By Kyrstin Dittenhafer-Swartz, WLMP Peer Mentor
It’s no big secret that although women have gained the right to work, they have still not gained equal work. In “The Triumph of the Working Mother,” Stephanie Coontz talks about how although women working has proven to be extremely beneficial overall, our society is behind other advanced societies in implementing benefits such as maternity leave – a benefit almost solely for women (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 515-17). Although, according to Coontz, women’s employment has lowered the divorce rates, improved the overall well-being of women, and increased the amount of time both parents spend with children, we still do not provide adequate maternity and family leave or strict rules on daycare centers – especially compared to Britain and Norway (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 515-17).
Unfortunately, these shortfalls of our society have the potential to undo all of the good that women’s employment has done. Momo Chang, in “Color Me Nontoxic,” talks about how health and safety laws have not been imposed on a mainly female industry – nail salons (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 522-3). According to Chang, 96 percent of manicurists are women (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 523). I believe it would probably be safe to assume that the remaining four percent of manicurists are mostly perceived to be gay – whether they are or not – as they work in a profession that is gendered female. The lack of health and safety laws imposed on this profession is outrageously low, and therefore, unsurprisingly, harms the workers. Not to mention, although the amount of exposure is not as much for customers, the customers are mostly female for this industry, so they are exposed to some level of risk, as well.
I feel we have to wonder why these inequalities of maternity leave and safety in women’s employment exist. Please note that there is also a plethora of other inequalities in women’s employment that I am not mentioning here for the purpose of this blog post. I believe these inequalities exist because of the concept of the good ol’ boys clubs that are effectively described in “Power Plays: Six Ways the Male Corporate Elite Keeps Women Out” by Martha Burk (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 525-8). According to Burk, “It’s about living in a culture that links masculinity to power, dominance and control” (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 528). Unfortunately, if these things are linked to masculinity and maternity leave and nail salon technicians are linked to femininity, then maternity leave and nail salon technicians cannot be linked to power, dominance, and control. It is this dichotomous thinking of one group (femininity or masculinity) only being able to hold the power, dominance, and control that creates the problems we have in today’s society.
According to Martha Burk in “Power Plays: Six Ways the Male Corporate Elite Keeps Women Out,” “when groups achieve a certain level of power and influence, sometimes their original purpose is subverted in favor or holding on to the status and the exclusivity that the group has achieved” (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 526). This is exactly what is happening with society when it comes to concepts like nail salon safety and maternity leave. In fact, this concept is so engrained that it is not only being perpetuated by men, but also by women. I’m sure we’ve all run into women who have expressed disdain for feminism – I know I have. Unfortunately, because of all of this we do not have movement such as adequate maternity leave or a push for safety in professions like nail technicians. Quite frankly, it is because the male dominated society does not care – because it does not affect them. Also, by not caring, they are protecting their control, dominance, and power.
“Will Marriage Equality Lead to Equal Sharing of Housework?” by Terrance Heath is a great example of the dichotomous thinking I mentioned earlier (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). Heath points out that the reason (one of) marriage equality is opposed is because a domestic partnership between two males would destroy the idea of dichotomous thinking – because one male would effectively have to become inferior by taking on the position of the woman (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). If this degrading of one male partner does not happen – as Heath has illustrated that it did not in his relationship – the dichotomous thinking model is then basically blown to smithereens (Shaw and Lee, 2015, pg. 500-3). I had actually not thought of the opposition to marriage equality in this way, but now that I have read this point of view it makes a lot of sense and I concur.
Shaw, S. & Lee, J. (2015). Women’s voices, feminist visions: Classic and contemporary readings. New York: McGraw Hill.