What professions started out female-dominated, were taken over by men?
September 11, 2015 11:37 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for more examples of professions like programming that started out as "women's jobs" but were later taken over by men, when they realized the work had potential to be prestigious. Mothers cooking for their families vs mostly male pro chefs is another one, though probably harder to place historically. I'm sure there are more examples. Do you know any, with sources if possible?
posted by jklaiho to Work & Money (29 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
posted by mollywas at 11:40 AM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

In the US male doctors created the field of obstetrics and took the related work away from female midwives.
posted by alms at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Beer brewing
posted by neroli at 11:43 AM on September 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

posted by Riverine at 12:01 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

And sake making.
posted by wintersweet at 12:01 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Film Editing
posted by tomierna at 12:05 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Midwifery was taken over by doctors and OB specialists, who were mostly men. But midwives were exclusively women. Just to be clear that midwifery and doctoring are not the same fields, though they deal in similar circles. But the effect was men taking over women's space all the same.
posted by zizzle at 12:05 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nursing may be right at the start of that transition.
posted by clawsoon at 12:05 PM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Film editors.
posted by Buddy_Boy at 12:06 PM on September 11, 2015

There's some evidence that noble women in the Middle Ages managed money, a lower-status occupation when the high status occupations for noble men were riding horsies and killing people.
posted by clawsoon at 12:13 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Birth. A service delivered by midwives for centuries and then taken over by obstetrics (from which women were barred) because patriarchy.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:19 PM on September 11, 2015

I'd propose women's fashion as another potential area undergoing the transition.
posted by clawsoon at 12:32 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: General article on the New York Times

Seconding librarianship:

Oxford University Press' Census of Librarians in the United States from 1880-2009

More articles & papers on "when they realized the work had potential to be prestigious" good:

The Male Librarian and the Feminine Image: A Survey of Stereotype, Status, and Gender Perceptions

'Librarianship has not always been considered a female-dominated field. It was long considered a scholarly male profession, and women were not given the same educational opportunities that men were given in, say, the 19th century. This is not to say that librarianship is free of stereotypes today but preconceptions of the field in the 19th century were different. Prior to professional feminization, librarians were referred to as "grouchy, eccentric, and male"'
& more resources

"how intersections of race and gender combine to shape experiences for minority men in the culturally feminized field of nursing and finds that the upward mobility implied by the glass escalator is not uniformly available to all men who do “women's work.” The author concludes that the glass escalator is a racialized concept and a gendered one and considers the implications of this for future studies of men in feminized occupations."

Salary Differences Between Male and Female Registered Nurses in the United States

Tokenism Reconsidered: Male Nurses and Female Physicians in a Hospital Setting

" It’s worth noting that the wage gap is smaller in nursing than the national average across all occupations."

Men in Nursing Occupations

Primary education, teachers (% female)

Average and median age of public school principals, and percentage distribution of principals, by age category, sex, and state: 2011–12

"The concentration of working women in a few occupations diminished as they found employment throughout the economy... Women constituted about half of all managers, administrators, and officials in the economy; nearly half of college teachers; more than half of psychologists and accountants; and more than a fourth of lawyers and physicians. Although circumstances were changing at the end of the century, men still predominated in the upper reaches of these occupations."

relevant information/arguments towards the end of the paper


The Experiences of Men in Female Dominated Occupations, based on 40 in-depth interviews with male workers from four occupational groups: librarians, cabin crew, nurses and primary school teachers.

Also seconding dressmaking and fashion.
posted by pos at 12:43 PM on September 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

During the seventeen and eighteen hundreds in several parts of Europe, women in the middle and upper class were trained in drawing and sketching as one of their domestic accomplishments along with dancing, deportment, pianoforte and all that kind of stuff. They did sketches and chalk drawings and water colours of many subjects, notably botanical subjects, portraits, scenery and many more. They also made copies of serious works of art, drawing popular paintings on exhibition so that they could show their copy to family members and friends who could not see the painting in person. It was customary to fill a sketch book while traveling. These sketchbooks and their other art work was shared among family and friends.

