The female gang members in Jody Miller’s One of the Guys: Girls, Gangs, and Gender must exist in survival mode at all times. One of the methods of survival is the act of “bargaining with patriarchy”. This term has been used over the years to describe the ways women relate to men, and how they thrive in spite of differences. Women must make these bargains regardless of their position in life; the only difference is that the girls in Miller’s book are often fighting for their lives.
Flaunting sexuality rather than ability is the first way in which females bargain with patriarchy. Chapter 8 specifically discusses the problem of gender inequality within the gang environment. The difference between joining an all-male gang and an all-female gang is that the females have the option of “sexing-in”, rather than fighting. This requires them to have sex with a number of male gang leaders. Instead of earning their respect, however, the girls are now seen as sexually available and unable to fight. Women who are not gang members tend to have the same problem. They face rejection in the workplace if they do not laugh at sexist jokes, wear suggestive clothing that emphasizes their gender, or if they take offense at being hit on by male co-workers. A male who refuses sex is “picky”. A female who does the same is “frigid”. My personal experience with bargaining with patriarchy occurred when I applied for a job as a waitress. I went to the interview dressed professionally to find that the other women were dressed more suggestively, with revealing outfits and heavy makeup. During my interview, I was asked if I would be willing to wear a more revealing, tighter blouse and more obvious makeup. The reason, I was told, is that such an appearance would lead to larger tips.
The second bargain that the female gang members make is to take the less violent method of leaving a gang. They know that pregnancy and motherhood is the ticket out. During pregnancy, she will restrain her gang activities in order to protect her unborn child; afterwards, it is perfectly acceptable and even expected that she will leave the gang and focus on motherhood. A male gang member has no such choice. Professional women are apt to do the same thing. During pregnancy, they have the option of “toughing it out” and doing all of their regular activities, or they can take it easy in order to present the façade of the concerned Earth mother. Once the child is born, the new mother is faced with another dilemma: if she goes back to work immediately, she is a bad mother. If she chooses to stay home, she is giving in to the expectations of the patriarchy: women simply can’t handle a career and motherhood. I have worked with many women who love their jobs and wish to return to work, but the pressure to be a full-time parent only falls on the mother.
By giving in to expectations that dictate what women should and shouldn’t do, women are reinforcing those stereotypes and ensuring that they stay in place for the next generation. While I abhor gang activity, I can understand how the promise of a loyal family might appeal to a young girl (or boy). If the girls want to be taken as seriously as the male gang members, they need to eliminate the “sexing-in” option. If professional women want to be respected, they, too, should not give in to wardrobe and behavior expectations.
One might say that Miller herself is finished bargaining with patriarchy. One of the Guys: Girls, Gangs, and Gender was her dissertation, and she could have set it aside and gone into a gentler field of research. Instead, her work was published as a full-length, widely reviewed and respected book.