Second Look

Human Rights, Women’s Rights: Plodding Toward Progress

“Fighting for women’s equality is an arduous but necessary process, ploddingly pursued by dedicated women and men who refuse to accept a lesser role for women in society.” Jean Hardisty (1945-2015)

      March is Women’s History Month, but the history being made in the US is far from uplifting. Women continue to be an easy batting ball for political impasses. We continue to struggle for basics readily available in most other developed nations: e.g. paid family and sick leave, adequate childcarehealth and reproductive rights. As an antidote to setbacks in this country—where we seem to be in the two-steps-back phase of the old ‘three steps forward, two steps back’ adage—I’ve looked at reports released in conjunction with this month’s 59th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). There are some encouraging signs. But progress is slow, uneven; the struggle for women’s rights and equality is far from over. Nevertheless, celebrating positive accomplishments can provide motivation needed to keep us all plodding ahead, no matter how soggy the road. Jean Hardisty knew better than anyone how critical plodding along is. For all of us around the country—and in various corners of the world— who knew Jean as a beloved colleague, mentor and leader in the battle for human rights and justice, there is no better way to honor her life and her work than to keep on plodding.

So, some good news gleaned from reports on progress for women since the 1995 United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing:

  • The global rate of maternal deaths in childbirth has dropped by over forty percent;
  • Adolescent births have fallen by more than thirty percent;
  • Many countries have made significant gains in girls’ education, particularly at the primary school level;
  • And people everywhere are paying more attention to gender gaps in access and opportunities on everything from health services and education to leadership, employment and earnings.

Sadly, for almost every positive statement one can make, there is a ‘but’. And some ‘buts’ are so overwhelming it seems pointless to mention the positive. For example, awareness of violence against women has grown, but the violence itself has not lessened. One third of the world’s women have experienced physical or sexual violence. It is estimated that the number girls among trafficking victims has increased by more than ten percent in the past seven years.

The Beijing meetings two decades ago were electrifying. A total of 17,000 women and men from 189 countries attended the official Fourth United Nations Conference on Women. Another 30,000 took part in the parallel NGO Forum held outside the capital in Huairou. We returned to our homes around the globe committed to doing whatever we could, both individually and collectively, to implement the Beijing Platform for Action. Many of those unable to attend the meetings in China were eager partners. In country after country, women and men worked together to ensure the ‘full and equal participation of women in political, civil, economic, social and cultural life.’

But the transformative promise of the Beijing Platform for Action has not yet been fulfilled. The Platform was a call for a change in focus from women to gender. A call for recognizing that the structure of society and relationships between women and men must be rethought if women are to be fully empowered as equal partners with men. The Platform affirmed that women’s rights are human rights, that gender equality benefits everyone. In retrospect these called for changes in thinking and action were exceedingly ambitious given the ten-year time frame originally stated. Even after twenty years we have not succeeded. But ambitious goals generate ambitious plans, and ambitious plans are required to sustain commitment, passion, and determined action.

As the Women’s Rights Caucus stated last week in response to the draft declaration from CSW: “At a time when urgent action is needed to fully realize gender equality, the human rights and empowerment of women and girls, we need renewed commitment, a heightened level of ambition, real resources, and accountability.” Some UN member states may not share this perspective. Nations that do must speak loudly. Within a few days over seven hundred and fifty organizations had signed the caucus statement. NGOs representing women from all parts of the world and all strata of society must push, and push hard to ensure that the spirit as well as the letter of the Beijing Platform is carried forward.

None of this work is easy. Much of it is unpopular in certain circles. But we have pushed and plodded our way this far. A forty percent decline in maternal morbidity is a major step forward. The progress in access to primary education for girls is impressive. Many more huge steps await. We have done it before; we can do it again. And again, and again, and again!

 

your ink

New Dolls Inspired by Boys Break Gender Barriers

Girl w/ Pen is excited to present this guest post from Laurel Wider, a psychotherapist with a speciality in gender, relationships and identity.  She’s also a mom and Founder of Wonder Crew, a new line of toys that brings connection and kindness into boys’ play.   

Play is how children learn, which means toys have the power to create change. As I began to pay more attention to toys marketed to boys, it occurred to me that so many of them emphasized muscles and aggression and NONE offered a play experience that encouraged connection or even friendship.  Thrilled by the surge of toys that encourage  STEM and positive body images for girls, I want to help expand the way boys see themselves and the world around them.

I’m a mom, psychotherapist and now founder of Wonder Crew, a line of dolls that bring connection and feelings into boys’ play.  In my therapy practice, I’ve worked with several boys and men who have painfully grappled with impossible stereotypes of masculinity. Boys are raised to prioritize toughness and self-reliance – in my work with clients I’ve seen this lead to isolation, depression and sometimes aggression.