The work these women did was not considered art. Art was something produced by men, shown in galleries and was meaningful. (There were some exceptions such as Rosa Bonheur.) The work that women did was to record and share what they had seen. The drawing and painting done by men in those centuries went into art museums, and has for the most part been carefully catalogued. The drawing and painting that the women did was mostly not preserved.

Of course these women were not paid for what they did. They did it because they enjoyed it, or for the pleasure of their family and friends. This means it wasn't a profession, so this may not be relevant to what you are asking.

The field of photography took over from domestic sketching. There were a few professional photographers who were female, but the profession was male-dominated. After the development of photography, if you wanted to send a picture of your kids to the grandparents you went to a photography studio and had the picture taken.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:56 PM on September 11, 2015 [10 favorites]

This is going pretty far back, but in the Middle Ages the brewing of ale (i.e. a fermented grain beverage without hops) was, for centuries, almost entirely done by women, both commercially and domestically. Ale was a significant part of most people's caloric intake, and its preparation (like the baking of bread) was a domestic task performed by women. Women who sold ale commercially were known (in England) as brewsters, and there were quite a few of them. Male brewers were comparatively rare. We associate male brewing with monasteries because monasteries were some of the few places where there were no women handy to do the brewing, but they were exception.

For various reasons (all ultimately tied to patriarchy), from 1350 to 1600 men came to dominate the brewing industry, and it remains a male-dominated industry today.

A major source on this is Judith M. Bennett, Ale, Beer, and Brewsters in England: Women's Work in a Changing World, 1300-1600 (1999).
posted by jedicus at 1:47 PM on September 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A great many types of work started out as domestic, unpaid work, such as brewing and candy making and stillroom work, spinning and weaving, grinding grain, and pickling, storytelling, singing, straw plaiting.... the list is absolutely endless. At first when communities were small the division of labour was that women did the work that was close to home because it was easier for men to do the labour away from the home; Men they didn't have to cart babies and small children around with them into places that could be hazardous such as onto fishing vessels and into quarries. In conditions where people support themselves with primitive agriculture fields are usually many, small and widely separated, meaning that a lot of the time of the field workers are spent traveling to different fields and the fields are not close to the family residence. (This is because having the fields all in one location makes them much more vulnerable to animal, insect, disease and weather loss. If rust gets into your first barley field, it probably won't get into the other two fields if they are each two or three miles away.)

This helped created a cultural expectation that nice women stayed close to home and were chaste and didn't interact with men, especially strange men. It was a woman who ended up charged with the important duty of keeping the household fire alight.

Eventually the population grew so that things reached a scale where it became economically viable to start production. If you made a surplus - such as when you were brewing, there were enough other people around that they couldn't all claim a share of your production as kin, and they had different circumstances from you that meant they might prefer to buy your product instead of just making it themself.

As long as the brewing or weaving was done at home women could be the primary workers. Once a certain point was passed, it had to be removed from the home, and at that point it almost always became something that men ran. Men could situate the business in a place where people congregated. Men could spend all day at the work without having to stop to nurse or tend the fire. Men were more able to command a higher price then women (If you are questioning this point, consider that women's wages lag significantly behind men's.)

This is not to say that women did not work at these places. It often made economic sense for women who were not tending small children to do the work and while the production was a family own workshop you could easily have unmarried daughters and sons doing the work for the head of the household who ran the business. When their was a lot of urgent work to be done in a hurry, all hands were pressed into service, as when the men did the reaping and the women followed them gathering up the sheaves and the little children followed doing the gleaning.

When things became mechanized they were even less suitable places for women and little children. Early mass production meant that work was done at speeds and with sharp and fast moving tools or machinery that was both a potentially significant hazard to little children, but also so much of a surplus was being produced that owning a manufacturing place gave a significant economic advantage to the owner.

