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.

Gender-Typed Skill Co-Occurrence and Occupational Sex Segregation in U.S. Professional Occupations

By Constance Hsiung

A popular “brain teaser” in the early 1990s asked: A boy and his father get into a serious car accident, and both are taken straight to the emergency room. The boy requires surgery and is taken to the operating room. The surgeon enters the room, and says “I can’t operate on this boy: he’s my son.” How is this possible?

The explanation is that the surgeon is the boy’s mother, but because so few women were surgeons then – and indeed now – it was assumed that few listeners would quickly arrive at this answer. This provides one example of a larger gender divide in jobs: some jobs are mostly performed by women and others by men. Although this form of gender segregation has been decreasing for over half a century, it persists today even in the professional jobs where women’s representation has increased most dramatically in recent decades. Present-day examples include registered nurses, special education teachers, and occupational therapists, over 80% of whom are women. Similarly, men make up over 80% of computer programmers, most types of engineers (e.g., aerospace, electrical and electronics), and the clergy. Such divisions sharpen when we also consider technical jobs such as physicians’ assistants and broadcast and sound engineering technicians.

Recent sociological studies have discovered an important explanation for this form of gender segregation: the “gender stereotyping” of certain skills. For example, it is widely believed that men are better at math and negotiating for higher salaries, whereas women are better at caring for young children and mediating social conflicts. The stronger such stereotypes are, the more they reinforce the link between a job’s gendered skill requirements and its sex composition. The basic reason for this pattern is clear: the more certain skills become associated with a given gender, the more both workers and employers will act on the basis of such associations. Consequently, jobs that require more “masculine” skills hire, retain, and attract more men, whereas those that require more “feminine” skills hire, retain, and attract more women.

But in reality, many jobs today require masculine and feminine skills. How does this combination influence the gender segregation of jobs? If we follow the gender stereotyping explanation discussed above, the skill requirements should have opposite effects on job sex composition. That is, for women the masculine skill requirements should decrease their representation, while the feminine skill requirements should increase it. However, this is not what we observe in many of the professional jobs dominated by women, e.g., nurses, most kinds of therapists (e.g., physical, speech), and pre-school teachers. These jobs have above-average requirements for both masculine and feminine skills: those involving physical strength, and those related to helping and caring for others, respectively. Yet, women’s representation increases with requirements for both types of skills. What explains this relationship? 

In my recent article in Gender & Society, I show that women dominate these professional jobs because the jobs’ masculine physical strength requirements co-occur with the feminine skills involved in helping and caring for others. In other words, as requirements for these feminine skills increase, so too do the requirements for the masculine skills (and vice versa). But the requirements for feminine skills are higher than those for masculine skills. Women are drawn into these jobs by feminine skill requirements and not deterred by requirements for masculine skills even if they are above what most other jobs require. 

My research suggests that the gender segregation of jobs arises from gender stereotypes about combinations of masculine and feminine skills rather than independently from any single skill requirement. The reality is that feminine and masculine skills are both needed in jobs often held by women.

The jobs I studied are popularly associated with women, in part as a result of their feminine skill requirements. Yet, they require more physical strength than many jobs dominated by men with similar levels of education and training! How can these skill requirements be reconciled with the widespread view of these jobs as “women’s work”?

The more we know about how these stereotypes operate and are formed, the more likely we are to understand and achieve gender equality in employment.

Constance Hsiung is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany. Her research interests lie in the sociology of culture, gender, and work.

Black Mothers and Vaccine Refusal: Gendered Racism, Healthcare, and the State

By Courtney Thornton and Jennifer A. Reich

“Black & Brown parents actually do get penalized for not being able to afford vaccines or take time off to vaccinate children on time. CPS (child protective services) gets involved for medical neglect & child endangerment But ytpipo (white people) deliberately choose not to vaccinate their children with no consequences.”

This observation was offered by a Black mother in an online forum for other Black mothers who had   concerns about childhood vaccines. As the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated, the success of public health campaigns, including those related to vaccines, depend on trust. Yet as this mother and others like her note, state efforts to support public health do not necessarily respond to minoritized communities as to white families who question the need to vaccinate.

