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Constructing Masculinity in Women´s Worlds

-men in female occupations
Marie Nordberg Ph.D. student, Department of Ethnology University of Gothenburg, Sweden
Sven and Anders are busy cleaning the table after the lunch with 15 1-5-year old kids. They talk about the food and about the children being a little bit noisy, and request them to be more quiet. Sven lifts up one of the kids, hugs it and sweeps the child’s hair with tenderness. Then he carries it to the nursing room and giggling puts on a clean napkin. He and Anders then discuss the children’s sleeping periods. Sven and Anders are two male preschool-teachers who together with a female colleague are working at a nursery-school in Sweden. Hans, who is the single man on another nursery-school, works in a different way. Once a week he separates the children in a boys group and a girls group. The boys group follows him to the forest, where they together are finishing a hut. Under his command the 3-6 year old boys drags branches, wood and twigs to the hut. They all intensively takes part in the sawing and hammering. On the way home they talk about hockey team and shout out the names of their favourite teams. The girls group remains with the female preschool-teachers and tends to other activities. The episodes above exemplifies two of the strategies I have noticed during my study of men in female dominated occupations. Sven and Anders in the first episode diminish gender identity and adopt the female tradition of the profession. Hans, in the second episode tries to create an alternative activity where gender identity is seen as important . As being a man he wants to become a model for the boys, give them a collective feeling of affinity and other kinds of activities than usually takes place in the nurseryschool. In this conference paper I will stress some aspects of how gender relations are reproduced and renegotiated when men and women meet in female dominated occupations. The discussion according to my point of view is about traditions of occupation, modernity and gender identity. I have chosen to study hairdressers, preschool-teachers and nurses. Data is collected by field observations and interviews. I have up to now completed about thirty interviews with both men and women and made observations in eleven workplaces. Occupations inherit different labour traditions and have different types of associated prejudices. Although there are certain similarities regarding how gender identity is expressed or undercommunicated by men who have chosen these occupations. THREE DIFFERENT TRADITIONS OF OCCUPATION Sweden has one of the most sex segregated labour markets in Europe (Olsson & Sundgren Grinups 1994). Women often end up in the caring domain. Despite state interventions concerning equality between men and women, few men today are working as hairdressers, preschool-teachers and nurses.

Anyone who visits a nursery-school can´t avoid noticing the homelike and cosy milieu that still is present. Cleanliness. that despite the sex segregation. Home-made curtains side by side with flowers in the windows. 2 . Men. The doctor can be regarded as the father. The nurse profession has not been so much separated from male influence. play computergames or arrange indoor-landhockey tournaments. The occupation had even in the 1960s little male influence2. where tasks that he sees as overlooked by women is emphasised. In the nurseryschools1 directed to the working class women and children where presented a model for ”the good home”. Today the hierarchy has broken up and the former strict institutional milieu has been informalisied. Men can also influence the profession without being physical part of it. handicraft. Pre-school teachers occupation was formed in the end of the 19th century under influence from Germany and the kindergarten. tablecloths in joyful colours are on the tables and paintings and works of the children are decorating the walls. He also stresses the differences between boys and girls. But I had a picture of how I wanted to work that differed from the way they (the women) worked /.. The occupation became a working place for bourgeois women and the activities was grounded in giving children knowledge about nature. It can be understood as a free zone where women independent of men and men’s influence. Hans is actualising conceptions about sex differences. Among three forms of hairdressers in a region in Sweden 1998 only two was men (Skolkatalogen Gymnasieskolan Karlstad 1998). In contrast. I use ”nursery-school” so the reader will know that it’s the same occupation and workingplace I talk about. 2 I thereby refer to male presence. assistants as servants and patients as children. The difference from the home is though 1 The nursery school was in the beginning named ”kindergarten”. could raise children ( see Segal 1997). In the nurseryschoolgroup boys and girls are playing together and the activities don’t take a starting point in different needs between the sexes. Homelike furnishing and jolly colours had made its entrance in the former sterile milieu. Women and men have been working together in the same place. He sees parts of the activities as female dominated and is searching for alternatives that are in resonance with his understanding of masculinity. but in different positions. Of course women can adopt and express male structures. The nurse profession was occupied mainly by bourgeois women (Emanuelsson 1990). Men who enters this field of occupation can adopt the traditions as Sven and Anders in the first episode and regard the routines and activities as a natural part of the profession. Even here influences from the bourgeois values can be seen. choose these three professions meet labour traditions that to a great deal has been developed by women who earlier have dominated these occupations. moral and God-fearing was taught (Tallberg Broman 1991). He thereby wants to build up an alternative activity. At a conference in Paris it was stated that ”the occupation is not suitable for men” (Johansson & Åstedt 1993 s. This difference in strategies in relations to the working traditions appears both in interviews with the men and in the observations I have made in their workingplaces. even if the proportion of men in the last decades has increased./ We could go fishing one day. the nurse as the mother. diligence. 140). The division between occupation role and mothering/female role could be regarded a somewhat indistinct (Annerblom 1983). Sex as a basis for categorisation is not focused.In 1994 only 3% of the preschool-teachers in Sweden where men (Jensen 1998). in contrast to patriarchy. textile work and simple housekeeping. One illustration of this strategy is the reaction by the preschool teacher Per at his first visit at the working place: She (the female principal) showed round and told me about what the work was about.

