“Work It”: The Truth About Women in the Workplace

January 10, 2012 by

The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

When I first saw the ads for ABC’s new show, Work It, about men dressing as women to get a job, my first thought was that maybe the network thinks its targeted demographic is too young to remember Bosom Buddies.  My second thought was to wonder how in the world anyone could possibly suggest that women are responsible for the high rates of unemployment among men, or that women are somehow shutting men out of the job market entirely.

Each show deals with the stereotypical difficulties of being a man pretending to be a woman: heels, makeup, pantyhose, etc. These “problems” may have been funny in 1980 when Bosom Buddies originally aired, but Work It goes far beyond the boundaries of simply pushing the envelope for ratings.

The main character, Lee Standish (played by Benjamin Koldyke), has officially been unemployed for a year and is no longer eligible for unemployment benefits. Sitting in a bar, Lee and his friends are lamenting their difficulties in finding work. One of his buddies blames women for the “mancession,” saying, “Women are taking over the work force. Soon they’ll star getting rid of men. They’ll keep us around as sex slaves.”

Women are not taking over the work force. The period between 2007 and 2009 is sometimes referred to as the “mancession” because men accounted for roughly 70% of the jobs lost during that time. Half of those were jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as construction and manufacturing. According to this article in Forbes, between December, 2009 and December, 2011 men have recovered 32% of jobs, while women have only recovered 20%. In the article, Heidi Hartmann, President of IWPR and a labor economist, says, “…women’s participation in the workforce is now at the lowest it’s been since 1993.”  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 women held 28% of manufacturing jobs and only 8.9% in construction. In construction women earned 97.5% of what men earned, and in manufacturing they earned only 76%. Not only does that not constitute a takeover, there doesn’t seem to be much incentive for one, especially in manufacturing.

When Lee decides to apply for a position in sales at a pharmaceutical company, he learns the company is only hiring women, which is illegal (EEOC). The reason given is that, “We’ve had some guys, but the doctors seem to want to nail them less.” When Lee (as a “woman”) rattles off some impressive details about the company during the interview, the boss says, “Wow. Most of the girls who apply think clinical trials are something Lindsay Lohan has to go through.” Yet, she has somehow managed to cobble together a sales force.

One message this sends is that a woman doesn’t need to be intelligent, hardworking, or experienced to be successful, that prostituting herself to make a sale is what really counts. If this formula were truly a successful one, I would expect to see women make up more than 46.2% of the pharmaceutical sales force in this country. Another message is that women accept – and even welcome – sexual harassment, no matter how severe, as a necessary and normal part of employment.

The bar for how women are portrayed on television has never been particularly high, leaving a lot of room for improvement. Women who are not hyper-sexualized caricatures tend to be highly intelligent women who are frazzled from burning the candle at both ends, or are isolated and lonely. Teenagers and adolescent girls are either interested only in shopping and dating, behaving as though they’ve never spent a day in a classroom, or they are smart, nerdy tomboys with no social lives. Work It sets the bar so low it can be stepped over.

Filed Under: Opportunity