Professor Paula Baron, Chair of Common Law at La Trobe Law School spoke on the weekend at the Open Embodiments: Locating Somatechnics conference at the Center for Critical Studies of the Body at The University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona. Her paper was titled ‘The Disembodied: Neoliberal Workplace Cultures, Women, and the End of Work-Life Balance’.
In this paper, I am concerned with the experience of women in the Australian legal profession, as documented through recent empirical reports. Although women lawyers would generally be described as privileged workers, their accounts reveal troubled relationships with the workplace. These reports evidence widespread discrimination, harassment and bullying.
My claim in this paper is that, underlying many of the issues raised by these reports, is the intensification of notions of the ideal worker and so-called ‘career mystique’. These ideas have influenced the workplace for some time and have, over the years, attracted much feminist critique. Despite these critiques, both ideals are intensifying under the influence of neoliberalism and the increasing availability of new technologies. As this intensification occurs, working norms for educated professionals are shifting from the ‘unencumbered male’ to the ‘bodiless’ worker – the disembodied. This new ideal is of a worker who is available 24/7, who has total commitment to the organisation, and who has no outside interests and no family responsibilities. Clearly, this ideal is difficult to meet. At the same time, responsibility for both meeting this ideal and for finding work/life balance is, at once, privatised and accepted.