Re: A Preponderance of Females [LONG]

Subject: Re: A Preponderance of Females [LONG]
From: John Gear <catalyst -at- PACIFIER -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 04:00:50 -0500

Disclaimer: Not only is this long but I've said most of this before--so
long-time whirlers are warned--nothing new here. Also, broad
generalizations alert--many statements made for which counterexamples can be
found and cited. However I believe my conclusions to be correct.


As a recovering engineer (male), I have definitely found (in others) that
tech writing is perceived as a "women's field"--and certainly, judging by
the participants in this list, there are a lot more women in technical
writing than in lots of other fields. This list is unusual among mixed
lists for the number of regular women participants, which is refreshing and

As for whether being a women dominated profession affects salary, my answer
can only be yes. I always refer back to my observation that there are only
three fields of which I am aware in the US that typically require unpaid
internships as a condition of reaching the professional status necessary to
obtain employment: teaching, nursing, and social work. What's the
connection? Bingo--fields traditionally dominated by women.


As engineering undergrads (overwhelmingly male), the cooperative experiences
(either in the summer or during one of the semesters) we were offered
*always* paid real money--while the nursing and teaching students were (and
are to this day) expected to *pay* for the privilege of doing an intership.
Later, when my wife got an MSW, I found out that this held true for social
work as well--even at the Master's level! She was able to get a paid
practicum by virtue of getting the college to count her existing social work
job as her practicum--but all the other students (virtually all female) paid
high tuition for the privilege of working for free in their chosen field.

Every so often someone raises a question about internships for technical
communicators on this list and I chalk that up as yet another indication
that the field *is* becoming one that corporations are learning to view as
women-dominated--and that, as a result, we are seeing the same forces at work.


Unpaid internships are worth a doctoral dissertation in themselves because
they are such an effective, yet overlooked, form of control and screening.
Anyone in a sociology program need a topic?

First internships screen out almost anyone who really must have a living
wage in that only heroic measures can suffice to get you through if you have
to both pay tuition and donate your labor to someone who, by rights, should
be paying you a salary.

Second internships are quite effective in telling everyone, as they enter
the field, that this is a low paid field and that you can't expect much
more. The attitude underlying the message is that, in these "nurturing"
fields, you are supposed to do it for the love of it, or not need the money
(because your husband's really the wage earner).

Third internships exert a very real downward force on wages as employers are
able to use the existence of interns as temporary (and sometimes long-term)
replacement workers.


Fred Moody, a reporter for the Seattle Weekly and author of "I Sing the Body
Electronic" (award winning book about a year spent observing a MS team put
together the Explorapaedia) noted the sex role bias at MS, where the
analytical, left-brain male programmers rule and the writers and interface
designers were mainly female. When I interviewed him for a local radio
station we talked at length about the gender gap issue and he noted that he
saw it everywhere in the computer industry.


Worldwide, "women's work" is not valued at anything like "men's work." You
can spend a million dollars spewing poisons into a river and a billion
dollars trying to undo the damage and you will have added 1.01 Billion to
the Gross National Product, which will be considered to be a genuine *good
thing* and to be a sign of a robust economy. Making things blow up, either
with or without making people blow up along with them, is considered
desirable economic activity and is closely measured. The more things we
blow up and the more weapons we sell to other countries to encourage them to
blow things up, the higher our GNP and the more we hear about what a great
economy we have.

However, life support work (caring for the young, the old, the sick, and for
all the people in the middle) is not counted at all, unless money changes
hands. So if you, as a woman, pay someone to care for your
parents/children/spouse/dog/cat/neighbor, you will be counted as a
"productive" member of society. But if you stay home and do exactly the
same work yourself, your work will not count. Similarly, most agricultural
work performed by women is not counted as work at all and does not enter
into economic assessments of wealth, labor rates etc.


That's a long not-quite-digression because it's the root issue of why
salaries go down in women-dominated fields. It's because the structure of
the economy puts women at a disadvantage in terms of what they can command
(because the "other" activities they perform are calculated as having *no*
value whatsoever) in the market economy--and then it proceeds to pay them
accordingly. As more and more middle class women are forced into the paid
workforce they are finding what poor women (who have always had to work for
money) have always found:

You don't have to be any smarter to be a man but it pays better.


If you think I'm making this all up just ask yourself why it's supposedly a
national crisis when wealthy and middle class women work outside the home
(instead of staying home with the kids) and, at the same time, these
critics of women who have paid work and accuse them of being selfish yuppies
demand that poor women "get jobs" (leaving their children with others, and
overlooking the inconvenient fact that most poor women already *have*
jobs--they just don't pay too well.)

The answer is that keeping lots of poor women in the labor market is a *good
thing* for this sort of system--it helps force down the wages for everyone
and reminds those with lower end jobs how quickly they can be replaced.
Wealthy and middle class women in the work force, however, is a lot more
trouble--they won't accept peanuts and they don't have to tolerate the same
sorts of treatment. Thus we get the strange pheonomon of pundits
simultaneously urging one sort of woman to quit paid work and go home to her
children while demanding that others leave her children and take paid work,
any work, regardless of how much it finally costs her for childcare,
transportation etc.

John Gear
catalyst -at- pacifier -dot- com -dot-

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