There’s a post that sometimes pops up on social media that goes like this: “Garbage workers: almost 100% male, no call for equality. Sewer workers: almost 100% male, no call for equality. Coal miners, over 90% male, no call for equality. Comfortable blue collar jobs? Call for equality!”
Ironically, that text gets to the crux of the problem right there merely by existing and presenting such an inaccurate argument. There are some professions so entrenched in masculinity that people cannot believe women would want to do them, hence the belief that there has been no call for equality. It’s unlikely that women would work in a towing company, or a logging company: even in advertising for these companies you can only see smiling male faces – but there are many social and economic factors that contribute to this. And women, despite the apparent belief that they would all be happy in ‘comfortable’ jobs, have been working for a long time to reduce these factors.
For example: Inflexible working hours coupled with childcare and other responsibilities often shouldered by women (care for elderly parents, for example) can force female workers down into part-time work, denying them options for career growth. This is one of the reasons for the pay gap between men and women – women do not always get the opportunity to advance at the same rate as their male counterparts. As another example: in jobs like firefighting, forestry, mining or anything else that requires a lot of physical exertion, it is often assumed that women will not meet the physical requirements, even though this is very often not the case. This too can work to discourage women from a job they would be otherwise fully qualified for.
Many people would call this sexism – low-level sexism but nonetheless something that would affect a woman’s standing in the workplace. However, more overt sexism can also be a big problem that discourages women from more male-dominated work. Assumptions that a woman is there only due to anti-discrimination policies, or was hired due to her looks, or ‘slept her way to the top’ – these statements can come from other women as well as men and can cause undue stress and anxiety for a woman trying to compete with men for a top job.
And finally, societal ideas about what is appropriate for only girls or only boys do not help with the issue. They can follow a person around from the toy aisle (how many times have boys been told not to play with Barbies, or girls with Transformers?) right into the workplace. Various campaigns have sprung up over the years advising companies to drop gendered marketing altogether, with the hope of enticing more girls into science and engineering – or whatever they themselves want to pursue.
A lot of this is to say that you could, of course, reverse that social media post to make the exact same point about men wishing to do traditionally ‘feminine’ jobs. “Nursing: traditionally female job, plenty of calls for equality. Preschool teaching: traditionally female job, plenty of calls for equality. Hairdressing: traditionally female job, plenty of calls for equality. Stressful, underpaid care work? No call for equality!” Which would be equally untrue. Gender segregation hurts us all.