Are We Living in an Era Without Gender Bias in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Hiring?

By Enav Friedman and Dorit Efrat-Treister

Even though many organizations are striving toward equity in their hiring decisions, our recent research in Gender & Society has clearly shown we are not yet living in an era free of gender bias in STEM hiring.

We studied bias in the employment criteria, uncouncoius prejudice in favor men usually in a way considered to be unfair to women.

We asked STEM managers to tell us the most important hiring criteria. We then used that criteria in an experiment to compare how managers evaluated male versus female candidates’ CVs. We created identical resume’s except for the gender of the applicant. We also varied the STEM fields including biopharma and biorobotics. Every manager received resume’s to evaluate: a woman’s biopharma resume and a man’s biorobotics resume or vice versa. Each resume contained equivalent academic background and equivalent achievements with some interpersonal management and experience included. We asked the managers to evaluate the candidates on a variety of criteria, including the candidates’ ability to work long hours, problem-solving ability, and their evaluation of the candidates hiring probability.

We expected that managers would not explicitly prefer men but instead would show their bias towards female candidates found by emphasizing a criterion that women managers are less likely to succeed at. We guessed that the working 24/7 STEM norm combined with the perception that women cannot work as long hours as men would  lead to men managers’ to favor men.

We also expected women managers to evaluate other criterion than long hours of work, because they would be more aware that women may be less likely to be willing to work long hours. This would give women a fairer chance of entering STEM. 

As expected, we found that “the ability to work long hours” was a more important criterion for men STEM managers than for women managers for the hiring decisions of a female candidate. While for women managers, “the ability to solve problems” was a more important criterion than men managers when considering a female candidate.

These findings demonstrate that men managers’ gender favoritism has shifted to an implicit bias with the subtle use of hiring criteria to favor male applicants.

We wanted to find a way to fix this problem and so we completed another experiment where we added a personal note to the CVs stating that the candidate hired a full-time nanny and she/he is committed to a career. This personal note reduced the importance that men managers attributed to the “ability to work long hours” criterion in the hiring decision of a female candidate, but elevated the importance women managers assigned to this criterion. As men are the dominant decision-makers in STEM hiring, the personal note might be an effective strategy to reduce implicit gender bias.

We suggest that organizations might reduce implicit gender bias by supporting employees with extra pay to reimburse to cover child care expenses, similar to travel expenses. Such support to both mothers and fathers will convey that the women are not considered solely responsible for the children and the home. Another recommendation, more radical, is to change the organizational culture that reinforces the belief that the ability to work 24/7 is needed to be an ideal worker.  

Until organizations directly address the existence of this type of implicit bias, we advise women to add a personal note to their resume in which they explain their child care arrangement and assure the employer they are fully committed to their careers. Of course, adding this personal note is not the best strategy for social change. What is far more important is reducing implicit bias by showing employers who creates gender inequality. We mention women are in the trap? In an ideal world – we would not offer suggestions for women on how to deal with the problem themselves but suggest that organizations managed by men will deal with the root of the social problem, and change the organizational culture that will help to recruit more women in the STEM fields.

Enav Friedmann is an assistant professor at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management at Ben Gurion University (BGU) in Israel, and the head of the BGU marketing lab. She holds a Ph.D. in Business Administration from BGU and was a visiting scholar at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy. Her current research includes brand preferences and purchasing choices, tailoring to heterogeneous consumer strata, specifically, gender-related marketing, and social marketing.

Dorit Efrat-Treister is a Senior Lecturer at the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She received her PhD in Organizational Behavior at the Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, and continued as a post-doctoral fellow at the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia.

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Walmart….Empowering Women?

By Eileen Otis

Walmart’s Women’s Empowerment Program was celebrated in the press as “tremendously consequential,” with the potential to be “… the biggest feminist triumphs that private industry has ever spurred.” The program made headlines across the mainstream press whilethe American Chamber of Commerce recognized it as the “Best Empowerment Program.” The World Bank Group’s Gender Strategy platform upheld the program as a model for other corporations to emulate.

Perhaps success was measured in the distance traveled from Walmart’s disempowerment of its women workers, who protested the discrimination they faced from male managers by filing the largest class action lawsuit in history against the firm. However, a closer look at the program reveals a set of actions that are at best insignificant to women working for Walmart, at worst detrimental to women’s status in the workplace. It is an example of what we call a gender fix in our recent article in Gender & Society. It uses women’s status as caregivers to repair corporate imagery. Walmart outsources this work to women business owners in its supply chain.

Walmart’s Empowerment Program sourced 20 billion dollars of products from women-owned businesses and recruited owners to testify to their empowerment by Walmart. We analyzed these testimonials, which were captured on video, and the materials on the Empowerment website hosting them. The site features slogans like, “Empowering women is the right and the smart thing to do “and “When women succeed everyone succeeds.” We find three themes in these testimonials: they celebrate women’s “rags to riches” stories of economic mobility, depict their relations with Walmart agents as harmonious, and represent women’s authority as caring and selfless. Walmart uses these themes to characterize its supply chain as feminist, deflecting a barrage of public criticism targeting Walmart for low wages paid to retail workers, for destroying family-owned retailers, and for squeezing suppliers who in turn squeeze workers. This empowerment campaign was a reaction to the bad press about Walmart that existed even before Walmart faced the class action lawsuit. Although the class action suit was not successful, the case caused reputational damage to a firm whose primary market constituency is women. Walmart’s empowerment program launched three months later, created a counternarrative to re-shape public perception of the firm.

