Are babies to blame for women’s lower pay?

Baby

By Kristine Kilanski

In a recent article, New York Times correspondent Claire Cain Miller posed a puzzle of longstanding interest to sociologists of work: Today when women leave school and enter the workforce they earn roughly the same as their men counterparts. However, soon women’s and men’s wages begin to diverge.

What leads to the emergence of a gender pay gap? Miller’s answer largely mimics the lyrics to a well-known children’s riddle: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes [insert man’s name here] and [insert woman’s name here] with a baby carriage.”

Miller offers two main pieces of evidence to support the claim that marriage and babies are to blame for the gender pay gap. For one, the gender pay gap widens the most when workers are in their late twenties and early thirties—around the time women are likely to get married and to become mothers. Secondly, unmarried women without children tend to earn roughly the same as their men counterparts.

Miller argues that the “big reason” women who have children, and even women who are married without children, have lower wages relative to their men counterparts is the unequal gender division of labor at home, which takes place “even when both spouses work full time.” She notes that retaining primary caregiving responsibility for children is especially tough on the wages of college-educated women in high-paying occupations—whom she later explains face difficultly meshing caregiving with the 24/7 work culture associated with the jobs these women hold.

Miller attributes the marriage penalty faced by women to a combination of the tendency for married women to privilege their husband’s careers in decision-making, lowered career ambitions in anticipation of motherhood, and reduced opportunities at work as a result of employer suspicion regarding married women’s long-term commitment to their careers. She quotes an economist who suggests that the gendered division of labor is a rational, if unfortunate, response to present demands on families.

To be sure, the New York Times article offers important insights into the production of the gender pay gap. It is well-established, for example, that the energy of caring for children unequally falls on women’s shoulders (and, as part of the “sandwich generation”—also the care of elderly parents), and that this impacts women’s paid work in numerous ways.

However, Miller’s analysis of the gender pay gap fails to include other key insights from the sociology of work that offer not only a fuller picture of the state of women’s paid labor today but also a less rosy one.

Highly disappointing, for example, is Miller’s implicit assumption that the only context in which childrearing takes place is within heterosexual marriage. Implicitly attributing the gender pay gap to wives’ failed attempts to “make [their] partner a real partner” (one of Sheryl Sandberg’s admonishments to women who want to advance their careers) erases both the complexity of families (a minority of which are led by a two-parent heterosexual couple in their first marriage) but also those families most likely to suffer as a result of women’s lower earnings: the nearly quarter of all families led by single mothers.

Lowered career ambitions or sacrifices to support husbands’ breadwinning are not at the heart of the reason households led by single mothers are among the most at-risk of living in poverty. Rather, the devaluation of and lack of support more generally for the labor of motherhood and the concentration of poor and working class women in what sociologist Arne Kalleberg calls “bad jobs” are to blame.

Given that marriage is increasingly concentrated among those at the higher end of the income bracket, poor and working class women face a sort of double jeopardy: Their jobs are less likely to pay enough to support their families, but they are also less likely to have access to a partner with a good job—or a partner of any sort—to help them with either childcare or making ends meet.

Moreover, even in discussing the impact of marriage and motherhood on women in heterosexual relationships Miller misses a few beats.

Whether women downshift their career and educational plans in anticipation of motherhood or whether the family planning thesis is better thought of as a “myth” instead of “a mechanism” of gendered segregation into occupations remains highly contested within the sociology of work.

Regardless of whether or not women seek to enter occupations that enable them to balance caregiving and paid labor, sociologists have concluded  women are not more likely than men to work in jobs that accommodate family responsibilities. Even part-time jobs are often better suited to meet employers’ needs for flexibility than mothers’ needs to balance work and family responsibilities. This is why sociologists of work have been quick to decry “common sense” arguments that mothers “opt out” of full time paid work or paid work altogether (the narrative implicitly advanced by Miller), but instead focus their energies on identifying the workplace practices and policies that operate to “push” mothers out of their paid jobs.

Further, research by sociologist Sarah Damaske challenges the idea that middle class women like the ones Miller centers in her analysis are choosing raising children over work; instead, Damaske reveals that these women are more likely than their working class counterparts to remain steadily employed. That’s because maintaining steady employment takes significant financial resources.

