The definition of a man, especially in the workplace, is closely tied to the definition of a woman. Whereas a woman in the workplace is defined as less aggressive and conservative, a man is perceived as more agile and modern. Women who possess such latter characteristics in the workplace are often referred to as “men.” Being a man does not come about easily, just because one is born male. The expectations placed on males are very high, given that a man is viewed as both the protector and the provider in the Chinese culture. The man’s role carries a heavier weight in the Chinese culture, where the man, apart from being dominating and assertive, is also expected to carry his family name and to ensure the continuity of the family’s bloodline. However, in Chines culture, there are many perks that come with being a proper culturally defined man. Indeed, these perks would not be realized were it not for the woman. The woman is categorically compared to the man to ensure her weaknesses are exposed, and in so doing, ensure that the man’s strengths are illuminated.
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In the workplace, for example, men tend to get promoted easily and have higher salaries than women. It is this disparity that piqued my interest in finding out what it means to be a man in the workplace. The questions that I ponder on are: How are women viewed in the workplace in relation to men? Why do women get fewer promotions compared to their male colleagues? Why are there fewer women in executive positions in most companies? What role does the man play in ensuring that the woman remains subordinate to him? These questions will help me understand better the reasons why men get ahead much faster than women in the workplace.
Role of Power and Capital in the Workplace
An interesting read on the evolution of patriarchy gave me a head start in understanding how power and capital work out in the workplace. This can then be tied to why men are defined as more superior employees than women. One can argue that since the evolutionary origins of patriarchy, men have had a desire to control the sexuality of women. The female, having anatomy that required her to go for gestation and also a period of lactation, is seen as vulnerable and has to rely on the man for resources. In turn, men are perceived to be providers. In the workplace, it can be argued, men are still seen as providers. Thus, their salaries are much higher as it is expected that they have to provide for a family at home (Smuts 7). On the other hand, women are seen as receivers. Their pay is lower as it is expected that a man will also meet her needs despite her working. By default, therefore, even in meetings, a man is expected to take the lead as he is a provider.
Foucault’s Take on Power
Foucault defines power play as the “objectivizing of the productive subject, the subject who labors, in the analysis of wealth and economics” (326). In this case, the subject is the individual who is exposed to the control and dependence of another person. In the reading on the evolution of patriarchy, it is evident that the woman is subjective to the man (Smuts 5). This is because men tend to be the ones with the most resources. Family inheritance largely influences this, as most fathers prefer to leave their inheritance to their sons than daughters. Women, while looking for a better life for themselves and their children, will, therefore, prefer men that have more resources as potential mates. Thus, such men assure women of protection and providence. The concept is very evident in the workplace where men feel the need to guide and protect their female colleagues despite having the same qualifications. In such cases, women end up being dominated by men.
It is important to note that there are far more men in senior positions than women in the workplace. Such situations allow men to take advantage of women. Under such circumstances, the woman is expected to abide by the rules that the man has set. It is a well-known fact that men tend to compete aggressively for both money and recognition. This often leaves most women at a disadvantage, as they are viewed as the less competitive ones. Thus, women are left behind when it comes to promotions and higher paychecks. Men, on the other hand, aggressively pursue such challenges. Their aggressiveness ensures that they stay ahead and that they form a pact where women find it hard to penetrate, such as in the STEM areas. Since many women avoid a majority of the scientific jobs, they get less pay and acquire wealth much slowlier compared to men. In the workplace, therefore, a man is defined by his ease of acquisition of wealth through the current capitalistic approach.
Bourdieu’s Take on Capitalism
Capitalism, according to Bourdieu, takes on more than one form. The word stems from “capital,” which is often described as assets and money that are accumulated over a certain period. According to Bourdieu, the definition is further extended to include two forms of capital, which are cultural and social capital (49). Cultural capital is expounded to three types: embodiment, objectification, and institutionalization (Bourdieu 47). Embodied cultural capital pertains to the individual’s efforts in improving himself or herself, at a cost. This is often affected by time and the availability of resources. Indeed, time and resources are required for one to invest in themselves. Gaining an education is one area where this applies. Additionally, personal investments lead to easier access to and acquisition of wealth.
