“Never let yourself be told that an industry isn’t right for you. Never let yourself be told that a job or a dream can only be written in a masculine way”, premier Elisabeth Borne recently told the students of the Polytechnique. With 75.5% of boys admitted to MPSI preparation, 94.1% to BUT networks and telecommunications and 94.4% of girls to training for the psychomotor diploma and 89.1% to the degree in ‘Education, some sectors remain very gendered.
Marie Duru-Bellat, sociologist and author of The Tyranny of Gender, explains why even today our orientation choices are determined by certain stereotypes.
Why are career choices still so tied to gender? Are young people badly advised?
In theory, guidance specialists present all professions. It is not so much a question of information as of choosing a suitable job for us. Just as a girl won’t dress like a boy, she won’t approach a profession that seems more suited to a boy. The orientation is stereotyped: girls want to be a lawyer or a doctor and boys an engineer or a computer scientist.
The world of work is also gendered, whether we like it or not, and we associate qualities with a profession, whether attributed to boys or girls. For example, if we ask young people what a scientist looks like, we will imagine a lonely man in his office, while women should be open to others. Teens tend to be conformist and will project themselves into a profession.
What is the problem, basically?
The girls run away from engineering schools, but they are still doctors or lawyers, so very qualified! The problem is that access doesn’t have to seem closed, or that choices are limited. At school, young people learn to have self-confidence. For girls, even without a difference in math success, they will feel less competent, but we have the same phenomenon with working-class children in reading: it doesn’t necessarily affect performance, but self-confidence. What is shocking is that the genre plays.
Can things change?
They are changing, but slowly. In some fields there are truly striking increases: the share of women among engineering school graduates in 1961 was 4%. Today it is 28.1%. It’s a great development! Another novelty among doctors: women were 26% in 1961 against 63% today. The legal sector has also become more feminised.
What can make things happen are recruiting needs in certain trades, which create calls for air. The computer sector opened in particular at the end of the 20th century, then closed. Other sectors have been neglected by men, such as medicine. 50 years ago the son of the family studied medicine, now the dominant orientation is more that of the engineering faculty after a course of scientific preparation. Among holders of scientific high school diploma, one son out of two goes to scientific training, which has become a royal sector. There is a market for orientations: certain courses may seem prestigious once, then more.
In vocational schools, the distribution is even more gender-based: there are only boys in mechanics and construction; the girls are in the industrial textile sector but, above all, in services and hairdressing. We see very few women studying construction, and when they dare to do so, they find no work when they leave. The diploma is not everything, companies discover that girls are less qualified [à diplôme égal, NDLR] and pioneer women have more difficulty than if they were doing so-called women’s work. The long-term evolution will pass through the evolution of mentalities in the world of work.
The changes will also happen with the media, the series for example, giving another image of professions and role models: if we see more female engineers in the series, it could change. But the determining factor remains the evolution of working conditions. A survey of polytechnic women shows that their first job was comparable to that of their male colleagues, but that, with their first child, they left for the public sector, more compatible with their family responsibilities. The day when it seems possible to reconcile family and work in the more masculine industrial professions, women will tell themselves that they can find their bearings there.
Does motherhood hold back from high school?
Yes. Some high school girls said in a 1998 study that they wanted to be an interpreter and travel everywhere, then explained that it has to be realistic and that they would prefer to be a language teacher, because family responsibilities fall on women. There is always the fear that a girl will “neglect her family”. This is why things can only change very slowly, and it’s not just a matter of prejudice: reality is a problem, we need to take it into account.