Nixon, D. 2009. “‘I Can’t Put a Smiley Face On’: Working-Class Masculinity, Emotional Labour and Service Work in the ‘New Economy.’

Nixon, Darren. 2009. “’I Can’t Put a Smiley Face On’: Working-Class Masculinity, Emotional Labour and Service Work  in the ‘New Economy’. Gender, Work and Organization 16(3):  300-322.

Growth of service economy related to low-skilled mens’ detachment from labor market.  Little research as to why these men drop out of market in during sustained service economy growth.  Interviews show that men’s attitudes towards skills, behaviors in service sector are antithetical to working class masculinity and its habitus.  Reluctance to engage in emotional labor, demonstrate deference – rejection of low-skilled service work by these men as source of future employment.

In Britain, service industries grow, while men’s employment rates decline, particularly in working classes – men with few skills and education (Gregg and Wadsworth 1998, Alcock et al 2003, Faggio and Nickell 2003), particularly those of older (50up) and younger (16-24) ages.   Growth in women’s employment.  Reflection of traditional patterns of sex-based occupational segregation.  Strongly influenced by de-industrialization, reduction of available manufacturing jobs.   Men who do take service-industry jobs idealize male-dominated occupations – where power, authority, and control in service encounters is emphasized.

Service sector as focused on customer service, emotional labor – highly heterogeneous – necessary to describe types of employment offered in study area.  Producer – technological, white-collar, intermediaries of production; social – clerical and caretaking occupations, emotional labor, (however, men dominate very high-level positions); distributive – low-skill, male-dominated area – distributing goods for final consumption

Good service as “friendly, deferential, and flirty” (306) – (Adkins 1995; Filby 1992) –

“Female domination of many growing areas of low-level service work present a major challenge to the low-skilled men displaced by de-industrialization and technological change because historically, men have rarely substituted for women in the labour market and have been highly reluctant to enter ‘women’s work’ as it may ‘compromise’ their masculinity” (Bradley 1999, Cockburn 1988, Fagan and Rubery 1995, Reskin and Roos 1990, Williams 1993).  “Women’s jobs” are creating more and more of job availabilities, but low-skilled, unemployed men are less likely to take these one.

(Lupton 2000) – Female dominated service employment has three threats to masculinity –

  • Men’s ability to rearticulate masculinity through workforce-based homosocial relations that characterize masculine work cultures
  • Fear of feminization through exposure to women
  • Fear of stigmatization as effeminate or gay

Coping mechanisms through recasting occupation and tasks as more masculinized, despite peer interactions

Women distance selves from working class status (Skeggs 1997), but for men, working class status is seen as respectable in relation to middle class men and women, construction of manual work, hard labor as discursive tools to manage worth; feminization of “mental”  middle-class labor.  Manual labor as source of identity, pride, power, esteem for working-class men (O’Donnell and Sharpe 2000).  Squaring of masculinities through masculine work culture (swearing, horseplay, homosocial heterosexual interactions) as non-permitted through “passive, docile” service work environments.  Interviews demonstrated young and old frustration with having to “be patient” – that is, emotion manage, in arenas where they were expected to put on servile attitudes — acceptance of having to be sensitive to customers’ needs, but not docile.


Adkins, L. (1995) Gendered Work: Sexuality, Family and the Labour Market. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Alcock, P., Beatty, C., Fothergill, S., Macmillan, R., Yeandle, S. (2003) Work to Welfare: How men become detached from the labour market. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Bradley, H. (1999) Gender and Power in the Workplace: Analysing the Impact of Economic Change. Basingstoke: Macmillan.

Cockburn, C. (1988) The gendering of jobs: workplace relations and the reproduction of sex segregation. In Walby, S. (ed.) Gender Segregation at Work. Open University Press.

Fagan, C. and J. Rubery. 1995. Gender segration in societal context. Work, Employment & Society 9(2): 213-240.

Faggio, G. and Nickell, S. (2003) The rise in inactivity among adult men. In Dickens, R., Gregg, P. and Wadsworth, J. (eds) The Labour Market Under New Labour: The State of Working Britain, pp. 40–52. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Filby, M. (1992) The figures, the personality and the bums: service work and sexuality. Work, Employment & Society, 6,1 23–45.

Gregg, P. and Wadsworth, J. (1998) Unemployment and non-employment: unpacking economic inactivity. London: Economic Policy Institute.

Lupton, B. (2000) Maintaining masculinity: men who do ‘women’s work’. British Journal of Management 11,s1, 33–48.

O’Donnell, M. and Sharpe, S. (2000) Uncertain Masculinities. London: Routledge.

Reskin, B. and Roos, P. (1990) Job Queues, Gender Queues. Philadelphia, PA: Temple

University Press.

Skeggs, B. (1997) Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage.

Williams, C. (1993) Doing ‘Women’s Work’. London: Sage.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: