Tag Archives: gender

Football, military, occupational segregation: Rape culture

Originally posted on TheAtlantic.com as “The Problem With Mostly Male (and Mostly Female) Workplaces.”

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JonoMueller/flickr
More than a quarter of Americans work in jobs that are almost entirely single-sex. This has implications for how men view women.

 NPR has a new brutal but important story about rape in the military. “Dozens” of women told NPR “about a culture where men act entitled to sex with female troops.” One woman, repeatedly assaulted by her superior officer, recalled:

“I finally asked his secretary that when he called me and closed the door, [to] please knock on the door. And she said, ‘Sabina, it happens to everybody.’”

This story comes after this week’s conviction of two football players from Steubenville, Ohio High School for raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl.

One connection between these two stores is obvious: High school football and the U.S. military are two venerable male-dominated sub-cultures that prize conformity, places where boys will be boys, where male supervisors break in young male recruits, helping them become cogs in the machine.

But what struck me further about both NPR’s story and the Steubenville rape case is the casual assumption of entitlement to women’s dehumanized bodies. There seemed to be no soul-searching or empathy in either setting, just the taken-for-granted notion that, when presented with the opportunity to use women’s bodies sexually, well, what else would one do?

That was the shocker of Steubenville, but it shouldn’t have been. If we really grasp this, we put the lie to the facile declarations of women’s parity with men. For me, this dehumanization of women underscores the importance of such seemingly banal statistical measures as occupational gender segregation, the separation of men and women into different jobs.

Of course, the gang rapes of Steubenville or the military (also described in the NPR story) don’t happen to everybody. But to understand the relationship between culture and behavior, you have to consider the possibility that extreme behavior is the tail end of a long distribution. It’s not always, but in this case I think it’s justified. Most men don’t act like the convicted Steubenville football players or the military rapists decribed in the NPR piece. But what feminists have been calling “rape culture” produces a drifting cloud of sexual objectification and entitlement, the leading edge of which includes these heinous cases. What is the difference between those Steubenville athletes and the military rapists of tomorrow? Age and experience.

As sociologist Sarah Sobieraj writes, the “broader rape culture … promotes male aggression and trivializes women and the violence against them.” To balance the unusual glimpse into the rapists’ perspective we got from Steubenville (from the tweets and text messages revealed in the trial), the NPR interviews with military rape survivors show this culture from the women’s perspective. We can only imagine what the military’s rapists say to each other in their boastful moments, when no one’s looking, or when whoever is looking can be counted on to stay silent. (Like the friends of the Steubenville victim who turned on her, and the other women who allegedly threatened her after the verdict, the culture forces people to choose sides.)

Occupational segregation by gender reinforces the different worlds of men and women. Twenty-six percent of workers are in occupations that are 90 percent single-sex, from truck drivers to registered nurses. Among the merely very-segregated, 69 percent of workers are in occupations that are at least two-thirds single-sex, from janitors to elementary school teachers. When you look closer—at individual workplaces instead of occupations, the segregation is great still. Most Americans today work in almost entirely single-sex peer groups. And segregation has barely budged in the last two decades.

This separation seems to help make possible many men’s simple assumption that women don’t really exist as people. That silent assumption is very different—and harder to change—than looking a real person in the eye and saying, “I don’t like you because you’re a woman, so I’m going to hire someone else.” The power of segregation is people usually don’t have to do that. This partly explains why sexual harassment is so common in male-dominated workplaces: The women there are perceived as outsiders who threaten the normal routine. And just like peer culture can prevail over parents’ grownup interventions when it comes to socializing adolescents, workplace culture spills over into family life, as men in male-dominated jobs (such as police officers) or female-dominated jobs (where their masculinity is threatened) perpetrate violence at home.