The campaign uses the success of a few women business owners in Walmart’s supply chain as evidence that Walmart empowers women overall. This gender fix reflects a pattern in which firms use women as moral ambassadors to restore their brand virtue after inflicting social harm (towards women, workers, the environment, etc.).

But the gender fix tells us little about why firms select particular empowerment programs to repair their reputations. We argue Walmart’s gender fix strategy is based on its position in the global economy, specifically its power over am international chain of 6,000 suppliers. Walmart outsources the labor of representing “empowerment” to women who occupy a strategic structural position in their supply chain.

Walmart uses idealizations of gender and femininity to obscure class interests that otherwise divide women. In the videos and throughout its empowerment website, Walmart emphasizes the ways in which the women business owners exude norms of femininity, like empathy, care, nurture, and mothering ethics. This stereotype of female selflessness generates lofty expectations of care that burdens women by reinforcing a norm that they behave differently than men in the capitalist firm. This campaign is potentially exploitative as perpetuating feminine stereotypes raises the bar for women’s selfless labor. Meanwhile, how women business owners behave similarly to men is overlooked. In the end, Walmart’s control over the business owners its supply chain is turned from a reputational liability into a virtue, as women speak to the ways Walmart has supported their firms.

Like many corporate campaigns, the Women’s Empowerment campaign ran its course and was replaced with issues more relevant to today’s news cycle. Walmart has moved on to address racial equity with its public relation campaigns. In the wake of protests against police killings of Black men, the firm pledged $100 million to build a racial equity center, in what might be called a “race fix.” Walmart employs more Black Americans than any other company and these workers face exploitative conditions similar to other workers, compounded by race discrimination. We eagerly await studies of such corporate “race fixes.”

Eileen Otis is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Northeastern University. She is the author of the award-winning book Markets and Bodies: Women, Service Work, and the Making of Inequality in China. Her research has been published in the American Sociological Review, Politics and Society, and The American Behavioral Scientist, among other journals. She is currently working on a book about Walmart retail labor in China.

It’s Not Only About the Veil: Gender Beliefs in Six Muslim-Majority Countries

By Maria Charles, Roger Friedland, Janet Afary, and Rujun Yang

Western depictions of gender relations in Muslim-majority societies reflect two widespread assumptions, shared even by many academics. The first assumption is that the Muslim world is uniformly gender-traditional, meaning that opinions on gender issues are presumed not to vary much within or across Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian (MENASA) societies. A second, related, assumption is that gender ideology is a single dimension, meaning that if you know someone’s position on one issue, such as women’s veiling, you can easily predict their position on other issues, such as men’s control over their wives’ employment. This leads to the presumption that Muslim-majority societies are uniformly traditional about gender politics.

In our recent Gender & Society article, we test these ideas using data from a new Facebook survey of more than 6,000 Muslim men and women in six MENASA societies: Algeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Tunisia, Turkey, and Palestine. We didn’t only look at gender issues typically covered in Western surveys (e.g., household divisions of labor and women’s rights in education, employment, and politics), but instead explored two principles central to gender relations in Muslim-majority countries. The first gender principle we analyzed was women’s chastity. This is highly salient in societies where social control of women’s bodies can be a symbolic marker of Muslim cultural authenticity and where perceived impurity can be subject to severe social sanctions. The second gender principle we analyzed was marital patriarchy. This reflects issues of men’s primacy within marriage, specifically beliefs about the unequal status and rights of husbands and wives. We measure chastity beliefs using survey questions on whether women should wear the hijab, and whether women should be virgins at marriage. We measure marital patriarchy beliefs using questions on men’s rights to control their wives’ employment, and to resort to physical violence against their wives after exhausting “other methods of persuasion.”

The principles of marital patriarchy and women’s chastity differ in their explicit endorsement of gender inequality. Whereas men’s rights to beat their wives and control their wives’ employment rests upon an undeniable gender hierarchy within marriage, norms of feminine modesty may be more plausibly interpreted through a “different but equal” lens, legitimized by beliefs about men’s and women’s innately different bodies and sexual essences—for example, men’s natural sexual aggression. This distinction is important, we argue, because forms of gender inequality that openly violate liberal egalitarian ideals are often met with significant opposition, whereas inequalities based on perceived natural gender difference (“gender essentialism”) may exist quite comfortably alongside liberal ideals.

Two main questions motivate our study. First, how do beliefs about marital patriarchy and women’s chastity vary across and within MENASA societies? And second, do these gender principles vary independently of one another – in particular, are beliefs about marital patriarchy and women’s chastity influenced in different ways by respondents’ religious beliefs and gender status? When considering religiosity, we include two different aspects: piety and absolutism. Piety refers to a rigorous adherence to religious practice and beliefs, and absolutism refers to belief in the complete moral authority of the Quran, and the enforcement of its prescriptions and proscriptions through national laws.

With respect to the first question about the variability of attitudes, we find a strong heterogeneity in gender beliefs that is difficult to reconcile with Western depictions of a monolithic Islamic patriarchy. Within countries, gender attitudes differ between women and men and among people with different religious beliefs. Across countries, agreement with marital patriarchy and women’s chastity varies strongly as well.

