Tag Archives: workplace

Transmen in the Workplace: No Surprises

Debbie says:

I’ve been saying for a long time that having more transpeople is going to teach us a lot about how gender works. Generally, when I say this, I mean that we’re going to learn about biology: what changes when a person is on hormones, and what doesn’t? What changes for some people and not others? What varies with hormone levels? What changes when a person has surgery? These are all things we couldn’t know before and now there’s an opportunity to gather data (so the geek in me is automatically interested).

At the same time, there’s also a lot to be learned sociologically. Twenty years ago or so, a major study (which I can’t easily find on the Internet) revealed that MTF transgender people earned a lot less after they transitioned than they did before transition. The study interpreted this as a failure of transition, failing to take into account that 1) at the time, to be permitted to have a medical transition, people had to agree to leave their whole old life (including their work history) behind and take a new name in a new city; and 2) women earn less than men.

Now, however, Kristen Schilt has published Just One of the Guys: Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality

cover for Kristen Schilt's book

and guess what? People who have been in the workplace as both women and men report being treated better when they present as male.

In a fascinating blog called “Dollars and Sex,” which I hadn’t seen before, Marina Adshade reports on the book:

Most of the men interviewed revealed that as men they were given more authority and respect in the workplace than they had received as women, even when they had stayed in the same job. They also found that their economic gains post-transition were greater despite the fact that their human capital remained the same.

As men they found that they were perceived as being right more often. One tells a story of intentionally repeating a comment that had just been made by a woman in a conference setting. The woman had been shot down for making the comment but when the man made exactly the same observation the reaction was “Excellent point!”

The overriding theme here is that as men they were seen as more competent in their jobs and given more respect and authority. When it came time to evaluate workplace performance, either for promotion or pay, this perception played to their advantage. For those running their own businesses, they found it easier to gain the confidence of investors as men, making them more successful.

Again, no surprise: ethnicity, race, and age can be balancing factors:

It turns out that the real gain described above is not in becoming a man, but in becoming an older white man. Becoming either a Black or Asian man meant facing a whole new set of challenges in the workplace as either being too aggressive or too passive. If the transition made them look like very young men (especially over the period in which they are developing peach fuzz beards) they saw no advantage, or were disadvantaged for their youth and perceived lack of experience.

This is just another piece of evidence to add to the already-very-convincing pile of data which shows how much (older white) male privilege affects the workplace. What makes it interesting is that in this case, the change happens to a single person, which significantly undercuts any attempt to claim that “men are just better at these things” or “well, in our office, it just happens that the women aren’t as skillful at [X important skill].” Next time someone tries one of those arguments on me, I’ll have a new response.

Thanks to wordweaverlynn for the pointer.

Sex in the Workplace: Just Enough, but Not too Much

Laurie and Debbie say:

Conventionally attractive women get hired more frequently than conventionally unattractive women. Women in the beauty culture, on diets, getting plastic or weight-loss surgery and other beauty treatments, aren’t just looking for men, or self-esteem … they’re also looking for good jobs.

For Debrahlee Lorenzana, however, it seems to have backfired in a big way.

Lorenzana at work in a black dress and heels

This is the way Debbie Lorenzana tells it: Her bosses told her they couldn’t concentrate on their work because her appearance was too distracting. They ordered her to stop wearing turtlenecks. She was also forbidden to wear pencil skirts, three-inch heels, or fitted business suits. Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mom, pointed out female colleagues whose clothing was far more revealing than hers: “They said their body shapes were different from mine, and I drew too much attention,” she says.

As Lorenzana’s lawsuit puts it, her bosses told her that “as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear.”

This kind of theory is not new. This is one explanation for Islamic women are told to wear modest dress and why Orthodox Jewish women shave their heads, because men who are not their husbands may look upon their beauty and be unable to control themselves. It’s been the responsibility of women to manage men’s sexual responses for (literally) millennia.

Outside of religious constraints on dress, in our times in the U.S. we most often see it as the time-honored excuse for rape: “Dressed like that, she deserved it.”

Now, however, at least according to Lorenzana, it’s a firing offense.

“Men are kind of drawn to her,” says Tanisha Ritter, a friend and former colleague who also works as a banker and praises Lorenzana’s work habits. “I’ve seen men turn into complete idiots around her. But it’s not her fault that they act this way, and it shouldn’t be her problem.”

She is suing Citigroup for being fired, and the lawsuit may get her fired from her new employer, Chase, where “They said I was damaging the reputation of the entire industry,” Lorenzana said.

So, what has Lorenzana done wrong?

First, she’s done what women have always done: looked wrong. Didn’t look the way the men around her wanted her to look. Didn’t fit whatever mold they invented this week. She says she changed her hairdo and her make-up and they weren’t satisfied. This can only happen because men (and women who actively participate in the power structure) get to decide how women should look.

Second, she’s “mouthy.” She’ll talk about how she’s been treated. She’ll complain. She’ll file lawsuits. She’ll pose for all kinds of pictures, sexy and businesslike. She doesn’t seem to be embarrassed either about how she looks or, much worse, about who she is. And that’s unforgivable.

Up until somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s, you could fire a woman for being too hot (or more often, for being too hot and not putting out after work). You could fire a woman for being too mouthy. You couldn’t quite directly call it that, but “everybody knew” that men decided which women to work with, and any powerful man’s reason was reason enough. Now we’re in a period where you are expected to take women’s work at face value, women in the workplace and even in management and leadership are much more common, and there is a basic social awareness that how a woman looks should be decouple from how she does her job, even if it is often ignored or misused. This particular story sounds like a blast from the past–a return to fifty or sixty years ago, which is one reason why it’s so upsetting.

One thing that makes this story different than it would have been in the 1950s is the 20-preteens and everything is sexualized. Talking about sex is much more acceptable than it used to be, and every advertisement and media message encourages us to sexualize each other all the time. So of course it’s more acceptable for men to say, “I can’t work when you’re around; you’re too sexy.” This pervasive attitude gives men permission to indulge themselves in “learned helplessness.”

Sorry, honey. Not sexy enough, too sexy, puts out too much, doesn’t put out enough, wrong size, wrong shape, wrong anything. But they’re not calling the shots the way they used to. This can only be major news because it isn’t normal any more.