BCRW, Barnard Center for Research on Women From the Collection
Exhibits from the ephemeral archives at the Barnard Center for Research on Women

About the Exhibits


· Gender and Sexuality in Higher Education
· Lesbian Activism
· Women in the Workforce
· Women and Militarism
· Women and Religion
· Feminism and Sexual Health
· Women's Prison Activism

Women in the Workforce

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Scroll down for information about each item in the exhibit.

Exhibit curated by Suzanna Denison, '09
Published Fall 2008

Women have always contributed to the workforce in formal and informal ways, but their labor has not always been recognized. Karl Marx stated that "[women's] labor appears to be a personal service outside of capital." From the social issues concerning sexual harassment to the policy reforms surrounding the wage gap, this exhibit showcases a variety of materials from the BCRW collection that relate to women's participation in the workforce. These documents chronologically span three decades, starting in the early 1970s with documents from MIT's significant conference "Women in Science and Technology," which sparked a discussion of women in higher education and skilled professions, to materials that showcase 1990s women-run, women-owned businesses. This exhibit also contains a slideshow of photographs documenting women's labor and activism.

Women in Science and Technology - MIT Report

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Women in Science and Technology: A Report on an MIT Workshop
Published by the MIT Press, 1973

In the spring of 1973, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology held their first "Women in Science and Technology" conference. The conference focused on the growing numbers of women in the workforce and their absence from highly skilled job sectors, especially science and technology. In 1973, just three percent of people in skilled trades were women, despite the fact that women made up over forty percent of the workforce. Only one percent of engineers were women, and women were rarely in positions of management. This report examined the challenges for women in both higher education and the job market. The report points to the inaccessibility of higher education for women as the main reason that women are not able to occupy these skilled positions. This conference sparked a conversation about women and skilled professions that still continues today. This conference report brought together four experts from employment, the labor force, education and psychology and counseling to create solutions and further this conversation.

Wages for Housework

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Wages for Housework Flyers

The mission of the Brooklyn-based New York Wages for Housework Committee was embedded in an economic critique of how American capitalism affected women. The Committee demanded that women have autonomy over their sexual capacities and power over their experience as houseworkers or workers of a "second shift" in the home. While housework was physical work, since it was not wage-labor, it was unrecognized as employment in a capitalistic system. Housework was not only unrecognized, it also fundamentally supported how workers would earn their wages. One campaign poster read, "We have all sweated while you have grown rich. Now we want back the wealth we have produced." This campaign importantly connected economic independence with social power and freedoms and demanded that houseworkers be granted social, sexual and economic autonomy regardless of their position within or without the formal workforce.

Counter-Planning from the Kitchen

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Counter-Planning from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework—A Perspective on Capital and the Left
By Nicole Cox and Silvia Federici
Published jointly by New York Wages for Housework Committee and Falling Wall Press, 1975

The pamphlet "Counter-Planning from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework—A Perspective on Capital and the Left," continued the economic critique of women within a capitalistic society by arguing that both capitalism and the Left could not resolve women's inferior economic status since both privileged the male experience. Women's exploitation had been over-shadowed within Marxism as well, due to its focus on recognized wageworker exploitation. The pamphlet's solutions concentrated on policy change that would support women's current functions and activities within society as houseworkers. Both this pamphlet and the Wages for Housework campaign recognized that housework was truly work, and that it was excluded from the official workforce. These campaigns simultaneously critiqued the economic system while attempting to integrate housework into the workforce.

Women Office Workers Newspaper Articles

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Women Office Workers Newspaper Articles

The following New York newspaper articles, collected in 1976 by Women Office Workers, reveal many of the issues women specifically confronted as they entered the workforce. In the Daily News article "Girls Friday Want a New Day," it was observed that women office workers were treated like second wives or daughters to their bosses. They were never peers, hence the issues surrounding naming in an office setting. According to the New York Post article, "Stenos Give Some Dictation," women office workers addressed their bosses formally with "Mr.", while the women themselves were called by their first name. Women office workers were often refered to as "girls," further infantilizing them. These sexist dynamics within the office resulted in women office workers being seen not as workers, but as inferior women.

Sexual Harassment at the Workplace

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Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Historical Notes
By Mary Bularzik
Published by the New England Free Press, 1978

Mary Bularzik's article "Sexual Harassment at the Workplace: Historical Notes," exposed gender-specific harassment in the workplace. Bularzik states that sexual harassment "stems from notions that there is a 'woman's place' which women in the labor force have left, thus leaving behind their personal integrity." With women's transition into the workforce, social norms were, therefore, not left at home. A woman was still to encounter the treatment of her traditional gender role in the workplace. Using a historical analysis, particularly of white urban working women in the Northern United States before 1940, Bularzik combined a person's sexuality and his or her position as a worker to confront and expose the sexual harassment of women in the workplace.

