White Collar Feminism

Standard

My brother’s girlfriend has much higher earning potential than him and he’s comfortable with that. That attitude is not uncommon anymore, as it’s held by several other men I know in heterosexual couples where the women do or will bring home the bacon. But my sample is a biased one. I don’t interact with people who are the epitome of the problem. I can, however, see what’s in plain sight.

Women have entered the workforce and are here to stay, yes – that news is decades old and not worth comment on its own. Women are increasingly becoming breadwinners, although it’s not an achievement of women’s rights when that’s the case because the manly blue collar jobs in manufacturing aren’t around in our local economies anymore. These women, of working class families, are likely to hold devalued pink collar jobs. They’re not outearning their partners because of higher achievements in career and education; they’re merely keeping their families’ heads barely above water by working in unappreciated jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Even women who do make gains in higher paying careers are often pressured into acting more like men than the men are. Women work harder than their male counterparts in these prestigious positions, according to [hemorrhages millions of recent studies], in order to make roughly the same (read: slightly less but close enough) as men. Professions like business, finance, medicine, and law still value aggressive authoritarian working styles over collaborative solutions, and those working characteristics are highly gendered as socialized from the moment we’re born. When women work like men to achieve almost-equal status, it is very far from equal and very, very far from feminism.

The gains that women have made in the middle range of earnings and status in jobs have dyed the collars pink. I work in an office that’s 95% staffed by women. It’s lower elsewhere in the department, but on the whole I’d shoot for 80% women, including management roles. But like the human resources field as a whole – unless it’s manly labour relations positions negotiating with manly industrial unions – it’s been belittled as softer, gentler women’s work instead of the keeping-shit-together-and-going-forward-strong work it actually is. The public sector in general, after a few decades of specific programs aimed at narrowing the gender gap (among other victims of systemic discrimination), women are widely represented in fields where they may not be in private industry because of this outreach. And now these jobs are both leeches on taxpayers AND underpaid relative to the private sector equivalents held more disproportionately by men. Women who achieve things in environments where they’re empowered to are somehow not as deserving of success, or the recognition they get falls short of the work they do.

There have been great strides towards making predominantly feminine occupations get more respect than they did previously. Nurses are better educated and have more responsibilities than before, and have made leaps in how much they’re paid for that (although not nearly enough for the literal shit they literally clean up on a literally daily–hourly–basis). But they will never have people kiss their feet as so many do with (or is expected by) doctors. Other medical professionals – pharmacists, mental health professionals, massage therapists, physiotherapists, dieticians – with high women memberships get overshadowed by the egos of doctors who go by the patriarchal values of power and authority more than they do the Hippocratic oath. The value that increases in pay, recognition, and responsibilities of these professions doesn’t change the broader rule that to be successful at anything you must be an overworking asshole. Attempts to further the status of these undervalued jobs falls short of changing what is valued overall.

I’m very happy for all the women I know who are striving to reach their highest potential in challenging fields. In our individual lives that’s what we have to live for – it’s the choices that we can make within the constraints of reality that exist whether we agree with them or not. But let’s not use women-holding-manly-jobs as a symbol of inching closer to equality. Beyond the token value of one women’s success masking the ninety-nine men in the same or higher positions, it’s reinforcing the incredibly flawed basis of analysis that equality is measured by how close women are to becoming men. This maintains the patriarchy, it maintains the class system and further gap of wealth, it maintains the racialized justification as if oppressed people are oppressing themselves. The means we use to measure the status of women is insufficient and counterproductive. Let’s not get too comfortable now.

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