Mothers who reject or delay vaccines for their children are most likely to be white, college educated (or have at least some college), married, and have higher household incomes. These mothers describe their decisions to reject vaccines in terms of their desire to feel like good mothers who are active decision-makers on behalf of their children. These mothers perceive vaccines as a personal consumption choice meant to optimize their children’s health. They view themselves as experts on their own children, free to accept or reject medical advice as they see fit. This practice is labor and resource intensive and comes with judgments from other mothers and society at large. Yet, white mothers seldom fear state sanctions for doing this in ways that mothers of color do.

Our findings in our recent Gender & Society article provide insight into how Black mothers who opt out of vaccines by choice view the stakes of their decision, including fears that they may be more likely to experience state surveillance and sanctions because of it. Much of the research on Black children who are not fully vaccinated has focused on structural barriers that limit access to vaccines. These children, labeled “under-vaccinated”, are more likely to be children of color, have families with lower incomes, and a mother who is not college educated and is likely to be single. Although structural barriers do limit access to healthcare, the focus on lack of access may ignore Black mothers’ agency and the ways their decisions reflect negative experiences with health systems. To understand this issue, we analyzed online discussions geared towards and used by Black mothers. We show that although Black mothers raise many of the same concerns about vaccines as do white mothers, they view their decisions as riskier since they lack the same privilege that protects white women from state policing and punishment.

Medical racism, in its many forms, is indisputably gendered. Black women face discrimination, heightened scrutiny in interactions with healthcare providers, and inadequate care that leads to disproportionate illness and premature death. Black women also encounter gendered racism in other social institutions that are interconnected with healthcare, including schools and welfare systems. These experiences contribute to Black women’s low levels of trust in public health systems. This often extends to their children and informs their daily parenting strategies.

The women in our study shared oft-cited concerns about vaccine safety and efficacy. But unlike white mothers, they saw vaccines as a white technology created without, and sometimes in contradiction to, the interests of Black people. Citing unfounded claims that Black boys experience high rates of autism after vaccination, one mother insisted,

“its wasn’t created by us for us, hence why so many of our black boys have autism, because we react differently… We have left holistic natural way to take for face value western eurocentric ways.”

Once Black mothers decide to avoid or delay vaccines for their children, they find themselves at odds with the state and its actors. Women who posted in these forums discussed how more privileged parents could avoid state surveillance and punitive action in ways they could not. These concerns often revolved around state laws that require evidence of vaccination as a condition of enrollment in schools or childcare settings. Many mothers recognized that some states are more permissive and allow non-medical exemptions from vaccine requirements for school attendance, but saw those states as often places that could be hostile to families of color. Illustrating this, one mother weighed the challenges of living in primarily white areas against the promise of being able to opt out of vaccines without losing access to schools for their children:

“I hear terrible things about Texas and being a black woman though. Unfortunately a lot of the more scary conservative, racist, sexist politicians are in the states/cities with the [more] choice friendly options for vaccine.”

Lower income Black mothers felt especially vulnerable due to the increased level of scrutiny and loss of privacy they experienced when enrolled in public assistance programs. Because the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) focuses on the health of children, many states require up-to-date vaccine records and regular well-child visits to access the benefits. Women who posted worried that WIC caseworkers would report them to CPS and worried about allegations of medical neglect. They often strategized what information they would share with pediatricians who often collaborate with WIC caseworkers. As one mother cautioned, “Advice do not use govt services. Not to use WIC or welfare because they will force you.” Another mother confirmed these concerns:

“I’m in the WIC program well kind of. I stop going because my WIC worker keeps talking about my kids check up appointments and vaccines. I told her several times I do not vaccinate.”

Pervasive stereotypes of Black women impact all Black mothers, irrespective of class, forcing them to manage their interactions with arms of the state, including healthcare, education, and welfare systems, to protect themselves and their children. Unlike white mothers who are more likely to view physicians as service providers or consultants, the mothers in our study discussed pediatricians as potential threats who could report their families to state agencies, an apt fear since evidence shows physicians are more likely to report Black families to CPS. Mothers referenced this fear as a reason they felt distrustful and alienated from healthcare systems. As one mother explained,

“I try to avoid CPS in all so I do a yearly checkup, lie about vaccination status etc… As soon as they would start to get suspicious of me saying delayed vaccinations, I would find another doctor.”

