Analyzing bureaucrats and clients as the "second sex"

The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy

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Kathy E. Ferguson

"[I]ntroduces and explores brilliantly such concepts as bureaucrats as the 'second sex'; feminist discourse as a voice of resistance; and the absence of threat in 'how to succeed feminism.' ... [T]his book is definitely Ferguson's case and a compelling one at that!"

Like it or not, all of us who live in modern society are organization men and women. We tend to be caught in the traditional patterns of dominance and subordination. This book is both pessimistic and hopeful. With devastating thoroughness, the author shows how pervasive these patterns of relationship are in our work lives and personal lives, and how deep they run—into the very language of the organization and of ordinary life.

This is not a book about how women can succeed in business, but a criticism of books like those success manuals and notions like that idea of success. The author sees bureaucrats and clients as the "second sex." To fit in properly, they just learn the skills necessary to cope with subordinate status, skills that women have always learned as part of their "femininity."

Liberal reforms—placing more women in management positions, for example—are not enough. What is required is the emergence of an alternative voice, one grounded in the experience and perceptions of women, that will challenge the patterns of control found in every aspect of modern life. Public discourse today is not the language of women even when women speak it.

In this brilliant synthesis of the feminist literature and the literature on organizational theory and practice, the author suggests how a feminist discourse could interject into public debate a reformulation of the basic political questions of power, reason, and organization and thereby legitimate a concern of both autonomy and community. In the face of the massive incursions of bureaucracy into daily life, this is an important contribution to the project of human liberation.



"The bones, flesh and soul of Kathy Fergusonís impressive new work in feminist theory are politics—radical politics—the kind few scholars address any more.... In this short and utterly engaging study, Ferguson maps new terrain for radical feminism, reduces liberal feminism to a heap of false promises, forces Leftists toward feminism to a degree unapproached by the Marxist-Feminist literature, and, of course, makes a case against bureaucracy. What is more, the feats are accomplished with erudition, flashes of ironic humor, and a theoretical manner which is at once complex and rooted firmly in the pathos of daily Western life.... A survival text for a Movement—now thatís a book no working woman can afford to be without."
The Womenís Review of Books


About the Author(s)

Kathy E. Ferguson is Associate Professor of Political Science at Siena College.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Women's Studies

In the series

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg.

No longer active.

Women in the Political Economy, edited by Ronnie J. Steinberg, includes books on women and issues of work, family, social movements, politics, feminism, and empowerment. It emphasizes women's roles in society and the social construction of gender and also explores current policy issues like comparable worth, international development, job training, and parental leave.



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