In today’s labor regime, the labor market does not expect the rules of work life to be carried into non-work life; it expects that we construct our entire life and personality on the basis of the values of work. […] The labor of all workers is governed in a way that increasingly resembles invisible labor of women. Interestingly enough, while the women’s movement renders the private “visible”, the new labor regime renders the visible “private”.

In an article in Çatlak Zemin, Simten Coşar wrote that citizens are called to femininity in terms of social rights. In this article, in a dialogue with Coşar’s analysis, I argue that the workers’ relation to work is reconstructed in a way that resembles women’s relation to care work. To that end, I find it important to analyze labor relations through a feminist lens.

Demand for work-character alignment

I find it important to analyze the regime through a feminist lens because an “intensified demand for character”[1] has appeared in new labor relations regardless of sector or gender. The demand for character means that the distance between a person’s natural inclinations and the expected behaviors for a job position should be short. This proximity is seen as an important factor in the intensification of work and is highly valued by those who do the recruitment. For instance, it is estimated that aggressiveness of a salesperson and compassion of a nurse will boost their performance. Due to the expectation of character-work alignment, the employable worker becomes the worker who translates her career into a personal language and who regularly revises her past in accordance with today’s career requirements. Thus, employment is rendered individualized. Individualization is the expectation of the neoliberal labor regime. In the new labor regime, employment is seen as an individual responsibility and all regulations are made accordingly. In this approach, if you haven’t been able to find a job, either you haven’t done a thorough job hunting or you either haven’t made yourself employable or you are working at a job that you don’t like. Would you like to visit the municipality’s employment fair, talk to a career coach, attend know-yourself activities(!)?

In today’s labor regime, labor market does not expect the rules of work life to be carried into non-work life; it expects that we construct our entire life and personality on the basis of the values of work. We are expected to evaluate and do everything since our childhood based on the criteria of usefulness for getting employed. In this sense, I think that workers’ subjectivity is constructed similar to that of women’s subjectivity and that all workers are feminized. In the new labor regime, parallel to the individualization of employment, everything that the workers do for a job has been turned into a matter of meaning. The effort made for the job becomes not a subject of contractual relationship but a subject of personal quest for meaning. This, in turn, leads to the expectation that the workers will themselves make invisible the input they provide for the job. In this respect, the labor of all workers is governed in a way that increasingly resembles invisible labor of women. Interestingly enough, while the women’s movement renders the private “visible”, the new labor regime renders the visible “private”.

Sociologists have extensively researched the various aspects of today’s labor regime’s expectations pertaining to the behavioral characteristics of the labor force. In these studies, primarily subjects of emotion, character, and identity occupied the centerstage. They have asked the questions of how, with the growth of service sector,  −particularly female− workers have got involved in work emotionally[2]; how emotional labor has played out in jobs that involve care such as tourism, teaching, nursing[3]; what is the impact of new capitalism on individual’s way of making sense of themselves[4]; which behaviors have gained significance in getting employed[5]; and what is the importance of individuality (behavior, character, emotion) at work[6]. Behavioral characteristics have become essential not only for  −especially female− workers who have face-to-face relations with the customers but also for other workers. For instance, an accountant who does not see any customer whatsoever is expected to have a discreet personality. Therefore, we should analyze the rise of behavioral expectations from workers through a gender perspective, without limiting the analysis to female employees or to the sectors in which the percentage of female workers is higher.

Gendering governmentality: Natural, unpaid, and spontaneous work

In the research I conducted for my doctoral dissertation, I aimed at understanding changing labor regimes through the practices of private employment agencies. In my research, I explained how the recruitment sector contributes to the creation of norms for individualization of employment.  I examined how they contribute to individualization of employment (in recruitment, reorganization, and promotions) through character measurement as well as the ways in which behavior is commodified.[7] I realized that the workers’ relationship with work is redefined through mechanisms of naturalizations; and this definition resembles that of  women’s relationship to their care labor − a definition to which we object. Also, in this study, I observed that the intensification of work operates hand in hand with the invisibilization of the labor put into work. I figured that this finding shares common aspects with the problems about women’s labor; and this new situation made me ask a new question: what is the commonality between the government of women’s labor force and the way in which workers are governed in general? I think that the relationship workers have with work is reconstructed in a way that resembles women’s relationship to care labor; that is, natural and, hence, unpaid, and easy because it is “spontaneous” (if you love it).

