second condition, she reported that a coworker had repeatedly shouted and sworn at her. In a third condition, no harassment was reported. Then I asked participants to rate how likely they would be to promote Sarah.

Each group of participants should have been equally likely to promote Sarah in every case. After all, everyone in the study had identical information about her performance, the most relevant information for making decisions about advancement.

But that’s not what happened. Participants were just as likely to promote Sarah when she reported the nonsexual harassment as when there was no harassment at all. But they were reluctant to promote her when she reported sexual harassment.

Simply by following the rules – using her company’s designated procedure to report the sexual harassment – Sarah’s career advancement was jeopardized.

This finding suggests that women who hesitate to report sexual harassment are acting not incompetently, but perceptively and rationally.

Not reporting to avoid stigma

Indeed, research shows that women sometimes choose not to report or even label unwanted sexual interactions as sexual harassment in part to avoid the perceived stigma of being a target of sexual harassment.

If reporting sexual harassment comes at the cost of future advancement, choosing not to do so becomes strategic.

Why, though, would people hesitate to promote a woman who reported sexual harassment? Cultural stereotypes about the kind of women who are thought to report sexual harassment help to explain.

A woman who reports sexual harassment is often viewed as conniving, deceitful or overly sensitive. People wonder whether she fabricated the account to sabotage a coworker or was overreacting to a friendly remark.

Consider the example of Anita Hill. When she testified in 1991 that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had harassed her, Hill was labeled “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.”

Indeed, I found part of the reason that participants were less willing to promote Sarah when she had reported sexual harassment was because they saw her as lower in characteristics like warmth and social skills.

A clear implication of this study is that it does not make sense to doubt or denigrate people who choose not to report sexual harassment.

In fact, there is no surefire response available to targets of sexual harassment that will improve the situation; while strategies like reporting, direct confrontation or avoiding the harasser are sometimes effective, they sometimes only make things worse.

So although reporting sexual harassment might help, it may simultaneously jeopardize one’s career advancement. Caught in this catch-22, there is no one right way for a victim to respond to sexual harassment.

What can be done to make reporting sexual harassment less risky? There are two ways forward.

First, bystanders who observe sexual harassment may be able to help. When study participants read a file in which a coworker, acting as a bystander, reported that Sarah had been sexually harassed, Sarah’s promotion chances were not damaged. Stepping in to report sexual harassment on someone else’s behalf, with their consent, may therefore help defray the costs to the victim of reporting it.

Yet this solution doesn’t change the unfair reality that women are penalized for speaking out against sexual harassment. To address this requires cultural change.

As a cultural movement, #MeToo may be shifting individuals’ attitudes.
AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Can #MeToo reduce the penalty?

My research suggests that the United States may be in the midst of such a shift. I first ran the experiment in early October of 2017, only weeks before the #MeToo hashtag began trending. As women spoke out about their experiences of sexual harassment en masse, I reran the experiment.

As the #MeToo movement unfolded, bias against the woman who reported sexual harassment faded. Indeed, by early 2018, participants were just as likely to promote Sarah when she reported sexual harassment as any other case.

This trend should be interpreted cautiously – a year has passed since I fielded the study, and people who speak out against sexual violence continue to be questioned and maligned. There is no guarantee that people who report sexual harassment will now be treated fairly, so it is still reasonable to worry that reporting it may harm one’s career.

Yet at the very least, these changes suggest that cultural views about women who report sexual harassment are malleable. By illuminating how widespread and pervasive sexual harassment remains in the U.S., those who spoke out about their own harassment may have shifted how Americans view others following in their footsteps.The Conversation

Chloe Grace Hart, PhD Candidate in Sociology, Stanford University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.



How much do we really learn to cook by our mother’s side?

Mom and daughter baking

By Merin Oleschuk

Picture a young child standing on a stool next to the counter where their mother holds a bowl of what will soon be cookie dough. The child looks up eagerly as their mother hands over an egg to crack into the bowl. “Now crack the egg here and make sure you press hard, but not too hard…”

How does this dominant cultural story about learning to cook shape our memories and the stories we tell about our own food learning? How does this story reinforce gender inequalities around home cooking?

