Summary: We all work in an economy marked by occupational sex segregation. That is, men and women typically work in different occupations. American Men, for instance, are overrepresented as auto mechanics and airline pilots, while American women are overrepresented as preschool teachers and nurses. But why is occupational sex segregation a problem? When I bring this issue up in class, my students often counter rather quickly that segregation is merely the result of a gendered role specialization and doesn't inherently denote inequality. However, the fact is that men segregate into higher paid professions than women. Also, while women often report experiencing a glass ceiling, which refers to an invisible barrier to promotion, men who take positions in fields dominated by women report just the opposite. They face a glass escalator, or pressure to move up in their chosen professions (Williams 1992). In short, occupational sex segregation is a bad deal for women. It is less about role specialization and more about men retaining power and resources for the benefit of men. But why is occupational sex segregation so recalcitrant? Check out the commercial above from Best Buy, which aired during Super Bowl 46, and note the natural affinity it depicts between men (read, male logic) and technological innovation. In rapid succession, the viewer encounters distinguished, white men holding their high tech inventions. "I created text messaging," says SMS innovator, Neil Papworth. Only at the end of the thirty-second spot do women appear, and they are Best Buy's relatively low status sales representatives. Elsewhere on this site (here), I have argued that the symbolic domain of high tech is almost the exclusive provenance of men, and while men are overrepresented in ads that pitch items like smart phones and iPads, women are overrepresented in ads that pitch “domestic” technologies, or those that pertain to, say, cooking and other household chores (see here, here, and here). Insofar as the Best Buy ad succeeds, the approximately 100 million people who tune into the Super Bowl, will be persuaded that Best Buy is good place to buy a smart phone, but they are also left with an impression of the world they inhabit. "Why does occupational sex segregation persist?" my students ask. An important part of the answer is that advertisements reinforce the fiction of immutable differences between men and women, and by extension, they suggest that men and women naturally gravitate toward different occupations. The Best Buy commercial can be a useful reminder that advertising is a medium that excels at constructing the reality it claims to merely reflect. What is "natural" is itself a social construction.
Submitted By: Lester Andrist