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Women Leaders in Rail: A Postfeminist Aesthetic Femininity

Kathryn Thory (University of Strathclyde, UK)

Women, Work and Transport

ISBN: 978-1-80071-670-4, eISBN: 978-1-80071-669-8

Publication date: 17 October 2022


This chapter explores women leaders’ outward appearance in the male-dominated world of rail, through the lenses of postfeminism and neoliberalism. Drawing on 31 interviews with women leaders in rail, it maps how a postfeminist logic is evident in women leaders’ narratives of aesthetic femininity. Aesthetic femininity refers to women leaders’ outward appearance which they describe as feminine. The research participants justify their feminine ‘work style’ through postfeminist themes of individual choice, natural sex differences, irony, personal initiative, skill and empowerment. The findings also show a patterning of justification around aesthetic femininity that fits a neoliberal self-governance as enterprise, self-flexibility and self-confidence. It is argued that whilst these iterations of aesthetic femininity are rooted in postfeminist and neoliberal contexts, they have consequences for sustaining gendered inequalities and traditional feminine norms in the highly masculinised culture of rail. Women’s narratives, whereby gender inequalities are acknowledged then subsumed into individualised agency through dress and appearance, do little to challenge the gendered culture in this sector.



Thory, K. (2022), "Women Leaders in Rail: A Postfeminist Aesthetic Femininity", Wright, T., Budd, L. and Ison, S. (Ed.) Women, Work and Transport (Transport and Sustainability, Vol. 16), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 105-121.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022 Kathryn Thory