EXPERT STATEMENTS AND COMMUNITY DISCOURSES Globalization. but also strategies where conception of gender and masculinity makes men reject this. when there is speed and activity. The hairdressers profession has changed the last decades. I dough it /. The working traditions are not questioned from a gender perspective. are by the male hairdressers understood as servicetasks that is a part of the profession. pastel covering-cloths and ladies magazines. I create. All of them are working as the only man together with women. time. Among the men that I have interviewed. I find fast decisions more fun.. On the other hand. The middle-aged hairdressers I interviewed are educated women’s hairdressers and the younger has fulfilled the mixed education. These men are stressing the creative and artistic content of the professions tradition and as a motivation for choice of career. men’s magazines in the shelves and hood hair-dryers was hardly present! In the 1970s the sex roles where challenged by the mixed-sex fashion and hairstyles changed. The majority of men in this profession are working in intensive care. on one hand there are those who regard the profession as a careerway to other positions. Through media and the increased possibilities for travelling. Women’s hair is looked upon as inhelding more possibilities.withhold by the working-uniform by the staff. An increased focus on caregiving has also taken a greater part in the nurse education.and space comprehension are parts of the late modern society (Giddens 1991)./ You get an adrenaline kick and has to use your professional knowledge and not only give food.. It’s in fact a piece of art. for example serving coffee. The barber’s saloon was a different kind of milieu.. Then this everyday routine. Still there are older barber saloons left. Earlier there where barbers and hairdressers and the saloons addressed either men or women. anaesthesia and psychiatric care. Mixed hairdressers saloons became popular and finally in the 1980s and 90s the two educations where run together. as close to the kids and the mothers as women are. It isn’t female vanity I work with. cleaning and decorating. cleaning mirrors. The milieus differed significantly. while the old barber saloons are more regarded as ”cutting in a factoryline”. (Stefan) MODERNITY. and the uniform could be seen as the divisionline to the private life. but at the education the number of men has decreased./ I believe that my need for caring is less than the women’s need /. Instead they try to change the contents of the work in accordance with their own conceptions of male activities and especially emphasising assumptions about gender differences: Bengt: I don’t think that we guys are as much participant in the children’s care. I can easily (than the women) imagine how men prefer it. As Stefan expresses it: For me hair is a material I work with. change napkins and things like that. that also could feel nice for a men to visit. There are both positive opinions about the increased focus on care. I create. I don’t find so exciting /. we can today relate and take part of 3 . on the other hand there are those who have chosen the profession to avoid male hierarchies and competition in male dominated areas. The tasks that some decades earlier was looked upon as female. not as handicraft skill. In the ladies hairdressers in the 1960s you found hood hair-dryers. You could find condoms under the desk. the men tried to applicate a male touch to the milieu: I try to have a kind of mixed and decorated saloon./ When children get well.

