Labor and Gender

Thanksgiving is laborious. At my house, my grandmother cooks from dawn until dusk where, the following day, she cleans up after the festivities. In my house, the divisions in labor were deeply gendered.  Although we may culturally imagine a world of gender equality, unfortunately, such imaginative practices ignore one important truth: labor is gendered and labor is not equal.  This becomes potently clear when leaving the table and entering the public spaces of Black Friday shopping.

genderlaborAlthough a quick glance around your local retail store like Wal-Mart or Target may reveal a seemingly equal amount of men and women workers, Sian Moore warns that there is still an “entrenched division of lobour [sic]” in the work place. Corporations or work places more generally place women in positions with high levels of what’s called “emotional labor.” This idea refers to jobs with more face-to-face or interpersonal interactions; thus, because women are seen as being “uniquely qualified” for these encounters, occupational norms place women in such positions. Ask yourself how might this limit work place success while continuing to relegate women to laborious positions that are devalued both monetarily and socially?

A deeper issue, sadly, is women lack recourse to resist such discrimination. In June of 2011, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Wal-Mart and against a class action suit of over 1 million women. The Supreme Court claimed that even if the 1 million women were correct in their assessment of gender-based discrimination, it did not implicate the corporation as a whole. Nine Martin argues, “the ruling upended decades of employment discrimination law and raised serious barriers to future large-scale discrimination cases of every kind.” In other words, not only are myths of gender equality false, discrimination based on gender have regressed. So as you buy your turkey and stock up on cheap electronics, ask yourself, who’s cooking and who’s cleaning up?


Meggie Mapes is a PhD student in the department of Speech Communication

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