In the book, Just One of the Guys? Transgender Men and the Persistence of Gender Inequality, Kristen Schilt looks to identify and explain the gender inequality that transgender men encounter across gender lines. While she mainly focuses on individuals that were born female, but identify as having a male gender identity, she shows the dark biases that society puts upon an individual’s gender. She introduces the readers to a concept known as natural difference schemas. Schilt uses this definition to show how society uses natural difference schemas to justify gender inequality in many situations, but she focuses on inequality in the workplace. Schilt decided to focus on researching transgender men, due to the lack of research previously done on them.
These individuals have the unique ability to see how inequality works from both sides of the gender binary. Schilt uses personal interviews of transmen and observational data taken from workplaces to expose the systemic gender inequality. The transmen that are interviewed can provide readers with a unique perspective as they can give insight from both sides.
In the book, one concept that came up often was that of the natural difference schema. Schilt exposed the readers to the true intentions of this concept, which is attempting to explain unequal outcomes for men and women as the results of innate biological differences between the genders. These schemas are a result of social construction made to allow individuals to justify social inequality. The research that Schilt provides can help explain how these concepts of innate differences are created and maintained, even though they are not backed up by scientific evidence. You can see this exemplified in the book; when an individual goes through a gender change, but changes nothing in terms of education or qualification, their ideas and opinions are suddenly valued more by others. Schilt mentions the Stanford professor who made sense of the gendered STEM jobs by the difference in the innate abilities between males and females. The professor argued that men were just simply better than woman and math and science, which made them a superior option in the STEM field. This concept of the difference in innate abilities is present in all facets of life such as schools and of course, the workplace.
Students will subtly receive cues that hope to lead them into careers deemed “gender appropriate”. Girls are ushered into careers like nursing, while men are led into careers such as doctors. Schilt also has an interesting view when it comes to intersectionality, which focuses on the effect that race and class have on the experiences of transmen. How transmen are treated in the workplace relies on their ability to “pass” as a man. The ability to be able to “fit in” as a man is different for each race because some features do not change as easily as others, such as height. In the book, Schilt talks about Christopher, who felt like he never got the male privileges after his transition due to being short. He was also viewed as a stereotypical Asian man, and was believed to have a passive attitude. Another example used in the novel is Keith, a black transman that felt he was not allowed to express anger as it would seem like he was just overly aggressive.
On the other hand, if a transman is tall, white, and his features make it easier for him to pass as a man, their experience during their transition is much more pleasurable and positive. Schilt believes that these experiences suggest that men are not only expected to be different from women, but they are expected to be better than women. Another part of intersectionality explained in the book is the individual’s social class status. It is generally believed that people in lower social classes, also have a lower quality education. This affects the individual’s employment status and may even affect their ability to progress within a particular company. These challenges, along with the challenges that come with transitioning, and the lack of money needed to pay for some expenses of the transition, may make it harder for some individuals to “pass” as a man. Race and class have a big effect on the ability of individuals to convince others of their new gender identity.
Another factor that affects the treatment of transmen comes from how the individual handles their transition. Schilt gives two examples of strategies used; open and stealth. The open strategy is when the individual decides to share information of their transition to their employers and coworkers. The stealth strategy is when the individual decides to start a new job and proceeds to not give any information or acknowledge the transition at all, allowing the individual to live as a man and withhold the fact that they are transgender. Many times, those who use the open strategy experience a lot of different reactions. Some employers don’t accept or agree with the transition and it affects the individual’s workplace duties negatively, hindering any chance at promotion.
The opposite can be said for those who use the stealth tactic. Transmen that could “pass” were greeted with more opportunities and experiences than before. Many were hired based on their male appearance alone, they were now open to jobs that were not deemed suitable for women, even though they have the same qualifications as before. The examples and data used by Schilt in this book show how an individual’s skills and accomplishments can be viewed more favorably based solely on the fact that they’re coming from a man and not a woman. This further proves the social constructions at work in gender inequality. The injustice has never been more apparent, as employers and coworkers work their own gender biases into the workplace, trans people lose their own identity as they are forced to conform to one of two genders. While Schilt makes many valid points that I agree with, there are things I believe she could add that would strengthen her argument. By only using transmen, we lose the other half of the story.
Transwomen would be able to give insight in the things they experienced going through their transitions, and the ability to compare and contrast with transmen could further show evidence of the drop off in the workplace. I believe that Schilt explains only one dimension of the gender inequality that is present in the workplace. Providing insight on the other half of the spectrum could further prove that gender inequality is a problem plaguing the workplace today.