With respect to the second question, we find that support for women’s chastity is much more broad-based than support for marital patriarchy in all six societies. Indeed, survey results show that most MENASA men do not support husbands’ rights to be violent towards their wives – even in countries with the highest levels of religious absolutism and the strongest support for women’s chastity. This finding calls to mind the “different but equal” gender regimes found in the West, where inequalities grounded in blatant male primacy are perceived to be less legitimate than those attributed to essential differences between (fundamentally equal) men and women. Although social desirability bias is always a concern with culturally sensitive topics, we worry less about such bias because we are analyzing an anonymous online survey. Because views on domestic violence are not typically interrogated in Western surveys, we cannot say how attitudes of MENASA men compare to those of their North American and European counterparts.

Three distinct gender cultures appear to varying extents in the six MENASA countries. Gender reformists question both marital patriarchy and chastity norms and make up the largest group of respondents in Turkey. Gender-traditionalists endorse both women’s chastity and marital patriarchy. They are the largest group in Algeria, Egypt, and Pakistan. We also find a group of people who reject marital patriarchy but adhere to norms of gendered chastity. We call them the chastity group, and they are the largest group in Tunisia and among Palestinians.

The different overall approval levels we find for the two gender principles depends partly on stronger support for women’s chastity than marital patriarchy among women and among liberal Muslims. While women’s and men’s relative acceptance of bridal virginity norms and head covering norms depends on the local meanings and histories of these practices, we find a strong gender divide in attitudes toward an explicit marital hierarchy that places women below their husbands within marriage. Religious beliefs also show uneven effects on the two gender principles. Muslim piety is associated with support for women’s chastity but not for patriarchal control within marriage. Islamic absolutismis associated with stronger support for both principles.

Compulsory veiling, an explicitly hierarchical form of state patriarchy that is not directly measured in our survey, has indeed elicited fierce resistance in some contexts, including in Iran (not part of our study) at the time of this writing. But our findings suggest that the symbolic meanings and practical implications of veiling and other gendered modesty practices are complicated and contextually contingent. It is the forms of patriarchal oppression that are most overtly hierarchical that Muslim women appear to oppose most uniformly – and that are more likely to catalyze successful movements for change.

Maria Charles is Professor of Sociology at the University of California–Santa Barbara, where she is also Area Director for Sex and Gender Research at the Broom Demography Center, and faculty affiliate of the Feminist Studies Department. Her research explores how gender-related beliefs, inequalities, and processes vary across national societies and demographic groups.

Roger Friedland is Emeritus Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology at the University of California–Santa Barbara. His research explores the relation between gender, sexual practices, Islamic piety, and Islamism in Muslim majority countries and to various forms of religiosity among university students in the United States. Friedland also seeks to develop an institutional logics approach which draws on a non-theistic religious understanding of the non-phenomenal grounding of institutional practice.

Janet Afary holds the Mellichamp Chair in Global Religion & Modernity at the University of California–Santa Barbara, where she is a Professor of Religious Studies and Director of the Iranian Studies Initiative. Her research explores courtship, sex and marriage in the Muslim world, and history and politics of gender and sexuality in the Middle East.

Rujun Yang is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and a Graduate Associate at the Broom Demography Center at University of California–Santa Barbara. Her research explores varied aspects of gender beliefs, their causes, consequences, and variabilities within China and across societies.

What it’s Like when She Earns More: Does Race Matter?

By Wen Fan

Heterosexual marriages where the wife earns more than her husband are increasingly prevalent in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women out-earn their husbands in almost 30% of dual-earner couples in 2020, up from just 18% in the 1980s. This is despite the fact that traditional ideas endure and many men still feel strong pressure to be the family breadwinner.

Clearly, there is a misalignment between women’s increasing economic power and the still prevalent traditional or “neotraditional” male-breadwinner model, a model in which wives either are not working or are employed but earn considerably less than their husbands. Does such a disjuncture lead to stress? Google certainly thinks so. A quick search of “wife breadwinner” leads to autocompleted terms such as “resentment,” “divorce,” or “wants divorce.” This is in line with previous research showing heightened risk of marital dissatisfaction and marital dissolution when wives earn more.

What is less understood, however, is whether this pattern reflects largely white couples’ experiences. Compared with whites, families in which the wife is the sole or primary breadwinner are much more common among Blacks. This can be traced back to the distinct work history of Blacks. Black men, for example, do not enjoy a boost in wages (“daddy bonus”) as much as their white counterparts when they become a father. Co-provider parents who both work for pay has long been the norm for Black married couples. Indeed, a recent interview study shows that a key component of being a strong Black woman is to being able to provide financially for the family. Being an equal- or sole-breadwinner is not problematic for Black women.

Given the racial variation in the meanings attached to breadwinning, in my recent Gender & Society article, I use the 19992017 Panel Study of Income Dynamics data to examine whether female breadwinning still causes stresses in marriage and whether that differs for Black and white families. I consider both psychological distress and heaving drinking as signs of stress among married, non-Hispanic white and Black men and women. In this blog, I focus on how breadwinning contributes differentially to white and Black men’s stress.

