Unmasking Masculinity in Negotiation Scholarship

By John Miller

Men and women often experience negotiation differently. In fact, many patriarchal societal inequalities play out during negotiations, particularly when men and women negotiate with each other. Researchers like Linda Babcock, Hannah Riley Bowles, and Sara Laschever, to name just a few, have written extensively about how gendered forces in negotiations act upon women in particular.1 Not only are women held to different standards of behavior in a bargaining scenario, but women are also subject to implicit biases attached to their initiation of negotiations in the first place.2 These gendered attitudes also pervade leadership assessments, dictating that women in command must exhibit some traditionally masculine traits while still maintaining social-expected femininity.3

Once we acknowledge that gender roles are socially constructed, and not biologically inherent,4 we begin to see how women and men are trained to play certain gender roles, deviations from which are met with discomfort and even scorn.5 Invariably, many scholars’ conclusions suggest numerous ways to mitigate the difference between men and women in negotiation outcomes, affording women greater success in negotiations and the benefits that follow.

This line of analysis, and its subsequent conclusions, actually reflects a problem with much gender-based research. In much of the literature on negotiation and gender, maleness is treated as a measuring stick to compare to women’s progress in various positive outcomes. The problems are framed in comparison to male performance, and the solutions are dictated in terms of what women can do,6 or when they mention men at all, in terms of what men should do differently to help women.7 The advice is certainly useful, but it carries the assumption that masculinity is a unitary constant. Gendered research into masculinity has exposed not one, but a multitude of masculinities, acting upon men in ways unaccounted for in gendered negotiation research.8 And many of these masculinities are dominated and subservient to the same organizational patriarchy that feminism seeks to topple.9  The problem I seek to identify is a general disregard of men as anything more than a monolithic control group, considering the vast sociological and psychological evidence to the contrary.

This article will begin by explaining the anti-essentialist notion of multiple masculinity theory as it is currently understood, demonstrating the complexity missing from arguments that assume all men to operate under and happily conform to one definition of masculinity. I will then identify various issues of masculinity in negotiation scholarship that are either unexplored or underexplored, and develop why these issues are so important in the on-going conversation about negotiation and gender. The aim is not to belie the underperformance of women in negotiations, but instead to demonstrate how the dialogue must change to account for a more comprehensive view of masculinity and the forces it exerts upon both men and women in negotiation.

 

John Miller is a second year JD student at Harvard Law School. 

 


1 See generally Linda Babcock et al., Nice Girls Don’t Ask, Harv. Bus. Rev., October 2003, http://hbr.org/2003/10/nice-girls-dont-ask/; Hannah Riley Bowles et al., Social Incentives for Gender Differences in the Propensity to Initiate Negotiations: Sometimes It Does Hurt to Ask, 103 Org. Behav. and Hum. Decision Processes 84, 85 (2007)

2 Hannah Riley Bowles et al., Social Incentives for Gender Differences in the Propensity to Initiate Negotiations: Sometimes It Does Hurt to Ask, 103 Org. Behav. and Hum. Decision Processes 84, 85 (2007)

3 Id.

4 See Ann C. McGinley, Creating Masculine Identities: Bullying and Harassment “Because of Sex”, 79 U. Colo. L. Rev. 1151, 1161-62 (2008)

5 Bowles, supra note 2, at 86

6 See Bowles, supra Note 2; Linda Babcock et al., Nice Girls Don’t Ask, Harv. Bus.Rev., October 2003, http://hbr.org/2003/10/nice-girls-dont-ask/

7 Andrew Cohn, Women and Negotiation: Why and How Men Should Come to the Bargaining Table, 1 Oxford Leadership J. 1, 2 (2010)

8 David S. Cohen, Keeping Men “Men” and Women Down: Sex Segregation, Anti-Essentialism, and Masculinity, 332 Harv. J. L. & Gender 509, 521 (2010)

9 Id. at 522

2 thoughts on “Unmasking Masculinity in Negotiation Scholarship

  1. Really probing work that deconstructs how dominant gender lenses conceal multiple realities and their implications, rising questions that demand further research in different disciplinary arenas. Well done, John Miller!

  2. This was really well-done. The myth of hegemonic masculinity is so deeply entrenched in most news and academic analysis that to see it questioned is a breath of fresh air. Part IV of the Essay, “Masculinity and the Choice to Negotiate” was particularly insightful because one major obstacle to improving the modern workplace is bringing in male perspectives that desire “softer” values such as family, paternity leave, more time with friends, etc. If workplaces come to understand that these issues are relevant to a much broader audience than they realize, perhaps there will be a greater opportunity for more fruitful negotiations for both men and women!

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