The acquisition of wealth leads to the ability to purchase material things. Indeed, the definition of capital is tied to material objects (Bourdieu 51). The institutionalized wealth, on the other hand, is linked to the recognition that education certificate holders get from related institutions. In this regards, it can be summed up that cultural capital is the capital that an individual possesses through education, the ability to apply knowledge in a particular situation, such as the use of a machine in engineering, and the recognition that qualifications allow this individual to stand out from the rest. Under such circumstances, the person with the highest education level can dominate others.
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In the workplace context, men dominate in the STEM subjects, often go to Ivy League colleges to get better education and recognition, and in effect, get better-paying jobs than women (Adams et al. 14). Many men also tend to start their businesses using the knowledge they acquire from attending the high-end college. This is the case with most billionaires, such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, who attended highly respected schools, thus, were at an advantage when they started to venture into business. Women, on the other hand, steer clear of the STEM subjects, therefore, lag behind when it comes to dominance in the workplace. Many of the traditional disciplines that women tend to go for, such as teaching and nursing, have less pay and are also less dominating. It can, thereby, be stated that men go for supremacy, while women avoid it. Women that go for high-risk positions are often described as improper (Adams et al. 13).
Societal responsibilities such as getting married and having children often prevent women from advancing their studies, which would put them in a better position to compete with men who often have much higher educational qualifications (Young 2). Men, on the other hand, have societal pressure to excel and compete with their fellows and come out the best in their areas of interest. This motivation, thus, pushes them forward and makes ascendency over the woman much easier to achieve. Bourdieu states that social capital is tied to an individual’s network or connections that they have, which may help them acquire more wealth (47). In the workplace, the formation of groups and relationships for the advancement of individual careers can be defined as a form of social capital. Also, due to their role as providers and holders of the capital, it is often believed that men are emotionally stable and result-oriented. They are, thus, able to access resources, opportunities, and networks that can help them easily advance their careers. Therefore, they continue to dominate women in many areas.
Post-Colonialism Concept on Power
According to post-colonialism, everyone around the globe is subject to equal rights to their well-being, including the material one (Young 2). However, a closer look at our societies today proves otherwise. It is for this reason that feminists started their fight for equal rights, the empowerment of women and the rights to have equal access to the workplace, medicine, education and many other things that may improve their well-being. Feminism in America, for some time now, has been viewed as a white woman’s issue. However, looking at how women of color also suffer from the injustices mentioned above will make one think twice about feminism (Hurdis 363).
I have come to realize that most women of color, compared to other women, tend to get hired less frequently. Indeed, in the workplace, men prefer Caucasian women to women of color (Hurdis 365). This fact explains the high number of unemployed African American women in America. This brings a different twist to the power struggle, since racism is involved, and makes the plight of women of color in the workplace worse. Discrimination based on race makes a more significant contribution to the power struggle between men and women because the dominant race will end up discriminating the less dominant race.
In most cases, it is people of color who suffer the most from the supremacy of the more privileged race. In defining what is meant by the word race, Adams et al. state that “race is not determined by one’s biological disposition, but by the socio-economic constructs that are imposed on them by social and institutional practices, as well as the behaviors and attitudes of other people towards the group they identify themselves with” (58). The level of unemployment among people of color is thus highly disproportionate to that of the white people due to the dominance used by the privileged race over them.
Going back to the question of what makes a man in the workplace, according to Adams et al., it is clear that power lies at the heart of the matter (12). The ability of the male to gain resources and use them is what makes him compelling and dominant over the woman. Under the Foucault theory, the man increases dominance over the woman because he is expected to do better than her in obtaining resources (328). This explains why most men negotiate more for better pay, are more aggressive in pursuing promotions and thus gain an edge over the women. He, therefore, makes the woman the subject of his battle for supremacy.