Given the stronger male-breadwinner expectation among whites, white men’s stress decreases as they move further away from being economically dependent. When their household earnings go from 0% to 50%, we see a serious decrease in both psychological distress and heavy drinking (see panel A of the figure for the result on drinking). But when they earn more than half the income, and that ratio increases, their heavy drinking increases as well. You can see that in the figure where stress is high with no income, lowest with shared breadwinning, and high again when men carry all the financial responsibility. Being a primary or sole breadwinner can be a stressful experience for white men given the pressure to maintain family financial well-being.

But a different picture emerges for Black men, for whom contributing more to couples’ earnings is associated with consistently increased odds of drinking heavily (see panel B of the figure). Unlike their white counterparts, moving from economic dependency to equal-breadwinning increases, as opposed to decreases, Black men’s heavy drinking. Given race- and gender-based occupational segregation, greater economic contribution may mean Black men spend more time in adverse working environments, perhaps racist ones. In addition, Black men may face confrontation and discrimination in the workplace and thus we see increases in stress with more co-breadwinning.

A. White Men

B. Black Men

Taken as a whole, breadwinning does not seem to consistently predict better or worse outcomes for all men. The (neo)traditional breadwinning model, based largely on white men’s and white women’s experiences, seem to be compounded by racial norms. White men and Black men struggle quite differently with the ongoing expectations that they provide economically for their families. White men do best when they are egalitarian co-providers, and still suffer stress when they earn far less than their wives. But they also suffer more stress when they alone are responsible for the economic well-being of their families. By comparison, the higher percentage of the family income that married Black men earn, the more stress they appear to suffer. Combined, gendered norms for marriage and racial-specific beliefs and practices define what makes a “good” man or a “good” woman, which in turn affect stress in different ways between and among men and women.

Wen Fan, Associate Professor of Sociology at Boston College, conducts research on how social change, work environments, and family dynamics intersect to shape health and well-being. Her current research focuses on new ways of working, including an NSF-funded project on remote and hybrid work in the time of COVID-19 and a project on a global four day workweek trial. She also studies the socioeconomic and mental health impacts of the pandemic in China.

Incels Identify as Victims to Justify Violence Against Women

By Michael Halpin

Involuntary celibates (or “incels”) are people who define themselves by their inability to establish romantic or sexual relationships with women. While the term “incel” was coined by a woman, the incel community is now populated by heterosexual men.

In my recent article in Gender & Society, I show that Incels avidly participate in misogyny. They harass, stalk, and assault women, and celebrate when women are the victims of interpersonal or systemic violence. On the discussion board that I analyze, incels celebrated both the Taliban victory in Afghanistan and the overruling of Roe v. Wade because they saw both events as hurting women.

Incels have also been tied to several mass murders, including Elliot Rodger’s killing of six people in California and Alek Minassian’s killing of ten people in Canada. In Canada, incels have faced terrorism charges, while the United States Secret Service has identified incels as growing terror threat.

Incels are often caricaturized as unkempt, basement dwelling white men. However, surveys conducted by incel websites suggest they are surprisingly diverse. 56% of incels identify as white and 44% identify as men of color, 50% have enrolled in or completed college, 59% identify as middle class, and that 64% are between 18 and 25 years of age.

Incels are a predominately online community. In my article, I analyze the largest English language incel discussion board. I argue that incels position themselves as victims and then weaponize their victim status to justify their violence against women.

As I demonstrate, incels argue that lookism – a form of bias in favor of attractive people – determines romantic outcomes. Incels argue that women prefer physically attractive partners and women in relationships are constantly looking to “trade up” to secure a more attractive partner. Incels argue that they are incels because of women’s preferences for attractive partners, and they see themselves as unfairly victimized by lookism. Incels further argue that feminism and new technology (e.g., Tinder) has made it easier for women to exclusively pursue attractive men.   

I am often asked what incels are doing to change their situation. Do they try and make themselves more physically attractive, work on their personalities, or improve their self-esteem? The answer to these questions, by and large, is “no.” Instead, incels believe they have no hope of establishing a relationship because women’s preference for physically attractive men is biologically fixed. Because physical attractiveness is all that matters, and incels see attractiveness as difficult or impossible to change, they argue self-improvement is pointless. Incels that do attempt to improve themselves, or encourage others to work on themselves, are mocked.

In my article, I describe how incels use lookism to position themselves as “failed men” and “genetic trash” who are unfairly doomed to being “forever alone.” Incels weaponize their perceived victimhood to justify interpersonal and systemic violence against women.

One way that incels participate in interpersonal violence against women is by “Chadfishing.” Incels refer to attractive white men as “Chads.” To Chadfish, incels create a fake dating profile using an attractive man’s photos. Incels then use these profiles to interact with women, engage in sexting, and solicit nude photos. They share these conversations and photos with other incels, while humiliating the women. Incels use Chadfishing as evidence of lookism and “proof” that women enjoy being degraded, if it is done by an attractive man.

While all women are targeted by incels, incels specifically degrade women of color. Incels refer to women of color with a racist variations of the word “whore,” such as calling Asian women “noodlewhores” and South Asian “currywhores.” Women of color are insulted during incel discussions of racism. Both incels that identify as white and those that identify as men of color debate whether white men have an easier time leaving inceldom. The basis of these arguments is that all women of color will pursue any white man, and that a man “just has to be white” to have a relationship with a woman of color. Incels dehumanize and degrade women of color, while incels who identify as men of color further label women of color as “race traitors” and blame them for their incel status. Incels position themselves as victims to justify both their misogyny and racism.