So far, gender has been problematized in studies on the labor regime. For instance, management of emotions and emotional labor have often been linked to the service sector, and the question as to how women are governed through emotional management in jobs where the percentage of female employees are usually higher such as teaching, nursing has been posed.[8] Or, the textile sector where women densely work has been tackled.[9] Feminization of certain sectors has been discussed. Additionally, a gender perspective is used to analyze production of technology. It has been ascertained that the concealment process of the labor that has been hidden in the technology production resembles the invisibilization of care labor.[10] According to these arguments, jobs such as sorting out violent internet content that are easy yet emotionally draining –jobs which are central to the technology sector– are devalued by invisibilization and deemed worthy of low wages. In this way, the labor hidden in the processes is also devalued as micro, easy, and insignificant that can be done by “disposable” employment, and the fact that  this labor is central to the end product is concealed. The argument that the low-paying, draining jobs are devalued as “easy” is important to reflect on working conditions with a gender perspective. All these studies have addressed working conditions for women or feminization of work/workplace. However, we need the feminist lens to question how subjectivities of workers are feminized. Focusing on the ways in which workers are disciplined, in other words, on how governmentality is gendered means analyzing the employment regime through the lens given to us by the feminist approach. To my mind, doing this will help us understand different forms of discrimination which have become even more complicated.

Moreover, I think two points are related to feminization of worker subjectivity. First of all, I observe that in the personnel departments that had not yet been transformed into Human Resources before the 1990s, managers were predominantly men, in fact, retired soldiers while, later, in these departments which were renamed as Human Resources in parallel to the increasing importance of emotional management in the government of workers, women started to be more densely employed. Of course, I need to substantiate this observation. I find it noteworthy that as emotions, which have been by and large associated with women, have been integrated into work, women have started to occupy more positions in the management of emotions. I think the fact that today women work more at those departments –which have been transformed into human resources– that were once filled with retired soldiers – who were thought to be better at disciplining– as staff managers is a good sign of the changes in personnel management. Second of all, the emotional-rational dichotomy of the Fordist period has been overcome.[11] Here, as Simten Coşar also states, what is at stake is that paradoxical approaches coexist under neoliberalism. In my doctoral studies, I came to a similar conclusion: In the new bureaucracy of a new workplace, contradictory approaches can coexist as a synthesis. Autonomy-interdependence, individually-centralization, irregularity-hyperregulation, standardization-differentiation can be conflated not in a contradictory fashion but co-exist as a synthesis.

Emotional management operates for all workers in all sectors. This ideological framework asks workers to take contractual relations personally. As opposed to feminism’s approach to politicize the personal, those that have been recognized [as public], for example contractual relations, are personalized. Work turns into a personal matter that is not related to work, employer, workplace, and working conditions. Relations with the place, interlocutors, and contract are translated into a love affair, and into the worker’s love relation with work. Work is reconstructed as a matter not of livelihood but of meaning.[12] However, for women this has always been a process that should be reversed; that is, demonstrating that work is a matter of livelihood and not of meaning has been a political struggle. For this reason, if we want to politicize the production process, we have a lot to learn from the feminist approaches which rethink the ways in and through which we can regain our commodified individuality. We can evaluate how workers, while becoming precarious in terms of working conditions, form a relationship with their jobs based on the lesson we learned through gender perspective.

As a result, while the work done is defined as worthless and working conditions as insignificant, workers’ relation to work –i.e. their subjectivity– is feminized. In this case, workers’ relationship with the workplace becomes irrelevant and is treated as their personal problem. If everything is personal, a problem you have at work can be evaluated as your incompetency or your biased interpretation. If you object, for example, you are the “problem” person. On the other hand, you would be happy if you found a job that is suitable for your character (!). Promise of a job where one can realize herself by using her personal traits is happiness. We are expected to think that the source of our happiness will not be our work relations or working conditions but the work we do. While the happiness to be cultivated from work is severed from the workplace, consequences are deemed to be personal choices of individuals. According to the ideology of this new regime, job seekers should seek not a job but happiness. There is an oft-used sentence in the world of human resources: “If people do the job they love, they will not have to work lifelong”.

