Handbags and Briefcases: Women in the Workplace in Fiction and Reality

Like most men my age, I am a huge fan of the shows “Entourage” and “Mad Men.” And like most men my age, I have a job I wish was as awesome as either of these shows. Two of my favorite characters of all time are Ari Gold and Don Draper. Both are exceedingly strong, charismatic, dominant, and cunning. I feel a lot of men can relate, or wish they could, to either of these characters. It would be fantastic to wear suits, drink scotch, and smoke cigars in my office; unfortunately I don’t do any of these.

However, as famous as both characters are for wearing exceedingly well-tailored suits, they are almost equally as famous for demeaning women, the only real difference being that these shows are set fifty years apart from one another. Perhaps there is some truth to how society is reflected in the eyes of these characters. What can we see of ourselves about how men and women are in the workplace?

To start off, here’s a moderately difficult graph to understand courtesy of the New York Times

Long story short, men make more than women, but why? Maybe it has something to do with education? But according to Cindy Hsu, it doesn’t,

For the Harvard Class of 2006, 55% of the women graduated with honors while barely half of the men did so. In 2009, once again roughly 55% of women were awarded honors degrees compared with 51% of men. At Florida Atlantic University, not only did women make up 64% of the graduating class in 2006, they also received 75% of the honors degrees and 79% of the highest honors. According to census figures released in April 2011, among the population age 25 to 29, 36% of women had a bachelor degree or more, compared with 28% of men. Women are clearly trouncing men when it comes to academics. It’s great, until you graduate that is.

So clearly education can’t be the problem. And this is from Harvard too, not some generic paper mill school either. If I went to Harvard maybe I’d have a real writing job and not be working pro bono for a social justice site so I can attempt to scam my way into heaven. Maybe?

My best guess is that it has to do with what comes after graduation: Work. The dreadful time of getting up out of bed and trying to find something you can do. My dad always told me “find something you love to do and then do it well enough to convince someone to pay you to do it.” I think that’s pretty sound advice, however, there didn’t appear to be anyone out there willing to pay me to watch “Entourage” and “Mad Men” on Netflix. If anyone hears anything, then please let me know. I digress:

According to the International Labour Organization,

In 2010, there were approximately 65 million women in the labor force and 53 percent of these women were concentrated in three industries a) education and health services, b) trade, transportation and utilities and c) local government. Women were overrepresented in several industries and underrepresented in others. For example, in 2010, women represented 79 percent of the health and social services workforce and 68.6 percent of the education services workforce. However, women represented only 43.2 percent of the professional, scientific, and technical services sector while making up only 8.9 percent of the construction sector.

Aha! It’s clearly about the “who’s hiring” and “who’s paying” than it is anything else. But what about all the usual stats we’re all familiar with? A great comedian once said, “[F]or every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 70 cents, that doesn’t make sense, that’s not fair, the man’s only left with 30.” I think he hit the nail on the head there. As someone who has several friends who have gone through divorces I see both the humor and terror in those words.

Well maybe that’s where the great divergence is. And the great equalizer. Maybe women make less in the workplace because it all evens out in the divorce? That sentence was both misanthropic and misogynistic. What other long words that start with the letter M do I know? Masticate. I’m done.

But back to “Mad Men” and “Entourage” – here we have two exceedingly popular shows about workplace environments, wealth, control and societal and financial pressures. The prime sellers of these shows are the two intensely masculine figureheads of powerful companies, advertisement and talent representation, respectively. So why is it we, as a culture, respond so well to powerful men instead of powerful women? A quick look at the top ten grossing films of all time reveal that ten out of ten all revolve around either a single, or multiple, male leads. “But what about The Avengers?!” You ask, annoyingly. “Scarlett Johansson was in that!” And yes, you’re right. But in terms of casting credits she was only the 5th lead, behind Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, and Chris Hemsworth. So do powerful women make us uncomfortable? I don’t know about the rest of you, but they certainly used to push me down on the playground a lot.

To find a top grossing film with a female lead you would have to go all the way down on the list to 34 – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn part 2 – which features Kristen Stewart as the top-billed cast member. But let’s be honest here, no one was seeing that movie for her acting abilities and/or as a strong and powerful female role model. So, ignoring the rest of the Twilight movies we find The Hunger Games coming in at 57. This is the first instance on the top grossing films list – courtesy of boxofficemojo.com – that unquestionably stars a solo female lead who is both strong and charismatic as the top-billed cast member. There are plenty of strong female characters out there but they’re generally reserved for supporting roles or are not received well by the public (read: they did not make a lot of money). But an important lesson here is that this movie is science-fiction; it’s fantasy. Is there room in reality for a strong and charismatic female lead who is loved and adored by the public? The difference between The Hunger Games, “Mad Men” and “Entourage” is that, for the latter two, we are supposed to believe this could happen, that this really happens, and that this is real. I sincerely hope people never believe any of that about The Hunger Games.

Cut back to the office – maybe there’s something to be learned here? Maybe after how many thousands of years men and women have been developing together we’ve adopted certain roles and as a society we’ve grown to accept these as the norm and are, in fact, comforted by them? Perhaps on a subconscious level we’re used to seeing the strong man in a suit drinking scotch and having women fawn over him. This is a basic archetypical character. Does this man’s counterpart exist on the other side of the gender spectrum? Where is the strong and confidant women with men following her around begging to be chosen as hers? Does she even exist outside the Victoria’s Secret lineup? The (straight) men I know, myself included, typically fawn over women on a more superficial level, this is why we purchase lads’ magazines like “Maxim,” and “FHM,” and the Victoria’s Secret catalogue; although to be fair, they all have very compelling and well written articles. And when we’re not fawning, the other magazines we purchase feature – you guessed it – strong and powerful men in suits! Look at the covers of “GQ,” “Forbes,” and even “Powerful Men Wearing Suits Bi-Annually,”; one of those may be made-up.

I’m not saying I have the answer, far from it. I’m just making an observation. Perhaps if we all stopped and thought about it for a second we’d decide to reflect on our own psyches. Maybe, just maybe, we could stand to gain a little inner-perspective as to how and why we’re thinking and doing what we’re thinking and doing. As for me, I’ll be watching “Mad Men” and “Entourage,” and maybe I’ll do it well enough for someone to pay me for it, but hopefully more than what they’d pay a girl. Just kidding.

Nick Bente is a regular contributing writer. Follow him on Twitter @RealNickBente and visit his website www.milehighthoughts.wordpress.com.


women at work Public Domain Palmer, Alfred T.,, photographer.

Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment

Related Posts

Subscribe to the SJS Weekly Newsletter

One Response

  1. African Black Porn March 1, 2014

Leave a Reply