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The Five Modalities of Male Desire and How They Limit Women’s Opportunities: Modality I


This essay starts with a No-Duh truism.

No-Duh Truism: Men are the biggest obstacles to women obtaining economic Power.

Non-Obvious Question: What exactly do men do to keep women from obtaining economic power?

One Answer to That Question: Male employers choose what jobs women are allowed to get. Their personal preferences shape women’s access to work and with that women’s access to money and power.

*  *  *

This five essay series is about how the desires of male employers shape women’s access to work. Notably the desires of male employers shape which occupations are defined as male, which defined as split and which defined as female. This division of occupations is called occupational sex- typing. This is the process that divides the labor market into male occupations and female occupations. There are not that many split jobs. Psychiatrist is a split job. Business manager is a split job.

(Remember business managers includes a lot of small time positions, like running a scented candle stand at a mall. Not every manager gets to the CEO of a Fortune 500 corporation.) Most jobs are clearly associated with one gender. Day care worker is a female job. Engineer is a male job. Social worker is a female job. When was the last time you had your care repaired by a woman?

Statistical measures of occupational dissimilarity by gender continue to show marked divisions between men and women for many countries – even for data collected in the 1990's and 2000’s. The barriers confining women to women’s occupations and men to men’s occupations have been remarkably durable over time. Statistical indices of gendered occupational dissimilarity show only modest reductions over time, with women still being semi-excluded from many traditionally male occupations.

Employers make all the decisions of who gets hired for what occupations. Historically, these employers have been male. Women are getting increasing access to positions with hiring power. But men still predominate as top executives. In 2018, in the U.S., only 24% of senior management positions are filled by females.

But what exactly do male employers want? Different employers want different things. There is no one-size-fits-all standard male and there is no one-size-fits-all standard set of male desires.

This series of five essays discusses five different modalities of male desire and how they shape the behavior of male employers. This employer behavior in turn determines what jobs will be open or closed to women.

Modality I: All-Out Exclusion of Women

Some employers just want to create an all-male workplace, period. This bolsters their personal sense of the basic superiority of men in general. Men like to flatter themselves that the work they do is so difficult that no woman can possibly do it. Men create all sorts of imaginary male super-traits that make them generally more capable than women.

“Women aren’t strong enough”

“Women can’t do the math”

“Women can’t take the pressure”

“Women aren’t tough enough on their people”

“Women let emotions interfere with judgement”

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Working in a job that women could not possibly do provides significant satisfaction for male managers and workers. It makes work an affirmation of male identity. It glorifies the skill and prowess of the job holder. Excluding women also promotes a locker room environment at work. It simplifies social interaction among men by allowing men to use “male style” without having to shift gears and be diplomatic around women.

But all of this egotism and easy social interaction comes with a huge price tag.

Women’s wages are lower than those of men.

If male bosses exclude women from their labor force, this means they will have to pay all their workers male wage rates. Male wages are expensive. Employers sometimes have to be profit-maximizing businessmen.  If paying higher wages is going to make them uncompetitive and drive their companies out of business, then hiring an all-male labor force is a luxury they can’t afford.

Some employers can afford an all-male labor force. Some really can’t. Employers who can afford to go all-male often do so. The occupations they control become bastions of male privilege from which women are wholly excluded.

The big issue is generally whether labor costs are a large part or a small part of the total budget. When labor costs really matter, employers can’t afford to exclude women. When labor costs don’t matter at all, patriarchy rules.

For some companies, labor costs are nearly 100% of their budget. These companies are what is called labor-intense. These companies generally hire a lot of human beings but they don’t buy a lot of expensive raw materials and they don’t buy a lot of expensive machinery.

Offices are the archetypical labor intense-operation. The desks and the computers cost nearly nothing. All of the expenses go towards paying the salaries of clerical workers.

Schools are labor intense. Most of what school districts pay for are teachers.

Social work agencies are labor intense. All these agencies pay for is social workers.

At a grutzier level, sweatshops are labor intense. The machinery is cheap and low scale. The raw materials are cheap stuff such as cloth.

Male exclusion thrives in non-labor-intense work settings. All male workplaces often have huge amounts of expensive raw materials and huge amounts of machinery.

Automobile factories are classic non-labor-intense settings. (All that machinery. All those auto parts.)

Steel mills are non-labor intense. (All that machinery. All that iron. All that coal.)

Construction sites are non-labor intense. (Yeah there are a lot of workers, but the big expense is the material going into the building or house.)