Societal costs and conclusion  

On a ground where all workers are called to femininity by the ideology of the new labor regime, women face a more complicated form of oppression. For example, in some cases, male workers who are angry with feminization direct their rage not to their employers but to their female colleagues. In other cases, we know that men, beyond hierarchies among themselves, gang up (or form groups) and push the equalizing environment of the workplace against the interests of women. On the other hand, just as some jobs are devalued regardless of their hardship level and are deemed as female work, some jobs that men do are rendered important. In this respect, we see some cases where men, in order to differentiate themselves from women, use their control over their jobs as a means to disempower women. In that case, we need feminist lenses more than ever.

As employment is individualized and turned into a matter of meaning, jobs today create more emotional destruction. We can see this in the increasing use of antidepressants due to work-related depression. So far, work-related emotional destruction has been linked to emotional labor. However, we need new research for the claim that the destruction results from changes in the labor regime and is valid for sectors that do not require intensified communication, and I intend to do that. But before that, I hope to bring up this topic for discussion with this article. I think that studies using gender perspective will provide a conceptual framework for this research.

Translator: İpek Tabur

Proof-reader: Müge Karahan

For the original in Turkish / Yazının Türkçesi için

[1] Jason Hughes, “Bringing Emotion to Work: Emotional Intelligence, Employee Resistance and the Reinvention of Character,” Work, Employment & Society 19, no. 3 (September 2005).

[2] Rosemary Crompton, Duncan Gallie, and Kate Purcell, Changing Forms of Employment: Organisations, Skills and Gender, ed. Rosemary Crompton, Duncan Gallie, and Kate Purcell (London, New York: Routledge, 1996).

[3] Arlie Russell Hochschild, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983); Helen Colley, “Learning to Labor with Feeling: Class, Gender and Emotion in Childcare Education and Training,” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 7, no. 1 (March 1, 2006): 15–29, doi:10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.15.

[4] Richard Sennett, The Corrosion of Character: The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism (New York: Norton, 1998).

[5] Phillip Brown and Richard Scase, Higher Education and Corporate Realities: Class, Culture, and the Decline of Graduate Careers (London; Bristol, Pa.: UCL Press, 1994); Ofer Sharone, “Constructing Unemployed Job Seekers as Professional Workers: The Depoliticizing Work-Game of Job Searching,” Qualitative Sociology 30, no. 4 (July 18, 2007): 403-16, doi:10.1007/s11133-007-9071-z.

[6] Vicki Smith, Crossing the Great Divide: Worker Risk and Opportunity in the New Economy (Ithaca: LR Press, 2001); Jason Hughes, “Bringing Emotion to Work: Emotional Intelligence, Employee Resistance and the Reinvention of Character,” Work, Employment & Society 19, no. 3 (September 2005); George Callaghan and Paul Thompson, “‘We Recruit Attitude’: The Selection and Shaping of Routine Call Centre Labor,” JOMS Journal of Management Studies 39, no. 2 (2002): 233-54.

[7] Işıklı, Ebru, “İşe Alım Endüstrisinin İşsizliği Yönetmedeki Rolü,” in Türkiye’nin Büyük Dönüşümü, Ayşe Buğra’ya Armağan , ed. Mehmet Ertan, Osman Savaşkan, (İletişim Yayınları, 2018), 501-526.

[8] Helen Colley, “Learning to Labor with Feeling: Class, Gender and Emotion in Childcare Education and Training,” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 7, no. 1 (March 1, 2006): 15–29, doi:10.2304/ciec.2006.7.1.15.

[9] Saniye Dedeoğlu, “Visible hands–invisible women: Garment production in Turkey.” Feminist Economics 16.4 (2010): 1-32.

[10] Astra Taylor, “The Automation Charade”, October 8, 2018

[11] Linda Putnam, Dennis K Mumby. “Organizations, Emotion and the Myth of Rationality.” In Emotion in Organizations, 36–57. London: SAGE, 1993.

[12] An example of women’s objection that work is a matter of livelihood, not of meaning.


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