As Black mothers online identified the freedoms white mothers have, they pointed to the ways inequality powerfully shapes and constrains their options, their ability to exercise choice. This study shows how race, class, and gender are inextricably linked to views of vaccines specifically and of the state more generally. We do not suggest that vaccines are unimportant. Rather, the efficacy of public health campaigns depends on trust in leaders, scientists, and medical professionals, as the COVID-19 pandemic has shown. Structural gendered racism in healthcare and in interactions with long arms of the state fuels Black mothers’ distrust, which informs the medical decisions they make for themselves and their children. The result may be that programs intended to improve children’s health may actually undermine Black families’ access. A deeper understanding of these dynamics should inform public health outreach in communities of color and requires medical professionals to more critically reflect on their power as extensions of the state.

Courtney Thornton is a Master of Arts in Sociology student at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research interests include the influence of state policies and systems on the health and well-being of families, and the intersecting impact of structural gender- and race-based oppression on the lives of Black women.

Jennifer A. Reich is Professor of Sociology at the University of Colorado Denver. Her research examines how individuals and families weigh information and strategize their interactions with the state and service providers in the context of public policy, particularly as they relate to healthcare and welfare. She is author of Fixing Families: Parents, Power, and the Child Welfare System and Calling the Shots: Why Parents Reject Vaccines, and is editor of the books Reproduction and Society (with Carole Joffe) and The State of Families.

Gender, Veiling, and Class: Symbolic Boundaries and Veiling in Bengali Muslim Families

By Md. A Sabur

In the wake of rapid changes due to economic growth, women in Bangladesh have quickly begun to participate in secular education and paid labor. At the same time, there has been increasing visibility of Islamic practices and gender conservatism among women. I address this paradox: “more modern” and “more religious” at the same time in contemporary Bangladeshi society. My research focuses on the meaning of veiling among Bengali Muslim migrant families in rural Bangladesh. These women are experiencing upward class mobility based on remittances from family members who are migrant workers.

The findings from my recent article in Gender & Society focus on transnational families whose husbands work abroad and whose wives take care of families in rural Bangladesh. I show that veiling is not simply religiously motivated but also helps cultivate social boundaries, distancing these women who aspire to or already belong to the middle class from working-class or poor women. They do gender by veiling because doing so also identifies them as middle class and so they gain privilege, status, and prestige in rural Bangladesh.

My research team and I interviewed 57 Muslim migrant couples (114 interviews). We also did  ethnographic research in Bangladesh, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and South Korea. 43 of the 57 wives in these migrant couples practice veiling in public spaces—including the burqa, abaya, khimar, headscarf, and chador. Only two Muslim couples disagreed that women should veil and do not practice veiling. Twelve couples mention that although wives do not currently practice veiling, they may in the future. All the remaining 43 couples (86 respondents) report that  veiling was practiced and discussed why at some length in the interviews.

Although veiling is usually explained as a gendered expression of religiosity, my research digs deep into the everyday uses of veiling in Muslim families. We learned that the women in middle-class families wear veils to protect their natal and husbands’ families’ honor and assert their middle-class status. In some cases, these families have attained middle-class status through remittances from migrant husbands. Veiling serves as a form of conspicuous consumption, validating their newly acquired social status and setting them apart from lower-class Muslim families. Middle-class Muslim families both enable and encourage veiling to signal their upward class mobility.

Middle-class Muslim women make a variety of choices in what veils they wear, when they wear them and where they wear them. Their husbands also send or bring them expensive veils from abroad, which helps solidify their class status while encouraging them to veil. Yet while veiling helps women and their families emphasize their middle-class status, new middle-class Muslims encounter challenges, tension, and conflicts. For example, women may face generational conflicts as to “proper” gender norms, with mothers-in-law concerned that wives do not wear traditional sarees and have instead adopted veiling.

In the age of globalization and transnational labor migration, the expansion of the new middle-class has been accompanied by gender conservatism in many locations like Bangladesh. My research shows that veiling serves to daily produce class inequality and social hierarchy through conspicuous consumption.

Md A Sabur (@SaburMdA) is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Sociology at North South University Dhaka, Bangladesh. His research focuses on transnational labor migration, remittances, and changes in women’s status in rural Bangladesh.

Where are We in Closing the Gender Gaps in Time Use?

By Man-yee Kan and Muzhi Zhou

Do women and men spend time in the same way? The answer is a clear No. Across the globe, women do more unpaid domestic work than men, and men spend more time on paid work. There has been little change in the gender gaps in time use over the years. Advocacy for gender equality has lost momentum for this use of time as a political agenda.

