I am both idealist and realist. For there is no point in ideals if they cannot be realised.
Jacob (Jake) Barrie Gordon

Jake Gordon

'Old ways of being a man are no longer possible or aceptable and this gives rise to uncertainties and insecurity' (Nickie Charles). Analyse with respect to the topic of gender and work.

In her book 'Gender in Modern Britain' (2002), Nickie Charles explores the crisis of masculinity and the legitimacy of being a man, stating that "Old ways of being a man are no longer possible or acceptable and this gives rise to uncertainties and insecurity" (2000: 125). She sees this problem as being rooted in both economic and cultural changes since the 1970s. This essay will analyse this statement with particular respect to these economic changes since The Second World War, and in particular since 1970.

It is first necessary to understand what is meant by 'old ways of being a man'. Post World War II their were well defined separate roles for man and woman in a marriage. The husband was the bread-winner, earning money for the family, whilst his wife would take care of domestic duties. Patriarchy ensured that men was considered more important and powerful than women. Consumerism was not as important as it is today, with employment was the main source of identity. Jobs were 'for life', and this created security, with the knowledge that once a trade was learnt, a new one will not be required. Manufacturing was a dominant employer, with the government also offering many jobs through civil service and nationalised industries.

However, as men went to fight the war, women were recruited into employment which before was inaccessible to them. After the war, women wanted the choice to be able to continue working outside the house, and were 'invading the strongholds of masculinity... She seems to say... 'Everything you can do, I can do better'" (Hacker, 1957:228-229, quoted in Charles, 2002: 110). But it wasn't until feminism and more generally, female liberation took-off that women began to make significance advancement into past-male-dominated jobs in the 1970s.

Concurrently, free-market capitalism has grown in its influence, with recent globalization - in particular since the end of the Cold War and the fall of The Berlin Wall and other barriers in 1989 - speeding up the process. Manufacturing jobs have been shed to technology and international competition, with information based jobs replacing them in the UK.

So in talking of 'old ways of being a man', this will generally refer to a situation which was common between approximately 1945 and 1970. This will be discussed with relation to changes since 1970, in particular the areas of femal liberation and the growth of free-market capitalism. The general theme throughout will be how these two themes (female liberation and free-market capitalism), both separately and working together, have affectd 'old ways of being a man', and how this has given rise to any uncertainties and insecurity.

In the past (defined as being some time between 1945-1970), patriarchy was maintained in areas of life, from work to the home. In 1975 the Equal Pay Act and Sex Descrimination Act were passed, giving women the legal right to the same pay and chance of employment as men. Together with the Abortion Act of 1967, which gave women the right to abortion, the three acts helped women to become more equal and independent of men. The ideology of the male bread-winner nuclear-family was questioned, and this created an inevitable sense of insecurity and uncertainty for men.

Power creates security, so with the breakdown of the power given to a man in his bread-winner role, men felt less secure in their relationships. Women were becoming aware that they could make money for themselves, making an economic contribution to the family or even to escape the family. They no longer necessarily had to rely on their husband's earnings, and so the power related to this was lost. Not only did men feel insecure because of a loss of power, but also more generally due to a change. That is, what was once taken for granted - that they would work and a wife would stay in the home - was questioned.

But not only were women becoming more accepted in the workplace, women were also questioning all aspects of patriarchy and male dominance through the rise of the women's movement in 1960s-70s Britain. Through women's groups, women were able to talk with other women about issues affecting them. No longer did women only have discussions wih their husbands, and this threatened masculinity and a man's authority in all aspects of a relationship.

At the same time as men were feeling powerless, insecure and confused by changes to their relationships with their wives due to female liberation, the manufacturing industry was in decline. "[T]he proportion of the population in manufacturing industries has declined steadily since 1971, whilst the proportion employed in non-manufacturing industries has increased." (Ransome, 1995: 59). Manufacturing jobs are often associated with tasks (such as heavy lifting) which the average man is better equippped to do than their female counterpart, due to physical differences between the sexes. Non-manufacturing jobs which have taken their place on the whole require tasks which are not influenced, or at least are less influenced, by physical differences between the sexes.

So, from the rise of the women's liberation movement in in the 1960s through into the 1980s, their were great changes for men, in relation to women, the labour market and at home. A 'crisis of masculinity' was born "as long-standing male and social economic dominance [was] undermined by feminization and by female competition at work" (Morgan, 1990, quoted by Bradley in ed. Brown: 1997: 89). Jobs which men were most suited to were destroyed, replaced by jobs easily accessible by both men and women.

But there have also been many other sources of uncertainty and insucurity which have arisen from losing other 'old ways of being a man'. Their cause being globalization and free-market capitalism rather than women's liberation.

Between 1945 and 1951, under a Labour government, Britain saw the nationalization of several key industries including coal, steel, gas and transportation. Secure jobs were created providing a decent wage for many men and creating one of the 'old ways of being a man'. However, beginning with the Conservative Thatcher government of 1971, nationalization has been reversed through privatization - British Aerospace (1984); British Telecom (1984); British Gas (1986); British Airways (1987); British Steel (1988); water utilities (1989); British Coal (1995); British Rail (1996). With each privatization, jobs in that organization have become more insecure and open to market forces.

