Bent out of Shape

Bent out of Shape

Shame, Solidarity, and Women’s Bodies at Work

By Karen Messing





Award-winning ergonomist Karen Messing is talking with women—women who wire circuit boards, sew clothes, clean toilets, drive forklifts, care for children, serve food, run labs. What she finds is a workforce in harm’s way, choked into silence, whose physical and mental health invariably comes in second place: underestimated, underrepresented, understudied, underpaid.

Should workplaces treat all bodies the same? With confidence, empathy, and humour, Messing navigates the minefield that is naming sex and biology on the job, refusing to play into stereotypes or play down the lived experiences of women. Her findings leap beyond thermostat settings and adjustable chairs and into candid, deeply reported storytelling that follows in the muckraking tradition of social critic Barbara Ehrenreich.

Messing’s questions are vexing and her demands are bold: we need to dare to direct attention to women’s bodies, champion solidarity, stamp out shame, and transform the workplace—a task that turns out to be as scientific as it is political.

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Part I: Shame and the Workplace

1. The third hour

2. Shame and silence in health care

3. A feminist intervention that hurt women?

Part II: Segregated Bodies

4. Jobs and bodies

5. Same, different, or understudied?

Part III: Changing the Workplace

6. Re-engineering women's work

7. Looking the dragon in the face

8. Feminist ergonomic intervention with a feminist employer

9. Solidarity

Part IV: Changing Occupational Health Science

10. Science and the second body

11. Understanding women's pain

12. The technical is political

13. Going forward together