Yet, other changes have happened. In most industrialized societies, the percentage of women with a college education has exceeded that of men. Mothers with children are no longer expected to stay at home. Women still shoulder most of the domestic work but does that imply that they work longer total work time than men when we consider both paid work and unpaid domestic work?

We know more about time use in Western than East Asian societies. Sometimes, it is assumed that gender inequality is higher in these East Asian societies because of the emphasis on traditional family ties and the prevalence of men working long hours. We wanted to know if this the case. We wanted to know if the patterns and trends of gendered time use is very different in East Asian societies compared with European and Anglophone countries.

In our recent article published in Gender & Society, we seek to answer these questions by using diary data from both western industrialized societies and East Asian societies: Beijing, China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. And we looked at data from the past three decades.

There are both differences and similarities between Western and East Asian societies.  There is overwhelming evidence of stalled progress in both Western and East Asian societies. In particular, in Japan, Korea, and Southern European countries, the gender gaps in paid work and domestic work are large. The trend toward closing these gender gaps has been extremely slow in Japan and Korea and has stalled in Southern European countries. In Beijing, Taiwan, and countries like the US and the UK, the gender gaps in paid work and unpaid work time are relatively small and these differences have stopped closing in the most recent decade. Still, women have longer total work time than men across both East Asian and Western societies.

Our findings indicate that policies dependent on family ties and the expectation for women’s providing unpaid caregiving hinders progress toward gender equality. The implications of our research are that we must design policies more carefully to tackle the social norms that presume women responsible for domestic and caring responsibilities because those norms impede progress toward gender equality in the division of labour at work and at home.

Man-yee Kan is an Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Oxford. Her research interests include gender inequalities in the family and the labor market, time use research, ethnicity, and migration. She has been awarded a European Research Council Consolidator Grant (2018–2024) for the project GenTime, which investigates gender inequalities in time use in East Asian and Western societies.

Muzhi Zhou is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Oxford and an incoming Assistant Professor at the Urban Governance and Design Thrust, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (Guangzhou). She studies how critical life events, such as marriage or childbirth, reshape people’s lives in Europe and East Asia, family formation patterns, and how children spend their time and its implications.

Plastic Bodies: Women Workers and Emerging Body Rules in Service Work in Urban India

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By Asiya Islam

The climax of the hugely popular, if only slightly dated, series, Ugly Betty, is Betty’s makeover – in its various iterations around the world, Betty tends to lose her braces, smooth out her frizzy hair, replace chunky glasses with contact lenses, and tap into the transformative powers of makeup. Usually, the radical change in appearance helps her to achieve romantic success. From Ugly Betty and The Princess Diaries to Barbie and online games, makeovers are designed for women, targeting appearances, as a site of insecurity and as untapped site of personal power.

Some recent attempts at feminist retellings of Ugly Betty frame her makeover in terms of professional, rather than romantic, success and confidence. To a certain extent, this reflects contemporary developments in the world of work – globally, with the emergence of service work (think cafes, salons, hotels) and women’s entry into traditionally male occupations, women’s participation in the workforce has increased. In services, and particularly in front roles, such as, receptionists, sales assistants, stewards, and others, women’s appearances matter – service workers are expected to appease customer sensibilities through not only pleasant greetings, friendly conversation, and helpful demeanour, but also makeup and clothing.

Young women working in services in Delhi agree that a makeover is required to become a professional. I have been conducting long-term ethnographic research with such women. In a discussion about emerging job opportunities, a young girl, referring to her friend’s elder sister who worked at a mall, admiringly noted, ‘She wears pants and shirts to work, right?!’ Another woman, Chandni, shared how her personality had changed by being in work – she was no longer a ‘village-type girl’ with ‘oily braided hair’, rather she had become a modern urban woman who knew how to do ‘light’ and classy makeup. Many had indeed enrolled in ‘personality development’ classes at skills centres to adapt their body language – posture, smile, handshake – to suit the middle/upper class sensibility of their workplaces.

Is a makeover something that is done to you or rather does it require active participation to make yourself over? How do workers appraise emerging requirements for such makeovers in service work? In my research in Gender & Society, I show that although there are aspects of changes to their appearance that young women enjoy, they are far from simply accepting and endorsing these makeovers. Indeed, while strategically adopting some bodily changes, women also reflect upon and critique the workplaces that demand them in the first place.

