“Lipstick entrepreneur.” “Domestecutive.” “Femterprise.” “Fempreneur.” Oh, how I wish that the Times Online were using any of these cutesy non-phrases in an ironic way – but no, they are sadly earnest in using them to convince their readers that we are entering a “decade for the women.”
There has been a lot of discussion about what the Times Online calls the “mancession” (thankfully, I don’t think that’s actually a phrase) – so named because 78 percent of the jobs lost during the recession belonged to men. This led to close-to-equal numbers of men and women in the workforce, not necessarily because hiring practices are becoming more equitable, but quite the contrary. Because of sexism and gender inequalities, women are easily employed at lower wages, so they are desirable during times of economic unrest.
This memo was apparently not passed on to the Times. They note that “the past 12 months have seen a significant growth in the number of women starting their own businesses and entering the workforce” – but in the rest of the article, their failure to unpack the reasons behind these new trends is really abysmal. So I’m going to respond to a few points from the article, in an attempt to see what the new decade really holds in store for women in business.
Apparently, at an Avon-commissioned discussion about “lipstick entrepreneurs” (what a fantastic coincidence, that this new term would refer directly to one of Avon’s products – corporations are so subtle!), there was “breathless talk of female boards and millionaires, of a rise in househusbands and of the end of the pay gap and the glass ceiling.” An end of the glass ceiling – because of “lipstick entrepreneurs”? The whole problem with these new names for female executives and businesswomen is that people feel the need to create separate names for women at all. What proves more acutely that our image of an “executive” (supposedly not a gendered term) is male than the need to create a female-only version, especially something like “domestecutive,” which first of all makes very little sense, since female executives are presumably doing the same work as their male counterparts (there’s yet another problem if they’re not) and reinforces the notion that women’s roles are inherently “domestic.”
The Times then goes on to point out that “this new class of “fempreneur” makes her work fit around her life — by being her own boss, she can choose her own (family-friendly) hours, preferred work/life balance and office location.” So it doesn’t matter that there is inadequate childcare or job security, or that women are still stuck with the bulk of child-rearing responsibilities and domestic work, because now they can just do it all, from home! No need to start subsidizing daycare – these “fempreneurs” have figured it out for us.
If possible, it gets worse. The article then delves into the dangerous world of “feminine” and “masculine” leadership styles, claiming that we’re so jaded by “greedy male bankers” that corporate life is beginning to “value the feminine skills of intuition, communication and caring.” This reminded me immediately of a NYT article from last August, discussing whether women make better bosses. The answer: there are very few jobs where one’s genitalia matters, so why are we talking about leadership styles in terms of gender at all? “Intuition, communication and caring” are not inherently male or female traits, just as there can be “greedy” female bankers as well.
There is one true statistic: that research by the Women’s Leadership Fund has shown that “companies with a balance of men and women in senior jobs outperform those with men at the helm.” But we’re not going to approach parity in this arena by using cutesy, inaccurate names to prove that women can enter business too – especially since in the U.S. and Britain, we’re shockingly far from any kind of gender balance. The little testimonials from female entrepreneurs that close the article are nice, I suppose, but they inevitably say very little about what it’s like to be a woman in business today, while the article speaks volumes. We’re not going to have a “femterprise revolution” until we stop using words like “domestecutive,” for sure.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.