The Women in the Office

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The Women in the Office: The Economic Status of Clerical Workers
Published by Women Employed Institute, 1979

"The other day, a client came onto the floor where I'm a receptionist, look around, then looked directly at me and asked, 'Isn't anyone here?'"
— Receptionist, sales office

The Women Employed Institute was founded to improve the status and rights of women in the workforce. In their report "The Women in the Office: The Economic Status of Clerical Workers," the economic reality of clerical work was compared with the general workplace reality. Given that clerical work was a female-dominated career, this study contrasted women's work realities with the general workforce to symbolize women's work realities at large. Using comparative studies of the wage gaps and increases, differences between men and women clerical workers, and salary earnings, the report uncovered large deficiencies for women both in pay and rights within clerical work. This report stated that the reaction to the introduction of women in the workforce and their consequent denial of rights was the result of the lack of their recognition as a legitimate workers. The report demanded seven basic policies, which included fair salary schedule and training programs in order for women to be recognized and economically successful within the workforce as clerical workers.

Worldwatch Paper 37

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Worldwatch Paper 37: Women, Men, and the Division of Labor
By Kathleen Newland
No. 37, May 1980

Worldwatch Paper's edition "Women, Men, and the Division of Labor," provides an excellent analysis of the social issues addressed in the other materials within this exhibit, including the lack of women in skilled professions, worker's rights for typically "women's" jobs and sexual harassment. Worldwatch's explanation relies upon the concept of a sexual division of labor. The five chapters of this edition investigate how paid labor was no longer a solely masculine pursuit, how women still hold the majority of the world's unpaid labor and how sex roles have influenced the job force. The authors note that since women have entered the workforce, the traditional sexual divisions of labor, in which men work in the public and women in the private sphere has been broken. Thus the issues of equal pay, rights and opportunities for women in the workforce and sexual harassment are the results of this disruption within the sexual division of labor. Importantly, since Worldwatch Paper is a periodical with a global focus, this edition shows how the issue of women in the workforce has become an international one, as economic markets expand beyond nation borders and migration and travel have become a greater part of people's daily lives.

Health Hazards for Office Workers

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Warning: Health Hazards for Office Workers: An Overview of Problems and Solutions in Occupational Health in the Office
Published by the Working Women Educational Fund, 1981

Working Women is a foundation dedicated to research on and funding for women office workers. This report aided in dispelling myths that feminized office work, unlike masculinized hard labor, does not have its own health risks. This report reveals how little emphasis and importance was given to "womanly" jobs by a masculinized workforce. To reveal the dangers and physical effects of clerical work meant to legitimize and actualize it as "real work." The report's analysis of office stress, office-specific health ailments, air quality and ventilation, and safety hazards uses statistics to convey how the facts were present but ignored by society at large. This report articulates how assumptions of what work is, especially what entails "dangerous work," is produced and reproduced by societal norms and those in power within the workforce.

Office Work in America

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Office Work in America
Published by Working Women, 1982

Working Women's sweeping report of the status of women workers in the 1980s ultimately provided a lens to view the progression women have achieved within their time as a major part of the 20th century U.S. workforce. This report uses statistical analysis to come to the understanding of women as underpaid, undervalued and underemployed in the workforce. With this as a foundation, the report assesses gendered work issues including the working family, age discrimination, sexual harassment and health and safety hazards. The end of the report focuses on where working women are headed in the 1980s as more women gain powerful positions in their workplace. While the major issues hindering women in the workforce were addressed, the report also showed how as more women entered the workforce, and were gaining positions of power, their specific needs were slowly being addressed through women worker's demands and their increasing presence in the workforce.

Imagine Economic Independence for All Women

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Women's Market pamphlets
Published by Women's Marketplace, circa 1995

These pamphlets are evidence of the progression women have made in the U.S. workforce from the 1970s to the 1990s. Organizations such as Women's Marketplace formed to tackle the concerns of working women in positions of power. The 1990s saw more women than ever enter the workforce in managerial and other high level work positions. Women's Marketplace was created to bring awareness to the growing trend of women-owned, women-run businesses. Their mission states that, "We are looking for ways that women can empower each other and themselves, economically. Imagine a world where women can all work and all their work is economically productive." This organization responded to the Wages for Housework campaign's critique of capitalism as oppressive to women by creating a space for women to become economically successful under capitalism. The successful and powerful working women of the 1990s did not need to overturn capitalism, but rather engage with it with their newfound economic strength. The organization's emphasis on women supporting women creates a space where if women join together, even the woman-oppressive capitalistic state can be utilized for their economic gain. Women's Marketplace lies at the heart of capitalism, but this time the producers and products are women-run and women-owned. Thus women are not only entering but also altering the workforce.

Slideshow still

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These photographs, selected from materials found in the Center's Collection, document women's labor and activism. Click here to start the slideshow.

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©2008 Barnard Center for Research on Women