He often emphasises the importance of children’s care. During the 1980s and 1990s we witness a change. The importance of men for rearing boys is emphasised (Nordahl 1985. 4 This discussion is held on a general level. cooked and weaved together with the children. Sven in the above episode was educated during this period and considers the activities at the nursery-school as natural. which also is expressed by the informants in my study. Literature of popular science. In the above example Hans is during our interview often referring to the difference between the sexes. apparently a more traditional division of the tasks. They collide. Modernity can thus be said to lead to a focusing of gender belonging. and absence of men in the lives of children is beginning to be looked upon as a problem. There are of course variations. who try to explain the differences between men and women. The importance of men for children’s growth and life situation is put forward. Now the modernity discussion is turned to focus on absent fathers and lack of masculine models. The Dane Bertil Nordahl says for example that boys are feminized in the children’s care and that men working in nursery homes are no real men. where the state pointed at the importance of more men in children’s care from an equality perspective. The arguments for bringing men into the nursery-schools are in the 1990s changed to be a discussion about what men could add to the other parts of the activity. Economical reductions leads to larger children’s groups and a decreased density of the personnel. thoughts about gender grounded differences are frequently brought up. A discourse about gender specific nature appears. Men are leading ball games. whilst the women bake and sew with the children4. For him it is central to give expression to a certain kind of masculinity which differ from what can be seen as female. 4 . compared with the 1970s. are offered by book clubs. People can take part of new ways of being. Some discourses is more powerful than others. and they also actively took part in work that earlier had been regarded as female. challenge each other and are under constant transformation (see Foucault 1976). handicraft and hut building. Men that in the 1970s trained to became pre-school teachers did so in an age spirit where the equality debate.alternative perspectives and conditions of life. Problems in the society were often related to disturbances in this relation. and points at the importance of standing up for what he defines as masculine. Different discourses are expressed by different social groups. based on a limited empirical material. the women’s liberation movement and the questioning of older traditions were prominent. Men baked. and also opinions about division of activities according to what each one is best suited for. In the interviews with both women and men. In media we almost every day meet experts statements and new findings about differences and similarities of gender. There is. The radical men who in the 1970s broke the gender barriers are now parody and looked upon as female and non-masculine. alternative discourses of masculinity and femininity are spread at the same time as other 3 Discourse is here referring to a number of coherent statements about the world. which were conceived as old-fashioned. An equality discourse can be said to rule and the specific nature of the sexes was down stressed. see also Bly 1990). In the 1970s the togetherness between mother and child was also pointed out. This was also reinforced by a allocation of quotas concerning men in the children’s care education. Several of these men looked upon children’s care as a possibility to influence children in the direction of change of sex roles. Women’s impact on children is questioned and there are calls for male alternatives. In society you find a variety of discourses3 according the dominated view about gender.

is a process dependent on performance and repetitions in social settings (see Butler 1990). Sven and Anders strategy can be interpreted as the position as preschool teacher is more emphasised than the position as man. 5 . To be man can thus hold several meanings and be expressed in several ways. 7 The theory of subjectpositions could not be equalised with role theory. Social expectations and treatments are important and some ways of presenting oneself are more rewarding than others. GENDER IDENTITY . The positions are not clearly separated. Stefan. people in different settings and contexts can presumably give expression of alternative strategies. Precisely this complexity is something that can be seen in my data. When there are lots of discourses about how a man should behave. He refuses to see himself as masculine: 5 6 The traditional class categorisation can for example sometimes be less useful. The contents of the subjectpositions are permanently transforming. says that the position as homosexual has given him a new understanding of sex and gender. as Swedish. The positions are discourse dependent and under constant transformation. Compare the use of the concept horizon in phenomenology (Gurwitsch 1964). says Moore (Moore 1994)7. On other occasions contradictions are focused. (Giddens 1991). Speaking as a homosexual the importance of sex is downstressed: ”There is not so much that is specially male and female”. they are flexible and new position is generated. The social researcher Thomas Ziehe talks about ability of acting and ambivalence as aspects of the late modern society. Different conceptions and meanings of gender are expressed when the men understands and talk about themselves through different subject positions. but influence each other6. The sociologist Ulrich Beck points out that there in modernity is not a either-or. when at the same time the choices you make can constantly be questioned (Ziehe 1993). From Moores perspective. as hairdresser. you cant step out of them and take a neutral position. something that is negotiable. The sociologist Anthony Giddens says that the question ”Who am I?” is central for people in the late modern society. Identity becomes something to try. He thinks that counter-modernity in the form of stubborn structures are working side by side with changes of earlier outlooks (Beck 1995). since the manuscripts (discourses) cant be understood as static and possible to step out of. for example as man. For Hans the position as man is constantly emphasised in his work and this also influences his conception of the activities. as I understand it. They cant be separated from the individual. In the same man there are tendencies of transformation of gender relations and a recreation of earlier gender patterns. Conceptions and gender producing can also be seen as dependent on the discourses we have access to. Different discourses used under the same interview can contradict each other without bothering the informants. but rather a bothand. To understand this complexity I have choosen to use the anthropologist Henrietta Moores thoughts about subject positions.social belongings are loosened up and changed5. I have tried to emphasise the different discourses that are manifested in the informants conceptions of their self as gendered beings. assumptions are questioned and renegotiation takes place.DIFFERENT WAYS OF MATERIALISING MASCULINITY Masculinity. When I have analysed the interviews. who is hairdresser and gay. Moore claims that people can express themselves through a variety of positions.