As discussed in the media, incels encourage and participate in acts of violence against women. For example, one incel describes his roommate having sex in their shared dormitory room. He describes feeling uncomfortable and humiliated, but at the end of his post he also states that “normies” – an incel term for regular people – “need to be shot and killed.” Other incels agree, stating “this is why mass shootings happen,” while others encourage him to assault or murder both the roommate and girlfriend. Incels see such violence as justified because they see themselves as victims responding to aggression from others.  

While incel violence is frequently discussed in the media, I examine incels’ suggestions for increased systemic violence against women. To “solve the incel problem,” incels propose that women should have all their rights removed, including divorce protections, reproductive autonomy, as well as the right to work and vote. Incels suggest that this will correct the harms done by feminism and reduce the number of incels by making women dependent upon men. Some incels advance more extreme solutions, suggesting that women should be treated as private property to be owned by men, or that governments should force women into monogamous relationships.

Incels endorse violence, participate in hate crimes against women, and have ties to mass murderers. Incels are also avid supporters of policies, policy makers, and public figures that harm women. Incels excuse these actions by seeing themselves as victims. Incels weaponize their perceived victim status against women to justify interpersonal violence and they hope for the elimination of women’s rights and agency.

Michael Halpin is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University.

Are Most U.S. Women Intensive Mothers? Perhaps Not.

By Jane Lankes

Today when we think about mothers, we often think of moms as overworked, tired, and stretched thin—more so than their own mothers were, and far more so than their grandmothers were. Women today spend more time with their children than in previous generations, breastfeed for longer periods, spend more money on kids’ needs and wants, invest more physical and emotion energy into parenting, and are more likely to prioritize children over their own health and well-being. This is called intensive mothering, and it is based on the idea that good mothering requires all this effort. This belief is widespread in the United States and several other western countries, leading to stress, anxiety, and guilt for modern mothers.

With so much emphasis on how much more common intensive mothering is today than a few decades ago, it’s easy to imagine most women believe intensive mothering is necessary and are intensive in their own parenting. Indeed, it feels nearly impossible to talk or write about modern women’s parenting without presuming it involves this kind of high time and energy investments. But, are most mothers actually that intensive? Who isn’t an intensive mother?

We know from the work of other scholars that women who are working-class or non-white are less likely to be intensive, in some ways. For example, they are more likely to believe that mothers’ health and happiness is an important goal, in contrast with intensive mothering beliefs emphasizing that children should always come before parents. But are these the only women who take a less “intensive” approach? How different are these women from the majority?

In my recent Gender & Society article, I found the presumption that most American mothers follow these intensive mothering norms may not be accurate. Using the Panel Study of Income Dynamics Child Development Supplement (PSID-CDS), I explored how women adhere to, reject, and negotiate intensive mothering attitudes and behaviors. I found four types of mothers: Relaxed Mothers (33%), High Investors (25%), Essentialist Mothers (22%), and Strained Mothers (20%). Relaxed Mothers were relatively low on intensive mothering overall. High Investors displayed high intensity behaviors, but still retained some attitudes that were more relaxed. Essentialist Mothers were the only group that believed mothers were naturally better at caregiving then fathers. Finally, Strained Mothers were emotionally stressed, but were still fairly non-intensive in their parenting behaviors. In short, while women who do not mother intensively are often seen as  “deviating” from the norm, my research suggest they may be in the majority, or at least as prevalent, as the ones with high intensity.

Relaxed Mothers and Essentialist Mothers tended to be less educated, less wealthy, and younger than High Investors and Strained Mothers. They were also more likely to be Black or Hispanic and be a single mother, suggesting Relaxed and Essentialist Mothers are overall less socially advantaged than High Investors and Strained Mothers. Therefore, while the least intensive group (Relaxed) was less advantaged and the most intensive group (High) was more advantaged, there’s still a lot we don’t understand about how background characteristics are related to intensive mothering; Essentialist and Strained Mothers are both fairly moderate or mixed in their parenting intensity, but they looked very different in terms of education, income, age, race/ethnicity, and marital status. More research is needed in this area.

Employment status also had a complicated relationship with intensive mothering. Relaxed Mothers, the least intensive group, and Strained Mothers, the most emotionally strained group, both were likely to be employed. This suggests employment can result in varying parenting experiences for moms, with some showing high emotional strain and others appearing more relaxed. Moreover, monetary resources don’t appear to “protect” working moms from emotional distress, as Strained Mothers were far more wealthy than Relaxed Mothers.

My research shows far more variety in mothering styles exists than is often assumed, and these findings matter for social policy. We often assume that most mothers can and will be intensive parents, meaning, most kids are receiving the high levels of investment characteristic of intensive mothering. It’s important that we stop framing high intensity mothering as the norm, because this almost certainly hides important differences in children’s development across families.

Jane Lankes (@JaneLankes) holds a Ph.D. in sociology and demography from The Pennsylvania State University and is an incoming postdoctoral fellow at the Grand Forks Human Nutrition Research Center. Her research examines family, gender, and well-being, with focuses on motherhood and marriage.