This easily imagined scenario represents a dominant cultural belief about cooking – That it happens first and foremost “at our mother’s side”.

While conducting interviews and cooking observations for my recent study with parents in Toronto, I asked them how they learned to cook, and the vast majority, over 80 percent, relayed a story about cooking with their mother.

Take Teresa, a mother of Mexican descent who worked as a nutrition coordinator for her children’s school. She shared a memory with me of her mother cooking sopa aguada, a Mexican pasta soup, saying, “I picture myself when my mom was cooking, and I was like, ‘mommy, can I do it?’” Teresa described her mother’s response as she relayed instructions for properly frying the pasta: “Okay, ya, but you need to fry like that, and don’t let it burn.”

Memories such as Teresa’s were recounted time and again by people from all backgrounds – by men and women, upper, middle and working classes, and from varied races and ethnicities.  This cultural story was easily imagined even for those who hadn’t experienced it. When I asked Ian, a White father and freelance writer, how he learned to cook, he responded firmly, “I certainly wasn’t taught by my mother.” Yet when I probed these stories further, asking participants to expand on the details of their food learning, it became clear that the skills and techniques people learned alongside their mothers, or the meals they prepared, were actually quite minimal: things like boiling eggs, assembling sandwiches, or making instant macaroni and cheese.

When looking deeper into cooking histories, my research revealed that most people did not learn how to cook—in the sense of having cultivated recipe competence, kitchen confidence or managerial know-how necessary to put a meal together—until long past the time they spent at their mother’s side. Most learned these skills later in their lives, usually in early adulthood, after moving out of their childhood homes, when most people first had to plan and cook meals for themselves on a regular basis, balancing considerations like taste, price, and health.

Recall Teresa, for example. Later in our conversation it became clear that, as a child, Teresa helped her mother in the kitchen with very minimal tasks and developed only a handful of cooking skills. Teresa did not cook alone until she was 21 when her mother passed away. She then took cooking classes to feel confident cooking alone.

Similarly, when I asked Zahra, a Pakistani homemaker, how she learned to cook, she immediately responded, “Oh, from my mom.” Zahra explained that her learning began around tenth grade and was part of the learning she undertook about how to be a woman in her community.

However, when asked to explain further, Zahra revealed that she only cooked with her mother “on and off” during holidays, “because normally she’s doing everything. She doesn’t need help.” Zahra disclosed that when she got married and moved from Pakistan to London to live with her husband, “I wasn’t able to cook alone, like all by myself.” At that point, she taught herself by trial and error, with advice from her husband who had lived alone prior, and with phone calls home to her mother.

Why does it matter that there is a discrepancy between the primary story people tell about learning to cook from their mothers and the complexity of how they learned to cook in reality?

It is important because our unconscious reliance on the “cooking by our mother’s side” story perpetuates gender inequality. Recent research shows that while men are cooking more at home than they used to, women still spend more than twice as much time in the kitchen as their heterosexual partners.

The stereotype that most food learning happens from mothers perpetuates this unequal division of labor because it reinforces an automatic, morally powerful connection between femininity and cooking for one’s family. Teaching children to cook is one of the many tasks that mothers are expected to perform when striving for the seemingly elusive figure of the “good” mother.

My research shows that when we shift our focus to an overlooked but key period of food learning – early adulthood – mothers are only one of many diverse avenues for learning.

When looking at this life stage it is clear that learning to cook most often happens informally as we cook with those around us – sometimes with our mothers, but more often with our friends, roommates, and partners who are key influences on how and what we cook. Learning is also commonly formal and deliberate, through classes, restaurant and catering work, or self-taught from the internet or cookbook.

It’s therefore time to rethink the dominant cultural story about learning to cook. Instead of occurring first and foremost by our mother’s side, food learning is composed of a series of experiences over one’s life, where early adulthood is especially important.

This shift in focus can challenge the powerful association between femininity and family cooking, provoke us to consider alternative, collective food teaching strategies, and take some pressure off mothers.

Merin Oleschuk is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto. She studies how intersecting inequalities shape consumers’ food habits alongside how various methodological tools can be applied to understand them. Her dissertation focuses on family meals, and explores the relationship between values, meanings, and practices related to home cooking alongside their implications for inequalities in families.

