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Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy

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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N


GE3201 The Service Economy
Photo Essay: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants
Transgressive gender performance in Londons transportation sector
Woon Wei Seng (A0002916N)


Everyone has certain stereotypes about what jobs are suitable for each gender. But
are these stereotypes natural? Jobs are not gender neutral [but] created as appropriate
for either gender, with social practices constituting them constructed to embody socially
sanctioned but variable characteristics of masculinity and femininity (Jarvis, Kantor & Cloke
2009:204). Additionally, being employed in particular jobs also shapes ones identity
(McDowell, 2009). Employment hence constructs and is socially constructed by expectations
about gender roles and behaviour, service work without exception.
Implicit in discussions about the gendered nature of service work is its performativity:
the embodied performance of much service work indicates how gender and
performativity are highly intertwined (McDowell, 2009:49). However, transgressive
performances can challenge gendered stereotypes about service work, as we shall explore
in this photo essay focusing on bus drivers and flight attendants. It features photos taken
while on SEP to London
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(ibid:56).


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I was in Kings College London in 2012/2013 Semester 2 (January to June 2013) for Student Exchange
Programme (SEP).
Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N
Female Bus Drivers?
As a transport aficionado and regular bus passenger, I developed affection for this
affordable and comfortable mode of public transport, especially in London
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. But in my six
months there, I did not encounter any female bus drivers. Why is this so?


Figure 1 Expecting a female bus driver? Unlikely to see them!

A visit to the London Transport Museum, a must-go for an enthusiast like myself, did
not yield any answers. In fact, an advertisement showcased demonstrated the contrary: that
London Transport
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welcomed female drivers (Figure 2).


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Buses are, after all, the cheapest mode of public transport (1.40 per trip) in London besides cycling, and
buses tend not to be as crowded as Tube trains.
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Predecessor of public transport authority Transport for London.
Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N

Figure 2 Exhibit featuring an advertisement (1980) calling for women bus drivers
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So where are the female drivers? Sexist attitudes of London Transport have changed
over time since the 1970s
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, reflecting acceptance in society of female drivers (Mole, 2010).
However, the occupation remains stereotyped as more masculine: despite research showing
women being better bus drivers, attitudes remain entrenched many still think women
cannot drive and hence are unsuitable (White et al, 1989; Scott, 2008; People 1
st
, 2013).


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The text on the left says: Like most transport organisations, London Transport was dominated by men. Job
opportunities for women were limited. The war years had widened womens work beyond traditional clerical
and catering jobs. Women continued to work as bus conductors after the war, but both unions and
management were opposed to becoming drivers. Change came in 1974. A new law gave women the right to be
considered for any job. London Transport soon had female drivers, inspectors, engineers and architects.
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Legal rights to womens employment were enhanced in the 1970s.
Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N

Figure 3 My performance as bus driver

The museum allowed visitors to pose and perform as bus drivers (Figure 3). But
how many girls will do so? Will people approve?


Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N
Male Flight Attendants
On the other hand, my extensive flying around Europe in these six months
encountered more male flight attendants (FAs) than before (Figure 4). Are there really more
male FAs today?


Figure 4 Are male flight attendants rare?
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Embodied performance and emotional labour are highly important to FAs: being
physically attractive, well-groomed, jovial and gentle undergird expectations towards FAs
(McDowell, 2009). FAs are socialised into specific practices and dispositions often associated
with femininity. Hence men doing female jobs tend to shock many (ibid:56).

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This was taken on a KLM flight from London to Amsterdam in January; the FAs are briefing on in-flight safety.
Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N
Traditionally, FAs are stereotyped as a more feminine occupation, in a self-
perpetuating cycle (Shinar, 1975:110) where a predominantly-female occupation must be
womens work and hence entail feminine traits (White et al, 1989:296). Today, FAs are
seen as more gender neutral, and in America male FAs are increasing (Bouazzaoui & Mullet,
2012; Raghuvanshi, 2013). Perhaps, the gendered and embodied expectations society has of
FAs are decreasing, unlike that of bus drivers?

(500 words)

Photo Essay 2: Female Bus Drivers, Male Flight Attendants GE3201 The Service Economy
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2013-2014 Semester 1/NUS/GE3201/Photo Essay 2 Woon Wei Seng A0002916N
Bibliography
Bouazzaoui, B. and Mullet, E. (2012) Perception of Occupational Gender Typing: Contrasting
French Maghrebi Origins and French from European Origins Viewpoints. Review of
European Studies, 4(5), 64-74.
Jarvis, H., Kantor, P. and Cloke, J. (2009) Cities and Gender. New York: Routledge.
McDowell, L. (2009) Working Bodies: Interactive Service Employment and Workplace
Identities. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.
Mole, A. (2010) The Tubes First Female Driver. [Online] Available from: http://london-
underground.blogspot.sg/2010/03/tubes-first-female-driver.html [Accessed 26
September 2013].
Raghuvanshi, G. (2013, July 5) Go Airlines Seeks Only Female Flight Attendants. The Wall
Street Journal Asia.
Scott, I. (2008) Women make better drivers. Injury Prevention, 14, 219.
Shinar, E. H. (1975) Sexual Stereotypes of Occupations. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 7,
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White, M. J., Kruczek, T. A., Brown, M. T. and White, G. B. (1989) Occupational Sex
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