The first time I met Prachi, she greeted me, smiling, with ‘Good morning, ma’am’ as I walked into the café she worked at. A few months later, when our relationship had developed beyond that of worker and customer, Prachi shared her frustrations with work. After she quit, she grumbled about having to ‘keep a plastic smile on the whole day’, referring to the artificial and forced nature of her smile. Chandni shared Prachi’s frustration, both of them agreed that although they are required to wear formal clothes – shirt, trousers, belt, black shoes, and socks – this is not matched by the quality of work. Prachi continued, ‘I was like what the hell are you trying to do. It’s only Rs.7000 [USD 95] salary anyway. Chandni also said it’s so professional in the training, neighbours think we’re going to a good job, then we go back to our aukat [status] …’ After donning smart appearance for the training sessions, the women felt that they were demoted to their working/lower middle class status with low pay, long working hours, and limited career progression at work.

Their makeovers are, then, really about attempting to appear as solidly middle class and changing their personalities to match their new look. At times, they  find pleasure in these changes, but they also experience them as a problem because of the mismatch with the low-end, poorly paid service work they are doing. They further worry that people will be able to see through their newly adopted looks and personalities, rendering them inauthentic and embarrassing. I consider these varied dynamics of changes to women’s bodies in emerging service work in urban India as “plastic.” This metaphor refers to the ways in which women use their bodies to find and keep jobs in service industries. My research shows how ‘plastic bodies’ are site for both self-expression and assertion of agency, as well as a way jobs compel women to change themselves. My findings draw attention to the complex ways in which, unlike the delightful acceptance of makeovers by fictional characters such as Betty and Princess Mia, women workers both enjoy and critique the changes they must make to their bodies to participate in service work.

Asiya Islam is a Lecturer in Work and Employment Relations at the University of Leeds. Her research explores emerging gender and class relations in urban India through the life narratives of young lower middle class women, with particular focus on emerging forms and futures of work and social inequalities.

More Dads are Home Taking Care of Children than Ever Before – Are Views About Gender and Work Changing?

By Arielle Kuperberg and Pamela Stone

In 2021, the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States reached record highs. Does this mean that cultural views about gender, masculinity, work, and family—particularly the idea that men should be breadwinners—are changing? Not necessarily.

Our recent research in Gender & Society assesses cultural views of stay-at-home fathers over three decades, by examining their portrayal in leading newspapers and magazines between 1987 and 2016. We found that news portrayals of stay-at-home dads have indeed become more positive over time. But the growing support for full-time caregiver fathers is conditional. Dads who lost their jobs because of involuntary unemployment are viewed sympathetically, especially since the Great Recession. But dads who are able to work, but choose to stay home with children instead, are still described negatively. As much as we’d like to think that the gender-bending phenomenon of (slightly) increasing numbers of dads at home is a harbinger of more fundamental gender liberalization, our results suggest that this is not unambiguously the case.

News articles about stay-at-home dads often focused on the stigma and hardships that these dads faced in their everyday lives. In the 94 articles we analyzed, stay-at-home dads discussed being laughed at, dismissed, or even accused of being a pedophile while at the playground with their child. They were often described as being shunned by mothers and ridiculed by their friends. Fathers discussed feeling like “less of a man” because they could not financially provide for their families, and over half were described as feeling isolated and experiencing stress because of their role. Many recounted being called “Mr. Mom”, the title of a 1980s movie about an inept stay-at-home dad. This phrase reinforced the idea that active parenting was something that women do, not men. Further reinforcing this idea, some dads were instead excessively praised for doing the most basic chores with their child (like bringing them to the grocery store).

But the focus on stigma lessened over time, as more dads began to stay home with children. After the Great Recession resulted in high rates of unemployment, dads who had lost their jobs and took on caretaking roles at home were no longer described as experiencing stigma, and were discussed sympathetically and supportively. Accounts of stigma experiences didn’t disappear, however; instead they were mostly confined to another type of stay-at-home dad—those who had chosen to stay home with their children, and hadn’t been forced into the role by lay-offs.