What Happens to Women When Their Company Goes Public?

By Ethel L. Mickey
ballpen blur close up computer
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are more office politics here because we’re a public company. There’s more red tape, there’s more scrutiny. But at the same time… I’m my own boss… It’s pretty collaborative. It seems much more like a team.”

Heather, the white woman in her 20s quoted above, was one of 32 women I interviewed for my research on women’s experiences working in high-tech.  As her quote shows, I discovered an organization full of contradictions, with workers simultaneously navigating bureaucratic red tape while enjoying flexible work conditions.

When I set out to conduct an organizational case study of a high-tech company, I imagined a flexible firm with little hierarchy, cooperating teams, and a “cool” work environment. I had read about companies with fancy coffee bars, video games, meditation rooms, and beer on tap. I expected to find what sociologist Christine Williams has described as a “new” or neoliberal workplace, one that rewards flexibility and adaptability over loyalty, with workers required to network to locate career opportunities.

About the Company

I studied a company I call Data, Inc. (a pseudonym). It is a high-tech firm specializing in cloud software, headquartered in a large, northeast U.S. city. Data, Inc. had gone public prior to my study and restructured from a small startup, hiring hundreds of new employees, moving into a larger corporate office, and introducing bureaucratic features such as a formal hierarchy, narrow jobs, and standardized career ladders.

As a startup, Data, Inc. had embodied a fraternity-like “brogrammer” culture.  For example, one employee, Caitlin, a white engineer in her 30s, described her boss celebrating company milestones with “The Beer Fairy,” nominating women to cart beer around to desks.

Despite masculine cultural norms like participation in alcohol-infused team celebrations, women valued the career opportunities available through the startup’s flat structure, small size, and team approach. The women I talked to remembered they felt like valued organizational members with the potential for career growth, even with the company’s fraternity-like “work hard, play hard” culture.

But then Data Inc. went public.  It bureaucratized but still maintained and institutionalized some flexible features – resulting in two competing workplace cultures within one organization.  New formal policies and structures somewhat tamed the company’s fraternity-like social environment.   For example, after going public, the beer fridge endured the company’s move to its new office but was locked during the work day, with only some managers accessing the key.

Going public and organizational restructuring were not part of my original study. But in interviews, respondents – and women especially – kept mentioning the IPO and subsequent changes in their work experiences, continually referring to the company’s “growing pains.”   What I learned from my research is that going public is gendered, differentially affecting men and women workers.

What Women Revealed

Women at Data, Inc. were nostalgic for the “old,” or “pre-IPO” company. They lamented what they considered to be shifts in company culture as well as worker responsibilities. Women repeatedly described the “red tape” and “scrutiny” that emerged as the former, flexible startup became accountable to outside investors and regulations from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Women’s emphasis on the new red tape signals that going public represents a partial organizational shift towards bureaucracy.   Because an IPO is an unpredictable, volatile moment of transition, organizations tend to adopt hierarchies, specialized roles and departments, and formal procedures to mitigate risks and signal stability to investors.

In my research, I describe how the workplace changed, or became inconsistent and conflicting.  This created a paradox for women employees: they are expected to “stay in their lane” and perform narrow job descriptions, but their structural locations in low-status roles limit their ability to meet informal expectations of worker visibility. Women in segregated, female-typed roles like marketing and human resources often engage in futile networking and self-promotion strategies, hitting a glass ceiling. Men, more likely to be working in high-status technical departments, take their visibility for granted and regularly advance.

Emily, a white woman marketing director, was one of the longest tenured employees and aspired to be a company vice president. Women like Emily perceived opportunities in the company’s former flat structure, small size, and team approach. She had worked her way to the director-level after starting as a customer support rep over ten years ago. She told me, “I started when we were a startup, so the opportunity was there… We always promote from within if we can, before we go outside. We like to invest in our people.”

However, Emily is now unconvinced that she will advance further in the public company: “I think I would probably have to get more exposure with the executive team, which has been challenging because a lot of the things I do are behind the scenes. Nobody really sees what I do, which is why it works.” Without the ability for networking with company executives, Emily believed she would remain invisible, passed up for promotion.