It can be interpreted as rejection of a norm that they comprehend as hegemonic (see Connell 1995). the belonging to the imagined community of men is central. The hairdresser Stefan says for example when he compares working with men to working with women: Guys have another jargon. To become a man in relation to other men ( I versus them). When the male pre-school teachers meet in the unisexual association they created./ We (gays) don’t try to be the one or the other. because the informant talks through different positions. Women stand for the opposite and are everything the men is not..But it may be wrong. 2. The same with men . In the male association a collective masculinity is negotiated that seldom is expressed in other situations (see Connell 1995) At the unisexed association meetings their female workingmates stand for what the men define themselves against. Variations and individual differences are neglected. A bit further in the interview it suddenly becomes important to behave like a man and Stefan is now talking through the position as man.I don’t perform any form of masculinity. while others think that is something they miss at their workplaces.. so I know their (kind of talk). A certain view of masculinity is emphasised. It isn’t important for us to be masculine. Some men refuse to take part in the male jargon that is expressed in the association. Oskar says: 6 . when Stefan is talking about a male pupil: He request for one day off during the week. But what kind of a man is this I thought. Renegotiations and reproductions of gender relations are thereby dependent both on situation and the position that is actualised. Some of the men have choosen female dominated occupations because they haven’t felt comfortable with the masculine expressions they have met in male dominated workingplaces. At the same time the concepts of masculinity and femininity are constantly returning in Stefans understanding. but allow ourselves to have a female side. that at his best age wants to be free once a week? Contradictory discourses about understandings of gender can thus be expressed at the same time without the informant problematizing this. Yes. In the constructions of masculinity in the interviews and in my field observations three important relations are emphasised: 1. I act as I am /. To become a man in relation to women (We versus them) Here the men relates to an imagined community of men. But there is also conflicts about how to perform masculinity. With girls everything has to be so perfect. There will be female women and there are neutral and there are these who are masculine. Instead they want to express masculinity in other ways. the ideal man seen as a breadwinner and always hard working. There are concepts that are available and they are used both for renegotiation and reproductions of gender (see Nordberg 1999): Few men have talked with women as much as I. sometimes women and men aren’t so different either. because women are so different. Everyday you are reared. Here it is important to define oneself against certain ways of how to perform masculinity.

