Extra Credit Paper

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I recently came across an article by Lynn Zimmer titled Tokenism and Women in the Workplace: The Limits of Gender-Neutral Theory. It reminded me a lot of a number of concepts and articles that we discussed in class, and in many ways was a combination of some of them. It tackles the practice of tokenism in respect to gender equality specifically, and speaks of the limited value of a gender-neutral society which tokenism brings. I am going to compare her basic argument to the works of both Dana Cloud and Peggy McIntosh.
Obviously, this relates to the article that we read in class specifically on the topic of tokenism, which was Hegemony or Concordance? The Rhetoric of Tokenism on "Oprah" Winfrey's Rags-to-Riches Biography by Dana Cloud. In Cloud's article, she discusses tokenism through the example of Oprah, and how she is often idolized as a woman who came from nothing and worked her way to the top, proving that anyone should be able to do that if they put in enough effort. However, this is not a fair representation of a hard-working, underprivileged person and in this way Oprah is used as a token of success against the odds.
Zimmer offers a very similar critique of tokenism, but instead relates it directly to women in the workplace. She particularly focuses on women who are in "traditionally male occupations" and discusses how their view as a token in this environment is harmful not only to them in the workplace but in society as a whole. She quotes another article by Rosabeth Kanter titled Men and Women of the Corporation, when she says, "Kanter and others have suggested that women's position in male-dominated organizations will improve if their proportion is substantially increased and their token status eliminated"(Zimmer, 64).
Zimmer also argues later in the article that the concept of tokenism is a delicate one, and there has not been nearly enough research done for evidence of improving this kind of tokenism. Because of this, she argues that simply increasing the number of female workers in the office will not automatically resolve the deeper issue of gender inequality. She says, "without evidence... there is no reason to assume that increasing the number of women in an organization will necessarily improve their conditions of employment. It may even be the case that increasing the number of women, without addressing the sexist attitudes imbedded in male-dominated organizations, may exacerbate women's occupational problems" (64). This is what Zimmer is talking about when she mentions the limits of a gender-neutral society, which is brought on by the gender-neutral concept of tokenism. She is saying that equal representation is not the same as overall equality.
I think that Cloud with agree with this conclusion that Zimmer makes, and agree that solving tokenism and inequality takes more than simply representation. However, another author that we discussed in class that I was reminded of when reading this article was Peggy McIntosh. Her short article on White Privilege was all about racial inequality and how white people are often so often blind to the privileges that they have because of their skin color. However, what stuck out to me from her article was when she related white privilege to male privilege. McIntosh says in her article, "I have often noticed men's unwillingness to grant that they are overprivileged, even though they may grant that women are disadvantaged. They may say they will work to women's statues, in the society, the university, or the curriculum, but they can't or won't support the idea of lessening men's". Even though Zimmer does not talk about privilege at all in her article, I think she would agree with this argument. This attitude fits in with her point that equality is about more than just equal representation. Beliefs like this, even ones as subconscious as male privilege, play a huge role in how women are treated and seen as a whole in society's eyes. There are differences in perception and attitude between men and women and if we are ever going to conquer this concern, we have to face it head on instead of ignoring the deeper issues by trying to create a gender-neutral society.

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This page contains a single entry by cossa008 published on December 6, 2013 2:03 PM.

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