At Data, Inc., the effect of going public was that women were more likely to experience job insecurity and a glass ceiling while men were assumed to be ideal workers and advance.

Tech companies are quick to pop the champagne and celebrate an IPO, but as the confetti settles, organizations may face new problems as workers navigate conflicting workplace cultures that affect women and men quite differently. Organizational restructuring after going public exacerbates existing inequalities, so organizations should incorporate gender equity and diversity across moments of transition as jobs, expectations, and opportunities are disrupted.

Ethel L. Mickey is a visiting lecturer in sociology at Wellesley College. Her research interests include gender, work, organizations, and networks with a focus on technology settings. She is the co-editor, with Adia Harvey Wingfield, of Race, Identity and Work (2018). You can follow her on Twitter at @ethelmickey.

Women in blue: why does segregation persist in low-status occupations?

By Margarita Torre

Over the past several decades, women have been increasingly successful at integrating into male-dominated professional occupations. However, women’s presence in blue-collar male-dominated jobs continues to be stubbornly low. Why has occupational desegregation been confined to high-level, more lucrative professions? Where are all the female blue-collar workers?

While much attention has been paid to women’s experience in high-status occupations (lawyers, managers), few studies have concentrated on women crossing the gender boundaries of blue-collar trades such as carpentry or mechanics. In 2010, however, an interesting debate on this topic emerged in Gender and Society. In her article “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled,” Paula England argues that whenever possible, women avoid working in traditionally male blue-collar jobs. She writes that because breaking gender boundaries carries a high social cost, women are willing to enter male-dominated jobs—even if they pay well—only when doing so is the one available path to upward mobility. At the higher levels of the occupational hierarchy, there are fewer, if any, female-dominated professional career paths to pursue. Therefore, women have no choice but to cross gender barriers. This discrepancy explains the desegregation gap between professional and blue-collar fields.

Scholars have already begun contesting England’s theory and proposing alternative explanations for occupational segregation. Barbara Bergman, for example, argues that segregation stems from an employer’s personnel practices rather than from a woman’s personal career choices. Bergman attributes the persistent segregation in blue-collar occupations to a lack of formal education and training opportunities for women entering male-dominated blue-collar trades. This lack of progress contrasts sharply with the expansion of opportunities over the last several decades for women in fields such as law and medicine. Thus, while well-educated women have used their credentials to enter into traditionally male professional occupations, they haven’t been as successful entering blue-collar occupations, where on-the-job training—rather than educational attainment—counts most. Rather than following merit-based rules or objective qualifications, hiring practices in blue-collar male-dominated trades are often entirely at the discretion of an employer or manager. Such practices further exacerbate segregation. Bergman has a solution to combat these discriminatory hiring practices: instituting a formal training system for blue-collar occupations that removes some degree of arbitrariness from the selection process.

In my recent research I look deeper into how individual and structural factors have been impeding women’s entry into low-status male-dominated occupations. Using data from the European Social Survey data (2008-2016), I examine how women’s employment in blue-collar occupations varies in 28 countries that offer different levels of vocational training (VET) to its citizens. I also consider the relevance of parental background (paternal and maternal education level and working status) on the type and sex composition of the occupation in which women and men end up working. There are two main takeaways from my findings.

Fist, VET systems have not been successful integrating male-dominated occupations. Countries with a higher proportion of students enrolled in vocational programs relative to general academic programs do show a greater presence of women in blue-collar trades. However, contrary to Bergman’s expectation, VET does not affect the probability of a woman being employed in traditionally male blue-collar jobs. These findings are most clearly displayed in Figure 1. The graph on the left shows the probability of both men (blue) and women (pink) of being employed in any blue-collar occupation, and the graph on the right shows results for male-dominated blue-collar occupations only. The figure reveals a flat participation rate for women, with variations of less than 1 percent between countries with the lowest and the highest rates of VET enrollment (after controlling for relevant socio-demographic and career-related factors).

