WOMEN AT WORK
With the growth of large organizations calling for skills in personal relations, the womanly art of status enhancement and the emotion work that it requires has been made more public, more systematized, and more standardized. It is performed by largely middle-class women in largely public – contact jobs. As indicated in Chapter Seven (and Appendix C), jobs involving emotional labor comprise over a third of all jobs. But they form only a quarter of all jobs that men do, and over half of all jobs that women do.
Many of the jobs that call for public contact also call for giving service to the public. Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb, in T he Hidden Injuries of Class, comment on how people tend to rank service jobs in relation to other kinds of jobs: “At the bottom end of the scale are found not factory jobs but service jobs where the individual has to perform personally for someone else. A bartender is listed below a coal miner, a taxi driver below a truck driver; we believe this occurs because their functions are felt to be more dependent on and more at the mercy of others" [my emphasis].7 Because there are more women than men in service jobs (21 percent compared with 9 percent), there are “hidden injuries” of gender attached to those of class.
Once women are at work in public-contact jobs, a new pattern unfolds: they receive less basic deference. That is, although some women are still elbow-guided through doors, chauffeured in cars, and protected from rain puddles, they are not shielded from one fundamental consequence of their lower status: their feelings are accorded less weight than the feelings of men.
As a result of this status effect, flight attending is one sort of job for a woman and another sort of job for a man. For a man the principal hidden task is to maintain his identity as a man in a “woman’s occupation” and occasionally to cope with tough passengers “for” female flight attendants. For a woman, the principal hidden task is to deal with the status effect: the absence of a social shield against the displaced anger and frustration of passengers.
How, then, does a woman’s lower status influence how she is treated by others? More basically, what is the prior link between status and the treatment of feeling? High-status people tend to enjoy the privilege of having their feelings noticed and considered important. The lower one’s status, the more one’s feelings are not noticed or treated as inconsequential. H. E. Dale, in The Higher Civil Service of Great Britain, reports the existence of a “doctrine of feelings”:
The doctrine of feelings was expounded to me many years ago by a very eminent civil servant.. .. He explained that the importance of feelings varies in dose correspondence with the importance of the person who feels. If the public interest requires that a junior clerk should be removed from his post, no regard need be paid to his feelings; if it is the case of an assistant secretary, they must be carefully considered, within reason; if it is a permanent secretary, feelings are a principal element in the situation, and only imperative public interest can override their requirements.8
Working women are to working men as junior clerks are to permanent secretaries. Between executive and secretary, doctor and nurse, psychiatrist and social worker, dentist and dental assistant, a power difference is reflected as a gender difference. The “doctrine of feelings” is another double standard between the two sexes.
The feelings of the lower-status party may be discounted in two ways: by considering them rational but unimportant or by considering them irrational and hence dismissable. An article entitled “On Aggression in Politics: Are Women Judged by a Double Standard?” presented the results of a survey of female politicians. All those surveyed said they believed there was an affective double standard. As Frances Farenthold, the president of Wells College in Aurora, New York, put it: “You certainly see to it that you don’t throw any tantrums. Henry Kissinger can have his scenes—remember the way he acted in Salzburg? But for women, we’re still in the stage that if you don’t hold in your emotions, you’re pegged as emotional, unstable, and all those terms that have always been used to describe women.”9 These women in public life were agreed on the following points. When a man expresses anger, it is deemed “rational” or understandable anger, anger that indicates not weakness of character but deeply held conviction. When women express an equivalent degree of anger, it is more likely to be interpreted as a sign of personal instability. It is believed that women are more emotional, and this very belief is used to invalidate their feelings. That is, the women’s feelings are seen not as a response to real events but as reflections of themselves as “emotional” women.
Here we discover a corollary of the “doctrine of feelings”: the lower our status, the more our manner of seeing and feeling is subject to being discredited, and the less believable it becomes.10 An “irrational” feeling is the twin of an invalidated perception. A person of lower status has a weaker claim to the right to define what is going on; less trust is placed in her judgments; and less respect is accorded to what she feels. Relatively speaking, it more often becomes the burden of women, as with other lower-status persons, to uphold a minority viewpoint, a discredited opinion.
Medical responses to male and female illness provide a case in point. One study of how doctors respond to the physical complaints of back pain, headache, dizziness, chest pain, and fatigue—symptoms for which a doctor must take the patient’s word —showed that among fifty-two married couples, the complaints of the husbands elicited more medical response than those of the wives. The authors conclude: “The data may bear out… that the physicians. .. tend to take illness more seriously in men than in women.” Another study of physician interactions with 184 male and 130 female patients concluded that “doctors were more likely to consider the psychological component of the patient’s illness important when the patient was a woman.”11 The female’s assertion that she was physically sick was more likely to be invalidated as something “she just imagined,” something “subjective,” not a response to anything real.
To make up for either way of weighing the feelings of the two sexes unequally, many women urge their feelings forward, trying to express them with more force, so as to get them treated with seriousness. But from there the spiral moves down. For the harder women try to oppose the “doctrine of feeling” by expressing their feelings more, the more they come to Ht the image awaiting them as “emotional.” Their efforts are discounted as one more example of emotionalism. The only way to counter the doctrine of feelings is to eliminate the more fundamental tie between gender and status.12