In their new book Documenting Desegregation, sociologists Kevin Stainback and Donald Tomaskovic-Devey make the observation that, when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, there was nothing to study about job segregation—it was universal. Now it varies from industry to industry and office to office, so we can learn from observing how it differs from place to place. What we see is that jobs are devalued when women hold them, that male managers do more segregated hiring than female managers, that firms subjected to more legal oversight segregate less—and that through it all, white men’s overrepresentation in management jobs (that is, compared to their share of the workforce) is virtually unchanged since 1966. One measure they use is revealing: For the typical white man in a private-sector workplace today, the co-workers at his level in the organization are about 70 percent white men as well, and that level of “social isolation” at work hasn’t changed in three decades.

The men in these stories—the football players with mothers and sisters, the military officers with wives and daughters—have normal daily interactions with women, too. But interactions are very different when they take place in different settings and with different audiences.

Here’s an example of very gender-specific behavior in the workplace. The other day, acting on a tip from another lunching sociologist, I hung around watching the white male job recruiters for a large window replacement company at our student union. In 20 minutes, as dozens of people walked by, the recruiters approached 18 men and 0 women, asking them, “You guys looking for a job?” (or, in the case of a black man, “Hey man, you looking for a job?”).

Here is their “Now Hiring” sign, showing openings in the categories of door-to-door sales guy (“Do you like the Outdoors?”), event-promoter-guy (“Interact with Homeowners”), and sales-support-girl (“No Manual Labor!”):

cohen_poster.jpgHad these recruiters secretly discussed approaching men only, or did it just seem self-evident to them that men were their potential co-workers? How did they see the women who walked past them? Something in their environment or experience was triggering a completely gender-differentiated kind of interaction.

Is tying this to Steubenville and military rape a stretch? Yes. And stretching is how we try to understand complex things like “culture.”

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Why taller-wife couples are so rare

Originally published on TheAtlantic.com.

It’s not just because women are, on average, shorter than men.

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Keith Urban and his wife Nicole Kidman arrive at the 2009 American Music Awards. (Chris Pizzello/AP Images)

Men are bigger and stronger than women. That generalization, although true, doesn’t adequately describe how sex affects our modern lives. In the first place, men’s and women’s size and strength are distributions. Strong women are stronger than weak men, so sex doesn’t tell you all you need to know. Otherwise, as retired colonel Martha McSally put it with regard to the ban on women in combat positions, “Pee Wee Herman is OK to be in combat but Serena and Venus Williams are not going to meet the standard.”

Second, how we handle that average difference is a matter of social construction: We can ignore it, minimize it, or exaggerate it. In the realm of love and marriage, we so far have chosen exaggeration.

Consider height. The height difference between men and women in the U.S. is about 6 inches on average. But Michael J. Fox, at five feet, five inches, is shorter than almost half of all U.S. women today. On the other hand, at five-foot-ten, Michelle Obama is taller than half of American men. So how do people match up romantically, and why does it matter?

Because everyone knows men are taller on average, straight couples in which the man is shorter raise a problem of gender performance. That is, the man might not be seen as a real man, the woman as a real woman, if they don’t (together) display the normal pattern. To prevent this embarrassment, some couples in which the wife is taller might choose to be photographed with the man standing on a step behind the woman, or they might have their wedding celebrated with a commemorative stamp showing her practically on her knees—as the British royals did with Charles and Diana, who were both the same height: five foot ten.

height1.jpg height2.jpgBut the safer bet is just to match up according to the height norm. A new study from Britain—which I learned of from the blogger Neuroskeptic—measured the height of the parents of about 19,000 babies born in 2000. They found that the woman was taller in 4.1 percent of cases. Then they compared the couples in the data to the pattern found if you scrambled up those same men and women and matched them together at random. In that random set, the woman was taller in 6.5 percent of cases. That means couples are more often man-taller, woman-shorter than would be expected by chance. Is that a big difference? I can explain.

For illustration, and to compare the pattern with the U.S., I downloaded the 2009 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a U.S. survey that includes height reported for 4,600 married couples.* These are the height distributions for those spouses, showing a median difference of 6 inches.

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Clearly, if these people married (and didn’t divorce) at random we would expect the husband to be taller most of the time. And that is what we find. Here is the distribution of height differences from those same couples:

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The most common arrangement is the husband five to six inches taller, and a small minority of couples—3.8 percent—are on the left side of the red line, indicating a taller wife.