Several of the women tell about how they. Aspects of class are of course also present in this example. Men can also get into a mascot position. One of the heterosexual hairdressers in my study has been subjected to mobbing because of his choice of profession.” The male informants find it important to look like a ”real man”. Men are expected to express emotions and perform masculinity in an alternative way. but now they do other activities. before the men were employed. both played ballgames and did woodwork. Women entering male dominated professions can for example become a mascot and emphasise femininity. They are expected to raise both the salary as well as the profession’s status. but if they try to adopt the female jargon and thus become one of the women. PEOPLES EXPECTATIONS. to break the gender barrier. As a hairdresser he has to handle with the stereotype of male hairdressers being homosexual. To avoid this suspicion he has started body building. Bo tells: ”I do not know if I am too sensitive. The earlier so appreciated mixed-sex fashion several of the women repudiate and claims that that kind of men is not welcome. is almost unthinkable. STEREOTYPES AND PREJUDICES Men who choose to work in female dominated occupations must also relate to certain stereotypes and prejudices that are connected to the professions. between different social groups and geography (see Frykman 1988). Several of the men tell about how they are expected to do woodwork and play ballgames with the children (see Bredesen 1998). In the statements the conceptions of men as confident. Men who enter female dominated professions get much appreciation. They must be confident. strong and chargetaking are emphasised. and does men deviate to much from their conceptions of masculinity they get suspicious. By their choice of profession they are also questioned by other men. It is important for the women that men perform as they think men should. or as Vera puts it: Yes. and avoids clothes which he associates to women. not be machos. 3. but the reverse. Women’s negotiations and expectations. Norms of masculinity differ over time. He is thereby 7 . in which man and woman are seen a natural couple and homosexuality is repressed. At the workingplaces men are met by women with expectations about how a man should behave. and are often treated with extra care by the elder women. are looked upon as non-masculine and categorised into a homosexual position (see Nilsson 1998).When I remember these factories and engineering plants that have been male dominated. Here the heterosexual matrix is present. it has been another type of jargon. when men behave too feminine. but I feel in a way that it hasn’t been my way of being. Men who perform too close to what is regarded as feminine. something that is more physical. while others se it as natural. Some of the men are trying to avoid to be incorporated in these activities. At the same time the women are very particular about men behaving ”man enough”. Soft as if you were a coward. It is regarded as non-masculine to choose a female profession. they shouldn’t be cowards (giggles). but many people think that a man should have a real work. I have adopt it. they are seen as parodic. Sometimes the male entrance can confirm more traditional division of labourtasks. It can be rewarding for women to perform in a way that is seen as masculine. Expectations of women makes it difficult for men who want to express themselves in alternative ways. or adopt the male jargon and thus become one of the guys.

on the other hand it is about transforming forms of masculinity that are seen as out-of-date and creating new. has had an severe impact. more traditional definitions of masculinity. conceptions of gender and the expectations that the male body actualises. for example”. it is important to perform as a man and not to be seen as effeminate.overcommunicating expectations of masculinity. Some tasks are thereby closed for men. ”One comment from a child that is misinterpreted could be enough. In the understanding of themselves as gendered beings different discourses are used. If equality and transformations of sex roles are emphasised and differences between the sexes are repressed. Both strategies can be seen as grounded in conceptions of equality. In some working places men are today not left alone with the children and are not aloud to rest with them. Some men downstress gender categorisation and emphasise similarities between men and women. Two different strategies are possible. The applications from men to the pre-school teacher education have decreased dramatically. The changing arguments about men’s presence in child care are also important. To be a man and work in a women dominated occupation is thereby about relating to traditions of the occupation. while the entrance in the female setting in others actualise thoughts about difference between the sexes. men and women are different”. renegotiation is facilitated. I change napkins every day. this can be grounded in equality seen as similarity. In Sweden there has during the last years been some cases where male employees have used children sexually. it can be grounded in equality seen as equal. is a sentence often repeated by the informants. alternative forms. non hierarchic difference. children and female personnel are supporting the men. and many employees are feeling stigmatised. One man that gets on well in the profession has decided to quit. EQUALITY SEEN AS SIMILARITY OR AS DIFFERENCE To summarise. ”We (gays) are somewhat paranoid about this femininity” (see Nilsson 1998). Gender identity then becomes important. but they are constantly met by headlines and articles about pedofily. These last mentioned men place themselves in contrast to what they interpret as female traditions and try to negotiate the tasks of the occupation. Even for the homosexual hairdresser I have interviewed. By being a part of the male community they also in a way have to deal with other men’s actions. If there is a renegotiation about the possible activities for men. ”We do tasks that we are good at. The men in the nurse profession do not express any experiences of disparaging utterances about their choice of profession. Among the male pre-school teachers the attention that media has given to pedofile affairs. Parents. To express oneself as a ”real man” is important in some situations. Is the argumentation grounded in the importance of male influences for boys. Both their own and the social surroundings concepts of gender are important. The writings in media are actualising the men’s gender belonging. it can be interpreted as men should express a certain form of masculinity. on the one hand it is about emphasising older. Some 8 . the study shows that men active in female dominated occupations both reproduce and renegotiate gender relations. Femininity is in this way subordinated and the choice of profession actualises the conception of masculinity. If arguments about sex differences are used and consolidating of older definitions of masculinity is taking place. while alternative masculinities are actualised in other situations.

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