In our article we also compared stay-at-home dads’ depictions to demographic trends. In the figure below, we extend this analysis to 2021 to include another major economic shock—the COVID pandemic. What is clear is that the rate at which fathers were at home rose in the wake of economic downturns, but eventually reversed course and reverted to near pre-downturn levels upon economic recovery. Over the period we studied, staying home became more common among dads—especially after the Great Recession of 2007-9. But the number of dads who reported they were home specifically to take care of children was still very low—less than two percent in 2021. And prior to the pandemic, rates of staying home had begun to go down among dads of younger children, declining almost to pre-Great Recession levels by 2019. These patterns also suggest that the post-recession increase in dads staying home was not a result of long-lasting changes in attitudes and ideologies about gender and work, but rather was a temporary response to economic precarity.

Figure 1: Percent of U.S. fathers out of the labor force, and out of the labor force specifically to care for children, 1980-2021.

Source: Authors’ analysis of Current Population Survey – March Supplement Data.

Taken together, our findings indicate that cultural views on stay-at-home dads may be changing, but mostly for dads who stay home because they don’t have any other choice. The stigma about stay-at- home dads has been reduced, but only because more dads are out of the workforce because of broader economic circumstances that make it impossible for them to be breadwinners. Dads who choose to stay home and not contribute financially to the family are still stigmatized, presumably seen as failures as breadwinners or as deadbeats for ducking this responsibility entirely. But dads who began to stay home because of the pandemic (or other future economic events) are likely to be viewed sympathetically, suggesting some relaxing of strong male-breadwinner social norms.

And cultural views may continue to change. A recent report found that over 70% of mothers will spend at least part of their children’s childhood as the main financial provider, with the average mother spending 6 years in this role. The pandemic also reversed the beginning of a decline in staying home rates among fathers of young children, and dads are now out of the labor force and home with kids at record high rates. The sustained rate of dads staying home with kids may reduce the stigma of this role even further, as more children grow up with dads at home as caregivers for at least some portion of their childhoods.

On the other hand, support for dads staying home may be reduced if economic conditions improve more broadly, reducing the number of men in that role involuntarily. And during the pandemic, while more dads withdrew from the labor force and increased the time they spent on housework and childcare, in 70% of families it was mothers who were primarily responsible for homeschooling when schools went virtual. Mothers were also far more likely than fathers to withdraw from the workforce or reduce their hours in paid work. These pandemic trends also reinforce the idea that the recent uptick in dads staying home is not an auger of radical gender change, but that traditional ideas about gender and parenting and divisions of labor are still going strong. Until these ideas change, and the stigma of men voluntarily staying home with children is reduced, few men will be willing to take on this role, preventing advancement towards full gender equality in work and family roles.

Arielle Kuperberg is Associate Professor of Sociology and Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and Chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. Pamela Stone is Professor Emerita of Sociology at Hunter College and The Graduate Center, City University of New York. Follow them on twitter @ATKuperberg and @profpamstone.

From the Gospel to Pregnancy Tests: Evangelism in Pregnancy Centers

By Kendra Hutchens

In 2021 the movement to oppose abortion rights experienced a banner year. By the midpoint of 2021, according to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislatures or municipalities enacted more abortion restrictions than in any other year since Roe v. Wade. In September, the United States Supreme Court declined to block Texas Senate Bill 8, a law that effectively bans abortions in Texas after six weeks and institutes a bounty system that enables private citizens to sue anyone assisting a patient seek or obtain an abortion. Beginning in December 2021, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to consider the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans abortion after fifteen weeks of pregnancy. Widely viewed as a referendum on Roe v. Wade, the Court’s decision may drastically alter women’s rights to reproductive healthcare.

Amidst these legal rollbacks, a larger, quieter faction of the antiabortion movement works “to overturn Roe v Wade in hearts, not just the courts.”

Pregnancy centers—also termed crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) or pregnancy resource centers (PRCs)—are non-profit, faith-based organizations that provide, in their words “alternatives to abortion.” While centers desire, in the words of one network organization, “to make abortion unwanted today and unthinkable for future generations,” they stay largely out of the legal fray. Instead, they position themselves as ministries that, like in Texas, are ready to help women when clinics that provide abortions empty. It is this concept of ‘ministry,’ that I write about in an article* recently published in Gender & Society.

What are Pregnancy Centers?