In the context of child-rearing, it is often women who leave work to take care of the children. The woman, in this context, will thus become dependent on the man for resources necessary for her upkeep. This may not necessarily result from a lack of education or qualifications, but her biological nature acts here against her in the workplace. Under the Bourdieu theory of capitalism, the man is again at an advantage because parents value sending their male children to higher education more than they do their female children (52). The parents with the most resources will thus send their children to good schools, such as the ones found here in America. The high level of Chinese students in most American schools shows that the parent, who in this case is often the father, took the initiative in ensuring that the child got a good education for the betterment of their future. The ownership of the objective capital often falls into the hands of the man.
Post-colonialism provided a different look at power. The focus was mainly on how power never actually shifted hands even after the end of colonialism. One race became dominant over the other, and the social injustices that ensued led to the formation of the feminists groups. The dominance of the man over the woman is still evident here.
The questions that I pondered “How are men viewed in the workplace? Why do women get fewer promotions than men in the workplace? Why are there less women in executive positions in most companies as well as what role does the man play in ensuring that woman remains subordinate him?” now have answers. In the workplace, women are viewed as being under the dominance of men. This belief has led to women negotiating for lesser pay and being less aggressive when it comes to looking for promotions (Hurdis 364). In my work as a salesman in the wine industry, I have noticed that men do not wait for opportunities for growth to present themselves, but actively seek them. If the prospects do not present themselves where they are, they will likely look for them elsewhere.
Women, on the other hand, tend to be a bit lenient in searching for better job opportunities outside of their current employer. Women get fewer promotions due to gender discrimination, stereotypes and at times, personal bias (Adams et al. 11). Just take a look at how the recent American elections were biased against the woman candidate. Also, there are less women in executive positions due to the stiff competition from the qualified male candidates (Adams et al. 11). The culture surrounding the definition of a man and woman in the workplace is society-based. Many societies are patriarchal, describing women as lesser beings than men (Adams et al. 11). Thus, when a woman shows aggression and assertiveness in going for higher pay and promotions, she gains a bad name for herself, since what she is doing is associated with men, and not with women.
Men, thus, play a role in transmitting this stereotype about women when they pass them over for a promotion, and when they fail to mentor them when they are in a position to do so. As earlier shown in social capital, men tend to negotiate and make strategies with other men. Men also mentor other men, which makes it easier for them to climb the corporate ladder. This is however not the case with women, as very few of them are mentored into positions of leadership. All these factors thus show that the man is in power in the workplace. This has been so also in other areas of life where the man dominates over the woman. However, as women continue to lobby for equal rights within the workplace, there is hope that what is the norm today may as well change tomorrow. Men will accept more women in their social circles, and will possibly mentor them on how to succeed at getting ahead in the workplace. The education of the girl child is also gaining momentum in many parts of the world, and hopefully in the near future there will be a narrower gap between men and women in the STEM subjects.
Adams, Maurianne, et al., editors. Readings for Diversity and Social Justice. 3rd ed., Routledge, 2013.
Bourdieu, Pierre. “The Forms of Capital.” Education: Culture, Economy, Society, edited by A. H. Halsey, H. Lauder, and P. Brown. Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 46-59.
Hurdis, Rebecca. Heartbroken: Women of Color Feminism and the Third Wave. Routledge, 2002.
Foucault, Michel. “The Subject of Power.” Power and Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, edited by James D. Faubion and Paul Rabinow. Translated by Robert Hurley and others, The New York Press, 2000, pp. 326-348.
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Smuts, Barbara. “The Evolutionary Origins of Patriarchy.” Human Nature, vol. 6, no. 1, 1995, pp. 1–32.
Young, Robert. Post – Colonialism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2003.