Abstract: Manly after All: White-Collar Workers and the Defense of Corporate Manhood in the 1950s

Thomas Joyce


Often scholars use the rise of corporate workers to explain the emergence of a crisis of masculinity in a given period. White-collar workers violated a deep-seated American ethos of the independent producer and the small businessman. These men did not produce goods, and they had to answer to other men in their jobs. For many social commentators in history, the hierarchical nature of corporate work produced a generation of weak and effeminate men. This is especially true in the 1950s, when social commentators and popular culture obsessed over white-collar men's declining masculinity. These social commentators were not the only group exploring white-collar men's masculinity. The white-collar world was also concerned with masculinity, but white-collar leaders came to a very different conclusion. General Electric management guides and other business journals from 1946 to 1963, illustrate that the businesses did not view masculinity in crisis. White-collar leaders viewed corporate work as the pinnacle of modern masculinity. By focusing on how white-collar men viewed themselves, this paper argues a crisis of masculinity existed only for a specific group of commentators, while others gladly accepted the benefits and luxuries that came with white-collar work.