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Sunday, February 27, 2005

Sociology Paper

Sex and Gender

Sex and gender, two words often used synonymously when approached closely leave much room for interpretation and deviation. For better or for worse American culture inexorably ties and binds our perception of sex and gender. Americans undoubtedly are males with penises and females with vaginas, and while there are other perspectives on sex and gender they find little acceptance in the black and white reality that so clearly defines a distinct American zeitgeist. In The Glass Escalator Christine L. Williams chronicles her cultural exploration and underpins a note taken in class; that sexism relies on biological explanation. Williams interestingly exploring the difficulties men face in female dominated professions.

I read The Glass Escalator with great interest. As a ballet dancer my life is a female dominated existence. Williams’s does a wonderful job of exploring such an atypical subject. She shows an impressive and refreshing depth of understanding and insight into the challenges men face in female dominated workplaces. I’d like to take these three pages to examine my field and workplace through the lens that The Glass Escalator affords, concluding on the effects of stigmas in the workforce of the field I am familiar with.

Williams’s explanation of the tracking that men receive into high level and traditionally male administrative positions made clear sense to me. While ballet is most definitely an evolving form of art it is like most of the classical arts steeped in occasionally nearsighted tradition. Men dominate the executive, administrative, and artistic positions of nearly every ballet company in the United States. When women are found in administrative and policy making positions it is easy to see that they have usually been accompanied to such levels by their husbands. I found the application of the glass ceiling to the hierarchy of a ballet company interesting. Within a company setting dancers are very removed from administration. Age and education cut clear lines as most dancers are under 30 and lack a college degree while administrators are most typically aged 40 and up with postgraduate education or at least undergraduate education. The politics of upward movement for women and men in ballet companies are simple enough as long as genders are not cross represented on stage. Men and women just do not compete for the same jobs.

However when you look at the acquisition of administrative jobs there is very little formal protocol to suggest how one should make a serious application. Williams says notes on pages 346 and 347, “Subtle forms of workplace discrimination push women out of male dominated occupations. In particular, women report feeling excluded from informal leadership and decision making networks and they sense hostility from their male co-workers.” This rings very true in the field of ballet. The requirements of ballet companies and their board of directors in regards to how and why administrative positions are awarded vary greatly. There is no standard procedure aside from perhaps the typical creation of a search committee. How this committee acts and what they value is balanced and checked by none as there is no clear benchmark or standard that I am aware of. This creates an infinite array of problems. As Granfield suggested in his work Making it by Faking it, the upper circles that typically constitute a board of directors are usually a smattering of the wealthy and socially elite. Thus, they are predominantly white and male. The guarantors of the ballet discuss administrative hiring’s and engage in politicking at their country clubs and informal outings, not at a desk. With these circumstances in mind it is easy to understand the difficulty a young, beautiful, and in broad terms un-educated women would have in successfully presenting herself.

The concept of the glass escalator applies weakly to men in ballet as there is little competition with women for jobs. What is notable however is that, there are positions in instruction that have been traditionally and are even today nearly exclusively male and female. Rarely does one find a male instructor of Pointe work (dancing on ones toes), but as men are not required to perform or study en pointe some allowance of discrepancy should be made. It is alarming however that it is equally as rare to find a women that teaches pas de deux, (partnering). There are two distinct perspectives in the act of partnering, that of the man and the women. While men who teach these classes can and sometimes do put themselves in the position of the women it is impossible to assume a complete understanding of the females circumstances. The old argument used to justify the disproportional amount of men teaching pas de duex was that men could dance like women and generally understand their perspective but women could never lift other women to gain a full enough perspective of the man’s circumstances. It is a shame that such flawed thinking still holds respect and rapport within an entire workforce and culture.

In discussing the working environment Williams among other things interestingly pointed out that men often find solidarity in their fellow male peers while females in male dominated professions do not. I strongly identified with this conclusion, as I feel that quite often men in ballet do have stronger ties with their male colleagues. We are so generally unaccepted by the typically socialized male that I believe we hold onto a larger amount of the male friendships we are able to create. Their value in the sense of their rarity is much more than those of our female friends.

