University of Oregon and Arbetslivscentrum, Stockholm
In spite of feminist recognition that hierarchical organizations are an important location of male dominance, most feminists writing about organizations assume that organizational structure is gender neutral. This article argues that organizational structure is not gender neutral; on the contrary, assumptions about gender underlie the documents and contracts used to construct organizations and to provide the common sense ground for theorizing about them. Their gendered nature is partly masked through obscuring the embodied nature of work. Abstract jobs and hierarchies, common concepts in organizational thinking, assume a disembodied and universal worker. This worker is actually a man; men's bodies, sexuality, and relationships to procreation and paid work are subsumed in the image of the worker. Images of men's bodies and masculinity pervade organizational processes, marginalizing women and contributing to the maintenance of gender segregation in organizations. The positing of gender-neutral and disembodied organizational structures and work relations is part of the larger strategy of control in industrial capitalist societies, which, at least partly, are built upon a deeply embedded substructure of gender difference.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meetings, Chicago, August 1987. I wish to thank Judith Lorber, Pat Martin, and Ronnie Steinberg who contributed a great deal to this article through their careful and insightful comments and suggestions. Conversations with Harriet Holler, Carole Paleman, and Dorothy Smith also helped my thinking.
REPRINT REQUESTS: Joan Acker, Department of Sociology, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403.
Originally appeared in Transgender Tapestry #097, Spring 2002.
I?ve long been a supporter of the Standards of Care of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. I felt they made great sense in a time when transsexual and other transgendered people were typically confused, frightened, and ignorant of their life options. In this postmodern age in which more and more of us are strong and sure of ourselves, I?m no longer certain about the appropriateness of the Standards of Care, and I?m becoming more and more convinced that it?s unethical to apply constraints to a class of people without solid evidence that they are needed.
Just as I?m an opponent of seat belt and motorcycle helmet laws which eliminate freedom in the name of the greater good, I?ve decided to come down in opposition to Standards of Care which give therapists gatekeeping powers over other human beings. I routinely use my seat belt, and I wouldn?t ride a motorcycle without a helmet, and I didn?t have sex reassignment surgery without having lived 24/7 for more than a year, but I assert my right and the rights of others to live free without such constraints.