Figure 1. Probability of being employed in blue-collar occupations by level of VET enrollment


Second, results indicate a high degree of what is known as intergenerational class reproduction within the blue-collar sector. In other words, people whose parents were unemployed, not well educated, or held a blue-collar job are significantly more likely to work in the blue-collar sector than in higher-status occupations. However, women largely remain in gendered careers regardless of their family background, the only exception being if they have a mother in a high-status occupation. As observed in the bottom plot in Figure 2, daughters of high-status women have moved into male occupations with greater frequency. England offers an explanation as to why: traditionally female professions (i.e., teaching, nursing, social work) have been unable to absorb the increasing number of new female college graduates. These women were in effect pushed into male-dominated professions—not to achieve upward mobility but rather to avoid downward class mobility.

Figure 2: Probability of being employed in blue-collar occupations by parental background


Overall, the results are in line with recent evidence from various countries showing that VET programs actually segregate women and men even more than the general education system does. Higher education in general, and access to law school, medical school, and other credentialing opportunities, were essential to the considerable progress that women have made in these professional fields. Women seeking access to typically male blue-collar occupations, however, neither benefited from a similar degree of political pressure nor received as much cultural support. Indeed, the findings point to the existence of a societal gendering expectations that contribute to segregation in the blue-collar sector more so than in professional occupations. In part, this could be because traditional gender norms—both at home and the school—tend to be more persistent among the working classes. This upbringing drives men and women to choose gendered career paths.

So what does this all mean for the future of blue-collar segregation? While training programs are important, we should think of them within a broader context of political and cultural changes that promote women’s access to male-dominated blue-collar jobs.

Margarita Torre is an assistant professor in the Department of Social Sciences at the University Carlos II of Madrid. Her current research examines the career dynamics of occupational minorities, workplace inequalities, and the role of gender on social network websites


Does Sociology Silence Black Women?

By Adia Harvey Wingfield

If there’s one thing sociologists enjoy doing, its debating our relevance in academia and in society writ large. This focus isn’t completely surprising; after all, we study social institutions and think in terms of group outcomes. And like most academics, we want our work to matter. But as sociologists continue to wrestle with how we can make the significance of our work evident in an increasingly complex world, it’s worth thinking about which groups we include and who gets left out of our discussions.

Aldon Morris’s landmark study of the historical contributions W.E.B. DuBois made to sociology has changed the field. No longer can we uncritically assume that the University of Chicago housed the first American school of sociology. Rather, Morris’s painstaking research goes to show that “the first school of scientific sociology in the United States was founded by a black professor located in a historically black university in the south.” This is undoubtedly an important and critical contribution to understanding how our discipline emerged, its foundational roots, and perhaps more significantly, the sort of structural processes that served to marginalize black sociologists from the field’s origins. But it should also raise questions about whether those processes still persist, and which other sociologists might be missing from our dialogues and conversations.

While Morris’s work has been essential for changing our conversations about sociology’s roots, we have yet to produce the same type of rigorous, systematic study of black women like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Zora Neale Hurston, and Anna Julia Cooper. Like DuBois, these women wrote during a time period where black scholarship, writing, and research was incredibly difficult to produce. Yet they developed sociological analyses that emphasized intersections of race, gender, and class; examined structural constraints within black communities that marginalized black women, rural blacks, and poor blacks; and assessed how violent tools of social control like lynching perpetuated gendered racism.  These black women were also early originators of sociological arguments and knowledge. Yet systemic racism and patriarchal norms limited the extent to which their analyses were widely disseminated and/or taken seriously.

Where are black women sociologists today? The ASA reports that between 2007-2010, only 6% of doctorates awarded in sociology went to African Americans. In 2016, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates, only 31 black women received theirs in sociology. A look at the representation of black women in tenure track and tenured academic positions reveals an ongoing trend of underrepresentation. Only 2% of full professors, 2% of associates, and 4% of assistant professors are black women. And these numbers represent academia overall. In sociology specifically, of the top 100 sociology departments, as of 2012 women (of all races) were 60% of assistant professors, 54% of associates, and 34% of fulls. I was unable to find data that took an intersectional approach to examine race and gender (which is itself a problem), but my sense is that black women are likely underrepresented among the top ranks of academic jobs in various universities, where they would have the most influence, reach, and impact.