Women work in offices. Men work in factories. Women work in light manufacture with cheap raw materials. Men work in heavy manufacture with lots of expensive raw materials. In blue collar settings, men tell stories about how women lack the physical strength to do the job or they lack the toughness to do the job. This is just male talk here. The real issue is that the higher labor costs of an all-male labor force are buried in the budget for materials and machinery. The men can have their macho policies because they can afford them.

Women are also kicked out when labor expenses just don’t matter. This is frequently the case in high tech. In engineering or technology firms, all that matters is developing new technology first before the competitors do so – and the costs be damned. The cost of the engineers doesn’t matter a bit. What is essential is getting to market with the newest hottest innovation before the competitors do so.

Because labor costs don’t matter, men can afford to live their fantasies that women can’t do math or work on high pressure projects. The cost consequences of excluding women won’t matter as long as the product is developed and ships on time.

Symphony orchestras used to work the same way. Nowadays, symphony orchestras are financially strapped and at risk of closing down. The world of orchestras has become much more egalitarian. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the great orchestras were flush. They were going to sell out the house no matter what, and it did not matter how much the musicians or the conductor got paid. The great orchestras of the nineteenth and early twentieth century were all male. The great conductors were all male. Yes, the musical education process excluded women. Women could not enter conservatories and the grand masters would refuse to take female students. But this exclusion from training was linked to the larger question that no one needed cheap female musicians, so schools and musicians were under very little pressure to train female musicians.

*  *  *

If all-out exclusion was the only factor shaping the division of the work world between men and women, then the solution would be pretty straightforward. Market competition and economic forces would exert consistent pressure on employers to open up more jobs for women. As competition heats up, and as the need to cut costs becomes more urgent, employers are less and less capable of maintaining all-male labor forces; they become forced by necessity to open up jobs to women.

To some extent this is really occurring. The rise of globalization and the rise of international competition has made it essential for firms that want to survive to produce goods as cheaply as they can. In the 1950’s and 60’s, American employers tolerated unionized high-wage all-male labor forces. Competition first from Japan and then from all over the Global South has made unionized high-wage all-male labor forces more difficult to maintain. Increasingly those high-wage all-male jobs have been eliminated or moved overseas. In some cases, the old gendered division of labor still exists but has been moved to the cheaper men of the less developed world. Moving the making of auto parts from factories with American men to factories with Chinese men would be an example of this. But in other cases, the whole production process has been re-engineered towards labor-intense work settings with female workers. In other cases, the work stays in the United States, but the labor force becomes more diverse. More diverse often means cheaper – with a re-engineering and the creation of new job titles to justify rates of pay that were lower than what the male workers previously used to get.

Market competition and lower wages open up jobs to women. However, this does not exactly produce paradise for women. The jobs that open up for women are by definition low pay. The competitive pressures faced by their employers make sure that women’s pay rates start low and end low. The economic opportunities that women receive come because they are worse opportunities than the men used to receive in their golden age. Society moves towards gender equality – not because men’s and women’s opportunities are rising to the old male high level but because men’s and women’s opportunities are sinking to the old female low level.

In a world dominated by male desires for an all-male labor force, the openings for women are unattractive. Non-labor-intense high-pay jobs are reserved for men. Labor-intense low-pay jobs are open to women. Low pay is certainly better than no pay. When the male desire to exclude women to bolster male egos is dominant – neither the disease nor the remedy offer particularly attractive options.

For More Information

You can see statistical data on the extent to which men and women work in separate occupations in Richard Anker’s 1998 Gender and Jobs: Sex Segregation of Occupation in the World.

Also see Maria Charles and David Grusky’s 2004. Occupational Ghettos: Worldwide Segregation of Women and Men.

For more recent figures, see the report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research “Occupational Segregation and the Gender Wage Gap: a Job Half Done”. (

On the gender distribution of top management jobs in the United States see Grant Thornton, Women in Business: Beyond Policy to Progress. (

For a whole book on all-out male exclusion, check out my Process of Occupational Sex-typing which you can download for free from this very website. For what it is worth, this is the work that made my original scholarly reputation.

For other authors who have argued that there is a conflict between profit-maximization and patriarchal behavior, check out Gary Becker’s Economics of Discrimination for a conservative economic version.

See Heidi Hartmann “Capitalism, Patriarchy and Job Segregation By Sex” in the 1976 Signs for a progressive feminist version.

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