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‘women’s work’ versus ‘men’s work’: that’s a thing of the past, right?

 As someone who is studying Primary School Teaching, and who previously studied Social Work, it was only a matter of time before I started talking about this issue. Namely the idea of ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ and how this idea still seems to be so prevalent in our society.

In my social work class there were two men and over twenty women. In my primary teaching course the ratio is even more skewed in favour of women. Whereas my husband went from studying astrophysics to doing computer science, and found that the ratio was just as skewed in both courses towards men. I find it odd that there are still these career paths and courses that are so uneven in terms of representation from both sexes.

It is not that women aren’t as good as men in some fields, as much as right-wing “experts” try to say otherwise. My friends and I (all female) were at the top of our maths class in high school, and yet not one of us veered towards a maths based course at university. My husband on the other hand was at the top of his English course and loved it, but hasn’t done anything to do with English since.

Before I continue I actually have an embarrassing story to share. Something that I am quite ashamed of, but it relates too well to this article to keep in to myself. I met my husband’s friend’s girlfriend last year, and she started to talk about working in a hospital.

“Oh, so you’re a nurse” came out of my mouth before I even had time to think.
“No….” she responded. “I’m a doctor. But don’t worry; I get that all the time.”

I am not someone who thinks that women can’t be doctors, nor am I someone who assumes that all women (or even the majority) who work in a hospital are nurses. I have more female friends studying medical science than I do studying nursing.

But for someone reason, subconsciously, I had picked up this idea of ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ that is clearly seen at any university. There is nothing wrong with women going into areas that are seen as ‘women’s jobs’ at all- that is not what this article is about.  But we are spoon-fed this idea from when we are little about the jobs that women do compared to the jobs that men do.

Little girls watch shows, movies and television ads depicting women who are teachers, nurses, counsellors and housewives, while boys watch shows, movies and television ads where the leading male is a fire fighter, police officer, boss or mechanic.

Boys play with trucks and dress up like doctors for Halloween while girls play with plastic kitchen equipment and dress up like princesses. To say that this is instinct rather than a social construct is ridiculous. Even if a parent uses ‘neutral’ colours or toys that don’t have a gender bias, it is much too ingrained into our society for a child to ever be free of it.

It’s like that joke: A man and his son were in a car accident. The man died on the way to the hospital, but the boy was rushed into surgery. The surgeon said “I can’t operate, for that’s my son!” How is this possible?

Everyone I know has been fooled by that one, even though we are all perfectly aware that women can be surgeons. But it shows the ideas that are lurking in the deep dark recesses of our subconscious.

What concerns me around this topic is how many girls and boys are going into careers simply because of the stereotypes that they are taught from a young age, rather than what they really excel at.

(Image credit: 1.)

3 thoughts on “‘women’s work’ versus ‘men’s work’: that’s a thing of the past, right?

  1. You make some good arguments in this article, however I am a member of a profession which has changed from 80% men to over 80% women within several decades. The job description is the same, it still requires strength and ‘unpleasantness’ but the ratio of men to women is hugely different. The profession is veterinary science. I agree that we are conditioned to perhaps view some jobs as masculine or feminine, however ultimately it is up to the individual’s commitment to their desired profession.

  2. I’m glad to hear that veterinary science has changed. I think it’s mainly jobs such as teaching (particularly primary or early childhood teaching), nursing, computer science and engineering that are a bit stuck in the past (my friend actually got told that because she was a women she couldn’t be an engineer…and that was during an interview for a position as one!)

    What really bothers me is that jobs that are predominantly women have much lower salaries…but that’s a completely different article right there :p

    It is up to the individual; after all, I wasn’t forced into teaching or social work; but sometimes societal factors do play a part as well. Little girls tend to be more likely to say that they want to be a teacher or a nurse when they grow up- boys tend not to as they view them as ‘girly’ occupations.

    Boys also play a lot more computer and video games (something I think is conditioned, rather than innate, but I could be wrong!), which leads them towards those kind of jobs when they’re older.

    Though my husband (who works for a video games company) said that the percentage of women playing video games has risen drastically over the last few years, so maybe we’ll finally see a change in that industry. Fingers crossed!

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