But does that mean people are seeking out taller-husband-shorter-wife pairings? To answer that, we compare the actual distribution with a randomized outcome. I made 10 copies of all the men and women in the data, scrambled them up, and paired them at random. This is the result:

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Most couples are still husband taller, but now 7.8 percent have a taller wife—more than twice as many.

Here are the two distributions superimposed, which allows us to see which arrangements are more or less common in the actual pairings than we would expect by chance:

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Now we can see that from same-height up to “man 7 to 8 inches taller”, there are more couples than we would expect by chance. And below same-height—where the wife is taller—we see fewer in the population than we would expect by chance. (There also are relatively few couples at the man-much-taller end of the spectrum—at 9 inches or greater—where the difference apparently becomes awkward, a pattern also seen in the British study.)

Humans could couple up differently, if they wanted to. If it were desirable to have a taller-woman-shorter-man relationship, it could be much more common. In these data, we could find shorter husbands for 28 percent of the wives. Instead, people exaggerate the difference by seeking out taller-man-shorter-woman pairings for marriage (or maybe the odd taller-woman couples are more likely to divorce, which would produce the same result).

What difference does it make? When people—and here I’m thinking especially of children—see men and women together, they form impressions about their relative sizes and abilities. Because people’s current matching process cuts in half the number of woman-taller pairings, our thinking is skewed that much more toward assuming men are bigger.

* I must note that Dalton Conley and Abigail Weitzman have a forthcoming paper for the 2013 Population Association of America conference on height differences, which also uses the PSID data, as well as the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. I haven’t seen the paper, but the abstract is here.

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All hands dimorphic: Gnomeo and Juliet edition

I previously complained about Tangled‘s 75%-male cast and extreme sex dimorphism in the romantic leads, as seen in this hand shot:

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Keeping to my policy of two-year delays in movie reviews, let me add the same complaint about Gnomeo and Juliet, the charming adaptation from Disney’s Touchstone imprint. Here, a writing team of 8 men and 2 women (including Shakespeare) gives us a named cast of 14 men and 7 women, in a love story featuring these two adorable garden gnomes:

gnomeojulietHe’s only a little taller, and (judging by the gray beard) a little older. And in the movie she demonstrates bravery and feats of strength, as is now the norm. But look at those hands! Take a closer look:

gnomeojuliethandsWhat is it about hands that makes it so essential for men and women to have such differences? In the “man hands” episode of Seinfeld we learned how distressing it can be for a man to find out the woman to whom he was attracted has large hands.

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That scene required a hand double. In real life, men’s and women’s hands differ on average but with a lot of overlap in the distributions — lots of men have hands smaller than lots of women. But in animation the gloves are off — and Disney is free to pair up couples who are many standard deviations apart in hand size. If real people commonly had this range of hand sizes, would such an extreme difference be considered desirable?

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Yes, mothers and fathers still exist

On FamilyScholars.org, which (having retreated on opposing homogamous marriage) is busy promoting its “new conversation on marriage,” Elizabeth Marquardt writes: “Where do babies come from? The state of New York seems unsure.”

Her link to a “report” is to one of those “you wouldn’t believe what my friend saw” posts on the Christian conservative site First Things:

A friend’s wife recently gave birth. He reports that the New York birth certificate asks for the sex of the mother, and the sex of the father.

It goes on to mock people who think seriously about sex and gender. And so the thing starts spreading around the religious-conservative sky-is-falling blogosphere.

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I’m not too embarrassed to say I spent 15 minutes trying to look this up. Live and learn.

It’s hard to find information about birth certificates, because everything online keeps steering you to ways to order birth certificates, not create them. But, in New York state it appears there is a state system, and a state system excluding New York City. On the New York City site, there is an Electronic Birth Registration System, described here. It asks for a lot of information about the mother and father, but not their sex or gender.