Of course that led to competition to who would own such a place, and that in turn squeezed more women out of being the owner who ran the production. Technologically we are now talking about things like a water powered or animal powered grist mill. During much of the classical and feudal ages in Europe (sorry to be so Euro-centric!) the grist mill was owned by the land owner/lord who often insisted that the farmers bring their grain to his mill to be ground rather than hand grinding it. This was one of the earliest feudal obligations. The land owner was obliged to grind the grain, getting paid in a share of it, while the vassals were required to bring their grain to be ground. Much labour was saved with the mechanization which also kept enriching the mill-owner.

Many small manufacturing operations were not profitable enough to scale up enough that one local leader needed or wanted to control them. For example straw plaiting was just something that children did at home until about 1890 or 1920. Shoe-making was done in a home workshop until around the Crimean War when outfitting soldiers made it worth while to make boot factories and boot factories put the home shoe-maker out of business. Even so, in rural areas there was often a traveling shoe maker who would visit each farm in turn, once a year and make new boots or shoes and repair the old ones. And this traveler would invariably be a man because it was just too difficult for a woman.

For many years it was possible for many small male-owned and male led businesses to provide self-employment for people. During medieval times they often formed guilds to help prevent competition and to keep their profits up. At that time it was acknowledged that women might inherit a business from a man, either if he had no sons, or if he left it to his wife or a daughter, and the guilds made it their business to protect the rights and the business of the deceased business owner. But women were barely tolerated running these business. Their legal status became quite shaky in England, for example, where women gradually lost the right to sign contracts, and make business agreements. It is notable, that the guilds provided protection for orphans - an orphan being defined at that time as a child whose father had died. Their mothers did not have the legal standing to fight for their child's rights.

But in the fullness of time the guilds gave way to even bigger manufacturing operations which were factories. At that point they were owned by factory owners, and rather than taking on a select and limited number of journeymen and apprentices to share in the wealth from practicing a craft they wanted to hire large numbers of workers and pay them the lowest possible price....

And so women, and children ended up working back in production again. It didn't matter that the kids got hurt and the babies couldn't be nursed. Women and kids would work for less money than the men and were more tractable.

If you look back at the list of jobs I started with: brewing and candy making and stillroom work, spinning and weaving, grinding grain, and pickling, storytelling, singing, straw plaiting et cetera, you can work out which of them turned into occupations for men. The Brewer and publican hired pretty bar maids to work for him and be nice to the customers, but the business was owned and run by a man. The still room became the Apothecary's workshop and the Apothecary was a man who had learned a little Latin and knew about the four humours. The goodwife with her distaff became the spinning factory of the industrial revolution. Performing for an audience by singing and mumming and acting and playing instruments became something done by men, and boys. Women who worked in the performing arts were reputed to do their work on their backs. The word actress was once synonymous for prostitute.
posted by Jane the Brown at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

Isn't librarianship the exact opposite of what the Asker is looking for? This report from the Department of Labor states that librarianship is still female-dominated.
posted by zoetrope at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by ubiquity at 2:09 PM on September 11, 2015

Isn't librarianship the exact opposite of what the Asker is looking for? This report from the Department of Labor states that librarianship is still female-dominated.

Right, and from the OUP link that pos posted:
Today, 83 percent of librarians are women, but in the 1880s men had the edge, making up 52 percent of the 636 librarians enumerated. In 1930, male librarians were truly rare, making up just 8 percent of the librarian population.
posted by Pink Frost at 2:52 PM on September 11, 2015

You can claim the same thing about medical workers, educators, et al. as you did with librarians - technically women outnumber men by large margins. I didn't cherry-pick evidence at the cost of more comprehensive context - evidently from the very information you cited. The distribution of power and influence isn't so unsubtly crude, and most of the other links clearly stress that, if you skim them. Do consider taking another look, even if it's just the NYTimes general article or such.
posted by pos at 4:10 PM on September 11, 2015

Further to clawsoon's comment above: the point of transition for women's formal clothing (in Western Europe at least) is Charles Frederick Worth.