Breaking Barriers? Unpacking Women’s Empowerment in Women’s Mixed Martial Arts

By Justen Hamilton

Women’s mixed martial arts (WMMA) is among the fastest growing sports in the world. Long existing on the margins of combat sports, women are now routinely punching, kicking, kneeing, elbowing, and strangling opponents into submission in front of sold-out crowds in the United States and around the world, as women’s “cage fighting” has suddenly become a very lucrative business for combat sports promoters. Catapulted by the meteoric rise of WMMA superstar, Ronda Rousey, WMMA has quickly gone from being viewed as a sideshow attraction to a major professional sport in just a few years’ time. As of 2018, MMA is now more popular with both men and women ages eighteen to thirty-four than major U.S. sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB, and, globally, WMMA now has a bigger fanbase than almost any other professional women’s sport. While women have participated in other combat sports to varying degrees throughout history, no women’s combat sport has been met with the level of curiosity and attention than that which has been given to women’s mixed martial arts. 

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that allows athletes to use a wide range of fighting techniques to seek victory by knockout, submission, referee intervention, or judges’ decision while competing within the confines of a ring, or more commonly, a cage. Its athletes incorporate techniques from numerous martial arts disciplines—including Brazilian jiu-jitsu, muay Thai, wrestling, karate, and boxing—and wear minimal protective equipment to create the most “realistic” form of combat sport. MMA is most commonly associated with its premier organization—Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)—and is colloquially referred to as “cage fighting” or “ultimate fighting” by outside observers. Although women were prohibited from competing in the UFC until 2013, women now account for more than 15% of their total roster and are featured in most MMA events throughout North America and across the world. 

While media coverage of WMMA has ranged from moral panic to acclamation, in recent years, WMMA has increasingly been framed as a site of women’s empowerment. Drawing from popular feminist language, media have routinely portrayed WMMA athletes as revolutionaries “breaking barriers” to liberated female subjecthood through their participation in the violent and hypermasculine world of mixed martial arts. The UFC has also capitalized on this empowerment discourse, itself, with marketing taglines such as “breaking barriers” and “women’s empowerment [with] a whole new look” (UFC.com) while other MMA promotions have even begun holding all-women’s events, such as ONE Championship’s September 2021 event, “Empower.” This framing of WMMA as a site of women’s empowerment raises interesting questions for the sociology of gender: Who are these new female subjects? In what ways are they challenging and reproducing gender? And to what extent should we characterize their participation in this new sport as “empowering”?

These are some of the questions I explore in my recent article in Gender & Society. Drawing from interviews with 40 professional WMMA athletes, as well as more than four years of ethnographic fieldwork on the sport of WMMA, I take seriously this notion of WMMA as a site of women’s empowerment and attempt to unpack what that means—not just for the athletes themselves, but also for women in general.

I find that although women’s participation in MMA offers potential to challenge patriarchal constructions of womanhood and influence feminist social change, this potential is not currently being realized. Rather, WMMA athletes’ experiences in MMA only seem to strengthen their beliefs in “natural” sexual difference and male superiority, as well as instill in them an ideology of individualism that blinds them to inequality and allows them to believe in a world where  social change is unnecessary and even undesirable. I conclude therefore that rather than empowering themselves, paradoxically, these athletes are actually disempowering themselves by ignoring the existence  of gender inequality and undermining their potential to serve as agents of feminist social change.

The implications of my findings are that we must resist the inclination to see women’s participation in any traditionally “masculine” arena as inherently empowering. Rather, we should be embracing more radical and collective visions of women’s empowerment that incorporate intersectional concerns with class, sexuality and racism. While the symbolism of women fighters may be encouraging to feminist observers who strive for a more equitable society, such symbolism does little to alter the lives of women when the social and structural forces that constrain women’s lives remain unchallenged. Only by first addressing these barriers can we actually begin to break them. Only then may martial arts and combat sports fulfill their potential as spaces of women’s empowerment and combat sports athletes as allies in women’s liberation.

Justen Hamilton is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of California, Riverside. His research is situated at the intersection of gender, sport, and ideology.

When the “Ideal Worker” is a White Man, Everyone Else Has to Work Harder

By Rachel M. Korn, Joan C. Williams, and Cecilia L. Ridgeway

When President Biden announced that he would be nominating a Black woman for the upcoming vacancy on the US Supreme Court, there was an almost immediate public backlash. In one high-profile example, Senator Roger Wicker was quick to claim that the future justice will be the beneficiary of affirmative action quotas, while Senator Ted Cruz called the suggestion offensive and insulting to Americans.

The criticism began before the names of any potential Black women candidates were suggested, which means that the actual qualifications of any particular candidate were not the cause of the backlash. Clearly, the assumption of these detractors is no Black woman in the entire county could possibly actually be qualified for the job. The other piece of the assumption is that a Black woman being chosen for Supreme Court Justice must have gotten an unfair advantage in the form of lowered standards.  Since the creation of the supreme court, 94% of justices have been white men. If any Supreme Court Justices are getting a pass on qualifications due to their race and gender, they’re the white men.

Let’s take a step back. Imagine a Supreme Court justice. Or a brilliant architect, savvy tech entrepreneur, or high-powered lawyer. If you’re like most people, what jumped into mind was a kinda tall white guy. This means that all other groups have a harder time navigating the workplace. These non-prototypical workers face a routine burden of extra work to get ahead in the workplace – a burden that is largely invisible to the white men around them.