I didn’t find the equivalent for the rest of the state, but the state’s Department of Health reports that they follow National Center of Health Statistics (NCHS) guidelines, which seem to refer to this revised birth certificate recording form, which was revised in 2003. In addition to health information, it records the mother’s and father’s marital status (mother only), country of birth, education, Hispanic origin, and race. The mother is “the woman who gave birth to, or delivered the infant.”

The only mention of sex (or gender) pertains to the child: “Print or type whether the infant is male, female or if the sex of the infant is not yet determined.” And “not yet determined” is a temporary state, as the recording instructions clarify:

An N code for “not yet determined” should not be allowed for any record in the file at the time the file is closed. NCHS will query states to obtain the sex of the infant for all records still retaining the N code at the time the file is closed.

 

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Work-family links for male bosses

From Reeve Vanneman comes a tip about an interesting piece of research: researchers asked if men in positions of authority were more likely to make sexist judgments if they were themselves in “traditional” marriages involving stay-at-home wives.

In this article, we examine a heretofore neglected pocket of resistance to the gender revolution in the workplace: married male employees who have stay-at-home wives. We develop and empirically test the theoretical argument suggesting that such organizational members, compared to male employees in modern marriages, are more likely to exhibit attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that are harmful to women in the workplace.

First, in an analysis of the General Social Survey, they found that men with stay-at-home wives had more negative opinions toward working women and women’s employment. Second, using the GSS linked to the National Organizations Survey, they found that men were less likely to see their female dominated workplaces as “running smoothly” if they had stay-at-home wives.

Then they conducted an experiment using several hundred married, male college students with managerial jobs. The men were asked to rate the “organizational attractiveness” of a fictional organization where they might work; and some of the men were additionally told that women were well represented on the organization’s board of directors. As expected, men in “traditional” marriages were less likely to find the egalitarian organization attractive as a potential workplace.

Finally, researchers recruited another few hundred male managers from an accounting association. These men were asked to make a recommendation about employing a person whose resume they reviewed; half received a resume with a man’s name and half reviewed an identical resume from a woman. The results also matched their expectations, with managers in “traditional” marriages being less likely to recommend the female applicant.

Is it all really Carmela’s fault?

The write-up of the study in Forbes took the nonsensical, but not surprising, approach of finding a way to blame women:

But new research … adds another layer to the debate over gender discrimination at work, and another (possibly just as important) person to blame: your boss’s stay-at-home wife.

Really?

Anyway, the authors speculate that they have uncovered “a pocket of resistance to the gender revolution,” and that seems reasonable. It is no surprise that the gendered nature of relationships at home and at work would be related in this way.

I don’t see much evidence here that the relationship is causal, however, such that a stay-at-home wife causes a manager to make more sexist decisions. The researchers use controls for common demographic characteristics, but not much that can account for the personalities and experiences that would produce sexist men. That is, “men may be self-selecting simultaneously into traditional marriage structures and non-egalitarian attitudes and behaviors towards women in the workplace.”

But the paper does suggest that those of us who study the gendered decisions of people in positions of authority would do well to keep looking for ways to get at additional qualities beyond their gender.

I found a complete draft of the paper here.

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12 minutes in segregationland

When my daughter was 3 I accidentally told her the “gas guy” was coming to work on the house. Then I corrected myself, “Actually, I don’t know if it will be a man or a woman.”

She said, “I think it’s a man.”

Children seem to have much better learning capacity than adults (or at least better than I do). A parent telling them something about gender segregation doesn’t have much weight compared with hour after hour, day after day of simple observation.

So the other day I had 12 minutes to kill at the train station in DC. I took pictures of everyone I saw working, including the unpaid work of childcare but not including people working as servers behind counters. This is not research. I was just wondering what a child might notice about gender and work.

Here’s who I saw, with the national gender composition of their presumed occupations, from the American Community Survey:

Railroad conductors and yardmasters: 93% male

Baggage porters, bellhops, and concierges: 84% male

Grandmother (?) and grandchild: 91% of children who live with a grandparent live with a grandmother. 9% live with a grandfather and no grandmother present. http://www.census.gov/hhes/families/data/cps2011.html

Janitors: 75% male

Concrete finishers: 99% male (or could be construction laborers, 98% male)

Construction supervisors: 97% male

Shoe shiners: gender composition not listed.