Before Worth's time, if you wanted a dress designed and custom made by a professional, that professional would usually be a woman. She might make your dress herself, or have other women working for her. She might show you samples of fabric and trims, and you and she would decide on the design together based on current fashions, your budget, your taste and her advice. At the highest level, this is how Marie Antoinette employed Rose Bertin.

Worth is widely thought to have been the first to dictate fashion and decide unilaterally what women would wear. He was the first (that we know of) to label all his garments with his name, like an artist signing his work. He released his collections twice a year, setting the pace of today's fashion world. He is looked on as the father of haute couture.

I think this plays generally into this thread's trend of "when a woman does it, it's a craft; when a man does it, it's Art."
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:37 PM on September 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

posted by OolooKitty at 5:26 PM on September 11, 2015

DarlingBri: Birth. A service delivered by midwives for centuries and then taken over by obstetrics (from which women were barred) because patriarchy.

More specifically, because there was money in it. Women generally aren't driven out because men don't think they can perform the jobs; that's the cover story. The root of job sexism is always money.

When the service is paid with exchange of favors or social duty concerns in a poor/pre-money society, men don't mind women doing the work.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:03 PM on September 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

Mothers cooking for their families vs mostly male pro chefs is another one, though probably harder to place historically.

It's not that hard to place - there's been a ton of scholarship on it, but a lot of it is in the form of papers in journals. If you can, try to get a hold of Cindy Lobel's "Out to Eat: The Emergence and Evolution of the Restauarant in Nineteenth-Century New York City," that's one good piece. Short version, the rise of male chefs is a phenomenon of the European aristocracy, and translated into restaurant cuisine in late eighteenth/early nineteenth-century France. Up to that point, food for sale to regular people was available in taverns and hostelries that were run by men, women, or men and women together. Nineteenth century restaurant culture mimicked the aristocracy and was primarily male - women weren't even welcome (unless they were the working kind) until about the 1890s. But contemporaneous with that, women were working as cooks in boardinghouses, reform kitchens, school and university kitchens, domestic science classrooms, college classrooms, mom and pop restaurants, hospitals, etc. It was really restaurants that staked themselves out as all-male terrain and that happened by 1820 and continued through the 19C and still is an annoying degree of a deal in the present day (not least because of the power dynamics of culinary education and apprenticeship - the CIA did not even accept women until, I think, 1974 (it opened in 1946). So, there have always been professional women cooks, in all kinds of settings, but they've been systematically excluded from the highest-profile, highest-earning positions due to male power grabs - a conscious effort to outline a professional zone for which they could not qualify. The highest status cooking settings had to employ only men, because men's command of higher wages in and of itself, by definition, was evidence of the great expense and therefore the presumably higher quality and exclusivity of their food.
posted by Miko at 7:14 PM on September 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Computing! A computer used to be a human (usually a female), making calculations. Now, 80% of computer scientists are men.
posted by MrBobinski at 7:40 PM on September 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow. I love this site. Thank you so much, the responses exceeded my expectations by a mile.
posted by jklaiho at 1:03 AM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

The first theatrical lighting designers were mostly women. The first person to bring a computerised lighting consol to Broadway was Tharon Musser.
posted by Uncle at 8:33 AM on September 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Teaching and secretarial work.
posted by maurreen at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2015

Secretarial work went in the other direction, mostly. Great scholars and authors used to have professional male secretaries, as did business (Bartleby the Scrivener was basically a secretary). Sometime in the late nineteenth century - I'm not sure when - that started to shift. Of course, scholars and authors who didn't employ a paid secretary often depended in very material ways on the work of their wives and daughters - Herman Melville's daughters, for instance, used to cut apart his manuscripts so he could rearrange pieces, number them, and then pin and stitch them back together and write out a fair copy.
posted by Miko at 1:57 PM on September 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

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