Masculinities are an organizing principle. Organizations, be they work or social ones, use both masculinities and femininities to organize themselves. In modern organizations, femininities tend to be thought of as inferior to masculinities. In fact, modern organizations, which are characterized by hierarchy, need to find ways to interiorize workers from managers. Gender (femininities and masculinities) is one of those ways. Looking at how occupations and organizations are segregated by sex is a basic level of analysis.
It is easier to tell what people’s sex are than it is to tell whether or not they conform to the hegemonic ideals of masculinity, or the current ideal of femininity. If we are to avoid the error of replacing male patriarchy with a female one, just because we are aware of how sex has allocated power in society, and reallocate differently, we need to look at actual gender behaviors biological males and females, and others, are actually performing rather than assume that biology determines behavior and the amount of power someone has or does not have.
We need to go beyond a person’s biological sex to his/her behavior, gender performance – what is the person’s behavior, without being fooled into thinking that his/her sex totally determines behavior. (Cheng) In the article, Commonalities, Conflicts and Contradictions in Organizational Masculinities: Exploring the Gendered Genesis of the Challenger Disaster, Maier not only reconstructs the illustration of how multiple masculinities, particularly between and among managers and engineers, contributed to the organizational crisis of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion.
He supplements explanations by incorporating gender as a key factor in the decision-making practices, organizational processes and ethical context of the Challenger disaster. Specifically, he examines how the conditions, processes and consequences of this decision reflect the operation of multiple and contextually dependent-masculinities. (Maier) Maier goes on to say that one of the hallmarks of research on men and masculinities in organizations is that men share with other me masculine commonalities. The commonalities not only occur among men of similar rank/occupation but among men of different rank/occupation as well.
I have to argue how do we know a gendered organization when we see one? This question is an important one, not only for the sake of theoretical and conceptual clarity but also for the lack of precision with which the concept has been defined in much empirical work has potentially profound implications for the prospect of meaningful social and organizational change. More important, simply assuming, a priority, that organizations are gendered drastically limits the potential of this approach to produce social change, at least in the short term.
Under these conditions, it becomes impossible to imagine what an “ungendered” bureaucratic organization would look like or how “ungendered” work could be carried out. Regardless of how one reads this evidence, however, the crucial issue is one of context. Conceptualizing bureaucratic organizations as inherently gendered may keep us from seeing settings in which gender is less salient and can thus obscure those points of leverage that might be used to produce change.
But this begs yet another question: What does it mean to say that gender is less salient in one context than in another? Provisionally, we can define organizations or work environments in which gender is less salient as those in which gendered characteristics, taken here to mean hegemonic ally defined masculinities and femininities, take on less significance in the construction, reproduction, and allocation of advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and control, action and emotion, meaning and identity.
A better understanding of each of the levels at which organizations and occupations are gendered and the specific contexts and methods through which some groups are advantaged over others may well provide insight into the mechanisms that could be used to begin to encourage and build less oppressively gendered organizations. The role to be played by theory of gendered organizations awaits its further elaboration by critics of good and bad.