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“Stressful” Jobs: When Sexism’s Not a Stretch

January 4, 2012

At the end of an old year and the beginning of a new year it always seems popular to make lists. Especially lists about jobs (you know; which are the best? which are the worst?) CareerCast just posted their Top 10 Most Stressful Jobs of 2012. Over at Forbes, Meghan Casserly noticed something about that list. It’s a very male-centric list of jobs. She’s a reporter (not a blogger with no ethics like me) so she investigated their methods. And they do list the methodology they used. Of course it’s arbitrary (aren’t these lists usually?) but you may be surprised how much emphasis it places on being the public eye, interfacing with the public, and physical demands. Not everyone finds physical demands stressful, and with all the emphasis on being the public eye I’m surprised DMV employee doesn’t make the list (talk about an angry public!) Here’s the list for full disclosure:

  1. Enlisted Military Soldier
  2. Firefighter
  3. Airline Pilot
  4. Military General
  5. Police Officer
  6. Event Coordinator
  7. Public Relations Executive
  8. Corporate Executive (CEO)
  9. Photojournalist
  10. Taxi Driver

So Casserly properly followed up on this with the publisher of CareerCast, Tony Lee, and asked why were most of these careers so macho? Where were the women? She got the sort of male patronizing response you might expect (emphasis mine).

Tony Lee, the publisher of CareerCast, says it isn’t so. Sure, the ranking seems on first glance to be all about men and muscle and physical glory, but that doesn’t mean it’s gender-biased. “You could say that these are jobs women aren’t interested in, but you could ask the same question about a guy,” he says. “Why would a guy rather be a medical records technician when he could be a firefighter? Maybe because he’s just not interested in putting his life on the line. Can you extrapolate from that that maybe more men want these kinds of careers?” Sure, he says, but it’s not the study’s data that’s telling us this, it’s the career choices of both genders.

Lee says I’m stretching for the gender slant on his ranking, and that this year’s list was affected by something far bigger than the stress of physical labor or mortal danger: the how the economy factors into job outlook over the next 12 months.

Casserly better not chalk this up as exercise because she’s not stretching very far. To catch his last point, I don’t think CEOs or Military Generals are that worried about job security. Neither, really, are police and firefighters despite all the horrific cuts to pensions and benefits. What they don’t have on here is construction worker which is probably more injury prone than many other careers and in financial troubles thanks to the housing crash. In fact CNN Money has a list from 2006 on the top 10 most fatal jobs. The only one from that list to make this one is pilot.

Now let’s talk about his first point. Why would a man rather be a firefighter than a medical records technician? Or how about, why would a man rather be a police officer than a social worker? Luckily my county is hiring right now (or has jobs posted at least). For a high school diploma or GED and a few months of police academy training you might get a starting salary of around $36k. Or for a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in social work you might get a starting salary of…$36k. That’s right.

So the real question is not why would a man choose to be a police officer over a social worker or teacher. The question is why would a woman choose to be a teacher over a police officer. Why would she be a hairdresser when she could be a firefighter. Lee wants to place the blame on women and their choices. Casserly wonders if there’s something making women choose the less risky jobs. I’m pretty sure if you’re Joe’s son it’s much easier for you to get your first job on the construction site and be making a livable wage on nothing but your GED in a few years. If you’re Joe’s daughter you’d be lucky if they let you answer the phones. Education opens doors for women in ways that men with connections have never had to worry about. The problem is the good old boys club mentality present in many fields that pay well for those with nothing more than high school diploma. Women have to go on to bachelor’s degrees and more experience just to have the same opportunities.

So Casserly, don’t let Lee’s little spin job put you off. You were on the right path. Nurses and mental health care professionals often experience stress at a similar level to police officers but they didn’t make the list. Social workers often do their jobs in conjunction with the police department and they don’t get a mention. Lee also pulled the classic "you’re just imagining things" gaslight treatment. I could almost see him patting you on the head while he spewed his BS excuses. Don’t buy it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2012 6:12 pm

    You’ve almost nailed it: it’s education. Boys are more likely to leave school and not return because they can get (or used to be able to get) jobs with a decent paycheck. Women are more likely to stay in school or return to school later.

  2. January 6, 2012 9:45 am

    There was a great Daily Kos diary a month or two ago, that I can’t find now, comparing characteristics we value in our active military to those in our teachers. For instance, it is not unusual for a high school teacher, unless he/she is at a very elite institution, a to have to break up fights during passing periods. These may or may not have weapons involved.

    I don’t know how these guys (I’m assuming males) rated teachers, and I have a hard time assigning numbers to things without data, so I’ll give a high, medium, low, 0 to what I think the risks a high school teacher has to handle in a poor school district out there:

    Travel 0
    Growth Potential ? (Have no idea what this means)
    Deadlines High (Daily lesson plans for 5 classes ain’t easy)
    Working in the public eye High
    Competitiveness Medium
    Physical demands Medium
    Environmental conditions High
    Hazards encountered High
    Own life at risk Low
    Life of another at risk Low
    Meeting the public High

    To me, it sounds like it should at least beat out CEO, but I’m biased.

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