And then about a year ago, my son came home from preschool with the idea that “boys aren’t supposed to cry.”  I was floored that my own son had gotten a hold of this message. These stereotypes impact and harm everyone.  This is how I ended up a toy inventor.

questionphotoChange is generally something that happens gradually. With this in mind, I thought long and hard about how to create a “hybrid” toy, one that still resembled familiar play scenarios for boys, but also offered the opportunity to connect and nurture.  So I came up with action figure meets favorite stuffed animal.  This morphed into Wonder Crew:  a line of Crewmates (aka dolls) that come with a matching piece of adventure gear (dress-up) plus mini open-ended comic book.  The formula:  Child + Crewmate = Wonder Crew.

Right now we have one Crewmate, his name is Will and he comes in three adventures with a fourth in the 4_crewmates (1)pipeline:  Superhero, Rockstar, Builder and Chef.  These adventures were based on interviews with over 150 parents, educators and kids that spoke to me about play that they’ve observed/ kids’ favorite play scenarios.

At first I thought that these adventures were too stereotypical, but I’ve come to realize that it’s important to show that nurturing fits in with all kinds of play, even the kind that’s stereotypically masculine.  And really the big picture idea is that anyone can be a connected, empathetic, nurturing person.

group2bestfavorites_webready-43Wonder Crew is all about friendship and adventure and clearly this is not just a boy thing!  I plan to incorporate a girl Crewmate, while keeping with the same adventures. This would have been my preferred doll growing up.

While inspired by boys, Wonder Crew will be an interest-based brand, not gender based.  And the plan is for Crewmates to represent all kids (race, gender, ability).

Wonder Crew’s Kickstarter launched last week. We’re already over 40% funded, but we’ve got a ways to go. IMG_5037Please check it out and help spread the word!  It’s our goal to not only fund first production, but also to show public interest.  A large toy company told me that dolls for boys will never work; help Wonder Crew enlighten them!

Quick Hits

Hot New and Forthcoming Books on Gender, Sex, Protest, and Culture!

Screen shot 2015-03-10 at 11.59.22 AMTwo new books have recently come onto my radar, both too good not to share.

The first is by Jo Paoletti, Associate Professor of American Studies at University of Maryland, and is titled Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, and the Sexual Revolution. I’ve been a fan of Jo’s since reading (and rereading) her previous and excellent book, Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. Here’s more about her new one, published by Indiana University Press, and now available:

Notorious as much for its fashion as for its music, the 1960s and 1970s produced provocative fashion trends that reflected the rising wave of gender politics and the sexual revolution. In an era when gender stereotypes were questioned and dismantled, and when the feminist and gay rights movements were gaining momentum and a voice, the fashion industry responded in kind. Designers from Paris to Hollywood imagined a future of equality and androgyny. The unisex movement affected all ages, with adult fashions trickling down to school-aged children and clothing for infants. Between 1965 and 1975, girls and women began wearing pants to school; boys enjoyed a brief “peacock revolution,” sporting bold colors and patterns; and legal battles were fought over hair style and length. However, with the advent of Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress and the launch of Victoria’s Secret, by the mid-1980s, unisex styles were nearly completely abandoned. Jo B. Paoletti traces the trajectory of unisex fashion against the backdrop of the popular issues of the day—from contraception access to girls’ participation in sports. Combing mass-market catalogs, newspaper and magazine articles, cartoons, and trade publications for signs of the fashion debates, Paoletti provides a multigenerational study of the “white space” between (or beyond) masculine and feminine.

You can read more about Jo’s work on “gender mystique” at her website, www.pinkisforboys.com.

The second is an anthology edited by my pal and former Girl w/Pen blogger Shira Tarrant, Associate Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at California State University, Long Beach.  Gender, Sex, and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century (Routledge July 2015) isn’t available yet, but you can sign up here on Amazon to get notified when it is. Here’s a descript:

Gender, Sex, and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century includes twenty-seven chapters organized into five sections: Gender, Sexuality and Social Control; Pornography; Sex and Social Media; Dating, Desire, and the Politics of Hooking Up; and Issues in Sexual Pleasure and Safety. This anthology presents these topics using a point-counterpoint-different point framework. Its arguments and perspectives do not pit writers against each other in a binary pro/con debate format. Instead, a variety of views are juxtaposed to encourage critical thinking and robust conversation. This framework enables readers to assess the strengths and shortcomings of conflicting ideas. The chapters are organized in a way that will challenge cherished beliefs and hone both academic and personal insight. Gender, Sex, and Politics is ideal for sparking debates in intro to women’s and gender studies, sexuality, and gender courses.

 Happy reading, Penners!

I invite you to join my Facebook  community, pin with me on Pinterest at Tots in Genderland, follow @girlmeetsvoice, and subscribe to my quarterly newsletter to keep posted on coaching, workshops, writings, and talks.

Manly Musings

Beyond “Bossy” or “Brilliant”?: Gender Bias in Student Evaluations

Not surprisingly, the new interactive chart Gendered Language in Teacher Reviews, drawn from RateMyProfessor.com (produced by Ben Schmidt—a history professor at Northeastern), has been the subject of a lot of conversation among sociologists, especially those of us who study gender. For example, it reminded C.J. of an ongoing conversation she and a former Colorado College colleague repeatedly had about teaching evaluations. Comparing his evaluations to C.J.’s, he noted that students would criticize C.J. for the same teaching practices and behaviors that seemed to earn him praise: being tough, while caring about learning.