It should be clear by now that motherhood does not have a uniform impact on women’s relationship to their paid work. Moreover, despite the article’s framing—most explicit in the its title, “The Gender Pay Gap is Largely Because of Motherhood”—motherhood is not the only reason women’s pay suffers relative to men’s. In fact, Miller herself introduces evidence of this when she quotes a study that finds that a large portion of the pay gap results from women not getting raises and promotions at the same rate as men—though this finding quickly gets swallowed up in her commitment to her original point.

Good ol’ fashioned gender stereotypes of women continue to keep the “glass ceiling” and “concrete ceiling” in place, and to hinder white women and women of color from achieving positions of leadership. While we may like to believe “Mad Men” style workplace antics are a thing of the past, women continue to face gendered sexual harassment in the workplace, leading to short- and potential long-term impacts on their earnings.

Both experimental and organizational research consistently shows that, controlling for performance, women face numerous biases in bonus, promotion, and termination decisions. While it may provide some solace to think gender equality in paid labor is possible if only women forgo children and marriage (a pretty sad request in and of itself), the evidence doesn’t quite stack up that all women have to do is throw away their engagement rings and stock up on birth control to be treated equally in the workplace.

My final qualm with Miller’s article is more of a philosophical one. Despite a longstanding scholarly and personal commitment to promoting women’s equality, I often wonder what utility we derive by holding a narrow view focused on the gender pay gap between women and men alone. As sociologist Christine L. Williams argues, the focus on women’s disadvantages compared to men can miss the mark, especially when this perspective is applied to workers at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. She writes:

“Yes, women in these jobs earn less than men, and yes, feminists should support their efforts to use Title VII to redress these inequalities (as in the recent class action lawsuit brought against Wal-Mart). But what is the point of being “equal” to a man working at Wal-Mart? These are bad jobs, paying below living wages, with virtually no benefits or opportunities for advancement. By focusing on gender inequality, we sometimes ignore the big picture of economic inequality in society, which has only been exacerbated in the recent neoliberal free-for-all” (2006, 457).

By focusing mainly on the fact that women at the top earn less than their partners, Miller forgets her earlier research into the fact that one of the main ways economic inequality is maintained and sustained today is through the creation of “power couples.” In this way, the greater the gender equality at the top, the worse prospects for families at the bottom.

Overall, efforts to undergird gender equality in pay cannot be divorced from larger questions about greater equality and stability for all.

*Originally posted on Work in Progress: Sociology on the economy, work and inequality.

Kristine Kilanski is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University.

No Place for a Feminist: Intersectionality and the Problem South

By Wanda Rushing

Each generation of feminism produces new questions, responses, debates and critiques. Yet, old perceptions of the South as no place for a feminist continue to dominate popular culture and negatively affect academic researchers. From my standpoint as a white southerner, a feminist, and a sociologist, I want to challenge perceptions about feminism and the South. I suggest using a framework that considers the importance of place or locality.  A place framework may potentially change understandings of social actors in particular places, not only in the American South but also in other regions. It also may affect perceptions and studies of feminism. Paying attention to intersectionality, region, and place offers an additional level of complexity and explanatory power for understanding gender, sexualities, and social movements, as well as southern feminism.

Historically, some southerners have gloved their resistance to social injustices within the boundaries of traditional expectations for  gender conformity and decorum. Others have been willing to take greater risks, asserting bold public statements, engaging in civil disobedience, or pursuing legal remedies for discrimination.  A few prominent  names include Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Norma L. McCorvey (Roe v. Wade),  Mildred Loving (Loving v. Virginia),  Lilly Ledbetter ( Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009), Barbara Jordan (congresswoman), Crystal Lee Sutton (Norma Rae), Ann Richards (governor) and Wendy Davis (legislator). Many have engaged in subtle but powerful acts of everyday resistance, easily missed by outsiders. In North Carolina, however, recent responses to misogynistic commentary on the 2017 Women’s March have been anything but subtle.  Misogynistic remarks tweeted by one North Carolina state legislator garnered national attention and provoked a local backlash.  State Senator Joyce Krawiec tweeted: “Message to crazies@Women’s March – If brains were lard, you couldn’t grease a small skillet.  You know who you are.” After tubs of lard began accumulating at her office and her home, sent by angry constituents who also started a GOFUNDME account to send more, Krawiec deleted the tweet and apologized. Another North Carolina official, the state’s newly elected Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey, shared a meme on Facebook linked to his twitter account saying:  “In one day Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years.” Inundated with a barrage of criticism, he apologized. Misogynistic and racist tweets, insults, and disparaging remarks about the march have not been limited to North Carolina or to the South, but there is something southern about these particular insults involving fat shaming and references to pig products, particularly as they relate to historical patterns of ridiculing women for lacking “proper decorum” as  means of social control. The negative response to these comments, however, along with lard shipments, suggest that a direct confrontational style, or taking-off-the-gloves approach may be replacing less direct forms of resistance observed in previous struggles in the region.