Our research, reported in our recent article in Gender & Society, explored six forms of workplace bias in the profession of architecture: Prove-it-again reflects assumptions about who is competent – and who isn’t. Tightrope bias reflects that authoritativeness and ambition are more readily accepted from white men than from other groups, who consequently face more complicated office politics as they walk a tightrope between being seen as “too meek” or “too much.” Other forms of bias include a lack of fit with the dominant culture, exclusion from the information-sharing networks, being expected to do emotion work (like acting as the peacemaker), and being constantly interrupted.

We surveyed men and women architects from five racial groups about their workplace bias experiences and the results highlight the impact of intersectionality. Over and over again we found that the experience of women of color typically diverges the most from that of white men, with the experience of Black women often diverging the most as compared with other women of color. White women and men of color tended to fall in between, but typically reported experiences closer to women of color’s experiences than to those of white men. The notable exception was Latinos, who often reported experiences similar to those of white men (perhaps because architecture is such a class-conscious profession and Latino architects come from upper class families? We aren’t sure). We see these intersectional patterns very clearly, for instance, in how often women of all races and men of color reported having to work twice as hard to get the same recognition as their colleagues, or that they get less respect for the same quality of work. These are vivid, everyday examples of routine prove-it-again bias that white men were much less likely to report experiencing.

Tightrope bias means that white men typically are seen as a good fit for leadership roles, while others are expected to be deferential worker bees. Conforming to such expectations takes work: self-editing in order to prioritize the comfort of others in the workplace can be taxing and exhausting. While workers who are closer to the image of the ideal worker may be free to act authentically, other groups have to put energy into coming off as competent without being seen as “too aggressive.” Women of all races and men of color, for example, were less likely to say that people expect them to play leadership roles, and more likely to say that they get pushback for behaving assertively.

From the Supreme Court to architecture firms, those who don’t match the prototype of the ideal worker find they need to put in more effort and energy in order to have the same outcomes as white men. That extra work tends to be invisible to those in charge but it doesn’t have to be. Our work is a step towards making the routine burdens visible, and making them easier to undo – from architecture workplaces all the way up to the Supreme Court.

Rachel M. Korn is the Director of Research at the Center for WorkLife Law at University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Joan C. Williams is a Sullivan Professor of Law, Hastings Foundation Chair, and Founding Director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.

Cecilia L. Ridgeway is the Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences, Emerita, in the Sociology Department at Stanford University.

Why are Cambodian Women Underrepresented in Labor Unions?

By Kristy Ward

In 2013 hundreds of thousands of garment sector workers took to the street to protest about minimum wages in one of the world’s most durable authoritarian regimes – Cambodia. The minimum wage protest was not an isolated event. In the years prior to 2013 the number of labor strikes increased dramatically. Women-led strikes also continued even after the military violently cracked down on workers. Most protestors were women, who also accounted for 85 percent of the garment sector workforce. By 2022 women are increasingly found in high numbers the construction sector, at 40 percent of the workforce. Yet few labor unions – member organizations that represent workers on workplace issues – are headed by women or have women in their top leadership. 

Culture and the disproportionate burden of care work are argued to shape women’s opportunities in political spaces, including unions. Yet many women do challenge cultural norms, as evidenced by their willingness to digress cultural expectations of virtuous and proper women through labor protest. In my recent article in Gender & Society, I argue that to understand why women are systematically excluded from unions it is necessary to look beyond marginalization within institutional silos – work, unions and family. I argue that narratives and practices of gendered subordination across each institution are deeply interrelated. The outcomes of this marginalization across these institutions are also inconsistent and unexpected, thus undermining any gains made. Women who seek to influence union structures are sidelined, while the deeply political issues that affect them are reframed as questions of wages or contracts or of personal and family matters.

Male federation and plant-level union leaders told women workers that they needed coaching – to acquire new skills and knowledge – before they could take up a position of responsibility within union ranks. Women did not participate in union leadership, they said, because they were uneducated and lacking in experience. Women needed to learn from other leaders (who were male) so that they could acquire the necessary knowledge to perform in these roles. This was also true of paid positions in the federation where men were engaged in public facing and decision making roles, while women were employed in administration, mid-level finance, worker engagement and cleaning roles.

In both the construction and garment sectors women were paid less than men for the same work. As Thida, a female construction worker, told me, “They believe that in construction you have to be strong to do the work and, because women are not as strong, they get paid less. Why do we get paid differently when we do the same work? It’s unfair.” Women also described how employers and supervisors used violence to control their behaviour. Unions then justified women’s exclusion from union leadership roles on the grounds of harassment at work. When I asked why there were no women in leadership positions, Rottanak and Ros, both male leaders of factory-level garment unions, described how women unionists were repeatedly harassed by factory management and by pro-government unionists, making them unsuitable, in their eyes, for union duties.

A final point of intersection between work and gender regimes is precarious employment. Workers explained that fixed-duration contracts, ranging from two to six months, were used by factory management to fire workers who joined unions or did not work hard enough to meet production targets. Many women, however, said that they preferred such arrangements because it gave them additional, and much-needed, income. Yet according to male union leaders women lacked the education and knowledge to understand the implications of being employed on a fixed-duration contract. For this reason, they explained, women were ill-suited to become workplace-level union officials.

