Women in Authoritative Work Roles

In the twentieth century, American society witnessed the rapid development of the feminist movement, and it certainly brought drastic changes in our perception of gender roles. Yet, it has to be admitted that such phenomenon as sexism still exists; to a certain degree, it became less conspicuous, but one cannot presume that this prejudiced attitude disappeared. In this paper, we are going to discuss such issues as women in authoritative positions such as for instance, in police or judiciary bodies.

In particular, we need to focus on the obstacles that they have to surmount almost on a daily basis. It is of crucial importance us to analyze the methods in which men prevent them from advancing in this workplace hierarchy. There are a great number of books and scholarly articles, dedicated to this question, and it is quite prudent to show how distinguished sociologists or psychologists approach this problem and, more importantly, the suggestions they propose.

Prior to examining workplace relations between the genders, we need to pay special attentionattention to the underlying causes of such thing as sex discrimination. As it has been noted before, it was not entirely eliminated even despite the efforts of the feminist movement.

In order to examine this question, we may refer to the book Women, Men and Gender, written by Mary Walsh. The author argues that this type of biased attitude is primarily based on certain misconceptions, namely that that gender characteristics define the inner world of a person and shape his or her abilities (Walsh, 1996, p 31). Probably, this is the main reason why a woman who occupies any authoritative position, is often regarded as something unusual or extraordinary. One cannot deny that such noun as policewoman is still looked at with some uncertainty or apprehension.

Apart from that, Mary Walsh states this kind of behavior is also motivated by some fear of being replaced or substituted by someone whom you have always underestimated. This inability to acknowledge the fact that women can easily cope with the same duties, results in many conflicts and controversies. Sociological and psychological origins of this problem have always been a subject of heated debate, but that there is no universal approach that can easily address it. On the whole, we may argue that a great shift in public opinion must take place; otherwise, gender discrimination is very unlikely to be stopped.

At this point, we need to proceed to the very mechanisms of discrimination such as glass ceiling, boycotting, and so forth. First and foremost, it should be pointed out that applicants for any authoritative position have to meet the same requirements, irrespective of their sex, and no allowances are made to this aspect. Nevertheless, this policy is only officially declared but not practiced. In this respect, we may refer to such work as Powerful Women Dancing on the Glass Ceiling by Sam Parkhouse.

The scholar provides the analysis of this question from a historical perspective. He is firmly convinced that any woman of power is viewed as something outrageous. This book is helpful to the extent that it provides the sociological analysis of the situation which has recently emerged. Sam Parkhouse says that in early nineties academic performance of women has become much better than that of the opposite sex. But if we take a look at workplace situation in such countries as the United States or Great Britain, we shall see no changes, especially if we are speaking about those fields of human activities, which require responsibility or creative decision-making (Parkhouse, 2001, p 138). Although this work was written eight years ago, we cannot say that the problems it explores have ceased to exist.

There are various types of glass ceiling such as wage discrimination, the reluctance to promote an employee. But the most stressing issue is the so-called occupational segregation, namely in terms of workplace hierarchy. In her research article, Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies, Joan Acker studies such notion as gender-neutral organizations. She believes that such concept as job still remains “gendered” (Acker, 1990, p 61). The scholar substantiates her argument in the following way, any position, which entails responsibility, skill and resolution is immediately labeled as masculine. Consequently, women are usually located at the bottom of the career ladder.

Nonetheless, this is just one facet of this problem, secondly, we should point out that the jobs held by females, such as secretaries, child care workers are often defined as minor, insignificant, and so forth. It goes without saying that such biased opinion marginalizes them, and makes them unable to strengthen their status in the community. This can be observed in police departments, courts, governmental agencies, or private companies.

According to this deep-rooted stereotype, women and authority are hardly compatible with each other. If, in spite of insuperable odds, she manages to make a career in authoritative institutions, her male colleagues treat her patronizingly as if suggesting that this is just temporarily improvement (Gregory, 2003, p 89). From a legal standpoint, there is nothing offensive, but it creates a sense of alienation between men and women.

The thing is that hiring and promotion policies are still defined by males. They are not explicitly stated, of course there is no statute or rule, prohibiting women to work in a certain company or federal agency, but in the vast majority of cases if there are two evenly matched candidates, the preference will be given to the male one. It should be borne in mind that the other applicant cannot even file a lawsuit against the management because she cannot prove that she has been discriminated against.

Very often, no explanation is given her she is unsuitable for this specific job, occasionally; management makes up a very non-committal excuse about the lack of relevant experience and training. Furthermore, we should refer to the book Unbending Gender by Joan Williams, who maintains that the rules of corporate ethics are laid down by males. For instance, she explores the image of “an ideal employee” who has to be committed only to the needs of the company. If the candidate is a married woman with children, she is almost always ignored (Williams, 2000, p 59). There are no policies that support such women, and in the eyes of law, there is nothing illegal.

With reference to this question, we should mention that American legislation condemns sexism in workplace relations; we may remember the famous Civil Rights Act of 1964. But, it contains some serious drawbacks. Such lawyer as Johanna Shargel believes that this legislative act provides practically no guidelines for the prosecution of sexism (Shargel, 1993, p 1850). There are some other laws, but all of them do not prevent male management from treating women in a prejudiced way. Again we need to stress the idea that sexism has also undergone some modification. It has become more politically correct, but in its very core, it remains the same.

We may single out another dimension of this issue, such as camaraderie or the sense of trust and being connected to one another. At first glance, it may seem that there is nothing to be afraid of. But we should take into account the fact, that it shapes both hiring and promotion policies. In her research “Sexuality, Camaraderie and Power in Service Work”, Kari Lerum examines the negative impacts of this phenomenon. She argues that there are the so-called “masculine industries” which are virtually inaccessible to female workers (Lerum, 2004, p 758).

To some degree, it reminds some secret society, which admits new members according to some criterion; in this case, it is gender characteristics. Police force or law machinery are the brightest examples of such “masculine industries”.

Moreover, the sociologist claims that sexual harassment is an inherent feature of such agencies. The major problem is that such kind of behavior is very difficult to prove because co-workers are almost bound to take side with the representatives of the same gender, mostly due to this false sense of fraternity or camaraderie. Naturally, the tide has begun to turn, but these changes are extremely slow, and perhaps they will become more apparent only in the near future.

This may seem to be a far-fetched statement, but maybe some men behave in such a manner just in an attempt to protect their dominant role in society. Then, the question arises how long such this policy is going to last.

Therefore, we can arrive at the conclusion that sexism manifests itself at various levels such as hiring process, promotion, and attitude of the colleagues. It is primarily caused by such widespread stereotypes, established in the community, namely, the belief that women cannot and should not occupy authoritative or managerial positions. Secondly, we cannot overlook the sense of camaraderie, which unites men in their willingness to prevent females from strengthening their positions in the society. Finally, we have to say that existing legislation provides no basis for prosecution of such policies.


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