avatar-2191931_1280

Place matters not only for understanding feminists who protest discrimination and injustices in the South, but also for informing feminist research and activism about the South and in other regions.  Intersectionality offers a conceptual framework for thinking about place as part of the analysis of exclusion and marginalization, and for making invisible social actors more visible, particularly at the local or regional level.  Place offers an additional level of complexity for understanding social phenomena including sexualities and social movements. Theories of place broaden our understanding of intersectionality, and may fill lacunae in literature related to gender, sexualities, identities, and social movements. Place also contributes to new possibilities for feminist research and activism.

Wanda Rushing is Professor Emerita of Sociology at the University of Memphis.  She served as SWS President in 2016. She is author of Memphis and the Paradox of Place:  Globalization in the American South (2009) and editor of Urbanization, Volume 15 of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (2010), both published by The University of North Carolina Press. She has published numerous articles on social inequality and the American South, most recently in Urban Studies (2016) and Urban Education (2017). Her current research focuses on feminism and the South, and the reproduction of durable inequality in education. Her full article “No Place for a Feminist: Intersectionality and the Deep South: SWS Presidential Address” can be found in the June 20017 Issue of Gender & Society

From Typical Dudes to Sensitive Men: Gender Dilemmas in a Therapeutic Boarding School

By Jessica Pfaffendorf

Nearly twenty years ago, a special report appeared in The New York Times focusing on a surge in specialized residential schools and therapeutic programs that exist within a new, multi-billion dollar industry for America’s troubled youth. These programs – commonly called therapeutic boarding schools or “emotional growth” schools – target a variety of issues among teens today: substance abuse, depression, anxiety, anorexia, and other behavioral and psychological problems. Through intensive counseling, rigorous structure, and even wilderness or animal-assisted therapy, the programs promise support for out-of-control teens. Though the schools vary in terms of the issues they treat, what they typically have in common is cost. The New York Times special report called these programs a “desperate measure” for parents because they are prohibitively expensive: thousands of dollars per month and hundreds of thousands for the full (usually year-long) duration. At these costs, treatment in one of these programs is only available to a few very wealthy families. As Bloomsberg Businessweek states, it is “rehab for the young and rich.” Despite provocative media coverage and their rapid rise over the past few decades (from only a handful in the 1990s to almost 300 today), there has been virtually no sociological research on therapeutic boarding schools or young men and women within them.

Drawing on in-depth interviews and ethnographic fieldwork inside a Western, all-male therapeutic boarding school for substance abuse, this article explores how privileged young men navigate the unique therapeutic environment, particularly with respect to conflicting notions of masculinity. Young men in the program participate in a variety of intensive therapies, but the 12-step program and equine therapy involving horseback riding and horse care are the most central. Other scholars have noted that these therapies that rely on acceptance of powerlessness, open expression of emotion, humility, and relationship building are more consistent with the emotional and relational nature of well-being among women. Indeed, one equine therapist writes that “the experience allows one to move from the masculine postmodern world of logic, control, and outcome production to the feminine stance of intuition, experience, and process” (Porter-Wenzlaff 2007, 531). Put this way, these therapies actually operate to strip away masculine characteristics replacing them with qualities more commonly associated with femininities and subordinate masculinities.

JessicaFor the young, mostly white, upper-class men I observed, this presents a significant “gender dilemma.” In other words, the behavioral and expressive qualities emphasized in the therapeutic environment clash with dominant notions of masculinity – particularly privileged masculinities associated with control, competition, and toughness that students embodied prior to enrollment in the program. My study outlines the ways that privileged young men navigate this dilemma by constructing “hybrid masculinities.” The term “hybrid masculinity” refers to a masculine gender form that incorporates identity elements associated with femininities or subordinate masculinities. However, these “unmasculine” elements tend to be incorporated strategically in ways that reproduce and obscure privilege and gender inequality. Outwardly, young men in later stages of the program seemed to have fully embraced the humble, sensitive, and service-oriented dispositions promoted in the program (despite extreme resistance in earlier stages). In my interviews and informal conversations with students, they spoke at length about their feelings, expressed their emotions openly, and freely admitted past wrongdoings and feelings of guilt.

