By Evie Hayman
It makes me so mad when people don’t take my English degree seriously. Many view it as a “soft” major for people just going to college to get a degree; one that has no use in the real world. As I look around in my classroom, I see mostly women. If I looked in a science-based class, I would see mostly men. It makes me wonder – is English a “soft” major because it is female-dominated?
Possibly, said Natalie Wilson, professor of literature and women’s studies at Cal State San Marcos. “I think that in those areas where women dominate there is this tendency to identify them as soft.”
This idea of “soft” also permeates certain professions, mainly those with lots of women.
“When areas become more female-dominated, the salaries and the prestige tend to go down,” Wilson asserted. These jobs become viewed as “soft,” a term she sees as applying to femininity. In the past, women were expected to be soft and passive while men were expected to be aggressive.
However, as Dr. Wilson points out, when men move into female-dominated career fields like nursing, the job titles are changed. “As more men go into a profession, the terms we use to define them are made less soft,” she says, “Like personal assistant instead of secretary.”
As men leave a profession and it becomes more female-dominated, there are negative effects. “This filtered into the job market where it was assumed men want to do hard jobs, women want to do soft jobs, and they are naturally better equipped to do them,” she explained.
If men do end up with one of the “soft jobs,” they are generally in positions of power. “The higher up the ladder – more power, more money – more likely to have males [in those positions],” she said, “People at the top of the ladder at schools are men; most surgeons are men, most nurses are women.”
Wilson also agrees with me that English majors are looked down upon. She views this as partly due to the belief that you can’t make any money with an English degree.
“Reading a book and liking poetry is feminine and a waste of time, because you’re not making any money,” she explained, “Humanities is considered a soft discipline; it is not valued and not seen as a money maker.”
But you can make money with an English degree, especially if you are a male.
“With writing, men are paid more and publicized more,” said Wilson, “Even though women are doing it more, men make more money and get more recognition.”
Wilson pointed to Stephenie Meyer, author of the Twilight series. Meyer is always framed as a mother, whereas male authors are never framed as fathers.
“When women achieve, they are still framed as mothers, still framed as soft,” she noted.
My piece of advice to the world: don’t judge a brain by its female cover. English might seem like a “soft” major leading to a “soft” job, but I can guarantee you that everyone depends on an English major in some small way each and every day. Think of us the next time you open the newspaper, use a manual, or read this very blog – won’t you?