Abstract: Understanding gender and sexuality in the professionalization of a female work force (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

138P Understanding gender and sexuality in the professionalization of a female work force

Saturday, January 16, 2010
* noted as presenting author
Pilar Horner, MSW , University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Doctoral Student, Ann Arbor, MI
Background and Purpose

One of the primary concerns for employers seeking to maximize their profits and sustain their company's life is the use and control of their labor force. Labor, labor power, and control have concerned scholars in regards to social welfare labor laws and best practices. These concerns are especially important for women in non-traditional labor arrangments, where they may be subject to ambiguous and contradictory working arrangements while at the same time attempting to balance their duties in the home (motherhood, spouse/partner). Although the process of labor control has traditionally been written through a Marxist lens (Braverman 1979, Burawoy 1979), feminist scholars (Leidner 1996, Hochschild 1983, Lee 1998) have offered gendered constructions to show how employers use “feminine” constructions of work to control their workforces. Little to no scholarship exists on how female sexuality and constructions of sex (not just gender) work to also shape the employer/employee relationship. In order to better address women in the workplace, attention must be paid to fill the gap of how constructions of gender and sexuality interact in the labor control process.


Data is taken from an ethnographic study of one large direct selling organization that specializes in sexual enhancement products. First, in-depth interviews of 30 women and one man who work as consultants (distributors), have some upper-level management position, or attented the direct selling events (parties) were conducted. Each interview lasted 1 to 1.5 hours and each interview was taped, transcribed and entered into a qualitative analysis program MAXqda for coding and trend notation. Participant observation was also conducted: eight home parties (5-20 women at each event); quarterly market trainings (30-150 women consultants); and three-day annual training and annual conventions (1200-1600 at each event). Data was collected over a three year period. In addition artifacts and documents were accessed from various sources.


The data revealed that two important aspects of the company worked to help control how the consultants were conducting their business. The two forces were (1) the company's institutionalized culture of motherhood and obedience, and (2) the medicalization of female sexuality and pleasure. These two forces employing differing tecnhiques worked to transform the employees from an unprofessionalized workforce to one that believed itself to be professional, educated, and certified. In short, these forces provided the framework for creationg the professionalization of a sexualized female workforce.


The study findings indicate that current theoretical constructions of how labor control is managed, consented to and resisted is limited. By looking only at Marxist frameworks, or gendered frameworks the gap of the female sexualized and work self is created. In order to better understand how women negotiate their identity and their place in the labor market it is important to delve into the often confusing roles of sex and sexuality. By adding this lens, scholarship on women and work can aim to uncover the complexities of the labor market, and push to create more accurate models of how women understand their multiple and at times changing identities.