Where we do see black women gaining traction in academia is, unfortunately, among contingent and adjunct faculty. As universities have increasingly conformed to a more neoliberal model of shifting academic work to low-paying workers who lack the benefits and security of tenure-track jobs, black women are becoming increasingly present among the ranks of the least secure academic positions.

What does this mean for the development of sociological thought? For one thing, it means that we are likely still missing out on important insights and knowledge. The reliance on adjunct and contingent faculty perpetuates economic insecurity and certainly does not establish conditions conducive to research and writing. When black women are primarily making inroads into the least secure positions in the university hierarchy, they are not in a safe or comfortable position to conduct research, much less inform sociological paradigms. They are not necessarily even in a position to do the most effective teaching, as at least some contingent faculty have argued that this work arrangement leaves them uncertain if their positions will be renewed, overburdened with too-heavy teaching loads, and without the (relative) security and academic freedom that tenure provides.

What about black women who do land tenure or at least tenure-track positions? The kinds of challenges that are omnipresent for black women workers in predominantly white environments are present for them too—marginalization, micro (or macro) aggressions, difficulties finding mentors and sponsors who can facilitate their career advancement. As academics, black women professors also must confront colleagues’ tendencies to denigrate or dismiss their research (this is particularly present in the inclination to label work that focuses on race and/or gender as “me”search). There are also the heavy service burdens that come with being underrepresented, ranging from mentoring students of color to helping universities resolve their issues with diversity and inclusion. And there is the particular irony of working in a profession where many colleagues study systemic patterns of inequality, but still rely on racial stereotypes and assumptions to justify their reluctance about hiring black faculty. What all of this means is that the barriers that sidelined sociological thinkers like Wells-Barnett, Hurston, and Cooper during their lives still persist today. While the barriers black women face in academia today are less overt than in the past, these hurdles still prevent sociology from being a discipline that encourages black women to vocalize their insights and to operate as fully active participants in shaping this field.

As President of Sociologists for Women in Society, I wrote my Presidential Address about the ways that black women are changing work, politics, and media in ways that other groups would do well to learn from and emulate. Sociology, as a discipline, is growing more diverse and is in a period of reexamining its historical roots and origins. We would do well to consider how and where black women sociologists fall in this process.

Adia Harvey Wingfield is Professor of Sociology at Washington University in St. Louis. Her research examines how and why racial and gender inequality persists in professional occupations. Dr. Wingfield has lectured internationally on her research in this area, and her work has been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals including Social Problems, Gender & Society, and American Behavioral Scientist. She recently completed a term as President of Sociologists for Women in Society, a national organization that encourages feminist research and social change, and is a regular contributor to Slate, The Atlantic, and Harvard Business Review. Professor Wingfield is the author of several books, most recently Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy, and is the recipient of the 2018 Public Understanding of Sociology award from the American Sociological Association.

From Manly Silence to Projects of Peace

By Michael A. Messner

Daniel Craig returned home from combat in the 1991 Gulf War “disillusioned, disenchanted and pissed off” that he had “killed people for these damned lies.”  Two decades earlier, Gregory Ross had come home from the American War in Vietnam feeling “numb…completely unmoored.”  And Wilson “Woody” Powell said he’d felt “out of sorts, that I didn’t fit anywhere,” following his 1953 deployment in the Korean War.

These three veterans fought in different wars, but there are stark similarities in their stories, and with others I interviewed for my book Guys Like Me.  After returning from war, each kept his experiences to himself.  And each turned to alcohol, and sometimes other substances, to deal with their emotional trauma.  But, after many years of work, each sobered up, found his voice, and committed himself to personal healing, service to others, reconciliation with former enemies, and public activism with the multigenerational organization Veterans for Peace.



Like Craig, Ross and Powell, veterans of wars are often plagued by what I call “manly silence.” The foundation for this emotional fortification rests on narrow definitions of masculinity, internalized at an early age and enforced and celebrated in masculinist institutions like the military. Such rigid masculinity is not confined to the military. Research shows that men routinely respond to stressful life experiences by avoiding emotional disclosure for fear of appearing vulnerable. Silence is a logical outcome of internalized rules of masculinity: a “real man” is admired and rewarded for staying strong and stoic during times of adversity.


