How Single-Sex Workplaces Are Feeding Rape Culture

Largely single-sex workplaces are a problem that go beyond the dearth of women in corporate leadership positions, or the nagging brand of puerile misogyny that seems to plague the tech industry — such workplaces help cultivate an insidiously subtle culture of sexual assault in the way they keep men and women from developing the sort of mutual respect (whether personal or professional) that full-fledged equality demands.

The Atlantic's Philip Cohen has (bravely) tiptoed out onto a fairly treacherous limb by suggesting, as he does in his rumination about the evils of inequality inherent in single-sex workplaces, that widespread sexual assault in the U.S. military and even the Steubenville rape case owe their existence, in large part, to the fact that places like the military or high school football teams are male-dominated insitutions where women are most often perceived as outsiders. When men and women work in near-exclusive single-sex spaces, they run the risk of creating little enclaves of insulated culture, sex-based "clubs" where the unrepresented members of broader society are denigrated or dismissed by virtue of their absence. Just like the Little Rascals' He-Man-Woman-Hating Club, only without an adorable Petey dog to help distract you from all the incipient misogyny.

What does rape in the military have to do with Steubenville? A lot, according to Cohen, but the source of rape culture is not always so glaringly obvious or singular. We can't point to any one thing as the catalyst for rampant sexual assault, but we can observe the similarity between the military and a high school football, and see that the seeds for conformity in male-dominated spaces are planted early:

One connection between these two stores is obvious: High school football and the U.S. military are two venerable male-dominated sub-cultures that prize conformity, places where boys will be boys, where male supervisors break in young male recruits, helping them become cogs in the machine.

These all-male (or almost all-male) spaces, in turn, foster dehumanized attitudes about women, who, in relation to the male sub-groups, are perceived as outsiders:

But to understand the relationship between culture and behavior, you have to consider the possibility that extreme behavior is the tail end of a long distribution. It's not always, but in this case I think it's justified. Most men don't act like the convicted Steubenville football players or the military rapists described in the NPR piece. But what feminists have been calling "rape culture" produces a drifting cloud of sexual objectification and entitlement, the leading edge of which includes these heinous cases. What is the difference between those Steubenville athletes and the military rapists of tomorrow? Age and experience.

Cohen points out that 26 percent of workers are in occupations that are 90 percent single-sex, and that a whopping 69 percent of workers are in occupations that are two-thirds single-sex, or, as he writes, "merely very-segregated." In a male-dominated occupation like truck driving, for instance, Cohen explains that the absence of women can cultivate the idea among men in the trucking field that women don't really exist as full-fledged human beings — they belong in non-trucking occupations.

Such cliquishness can often lead to instances of workplace-harassment:

This separation seems to help make possible many men's simple assumption that women don't really exist as people. That silent assumption is very different-and harder to change-than looking a real person in the eye and saying, "I don't like you because you're a woman, so I'm going to hire someone else." The power of segregation is people usually don't have to do that. This partly explains why sexual harassment is so common in male-dominated workplaces: The women there are perceived as outsiders who threaten the normal routine. And just like peer culture can prevail over parents' grownup interventions when it comes to socializing adolescents, workplace culture spills over into family life, as men in male-dominated jobs (such as police officers) or female-dominated jobs (where their masculinity is threatened) perpetrate violence at home.

Cohen goes on to discuss the trend of workplace segregation as it has manifested itself, industry by industry, ever since the Civil Rights act was passed in 1964 and people started keeping (official) track of workplace inequality. The most important point in his article, however, is that divvying up work according to sex-based assumptions is a fantastic way to create sexism, misogyny, and, eventually, rape culture, because when a person doesn't exist to you as a person, you might be inclined not to respect that individual's basic human dignity.

Workplace segregation, the gender pay gap, and workplace harassment are all outcroppings of a persistent and ultimately dangerous attitude: that men and women should contribute to society in discrete ways, and that a person's economic contribution should somehow be tied to his or her particular chromosomal configuration.

The Problem With Mostly Male (and Mostly Female) Workplaces [The Atlantic]