It is of course impossible to talk about men in ballet without approaching the subject of homosexuality. Paraphrased Williams said, “Gay men may encounter less favorable treatment at the hands of their supervisors. And Administrators may desire heterosexual staff thus leading to an exaggeration of masculinity in the work environment.” It is interesting to note I have experienced somewhat of the opposite effect in my experiences. In consideration of Williams mentioning the common unease single men feel when socializing with married women for fear of giving the wrong impression, the unease a typically socialized man would have talking about, creating, and doing sexual and intimate choreography with a married women are quite forthright and expected. Thus, there is a practicality and ease of social strain when a homosexual man works closely and intimately with a woman. However, true or untrue, there is an understanding in the field that heterosexual men are better experienced and suited to do this type of heterosexually geared work. This creates a simple acknowledgement for straight men leads to a very complex code of unwritten ethics and understandings meant to keep social order in what would be to a typically socialized male very stressful, confusing, and morally deficient situations.

As noted earlier Williams comments on the exaggeration of masculinity; I have experienced an opposite effect amongst ballet dancers. While masculinity is appreciated due largely in part to its rarity within the field, it is in many cases looked down upon, creating something of a Catch 22. Its rarity upon this knowledge and closer inspection becomes more understandable. The difficulty in maintaining a type and forms of masculinity that are acceptable on a scale that is constantly changing in response to particular environments and settings, is for most men not worth the challenge. It is important to understand there is only so much adaptive socialization that can occur to make traditionally unacceptable interactions between men and women more comfortable. This is to say, social sanctions and ideals can not be magically lifted and taboos suddenly justified. Blatant displays of masculinity in most situations cause enormous amounts of discomfort and ill-ease to women in a culture that is vulnerably open. While I don’t have an extremely qualified first hand understanding of typical male masculinity it is in my experience in the most general terms on a public level the simplification of displayed emotion and on a private level the internalization of un-displayed emotion. Such propensities are from the beginning socialized out of a male’s disposition and treated as compromising.

I chuckled when reading Williams thoughts on outsider stereotypes as I wondered when a stereotype loses its fabrication and become a valid element of the truth. I don’t think male sexuality has ever been queried within the field but I believe it is safe to say it runs between 40%-60% either way. My roommate’s opinion dictates 60% gay 40% straight. I am unaware of any consensus. Numbers aside, “gay” these days stands for so much more than sexual preference. It carries with it cultural implication that in itself defines to some varying degree many of the men in ballet. I hesitate to call the assumption that, “men in ballet are gay” a stereotype. It has become my understanding that people of the mind to say such things, haven’t looked close enough at their subject to determine sexuality. Their reaction is not to sexual preference but to what they simply don’t realize is the culture that most often surrounds homosexual men. There is the common lack of understanding that heterosexual men adopt this culture as well.

In this sense it is no surprise I have been subject to outside discrimination. Assumptions that have varied on so many levels; that I am gay, that I should for that matter should be perky and happy, that I am stupid, that ballet is a hobby and therefore I have less ambition than is desired in a male. Such assumptions bothered me immensely until I re-aligned my socialization. For the most part I’ve been able to personally remove myself from the reactions my job receives. There are days when I don’t want to handle the questions or specific instances where a lie belays amounts of social unease that I am not comfortable handling alone. But I generally enjoy the reactions I receive. They are usually a clean judge of character.

Williams concludes that social stigmas do push men out of professions but that they could be a good thing. I initially balked at her statement wondering how any social stigma could be perceived as positive. After adopting a functionalist perspective I realized that; while we don’t pick the general type of person we are to become, that is done when we are socialized, we do have the choice of choosing how we respond to the social stigmas that invariably confront each and every one of us. It is how we shape our responses that make us unique and define our individuality. Thus, it is through these social stigmas that we are truly exposed to ourselves. This, the exposure that defines the character in each of us.


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