As social constructions, gender roles are contingent, unstable and open to challenge and reform. Previous research has shown that new constructions of masculinity and femininity develop when farm women form groups, when women enter men’s areas of work and enter politics (Brandth and Haugen, 2000). Under challenge, masculinity is reframed but still defined as different and superior to femininity and power is exercised differently (West and Blumberg, 1990).
My theory is that gender roles in British Columbia are shaped by its long history as a resource-based economy (forestry, fisheries, some mining). Resource-based industries are characterized by physical labour, hard work, danger and drama and these characteristics become romanticized as symbols of masculinity (Reed, 2003). In their studies of rural masculinity researchers found two discourses: ‘tough men farm’ and ‘powerful men lead’ (Liepins, 1998; Brandth and Haugen, 2000). In Australia, Ireland and Canada farming is considered a male dominated sector and agricultural policy and politics even more so (Shortall, 1992; Mackenzie 1994: 104 – 6; Alston, 1995: 67 – 72; Liepins, 1998). The dominance of men was not due to their qualifications which were inferior to those of women in the case of Australia (Alston, 2003).
Brandth and Haugen (2000) documented three aspects of masculinity:
- The structural (or spatial) position of power – social hierarchy. In Canada only female professional foresters are required to make coffee and clean up after meetings and women are required to prove their skills over and over (Egan and Klausen, 1998; Reed, 2003). Women are silenced when men monopolize discussions and use bureaucratic jargon and adversarial models (MacGregor, 1995). Female leaders experience a web of institutional and cultural structures and sanctions (Liepins, 1998; Alston, 2003; Ritter and Yoder, 2004). These actions and sanctions are designed to reinforce masculine superiority.
- The activities or practices of men performing their gender role. This would include choosing characteristics such as skill, endurance, independence and handling risk as most important. Women with these skills become ‘women managers’ rather than managers (Alston, 2003).
- Display - which encompasses self-presentation and technology adoption and mastery.
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