He Works Hard For The Money

21 May

It would appear that men are doing “women’s work.”  More men are cropping up in ‘pink collar’ jobs.  At first glance one could presume that traditionally ‘pink’ jobs (i.e., health care, home care, etc.) are a growing field and that is where the jobs are.  But a little more digging indicates that there is something larger afoot.

There was a time that the crassness of the business world or the filth of the industrial world was just too horrible for a women to endure.  If she were to work, it should be in jobs that weren’t too taxing to her delicate sensibilities (you know, like caring for people in the throws of debilitating disease.)  She should not have to dirty her hands in factories or investment banking, but instead stay unsullied wiping both ends of children.  Women had little choice but to flock to the pink ghetto, as that was often the only place hiring.  Monolithic institutions had distinct gender rules within.  In a high school, the principal would be a man, the nurse a woman, the lunch aide was female, the janitor male.  A few teachers would be male, after all someone needed to teach science and coach sport.  Hospitals were filled with men and women; in very specific roles: messy and personal was for women, highly technical or requiring heavy lifting went to men.

The bifurcation of our work world has had everything to do with sectors of work not being worthy of the special gifts and talents of men.  Is it that surprising that in the 21st century, men and women do not see their skills as tied to their gender?

For those bypassing higher education, the workplace landscape has changed.  Manufacturing jobs have slipped away and the service industry has grown.  This could explains the rise in male nursing and dental assistants.  But educated men are flocking to teaching.  They say they are more attracted to a satisfying profession (and clearly they define “satisfying” differently than their fathers and grandfathers did.)

How interesting these developments are.  Everything is cyclical, surely it is.  Every generation is convinced they are discovering the world anew or in touch with truths that eluded their parents.  No doubt there will be another swing in society soon.  However the reason that this particular development warrants notice is what it could mean for the work world.  For better or (and who are we kidding) WORSE, when men get involved voices are heard.  When a man does a job, it’s seen as being serious.  Consider funeral homes for a moment.  Is caring for and grooming of the dead somehow less delicate than caring for the small or infirmed?  Is arranging flowers and music, providing tissues and cooing over the bereaved a distinctly masculine trait?  Not in my experience.  Yet, the (traditionally male) profession is seen as not just respectable but admirable.

Male special skills and talents may not differ from those of women, but their power certainly does.  It’s absurd to pretend otherwise.  Having men in professions previously relegated to the pink ghetto will have a powerful ripple effect.

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Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Cultural Critique


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