Driver/sales workers and truck drivers: 96% male

Family members caring for children: 97% of married stay-at-home parents are women (those staying out of the labor force all year while spouse works all year)

Finally, a non-gender-typical worker, a man caring for young child in a stroller.

Not shown:

Male security guards: 78% male

Male police officers: 86% male

Again, this is not research — I was just looking around.

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Tangled up in Disney’s dimorphism

Sitting through Disney’s Tangled again, I saw new layers of gender in there. They’ve moved beyond the old-fashioned problem of passive princesses and active princes, so Rapunzel has plenty of action sequences. And it’s not all about falling in love (at least at first). Fine.

But how about sexual dimorphism? In bathroom icons the tendency to differentiate male and female bodies is obvious. In anthropomorphized animal stories its a convenient fiction. But in social science it’s a hazardous concept that reduces social processes to an imagined biological essence.

In Tangled, the hero and heroine are apparently the more human characters, whose love story unfolds amidst a cast of exaggerated cartoons, including many giant ghoulish men (the billed cast includes the voices of 12 men and three women).

Making the main characters more normally-human looking (normal in the statistical sense) is a nice way of encouraging children to imagine themselves surrounded by a magical wonderland, which has a long tradition in children’s literature: from Alice in Wonderland to Where the Wild Things Are.

That’s what I was thinking. But then they went in for the lovey-dovey closeup toward the end, and I had to pause the video:

Their total relative size is pretty normal, with him a few inches taller. But look at their eyes: Hers are at least twice as big. And look at their hands and arms: his are more than twice as wide. Look closer at their hands:

Now she is a tiny child and he is a gentle giant. In fact, his wrist appears to be almost as wide as her waist (although it is a little closer to the viewer).

In short, what looks like normal humanity – anchoring fantasy in a cocoon of reality – contains its own fantastical exaggeration.

The patriarchal norm of bigger, stronger men paired up with smaller, weaker women, is a staple of royalty myth-making – which is its own modern fantasy-within-reality creation. (Diana was actually taller than Charles, at least when she wore heels .)

In this, Tangled is subtler than the old Disney, but it seems no less powerful.

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Gender of kids, gender of parents (via color preference)

The Archives of Sexual Behavior has published my paper, “Children’s Gender and Parents’ Color Preferences,” as an online-first article. The abstract is up here, but the paper is paywalled — let me know if you’d like one of my personal copies and I’ll be glad to send it to you.

I did the research because I was interested in the effect that today’s strongly-gendered parenting might have on the adults who live in the color-coded worlds of their children. Also, I was looking for a simple way to test whether, or to what extent, color preferences were variable in adulthood (rather than genetic), and the gender of children seemed like a good, mostly-random experiment to test that.

Anyway, here is the basic breakdown of how my 749 parent respondents answered the online question, “Which color do you most prefer?” The colors here are the same ones they saw online (individual monitors vary, of course), ordered according to relative gender preference:

Pink, purple and red tend more female; green, blue and orange tend more male. In the statistical tests, with an age control, only blue, red, purple and pink had big enough gender differences to reach 95% confidence.

Then I compared people who had boys only and girls only to those who had a mix of boys and girls. The result was most clear for women: those with boys only had more “female” preferences — preferred pink more and blue less. For men, having either boys-only or girls-only increased their odds of preferring blue.

Here’s the pattern for women (with no controls):

The article has little in the way of discussion and speculation — the text is only six journal pages. My post-hoc interpretation is that gender-heavy environments (single-gender gaggles of children) push parents in gender-stereotypical directions. Maybe. I would be happy to hear your thoughts.