Care demands also shaped union leaders’ perceptions of where women belonged in the union hierarchy. Unionists from both sectors unanimously perceived that when women took up paid and elected union positions, it was difficult for them to fulfill their household responsibilities. These responsibilities, moreover, were repeatedly identified by senior union leaders as a barrier to women’s union activism, especially as union organizing activities were often conducted after work and on the weekends when children are not at school. Narratives regarding women’s safety and mobility – travelling to the province for worker consultations – were also used to demonstrate women’s lack of suitability for union work.

Women have begun to make headway within Cambodia’s garment and construction unions in the past decade. More women have taken up leadership roles in the last five years – particularly at the enterprise level – and matters such as maternity leave are now commonplace union issues. Several unions have amended their by-laws to allocate quotas for women in leadership roles or established women’s committees. On paper, at least, Cambodian union federations have stepped up their gender focus, often with support from international labor movement donors. One might expect that if there are gains for women in unions, there must also be gains in the workplace or in the family. Similarly, constraining norms that operate in the family would prevent political advancement in unions. Counterintuitively, my research shows the opposite. Women are punished for gains in one regime by an interlocking regime. For example, women’s activism in unions to defend labor rights may enhance their confidence and assertiveness within the union, yet they are penalized for these very same behaviors by workplaces and family members.

These gender regime dynamics have substantive effects. Women’s adverse incorporation in unions means that the issues that matter most to them as workers, such as gendered workplace violence and harassment, are often ignored by union representatives, employers and the government. Moreover, any gains within political spaces that advance women’s bargaining power are eroded by narratives and practices in another regime, such as the family, to reinforce a hierarchical gender order.

Kristy Ward is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Sydney Southeast Asia Centre at the University of Sydney. Her research focuses on labor movements in Southeast Asia with an emphasis on their gendered and political dimensions.

Do the Marriageable Men Want to Protect and Provide? The Expectation of Black Professional Hybrid Masculinity

By Marbella Eboni Hill

Marriage is one of the most highly valued social institutions America. Being married is  as normative as being employed. Still, in the United States some groups have become less likely to ever marry over time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Black Americans, who face racism in every aspect of social life are also fairing the worst in terms of marriage outcomes. Their likelihood of ever marrying cannot be explained by differences in the desire to marry. Many people who want to marry face challenges beyond their control to achieving this goal..

One of the challenges impacting young people’s marriage behavior today is the growing confusion about what qualifies one for marriage in the first place. The pathway to marriage was more clear, and socially required, in the past. Gendered courtship processes once involved familial involvement. Men were expected to be protectors and providers of wives and families while women were confined to the world of homemaking and caretaking. This was, of course, a white-coded marriage model not accessible to most Black couples who have historically shared marital responsibilities. Black women have always had a central role in the labor force, both paid and unpaid. Black men’s access to higher education and well-paying jobs has been impeded by various forms of discrimination spanning centuries. The white coded “separate spheres model” was always out of sync with how Black couples have historically done marriage.

In spite of this historical context, academics and non-academics alike have blamed Black men for racial gaps in marriage. They have argued that compared to other groups, Black women have access to far fewer marriageable prospects, given many Black men’s economic disadvantage due to unemployment, incarceration, and low levels of educational attainment. Put another way, men’s marriageability in the U.S. has been tied to their ability to take on the role of dominant financial provider, and according to this definition many Black men have been dubbed unmarriageable. However, these arguments paint a monolithic portrait of the Black experience by ignoring the 50 percent of Black Americans who are not low-income, but still marry at disproportionately low rates.

In other words, although Black middle-class young adults have also experienced a marriage decline, they differ from their lower-status counterparts in that these declines cannot be explained by economic disadvantage. This paradox motivated me to query a group of never-married and college-educated Black men about their marriage aspirations and expectations. How do they define the role of a husband in marriage.

The findings, presented in my recent article in Gender & Society, show that high-earning single Black men do not draw on dominant prescriptions of hegemonic masculinity to define their expectations of being a husband, but instead center goals like balance and fairness in their expectations for their future marriages. Each of my respondents aspires to marry a Black professional woman, who they presume will be successful in her own right and committed to her own career. Given these expectations, the men emphasize that it is only fair to evenly share household responsibilities, including financial provision, cooking and cleaning.

However, men paired these egalitarian expectations for marriage with essentialist gender ideas about men as naturally better suited for activities involving risk. Despite arguing that the role of financial provider should be shared between spouses, men define husbands as natural protectors of wives and children. In line with this, they suggest that outdoor household tasks like taking out the trash and mowing the lawn are men’s work, presumably because they are risky, and should remain as such.

Considering Black professional men’s endorsement of both egalitarian and essentialist gender ideologies I characterize their unique racialized and classed gender identity as a form of Black professional hybrid masculinity. I conclude by arguing that although this construction of masculinity does not meet mainstream standards of feminism, as it leaves essentialist ideas about biological gender differences intact, it does challenge long-held controlling images of Black women as masculine and Black men as weak. Black professional hybrid masculinity also undermines academic and public narratives of Black middle-class men’s partnering preference for non-Black women, as not only do these men plan to marry Black women, but they also construct their masculine identities around their needs.

Marbella Eboni Hill is a Sociology Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford University in the VMware Women’s Leadership Innovation Lab. Her research focuses on how early career young professionals navigate family formation and work processes at various race, class, and gender intersections.