Silencing the feminine in male dominated work: The case of the military and construction industries in Australia

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Work in the military and in the construction industry has traditionally been performed by men and both industries are perceived to be masculine domains. The association between work in these industries and masculine gender identity is considered to be a factor behind persistent gender segregation and to contribute to employment discrimination, forms of harassment and high rates of attrition for women.
There are well established understandings in the field that work associated with masculine gender identity excludes women as a way of asserting male superiority and privilege. Exclusion tactics include practices that are designed to silence attributes, values and behaviours associated with the feminine.
This paper uses the Australian Defence Force and the Australian construction industry as case studies. We consider discourse about gender inclusion in both industries over a 15 year period in Australia using qualitative data as well as current literature. We problematize current discourse coming from both industries that does not challenge the existence of, or detrimental impact of, the binary opposition between masculinity and femininity. Rather, discourse on this issue has advanced from rejecting the feminine in these industries altogether to producing and reproducing the idea that gender, in relation to work, is irrelevant. The former undermines the latter. We argue that the denial of gender as an issue fails to recognise gender related problems such as gender segregation, discrimination and harassment and subsequently silences women’s experiences. It also fails to address masculine gender privilege.
We show that the discourse rendering gender irrelevant is designed to be inclusive of women, yet has the effect of silencing their experience. The denial of gender means that masculinity remains the dominate gender, which creates the sociocultural foundation where values and behaviours associated with femininity are silenced through resistance. Much of this resistance is situated in the body. For women this plays out in ‘gender management’, accentuating or concealing their femininity and in performing masculinity. For men this means taking risks, not complying with workplace health and safety provisions and failing to deal with mental health and wellbeing.
To understand these latter points in more depth we will critically assess how issues that occur for women are intrinsically linked to poor experiences and attrition for men in these industries. We argue this is a cultural problem, in that it is connected to beliefs, attitudes and values within the industries that in turn shape the perceptions and behaviours of members. Such cultures lead to psychological distress, bullying of women and young men and minorities and prevent cultural change. The link between workplace culture and psychological distress is well established. However, the link between gender issues that are embedded in workplace cultures, psychological distress and physical injury has received less attention.
This paper will show how the silencing of femininity and the denial of gender has significant outcomes, not only for gender segregation, the discrimination and harassment of women – but also for psychological distress and physical injury so prevalent in male dominated work.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 01 Jul 2021
Event2021 Gender, Work and Organization Conference: Virtual Conference - Virtual Conference, Kent Business School, United Kingdom
Duration: 30 Jun 202102 Jul 2021
Conference number: 11 (Abstracts (when published))


Conference2021 Gender, Work and Organization Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of 'Silencing the feminine in male dominated work: The case of the military and construction industries in Australia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this