Towards a Feminization of the Workplace?

The feminine-masculine dichotomy defines and divides every aspect of society and human life, from linguistics to common interests and aesthetic preferences. It has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with artificially created boundaries in which society takes refuge.

Spaces in which we carry out our lives have often been divided between the “masculine” and the “feminine”. Public spheres where public speaking and transactions take place are considered masculine, whereas the private sphere of the home is considered feminine. Offices are considered masculine and are often decorated in a hyper-modern and sterile way that boasts efficiency. If one observes spaces designed for women, such as spas and beauty parlors, the décor is homely and comfortable. Men will prefer an interior design that will impress or intimidate while women prefer a comfortable environment that will bring people’s guards down.

The Atlantic recently published an article “The end of Men” which claims that women are taking over the workplace by being a majority in the workforce and earning more more university degrees than they’re male counterparts. The article discusses many of the cultural consequences that this will have on society, but doesn’t discuss any significant shifts in society’s aesthetic preferences. One can wonder if traditionally “masculine” spaces will become more “feminine” and if the go-to recipe for designing modern and intimidating office spaces will shift towards a more feminine ideal of comfort and hospitality.

Even The Oval Office, arguably the world’s most famous room, was redecorated by Obama this year and striped down of a few elements that boasted grandeur, such as the starburst carped designed by Laura Bush. The Sofas and chairs selected look like belong in a comfortable den rather than a formal place where the world’s most important issues will be discussed.

Changes might also happen for work-appropriate clothing. Women’s city-wear and work-clothes have been modeled off men’s tailored suits. During the 80’s, the broad-shouldered “power suit” was a strong trend in woman’s city-wear as women wanted to be respected by their male counterparts in the office. Since then, women have been dressing to blend-in with the men in the workplace. Now that there might be a majority of women in the work force especially in careers where university degrees are required, will there be a significant change in what is deemed appropriate clothing in the office? On the runway, there is no lack of menswear/womenswear hybrids but will the trend cross the threshold of the conservative office space?

Perhaps a heightened feminine presence in offices will also dilute the belief that dressing too feminine at work is provocative and inappropriate. With the model worker being a woman instead of a man, will menswear become more feminine as well?

Men haven’t always dressed so simply and monochromatically. Perhaps this example goes a bit far back in history, but Baroque and Roccoco society had very strong “feminine” tastes in art, architecture and fashion. Men wore make-up, powdered wigs and adorned they’re clothes with velvet bows and lace. We can partially owe this to the fact that upper-class social and intellectual exchanges were taken place in private “Salons” that were held by influential self-proclaimed “Salonieres” from the nobility and bourgeoisie. These women entertained influential men from all cultural sectors and encourage exchanges of ideas. They set the stage for the “think tanks” of the 17th century in they’re private, feminine spheres and ultimately influenced the innovations and aesthetic preferences of the time.

That being said, I don’t think society will ever go back to preferring anything too fussy and impractical. Time is money and even though alternative colour palettes and diaphanous materials might sneak their way into city-wear, efficiency is still the number one priority.

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