Korean War veteran Wilson “Woody” Powell


Who benefits from this manly silence? Certainly, institutions like the military rely on men’s private endurance of pain, fear, and trauma. But individual men (and women) rarely benefit from such taciturnity. Rather, attempting to embody this narrow ideal comes with severe costs for men’s physical health, emotional well-being, and relationships. Researchers and medical practitioners have compiled lists of the costs men pay for adhering to narrow definitions of masculinity: undiagnosed depression; alcoholism, heart disease, and risk-taking that translate into shorter lifespans; fear of emotional self-disclosure and suppressed access to empathy, resulting in barriers to intimacy. Veterans of wars—especially those who were multiply-deployed—amplify these costs of masculinity, adding elevated rates of suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, and homicide.


Vietnam War veteran Gregory Ross


During the American War in Vietnam, the cluster of trauma-induced physical and psychological symptoms commonly suffered by war veterans was given a formal diagnosis:  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  What causes war veterans’ PTSD? A common view is that the sustained levels of fear create lasting psychological fears. Others point to physical wounds as causing PTSD.  In my interviews, as I listened to narratives of shame and anger, I sensed something more.  I got some hints from Dave Grossman’s, On Killing, in which he argues that the most powerful cause of PTSD is the shame and denial that follow the “burden of killing” other people in war.

This focus on the internalized shame one carries from having killed others led professionals who work with veterans to focus their interventions on what they began to call “moral injury.” Clinical psychologist Brett Litz and his colleagues argue that while PTSD results from internalized fear reaction to threat, moral injury results from negative emotions about oneself, one’s own character, grounded in shame, remorse, and self-condemnation over what one has done to others. It is characterized by having severely and irredeemably transgressed one’s own moral compass.


Gulf War veteran Daniel Craig

Several of the men I interviewed for Guys Like Me expressed this kind of shame and remorse—both for individual acts they committed and for the shared collective responsibility for killing enemy soldiers and civilians in what they came to believe were unjust wars.  Some, like Woody Powell, strove to “become more honorable” through reconciliation with former enemies.  Others, like Gregory Ross, sought to pay back his “karmic debt” by providing service to other vets and to people addicted to drugs. Similarly, Daniel Craig cares for homeless people in his community.  All three also engage in collective projects, working for peace and social justice.

The emotional foundations of the work these men take on to heal themselves and their communities began with efforts to overcome crippling states of manly silence.  None of them experienced what I would call a feminist transformation, though Gregory Ross did join a pro-feminist men’s antiviolence group in the late 1970s. But their stories reveal how in joining the military and deploying to war, each had been sold a narrowly destructive “manhood package” that was intended to make nonreflexive warriors of them.  Each of the men profiled in my book eventually rejected this manhood package, and this meant accepting, talking about, and sharing their emotional vulnerability with others. It meant, in many cases, learning to respect women as colleagues and allies in collective efforts for justice. And it meant rejecting pop culture military heroes and finding flesh-and-blood heroes—women and men in their own lives, who have inspired their commitments to working for a more peaceful and just world.


Michael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California.  His latest book is Guys Like Me:  Five Wars, Five Veterans for Peace (Rutgers University Press, 2019).

When pregnancy is a job: Surrogacy in policy and practice

By April Hovav

Is pregnancy work? What if you’re a surrogate and carrying a pregnancy for someone else? Is it degrading or exploitative to pay women to carry and birth a child for someone else? These are some of the questions that policymakers around the world are grappling with as they decide how to legislate surrogacy.

Surrogacy is either illegal or unrecognized in most of the world[i] with only a few countries actually allowing surrogates to be paid.[ii] While some laws allow for limited forms of compensation (e.g. for lost wages, time, and maternity clothes), they ban direct payment for surrogacy. The overall message is that surrogacy is not a job.