However, they also mobilized these new emotional dispositions to subtly (re)assert dominance vis-à-vis various “others.” Most frequently, they compared themselves to “other guys” who they deemed, by contrast, immature, entitled, and selfish. By communicating emotion and responding maturely in difficult situations, students made claims of being “better” by distancing themselves from some of the negative cultural perceptions associated with young men (Kimmel, 2008). In several cases, young men in the program gave examples of how their “sensitive” masculine styles marked them as unique and more desirable, particularly in fields like dating. They also mobilized their transformations to assert leadership positions in families and in more typical therapeutic contexts (off-site support groups, for instance).

This article uses a previously unexamined case to explore how privileged young men navigate ruptures in hegemonic masculinity by constructing hybrid masculinities. In doing so, it extends the burgeoning line of research showing that masculine styles that appear out of sync with hegemonic masculinity may still reproduce systems of power and inequality in new, “softer” ways (Bridges and Pascoe 2014). Although young men in therapeutic boarding schools adopt “feminized” dispositions, these dispositions are mobilized in ways that help them to maintain privileges associated with being young, white, upper-class, and male.

Jessica Pfaffendorf is a PhD candidate in the School of Sociology at the University of Arizona. Her research interests include culture, social psychology, inequality and stratification, and gender. Her most recent article “Sensitive Cowboys: Privileged Young Men and the Mobilization of Hybrid Masculinities” can be found in the April 31 (2) 2017 issue of Gender & Society.

Bridgework: globalization, gender, and service labor at a luxury hotel

By Eileen M. Otis

Sociological studies of work have long ventured overseas to understand the conditions of employment and global networks that produce goods consumed in the global north. Scarce are studies that take a look at globalization and work at the other end of the supply chain: consumer services. This is important because in recent years retailers and hoteliers have traveled from the global north to the global south nearly as fast as manufactured goods have journeyed the opposite direction. This is also critical because the sociology of service work has rarely ventured beyond contexts in which customers and workers largely share in a single culture (with all its etiquettes, manners, symbols and rules), even as class, race and gender differences may be present. As a result, sociologists tend to focus on how workers use familiar habits of behavior in workplaces that require interaction with customers. For example the word “emotion work” is used to describe the psychological effort expended when workers are asked to treat strangers with the warmth they might reserve for family members or friends. Another term “aesthetic labor” describes the ways in which workers’ manner of dress, style, grooming and speech must conform to the meet the expectations of posh or hip clientele. Employers hire workers of the appropriate class backgrounds to perform such labor. Overlooked by these two terms is the effort workers make to learn new ways of expressing emotions, novel styles of presenting themselves and unfamiliar modes of interacting when their customers originate from different nations and cultures.

To remedy these limitations, my research follows the path of one of the largest hoteliers in the world, a U.S. chain, to Beijing China. I conducted an ethnography of an outlet of this hotel chain, interviewing workers and managers, part of a project that lasted over a year. In this hotel, managers hire and train young women who are native to Beijing to enact what I term “bridgework”: the acquisition of body and feeling rules dominant among customers whose national and cultural origins diverge from workers. Customers at the hotel were mostly white, male, upper class and traveled from the U.S. and other points in the global north to engage in various business ventures while lodging at the Beijing Transluxury (a pseudonym). The women hotel workers who serve them must speak English, adopt English names, and comport themselves in a manner reflective of an American middle class femininity. Managers spent countless hours training these young women workers to adopt the emotional expressions, modes of interaction and manner of comportment expected by their customers. Managers showed them how and when to smile –and when not to smile. They were taught how to greet customers using the appropriate titles and making eye contact. They were even taught how to walk.  They were not allowed to lift tables or heavy trays; they wore uniforms that limited their range of motion, preventing even occasional heavy labor. Managers sought to create a staff of young women workers who would appeal to the heterosexual and class sensibilities of their clientele. But there was a constant tug-of-war between workers’ long held sense of appropriate behavior and these new practices. A few workers resisted some of the practices; a more common response was reinterpreting the new standards of behavior to conform to workers’ long held sense of etiquette and ethics. Continue reading “Bridgework: globalization, gender, and service labor at a luxury hotel”