Guest post: As women entered the field

Originally a comment by sambarge on Yes yes.

The de-valuation of work by feminization is fully documented in labour history. The reason we talk about pay equity (versus equal pay for the same job) is the valuation or classification of labour or job duties that are viewed a “feminine” or “masculine”. Physical strength, for example, is rated higher than accuracy in data entry and, not surprisingly, physical strength is a stereotypically male trait (unless we’re talking about labour that requires physical strength that is defined as female such as housekeeping or laundry workers, then there are no points or recognition for the physical strength required to do the job).

The easiest examples of the devaluation of work when it is feminized is bank tellers and other clerical work. When clerical work was done almost exclusively by men, the job was considered a skilled and valued profession. As women entered the field (and, importantly, men left it) clerical work was devalued – even as it became more technologically difficult to perform. Likewise, nursing has started to attract more men as it professionalized and started to demand decent remuneration. However, shaking the taboo of a man “doing women’s work” has proven harder than attracting women to work that was historically classified as male. The stigma attached to women’s work is pernicious.

The history of labour is full of examples like those. Social attitudes towards the value of certain work is definitely tied to our perceptions of the maleness or femaleness of certain duties.


  1. UnknownEric the Apostate says

    As a librarian, I can vouch for this. I get a lot of “you’re a librarian? but you’re a guy!”, a general lack of respect (people are shocked when you tell them you need a Master’s to get certified), and the pay is just okay.

    Not that I don’t love my line of work. I got into libraries because it seemed like a fairly radical, borderline socialist career choice. 😉

  2. says

    Back in the day, academic fields that had to do with the intersection of theory or mind and humanity were considered the most prestigious disciplines: philosophy, history, psychology, sociology/anthropology, literature, language, art, religion, law. Anything considered mundane or more practical than esoteric* was considered lower on the ladder: physical sciences, medicine, engineering, technology—in fact they were the last fields to be accepted into the canon.

    But lo, when women started to enter those fields in numbers, suddenly they’re considered less worthy, as intellectually soft, while those fields still dominated by men are the “hard” sciences (and not just because you can get hard answers to your questions).

    *There was a lot of sexism tied up in this division too because of it’s direct relationship to mind/body dualism and the denigration of the body (seen as feminine) and elevation of the mind (seen as masculine). And there was class involved too of course: an upper class person can afford to be all concerned about the meaning of things while lower class people are more concerned with practical realities of the here and now.

  3. themann1086 says

    I took a class on gender in America a number of years ago, and one of the interesting stats was the correlation between the gender breakdown and the pay of doctors. The more even the gender split in a country, the closer the average salary was to the national mean. I wish I could recall the source or back this up, so take with a grain of salt.

  4. freemage says

    One study I’d like to see is a comparison of investment-to-return for various fields (that is, how much it costs to get training/education to enter the field, versus how much it’s paid for), tracked year-by-year, and then have that compared to a graph showing a gender- breakdown of total population and new entries for that time-period.

  5. smrnda says

    Something of note – many people in the field of “Library and Information Science” are doing things that are no different from what goes on in “Computer Science”. Yet, money, gender, you get the picture.

  6. quixote says

    themann @3, in the Soviet Union more than half the doctors were women and the pay was very average. Respect wasn’t much in evidence either. If you search for US : USSR comparisons, that may be the source of the stats you’re thinking of.

  7. Hj Hornbeck says

    You know what’s missing here? A pretty chart, gathered from real life data. Lemmie reach into my census collection….

    …. ah, yes, Canada in 2006 is convenient for me. Let’s split this up by industry, according to NAICS 2002, and… yep, it’s true. Not a very strong signal, a mere r = -0.29 with unweighted data, but still.

  8. Jenora Feuer says

    Yeah, back in the pre-Google days when things like Lycos and AltaVista were the big WWW search engines, I remember a discussion where it was pointed out to me that there already were courses in how to properly construct a search query, and in fact an entire field of information management that focused on things like creating search queries and organizing information to make such queries easier. That field, of course, being Library Sciences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *