Jayashree Kamblé (La Guardia CC, City University of New York)
Session 6.4 Power and Patriarchy
Harriet Bradley’s study of gender in work history documents how gender roles affect the practice and perception of labour. Her observations are crucial to understanding the labour of Eve Dallas, the murder cop in J.D. Robb’s long-running In Death romantic suspense series. This presentation examines how Eve’s job situates her in relation to the traditional binary of men’s work (dangerous, exciting, physical, outdoorsy), and women’s work (mundane, boring, domestic, and involving what Bradley terms a “personal care motif”).
Not only does Eve fall into the former (as a New York city homicide detective), the character is written in pointed opposition to the so-called womanly traits ‘natural’ to her sex. She swears, enjoys physical challenges, and demonstrates roughness in humour and personal grooming. This portrait seems to reflect one consequence of the “double-bind” that Bradley says women encounter when they enter male dominated professions: either act like one of the guys and set aside female self-identity to get accepted in the workplace or be labelled as too female and by extension, an inferior worker.
Additionally, Bradley and Ruth Milkman’s argument that co-ed professional spaces are gendered differently depending on the inhabitant – eg the presence or absence of family photos – is key to recognising that Eve’s office geography is framed as masculine.
Yet as the series progresses, the double bind loosens, showing Eve as possessing dual-gender professional traits. Further, while she still holds her own with the guys, her professional work space alters to include more “feminine” features. The series thus stages the operation of sex-typing in jobs, especially in a profession traditionally seen as androcentric, and the romance heroine’s journey from this reductive professional self toward an authentic worker self that rejects the double-bind.
Jyasharee’s conceit: Robb is rewriting the Nancy Drew series without Nancy, Eve is George and Delia is Bess
Descriptions are all using masculine descriptors. Eg
- Slime disciplined muscles
- Loose gained
- Long rangy
- Lean face, sharp angles
- Worn, faced
- Scarred jacket
- Smeared denim
- Ruthlessly plain shirt
- Baggy sweater and ancient jeans
- Choppily cut
- Cuts it herself
Double bind of female cops:
- To be a cop they need to sacrifice femininity
- To be a heroine they need to sacrifice strength
Putting Dallas into the NYC Police force is basically putting her into a paramilitary force – they have more weaponry than some small nations.
Men’s work is clock time
Women’s work has always been away from clock time, it just keeps going
Eve’s husband is doing the nurturing in the relationship
My notes: This is a VERY long series. The first book was published in 1995, and it is now up to book 56. I love crime / suspense, but tbh I find this intimidating in terms of starting as a new reader. However in general I find the observations ring true for other female homicide cops. They are either very masculine in the workplace, or they are traumatised from an abused childhood (it seems to be the current trend, not sure why).