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The Handbook of Service Industries

Edited by John R. Bryson and Peter W. Daniels

Service activities are now acknowledged as key players in economic development, societal change and public policy worldwide. This exciting Handbook not only contributes to ongoing conceptual debates about the nature of service-led economies and societies; it also pushes back the frontiers of current critical thinking about the role of service activities in urban and regional development and the important research agendas that remain to be addressed.
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Chapter 21: Gender Divisions of Labour: Sex, Gender, Sexuality and Embodiment in the Service Sector

Linda McDowell


Linda McDowell Introduction My focus in this chapter is on the ways in which gender as a social characteristic affects and is affected by the nature and structure of service sector work. I shall explore the ways in which the growth of service sector occupations has had an impact on both the opportunities and labour participation rates of men and women, as well as on changes in the construction of idealised workers in the growing emphasis on an embodied performance at work. There has been a long tradition of work, in the main by feminist scholars, that has both documented and explained women’s inequality in the labour market, arguing that not only are the characteristics of masculinity and femininity differentially valued and rewarded in the labour market but also that jobs, occupations and organisations themselves are imbued with gendered characteristics. I shall examine some of these arguments in an assessment of the implications of service sector growth for men and women. Has the growing dominance of the service economy recut and reshaped gender divisions? Are women as a group still concentrated into ‘female ghettos’ and consequently more poorly rewarded and remunerated? Or have the current patterns of restructuring in the service sector, as well as broader social changes including girls’ and women’s success in gaining educational and occupational qualifications, altered older patterns of gender discrimination? Certainly women are entering the labour market in unprecedented numbers, as I shall document below, in assessing arguments about the ‘feminisation’...

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