Pregnancy centers offer free resources like urine pregnancy tests, options counseling, limited obstetric ultrasounds, and material services (e.g., diapers, infant clothing, and car seats). They can provide confirmation of pregnancy that helps clients enroll in Medicaid and many refer to a network of social service providers and offer parenting classes. Some offer STI testing, medically unfounded “abortion-pill reversal” services, and unsubstantiated “post-abortion counseling.” Centers are increasingly professionalizing and medicalizing (estimates hold that approximately 70 percent now offer ultrasounds under the licensure of a physician). However, most are led, staffed, and supported by evangelical Christian women and only offer services that align with their religious worldview. Thus, they do not provide nor refer for contraceptive or abortion care, instead advocating for abstinence outside of marriage and ‘natural family planning’ within marriage. More troubling still is evidence provided by a variety of studies that pregnancy centers disseminate medical misinformation about abortion and contraception, and craft websites that obfuscate their services and mission. Though pregnancy centers are not full-spectrum healthcare providers, some receive state and federal funding.

These centers comprise a distinct movement within the broader antiabortion movement that is uniquely evangelical and gendered. While the patriarchal ideology that infuses conservative evangelical Christianity tends to keep women out of positions of power in churches and other evangelical groups, pregnancy centers are led by women who use this gendered ideology to articulate and defend approaches to abortion opposition that focus on women’s presumed needs. This approach is popular. Pregnancy centers, draw more volunteers who put in more hours than any other part of the moment. Indeed, with somewhere between 2,500 and nearly 2,800 centers across the United States they outnumber, by a wide margin, facilities that offer abortion. Despite this vast reach, most women cannot distinguish between a pregnancy center and an abortion provider and new research conservatively estimates that approximately 13 percent of pregnant people visit a center during their pregnancy. My research sheds light on these centers, by focusing on the concept of ministry and how it shapes centers’ tactics and performance of care.

Ministry Not Manipulation

Pregnancy centers identify as “faith-based” and, most centers, like the two that I studied over the course of three years, are seeped in evangelical Christianity. Centers’ founders, leaders, and supporters—most of whom are evangelical Christians—describe their work as a ‘ministry.’ And, as is typical of centers in the U.S., they affiliate with large, evangelical network associations (like Care Net, Heartbeat International, or NIFLA) that define the goals and strategies of affiliates. A key part of their ministry? Evangelism.

For instance, Care Net holds that the primary mission of the pregnancy center is to share the gospel of salvation with clients, while Heartbeat International promotes centers as an “unparalleled opportunity for relational evangelism” giving  “young women in the throes of perhaps her most trying time…a thoroughly gospel-saturated response, pairing a Christ-centered offer of hope with a real-world commitment to walk alongside another.”

Given these endorsements, imagine my surprise when I did not see Bibles handed out, tracts dispersed, or staff sharing personal testimony with clients. “Ministry not manipulation” was an oft repeated phrase in centers and at trainings that staff unpacked in in-depth interviews. They painted a portrait of relational evangelism that is uniquely gendered, a process I refer to as feminizing evangelism. In learning to practice feminized evangelism, staff—who avowedly hate abortion—come to empathize with women considering abortion on the basis of shared, gendered experiences. They articulate a unique ministry that they hope is more effective than other approaches to evangelism. However, staff consciously work to realign their deeply felt religious beliefs with practices that require them to put the Bibles away and to avoid conversion conversations.

Feminized evangelism gains more widespread support and client trust. In removing overt ‘God talk’ from appointments, centers produce a narrative of care that is grounded in social welfare and wrapped in the language of ‘empowerment’ and ‘trauma-informed care.’ While staff emphasize that they don’t hide their faith, most clients in my study did not realize the pregnancy center they visited was “faith-based” prior to their first appointment. Over the course of my fieldwork, both organizations gained secular and nonsecular supporters across the political spectrum, and solicited referrals from various secular organizations (including, unsuccessfully, a local Planned Parenthood). Pregnancy centers are not held to the same regulatory and credentialing requirements as healthcare facilities, Further, their religious orientation restricts the range of services provided and shapes how they deliver them, information that most women want to know. When that worldview is not transparent, clients cannot give informed consent to services.