Start to finish: 750 days

This is the only time I’ve ever collected my own data for a project and seen it all the way to publication. For those interested in the process, this is how it went:

  • March 17, 2010: Working on the chapter about gender for my family sociology textbook, I blogged about the research I was reading regarding color preferences.
  • April 18, 2010: More blogging, this time about the far-fetched evolutionary psychology I was reading on the reasons for gendered color preferences.
  • April 21, 2010: Posted the survey online at Surveymonkey.com, launched with a blog post and other social media.
  • April 26, 2010: Submitted an application to my local Institutional Review Board for permission to do the survey.
  • May 3, 2010: After one minor revision, the IRB approved it, and that gave me the green light for a UNC email blast.
  • May 4, 2010: “What’s Your Favorite Color?” email blast to UNC students, staff and faculty. More than 1,000 responses on the first day.
  • September 16, 2010: Stopped collecting responses. (The survey is still up there, though, drifting unmanned around the Internet, gathering data like so many comments on a dead blog.)
  • February 4, 2011: Submitted manuscript to Archives of Sexual Behavior.
  • June 21, 2011: Nudged the editor to see what was up with the review.
  • July 16, 2011: Received a revise-and-resubmit decision.
  • September 28, 2011: Resubmitted.
  • February 11, 2012: Received provisional acceptance.
  • March 7, 2012: Resubmitted.
  • March 19, 2012: Received proofs from the journal to review.
  • April 5, 2012: Article published online.

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Why are mothers becoming moms?

Listening to the debate about motherhood in the last few days reminded me of something that’s been nagging me for a while: what does it mean that mothers are becoming moms?

On the Republican side, in his NRA speech Friday, Mitt Romney said, “I happen to believe that all moms are working moms.” (The right-wing radio personality Laura Schlesinger always said, by way of introduction, “I am my kids’ mom,” as the most salient piece of her identity.) On the other side, both Hilary Rosen and President Obama used mom as the toughest-job-in-the-world’s title.

Why is it mom? Back in the 90s, poor single women weren’t “welfare moms.”

Here’s the trend in “working mother” versus “working mom” from Google Ngrams – the occurrence of these terms in the Google Books database:

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The same pattern appears with just mother versus mom.

I don’t know why this is happening or what it means. Do you?

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What women own: U.S. business edition

The other day President Obama celebrated women owning businesses, as well as the problems they face:

More women are also choosing to strike out on their own.  Today, nearly 30 percent of small business owners are women.  Their businesses generate $1.2 trillion last year. But they’re less likely to get the loans that they need to start up, or expand or to hire — which means they often have to depend on credit cards and the mounting debt that comes with them.

Those figures come from data I already was looking at on the question of what women own globally. Most recently, I took a shot at home ownership, with the surprising (to me) finding that women own (or are buying) more homes than men in America. No such luck with business ownership.

Women do own 29% of businesses, as of the Census Bureau’s 2007 Survey of Business Owners. But their share of business receipts — the total size of businesses, as measured by income — is much less: just 4%.

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

The survey defines ownership based on 51% of stock or equity.  So of course there are lots of women with partial ownership of all those other businesses. But the vast majority of businesses in the survey are tiny, with few or no employees. As a measure of wealth, then, owning a business is a bad indicator. Plenty of these people would make more money using their skills working for someone else, if they could (and investing their money in stocks).

Unsurprisingly, there is a distinct pattern of ownership by industry — that is, what the businesses produce. The only industry in which women own a majority of businesses is health care and social assistance, although they are also close in education (think daycare services):

Source: My calculations from the Survey of Business Owners.

Obama went on:

Just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.  Fewer than 20 percent of the seats in Congress are occupied by women.  Is it possible that Congress would get more done if there were more women in Congress?  (Laughter and applause.)  … I think it’s fair to say.  That is almost guaranteed.  (Laughter.)

For some reason this is often a laugh line. As in, “Am I right? Just ask my wife!”

Anyway, I would hate to judge Congressional effectiveness by the quantity of work done, and the evidence that women in Congress do get more done is not clear. But in the world of business our own research (here and here), as well as newer work, does suggest that U.S. women in workplace management positions increase the gender equality around them.

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