I'm teaching a class this semester on Gender, Work and Family.
My class of thirty-one bright-eyed bushy-tailed students and I talked about nerd masculinity, also the subject of the first article in the reader.
It's called "Being the 'Go-To Guy': Fatherhood, Masculinity and the Organization of Work in Silicon Valley," by Marianne Cooper ( in Naomi Gerstel's reader "Families at Work").
I started by asking about their experiences of gender at work, and they told me stories that made my head spin -- young women being told by a corporate restaurant chain (in a memo no less) to dress "slutty," (but not "skanky"), of bars hiring only females as bartenders, but only "pretty women," because only men spend much money on alcohol, and they shell out even more if the bartenders are "pretty," of how to get more tips from customers (show more skin), of the firms that won't hire men as receptionists, and more.
Usually it's hard to get a word out of these students, especially in the first class of the semester, but they were on a roll.
Then we moved on to the nerds. There's a "new masculinity" in town, according to Dr. Cooper's research. The Nerds.
Here's the money quote from the first page of Dr. Cooper's article, written in 2000, after her examination of men, masculinity and fatherhood in Silicon Valley, with a few emphases in italics that I added:
What I discovered through my examination of these men's work and family lives was the emergence of a newly constituted masculinity that coincides with the new way work is organized in the new economy...[A]s a gendered construct, this new masculinity functions as a key mechanism of control in high-tech workplaces that rely on identity-based forms of control. Second, they show that the successful enactment of this new masculinity shapes how these fathers both think about and manage their work and family lives.
New masculinity? Nerds?
I asked my students how nerd-ism could be seen as a form of masculinity, when nerds are mostly viewed as non-masculine. Isn't the opposite of masculinity, femininity? Are these nerds feminized men, or are they masculine in a different way? Isn't masculinity all about Arnold Schwarznegger and Robert Bly's Iron John?
And I also asked how masculinity could be seen as a form of control. Isn't the essence of masculinity, as it is usually seen, the idea that one takes control, rather than being controlled?
They didn't have any answers, as of yet. Their assignment for next Tuesday is to summarize the whole article. It's a lot of homework, given that the article is 20 pages of fairly dense text. But it's a 300 level class, so it's to be expected.
I did mention to them that my research area is LGBT workplace law and policy, but I didn't come out to them. I'm waiting for the fourth week, when we do LGBT families at work.
But I wonder about nerd masculinity particularly in the context of FTM masculinity. I spent last week with a lot of FTMs at Lavender Law. Some of them are as masculine as anybody, and some are kind of femmy. (Is that politically incorrect to say?) And yet a lot of the natal males at the conference were quite femmy. Are these all forms of masculinity?
Or are masculinity and femininity concepts whose usefulness have expired? That can hardly be possible, given the experience of my students with gender at work.
Oy vey, I think I'll have to do my own homework assignment. What do you think?