In 1984-85, under the Conservative Thatcher government, unionized coal miners in Britain went on strike due to closures of mines and the knowledge that all their jobs were at risk due to competition. Jobs in the mine provided reasonably-paid employment for many (men) regardless of their intelligence or skills, with many having the same jobs as their fathers and grandfathers before them. In 1986 the industry was privatized, and a once secure job providing a required national service was opened up to the competitive global market. The reason for privatization was that minin in Britain was no longer economic efficiency - it was cheaper for companies to import coal from Australia (with its open rather than deep mines) and other countries than to produce it domestically.

Friedman (2000) sees 1989 as a change of epochs. Out went the Cold War system with its barriers to trade which had dominated ecomomics since WWII, and in came globalization with its own rules based upon the ideology of free-market capitalism, as led by the US. Globalization is epitmoized by the Internet, making it possible for people to communicate with anyone else in the world, wherever they are, in milliseconds. It can also be linked closely with McDonaldization (Ritzer, 2000) and one of its principles: efficiency. As will be illustrated, with this new, highly competitive system, many more ways of being a man have been made impossible or inacceptable.

With globalization it becomes possible for jobs to be easily relocated anywhere in the world, not just elsewhere in one country, or in other 'friendly' countries with certain trade restrictions. Companies looking to maximise their profits will seek a location that can offer the cheapest total cost. Low-skilled manufacturing jobs are particularly susceptible to a 'race-to-the-bottom' as almost any country can provide a pool of low-skilled labourers, and it is the one that can do this for the cheapest wage that will win a company's investment. As a result, there are now few low-skilled manufacturing jobs left in Britain. Instead, Britain competes on information-based jobs requiring a degree of skill and education. Low-skilled jobs which do exist are those which cannot be relocated abroad, for example point-of-sale retail.

In the same way that British Coal had to be privatized and disbanded in 1986, today all companies and organisations which are not as efficient as their competitors must face the harsh consequences: change or die. For this reason, jobs can no longer be guaranteed or even expected to last for life. Technology can replace jobs, whole industries can be made redundant, or global competition can take jobs overseas where they are cheaper. No job is secure in a global labour market.

Because many low-skilled jobs have been relocated overseas, its important to learn a skill to get a job. Because jobs don't last for life, people must become multi-skilled. Because no job is secure, everyone has to compete against each other more fiercely for each job, showing that they are better than other job applicants. Whilst this may all be fine for those who are particularly intelligent or skilled, for those who aren't there are few options. In the past they would have been able to get a job in manufacturing, but those jobs don't exist any more. The equivalent option today is retail.

With the exponential rise in consumption over the past two decades, retail and services now provides the UK with a large number of low and semi-skilled jobs. However, respect for workers in these jobs is low compared with manufacturing jobs of the past, and the jobs are accessible to both men and women, forcing men to compete with their femal counterparts. Also, because competition between companies is strong, jobs are insecure. "One of the boldest estimates is that by Hutton (1995, 1996) who has suggested that 30 per cent of the adult workers are in insecure forms of employemnt" (Brown, 1997: 8).

One form of insecurity within these jobs is in their flexible nature as companies seek to improve efficiency through new mangement forms such as just-in-time production and total quality management (Beale, 1994). Brown studies the flexibility and security contradiction of the labour market and finds that "a full-time permanent job is likely to be confined to a smaller and smaller proportion of those in the labour market, if indeed it is an option for anyone" (Brown, 1997: 76). Part-time casual work is insecure, and because it is replacing full-time permanent positions, so job security in general is decreased.

There is a greater problem for men who cannot get a job at all, let alone poor or badly paid jobs - a man's dignity can rely on it. "[W]ork establishes a right to respect, to a feeling of self-worth and some argue to an identity." (Allen in Brown, 1997: 54). Globalization has made it harder for those who are academically or physically slow to find jobs. "As globalization progresses, replacing many manual repetitive jobs with machines and requiring more skills to do the jobs that are left, the number of good jobs available to turtles becomes fewer and fewer... So not only do you need more skills than ever if you want to get a job in manufacturing today, but you need multiple skills to keep your job from going to a robot. This makes it very hard on the turtles." (Friedman, 2000: 333). One solution to the problem of 'turtles' being unable to find employment is through social security. However, this does not address the fact that people generally want to work, as it is through working that men get a sense of being a man. It is not through free payouts from the state. Unfortunately or not, globalization will continue its process of rationalizing and seeking greater efficiences, at the expense of jobs.

What has been described is a country in wich female liberation and democratization together with the processes of globalization have led most pointedly to huge changes in the labour market in recent decades. 'Old ways of being a man' ar most closely linked with that labour market and the security and certainty it used to provide from full-time permanent employment in a single life-long job. It is no longer possible for a man to be guaranteed such employment, and nor is it politically correct, acceptable or legal to exclude women from jobs in order to return to a male-dominated labour market.

Neither the result of femal liberation nor globalization are going to disappear. Instead, and particularly of globalization, they are likley to increase in their significance. Perhaps, therefore, it is important for men to distance themselves from 'old ways of being a man' and attempts to work in resistance to change, and instead welcome those changes and adopt them into their lives. For example, through lower expectations of full-time employment men can feel more secure for what they have got, and less insecure for what they haven't. This is not being suggested as a 'defeatist' outlook, but as a realistic one.

[2,269 words, written 2003]


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by Jake Gordon, some rights reserved