Lady Business: Poppin' Pink Collars and Devaluing Women's Work
Tagged under the headline "The New American Job," the New York Times trotted out a story last week that gave me a headache with the title: "More Men Enter Fields Dominated by Women." In this alarmingly annoying piece of journalism we meet Miguel Alquicira, an intrepid 21-year-old male dental assistant meant to represent legions of young men who have:
come of age in a world of inverted expectations, where women far outpace men in earning degrees and tend to hold jobs that have turned out to be, by and large, more stable, more difficult to outsource, and more likely to grow. 'The way I look at it,' Mr. Alquicira explained, without a hint of awareness that he was turning the tables on a time-honored feminist creed, 'is that anything, basically, that a woman can do, a guy can do.'
If I had some pearls, I would have been clutching them in my teeth. What in the world? The economy is so bad that men who used to be able to work with their hands are finding honor in the lowly positions of women?
Apparently it has been this dire for at least a decade. The New York Times analysis showed that occupations that are traditionally more than 70 percent female accounted for a third of all job growth for men between 2000 to 2010.
So, Mr. Alquicira is fresh out of school. I won't attack the messenger. But really, does Equal Opportunity Employment now extend to white college-educated men? For 20 years, these desperate men who wanted to do women's work were foreign-born non-English speakers with low education levels. Now even white, college-educated men want to be nurses and schoolteachers. Times must be so hard.
Not shocked yet? Even though their jobs are harder than they expected, they make more money—even in female-dominated work—and they move up easily to supervisory positions in what is sweetly referred to as the glass escalator. (Naturally, the first thing I thought about was Loki in the Avengers.)
So, the other thing? These formerly-held-by-women-now-held-by-men jobs are referred to as "pink collar." Pink collar is such a stupid term, and I'm one of those weird women who actually likes the color pink. Also? Cam'ron made guys wearing pink a thing 10 years ago. Cute pithy phrases with a nod to old gender stereotypes are all bad. I think TIME magazine has it right: we should just retire the phrase "pink collar," since it's condescending. And we know that the last thing society wants to be to women who work is condescending. Amy Tennery provides a brief history of the term and its context:
"Pink Collar Workers," which was nominated for a National Book Award, claimed that the majority of American women, despite the women's movement, remain as segregated occupationally as they were at the turn of the century. It argued that women are still trapped in traditional jobs as waitresses and secretaries, in which pay is consistently inferior to men's. Pink-collar = "trapped." Yikes…
"Pink collar" is a way of classifying what work a woman "should" have—and it retains an uncomfortable origin, one that belittles those careers and the men who buck tradition and choose to pursue them.
What do you think of the trend of men doing traditionally women's work? Are you irritated by the way it's framed in popular culture and mass media?
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