Supporting people with resources that enable them to build families if, when, how, and with whom they want should be a priority for our country. Excluding contraceptive and abortion care from reproductive support does the opposite. Pregnancy centers believe that providing limited economic resources and empathetic counsel enables meaningful choices but the ability to make unconstrained reproductive choices depends equally on access to a full range of healthcare services, including abortion and contraception.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs, not expected until 2022, may restructure the landscape of abortion care. Pregnancy centers are ready to fill the void and patients. If they do, patients with few resources—those who are low income, underinsured, live in rural areas or conservative states, or women of color—will bear the consequences of religiously-based healthcare restrictions.

*This is freely available to read, download, and share through Open Access.

Kendra Hutchens is a research associate at Circle A Productions and a lecturer at the University of Colorado Boulder. Her academic research explores crisis pregnancy centers and Americans’ abortion attitudes. In the public sector, her research focuses on deinstitutionalization for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Amsterdam Black Women Refusing Myths of Color-Blindness

By Ariana Rose

In the summer of 2020 after the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, protests erupted around the world in solidarity with American Black Lives Matter protesters. Amsterdam was no exception. Protesters also chanted the names of Tomy Holten and Mitch Henriquez, two men of color who were murdered by Dutch police, countering popular Dutch beliefs that racism and police brutality are problems specific to the United States. The Dutch have been criticized for forgetting their colonial past and for refusing to acknowledge race or racial discrimination despite the exclusion of and violence toward Black people in all sectors of society (for more information about this, please see: White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race by Gloria Wekker).

In my recent Gender & Society article, I discuss how Black women navigate this contradiction and how they respond to the Netherland’s culture of color-blindness. I studied a Facebook group called Amsterdam Black Women (ABW). The group was created by five expat Black women and organizes both on- and offline activities. By connecting with women on the basis of race, the group implicitly demonstrates that race matters and does impact the conditions of one’s life despite the color-blind narrative of the white mainstream. Through events and activities, members of ABW imagine different ways to thrive in a society that denies them pathways to well-being through structural and institutional racism. The group has become a safe space for Black women to discuss their experiences in the Netherlands openly and a place where creative strategies to deal with its members’ marginalization are emerging. Rather than responding to prejudice with detachment or defeat, the women articulate new ways to bypass the energy drain they experience in white social and professional settings. Within the group they diagnose and heal as a community. As Audre Lorde has written, doing so “is self-preservation, and [an] act of political warfare.”

One of ABW’s founders pointed out how Dutch racism was unique in its particularities which was especially confusing to women who came from abroad: “Dutch racism is not like anywhere else.” Although ABW members met for happy hours, brunches, and book clubs, discussions often settled on the everyday racism they experienced. Women felt comfortable being honest about their experiences which contrasted with the ways white spaces silenced them. In falling outside of Dutch expectations of whiteness, Black women felt both invisible and hyper-visible. Many gave examples where people did not show them basic respect (a greeting, for example) which made them feel invisible. Others said they felt hyper-visible, or perceived as different, which made them uncomfortable and vulnerable to unwanted attention or discrimination.

During my research, ABW members spoke about the exhaustion they experienced trying to “prove” that the racist things that happened to them were indeed racist. They said Dutch people were unwilling to engage in these conversations because of their beliefs in color-blindness. ABW members were labeled as unpleasant for speaking up or problematized in more severe ways for advocating for themselves. Many stayed quiet about their mistreatment to avoid backlash or creating more of a psychologically unsafe environment for themselves.

ABW gave them a place to speak up, to be honest, and to be treated with respect. By being in community with others who understood their experiences, members could discuss their personal biographies, vent, joke, and complain, making sense of their lived experiences. They rejected Dutch norms that required them to accept their oppression silently or support false narratives of a progressive and color-blind society. Within ABW, Black women could be vocal about their Blackness. They could center it, celebrate it, honor it, and also grieve the realities that come with Blackness in an anti-Black world. This helped them to thrive despite routine denials and trivialization of racial inequality in professional, social, everyday, and sometimes even family settings. ABW organically honored the need for communion, allowing its members to return to the world post-processing. Members found this healing through this validation of experiences and made them more resilient to the oppression they were simultaneously subjected to and told didn’t exist.

The sense-making and self-preservation work I saw happening in ABW is crucial in creating conditions for further organizing and activism as we continue to work toward a world where we might not need to know the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, or Tomy Holten for the reasons we do today.

Ariana Rose received her master’s degree in Sociology with a focus on social problems and policy from the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on race, gender, health, well-being, and spirituality. She is the founder of Studio in Between, a research and social impact design space in Amsterdam.