Feminism 101: Should women be ashamed of ‘Pink Collar’ jobs?

10 feminists share their thoughts on jobs traditionally filled by women
By Avital Norman Nathman  Published on 10/07/2016 at 9:00 AM EDT

Welcome back to Feminism 101, where a fabulous group of feminists are here to answer your questions! This week’s question comes from Grok Nation reader, Savannah. She’s curious about “pink collar” jobs — i.e. those types of jobs that have traditionally been thought of as “women’s jobs” (nursing, teaching, etc…). She’s worried that these jobs don’t follow the typical pattern of economic growth an at times do not pay what would be considered a fair wage commensurate with education and training required. Savannah asks our feminists:

Should the women entering these professions feel any shame for entering such an archetypal job? Should they fight harder for fair wages or is it a moot point?

Kat Rutkin:It doesn’t surprise me that the majority of ‘pink collar’ jobs are related to caregiving, nurturing, and educating.  Even though caregiving is sorely undervalued in our society, women AND men should be proud to enter those professions. When I was considering dropping back from my career to spend more time with my kids, my fierce feminist friend and inspiration told me something I still hold dear: there’s nothing anti-feminist about caregiving.

I’m just starting out again myself as a postpartum doula, which is a field almost entirely made of women who care for other women. After years of working in other fields, I know this is my calling and my passion, and I’m beyond proud of it.  All people who work in these jobs deserve more money, and should fight for it.  We should all be working to see caregiving and educating be given the value it deserves, and certainly not blown off as ‘women’s work.'”

Jen Selk:Should teachers and nurses, etc. feel shame because so-called ‘pink-collar’ jobs don’t pay what they should? Hell no. Should they fight harder for better wages? I don’t know. If they want to. Choice is key. Regardless, women should remember that we aren’t the problem and we needn’t worry about being the solution. We are the victims of a shitty work system and I don’t believe in victim blaming. Patriarchy and Capitalism are the real villains here.”

Maia Butler:As a woman teaching in higher ed, I’m a scholar of black literature, women’s literature, and feminist theories. I absolutely see a need for my work in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia, and I see that my women colleagues are actively working to close the pay gap between men and women in higher ed, especially addressing the adjunctification of our profession. This work is crucial in order to make it affordable for future teachers who are not ashamed to follow their passion, their calling. My commitment to teaching the work, ideas, and literatures of the communities with whom I identify (black, ethnic, women’s) contributes to the education of college students who may not have been adequately exposed to these cultural productions in high school. As young adults developing their own identities and navigating their educational, employment, and community environments, they absolutely benefit from the ideas that I am committed to exposing them to. I take great pride in my classroom work, I enjoy my academic communities, and I contribute to intellectual discussions. Most of all, my students tell me they appreciate and are inspired by my presence and the diversity of perspectives and experiences that I bring to our work.”

Naseem Jamnia:The issue with the so-called ‘feminization’ of professions like teaching and nursing lies, I think, in their value in US society. These professions aren’t taken seriously or honored the way they should–teachers consistently make less money than they deserve, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard nurses being referred to as ‘people who couldn’t make it in med school.’ (Ironically, this seems to be a perception of pre-health students, as every doctor I’ve ever met would be nowhere without their nurses, and say as much.) Anyway — the fight for equality of pay for these particular jobs really lies in how much we value them. Let’s start there.”

Meg Galipault:Hell, no, they shouldn’t feel shame. Caring for others is honorable work. Hell, yes, they should organize and fight for better wages. Nursing and teaching are labor intensive and women in these fields should get more money than men who are selling life insurance.”

Amanda Rose Adams:Shame for pursuing either of these noble professions? Never! Our society should be ashamed of not valuing these professions more highly. Also, nursing with an RN is a competitive and growing job market with many paths available through experience and higher education. Yes, lower-certified nursing, childcare, and entry-level  teaching are all still woefully underpaid, but professional nursing is a high-growth potential career with the large aging population and many roles to fill in research, administration, patient advocacy, and clinical care. Gender is still a real issue in both professions, but the trend of more women, in general, pursuing higher education is indicative of a positive, though far too slow, stabilization of gender balance in the workplace.  We will always need nurses and teachers so rather than discourage women from these careers, our energy is better spent highlighting how important these professions are to our sustained well being and fighting alongside these professionals for higher social recognition and better compensation.”

Porscha Williams:Women entering so called ‘pink collar’ jobs should not feel any shame at all. Feminism, at its heart, is concerned with choices, and if a woman enters those fields by choice, there is no reason to feel shame about it. It is completely shameful that our country doesn’t value education and doesn’t treat educators with the veneration that they should be. But I’ve been in education since I graduated college, and while it’s obnoxious that some of my friends with much lower stakes jobs get paid infinitely better than me, I wouldn’t trade my experiences in a valuable profession for anything at this point. Many people are fighting for higher wages in education right now, but it’s going to take the country at large taking that seriously for it to happen. Any time a teacher’s union goes to the mat for their pay, their benefits, and their value add, there is always a polarized ‘debate’ about whether or not educators truly deserve it. The problem isn’t with educators. We are, and have been, fighting for fair pay and benefits. Not everyone in America values those fights or even sees the value in us, and until they do, we will not be able to accomplish anything more than the incremental progress.”

Patricia Valoy:As an engineer, I work in a male-dominated field, so I can’t speak about ‘pink collar’ work specifically, but I do know one thing: we should be proud of all our accomplishments and we should go into any field that we want! There is no winning for women. If we pursue pink collar careers we are told we are falling into stereotypes, and if we go into male-dominated fields we are told we don’t belong. The wage gap, bias, and harassment are about the same in all workplaces that employ women, so I wouldn’t stop fighting for equal rights and representation whether I’m working from home or I’m an executive. Keep fighting from everywhere!”

Jennie Worden:Nobody should feel shame for finding any kind of employment, or for seeking any kind of employment. It’s healthy, I think, to question the gendered education and training we receive that may predispose us to imagine ourselves in some roles and not others, and to pursue some opportunities over others.

Of course women in pink-collar jobs should (if they have energy) fight for fair wages. And people who aren’t earning lower wages should probably support that fight and recognize the societal value of “women’s work,” whether that work is providing administrative support to a bunch of lawyers, nursing patients, bringing babies safely into the world and caring for expecting parents, caring for small children or elderly people, or any of the other myriad jobs that are statistically more likely to be performed by women, and less likely to be compensated at a living wage. Fair pay helps everyone. ”

K.M. O’Sullivan:As a feminist mother of three sons, two of whom look to be headed into careers in the arts, I reject the notion of gendered jobs.

Despite raising strong feminist young men, I know I’d be twice as fierce if I had a daughter. Women don’t have the luxury of choice. At least that’s how we’ve been conditioned. When we embraced the truth that we couldn’t really have it all, we apologized to our feminist icons and incorporated the great feminist compromise into our consciousness: We can have anything we want, do anything we want, be anything we want, but never all at once.

It sucks. But it is that compromise that keeps many of us in traditionally female career tracks. Should we feel shame? Absolutely not. Those careers are some of the most valuable. Should we fight for equal pay? Hell yes. Should we collectively raise the level of respect for those jobs typically done by women? Damn straight.

Work to raise the level of respect (and pay), instead of believing you are lowering your expectations. That is how we finally get to that mythical equilibrium of having it all.”

Do YOU have a question for our cabal of fierce feminists? Email it to Avital Norman Nathman at

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