India, once an international hotspot for paid surrogacy, recently joined the list of countries that only allows “altruistic” surrogacy whereby women cannot be paid for being a surrogate.[iii] At the same time, legislators in Canada are considering moving in the opposite direction. They are debating whether or not to amend the Assisted Human Reproduction Act to allow intended parents to pay surrogate mothers, which is prohibited under the current law.[iv]

But is the line between altruistic and commercial (paid) surrogacy really that clear-cut? Restrictions against paying surrogates are often premised on the idea that paying a woman to carry and birth a child is degrading, exploitative, or otherwise immoral. These allegations are especially strong when the women hired to be surrogate mothers live in countries that are more impoverished than the countries from which the intended parents come to hire them.

As a social scientist, I wanted to know how people involved in transnational commercial surrogacy arrangements deal with accusations that surrogacy is exploitative and how this narrative shapes the way they handle the financial aspects of surrogacy. I interviewed and observed more than 100 different participants in the Mexican surrogacy industry, including local surrogate mothers, the mostly foreign intended parents who hire them, and the staff at the surrogacy agencies that match surrogates with intended parents.

I found that people involved in the surrogacy industry were also reluctant to call surrogacy a job. For example, Katrina, a woman working at the Mexican branch of an international surrogacy agency, told me that surrogates should view surrogacy as “a voluntary contribution to help a couple create a family, not as a job.” Similarly, Hugo, the manager of the Mexico branch of another surrogacy agency, explained, “In the end what we want to do is to create families, we’re not encouraging people to make themselves rich by renting their wombs.”


These statements are examples of what I call an altruism/commercialism dichotomy, a framing of altruism as contradictory to and in tension with profit, market logics, and commodification.  In my article, I show how this dichotomous thinking makes the surrogacy process seem morally acceptable while simultaneously leading surrogate mothers to earn less. I found that intended parents preferred to hire surrogates that they perceived as financially stable in order to avoid being accused of exploiting a poor woman. In turn, surrogacy agency staff either rejected or re-oriented potential surrogate mothers who indicated that they were interested in becoming surrogates for monetary reasons. For example, Carla told me that she was first interested in being a surrogate for the money but after talking to a surrogacy agency, she learned to see it as an altruistic act. I also found that surrogate mothers were discouraged from negotiating their wages because doing so was seen as a sign that a woman had chosen to be a surrogate for the “wrong reasons.”

Why does this matter? On a practical level, the assertion that surrogacy is not a job may lead surrogate mothers to be paid less than they would be paid if they were able to negotiate their wages. In a broader sense, this is an issue of gender inequality.

Fertility doctors, surrogacy agencies, and family law attorneys are also in the business of creating families but no one is saying that they shouldn’t get paid. No one would argue that being a doctor isn’t a job; even if the doctor’s entire practice is based on helping infertile couples have children. But carrying a fetus to term and giving birth (which we call labor!) isn’t seen as a job.

Researchers have argued that traditionally female occupations, like caretaker, teacher, and nurse, are relatively low-paid because they are seen an extension of women’s “natural role” as mothers and caregivers.[v] [vi] While there are many reasons to be concerned about the welfare of surrogate mothers and to regulate the surrogacy industry, we should be weary of couching critiques of surrogacy in terms of an altruism/ commercialism dichotomy. The narrative that surrogacy isn’t or shouldn’t be a job reinforces the idea women’s reproductive labor isn’t “real work.”

[i] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/HRC/37/60


[ii] Ibid.

[iii] https://www.businessinsider.in/india-moves-to-ban-commercial-surrogacy/articleshow/67171236.cms

[iv] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-44243920; https://globalnews.ca/news/4599925/surrogate-regulations-canada-compensation/

[v] Heyes, Anthony. 2005. The economics of vocation or “why is a badly paid nurse

a good nurse?” Journal of Health Economics 24 (3): 561-69.

Nelson, Julia. 1999. Of markets and martyrs: Is it OK to pay well for care? Feminist Economics 5 (3): 43-59.

Nelson, Julie, and Paula England. 2002. Feminist philosophies of love and work. Hypatia 17 (2): 1-18.

England, Paula. 2005. “Emerging theories of care work.” Annual Review of Sociolology 31: 381-399.

Folbre Nancy. 2001. The Invisible Heart: Economics and Family Values. New York: New Press.


April Hovav is a doctoral candidate in sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California. Her research examines the social impact of reproductive and genetic technologies.