chapter  6
20 Pages

Body Work: Heterosexual Gender Performances in City Workplaces

This chapter is concerned with the links between power relations, heterosexuality, identity and the body in the workplace. As the quotation above illustrates, City workplaces and practices are saturated with heterosexist imagery and behaviour, demanding of women a physically impossible performance. Their embodiment as female clearly raises vexed issues for their recruitment to and progress within the City environment, if conformity to particular social practices is a condition of success. In an empirical investigation of changes in the social relations in merchant banks in the City of London during the years of rapid expansion in the 1980s, I began to explore the ways in which the language and practices in merchant banks conformed to this heterosexist stereotype of aggressive masculinity. I began by investigating whether women in particular, but also men from different social backgrounds, had been able to capitalise on the growth of employment opportunities in the City. Who was recruited in these years? What types of employment opportunities opened up? Was the image of a merchant banker, especially the association with a certain type of class-based masculinity, being challenged, and if so, how and by whom? Although the majority of merchant banks had put in place equal opportunities programmes during these years, it quickly became clear that conventional equal opportunities policies based on disembodied liberal notions of individual merit had relatively little impact on the culture of banking which operated to produce an atmosphere in which certain attributes of heterosexual masculinity were

valorised. In these boom years of the mid-1980s, women certainly were recruited in growing numbers by merchant banks in the City, but my examination of personnel and survey data revealed that they were not making as much progress up the occupational hierarchy as their male counterparts recruited at the same time. As the banks were committed to expanding opportunities for women and were careful in their selection procedures, it seemed evident that something else was happening that made banks an inimical working environment for many women. In my investigation of why women failed to progress as fast as men I began to examine in detail the everyday working environment of three banks,1 looking at the ways in which women were made to feel ‘out of place’ in the City. In this chapter I focus in particular on questions about the (hetero) sexed body and its significance in the shaping of power relations in the workplace.