Ratemyprofessor "genius"We’ve long known that student evaluations of teaching are biased. A recent experiment made headlines when Adam Driscoll and Andrea Hunt found that professors teaching online received dramatically different evaluation scores depending upon whether students thought the professor was a man or a woman; students rated male-identified instructors significantly higher than female identified instructors, regardless of the instructor’s actual gender. Schmidt’s interactive chart provides a bit more information about exactly what students are saying when evaluating their professors in gendered ways. Thus far, most commentaries have focused on the fact that men are more likely to be seen as “geniuses,” “brilliant,” and “funny,” while women, as C.J. discovered, are more likely to be seen as “bossy,” “mean,” “pushy.” These discrepancies are important, but in this post, we’ve used the tool to shed light on some forms of gendered workplace inequality that have received less attention: (1) comments concerning physical appearance, (2) comments related to messiness and organization, and (3) comments related to emotional (as opposed to intellectual) work performed by professors.

Physical Appearance

The results from Schmidt’s chart are not universally “bad” or “worse” for women. For instance, the results for students referring to professors as “hot” and “attractive” are actually mixed. Further, in some fields of study, women are more likely to receive “positive” appearance-based evaluations while, in other fields, men are more likely to receive these evaluations. A closer examination, however, reveals an interesting pattern. Here is a list of the fields in which women are more likely to be referred to as “hot” or “attractive”: Criminal Justice, Engineering, Political Science, Business, Computer Science, Physics, Economics, and Accounting. And here is a list of fields in which men are more likely to receive these evaluations: Philosophy, English, Anthropology, Fine Arts, Languages, and Sociology.

Ratemyprofessor "hot"Notice anything suspicious? Men are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “femininity” and women are sexualized when they teach in fields culturally associated with “masculinity.” Part of this is certainly due to gender segregation in fields of study. There are simply more men in engineering and physics courses. Assuming most students are heterosexual, women teaching in these fields might be more likely to be objectified. Similarly, men teaching in female-dominated fields have a higher likelihood of being evaluated as “hot” because there are more women there to evaluate them. (For more on this, see Philip Cohen’s breakdown of gender segregation in college majors.)

Nonetheless, it is important to note that sexual objectification works differently when it’s aimed at men versus women. Women, but not men, are systematically sexualized in ways that work to symbolically undermine their authority. (This is why “mothers,” “mature,” “boss,” and “teacher” are among men’s top category searches on many online pornography sites.) And, women are more harshly criticized for failing to meet normative appearance expectations. Schmidt’s chart lends support to this interpretation as women professors are also almost universally more likely to be referred to as “ugly,” “hideous,” and “nasty.”

Level of (Dis)Organization

Christin and Kjerstin are beginning a new research project designed to evaluate whether students assess disorganized or “absent-minded” professors (e.g., messy offices, chalk on their clothing, disheveled appearances) differently depending on gender. Schmidt’s interactive chart foreshadows what they might find. Consider the following: women are more likely to be described as “unprepared,” “late,” and “scattered.” These are characteristics we teach little girls to avoid, while urging them to be prepared, organized, and neat. (Case in point: Karin Martin’s research on gender and bodies in preschool shows that boys’ bodies are less disciplined than girls’.) In short, we hold men and women to different organizational and self-presentation standards. Consequently, women, but not men, are held accountable when they are perceived to be unprepared or messy. Emphasizing this greater scrutiny of women’s organization and professionalism is the finding that women are more likely than men to be described as eitherprofessionalorunprofessional,” and eitherorganizedordisorganized.”

Emotional Labor

Finally, emotional (rather than intellectual) terms are used more often in women’s evaluations than men’s. Whether mean, kind, caring or rude, students are more likely to comment on these qualities when women are the ones doing the teaching. When women professors receive praise for being “caring,” “compassionate,” “nice,” and “understanding,” this is also a not-so-subtle way of telling them that they should exhibit these qualities. Thus, men may receive fewer comments related to this type of emotion work because students do not expect them to be doing it in the first place. But this emotional work isn’t just “more” work, it’s impossible work because of the competence/likeability tradeoff women face.

There are all sorts of things that are left out of this quick and dirty analysis (race, class, course topic, type of institution, etc.), but it does suggest we begin to question the ways teaching evaluations may systematically advantage some over others. Moreover, if certain groups—for instance, women and scholars of color (and female scholars of color)—are more likely to be in jobs at which teaching evaluations matter more for tenure and promotion, then unfair and biased evaluations may exacerbate inequality within the academy.

your ink

Call for Papers: Pleasure and Danger: Sexual Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century

Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society invites submissions for a special issue titled “Pleasure and Danger:  Sexual Freedom and Feminism in the Twenty-First Century,” slated for publication in the Autumn 2016 issue. The deadline for submissions is April 1, 2015.

At the heart of the feminist project is a persistent concern with thinking through the “powers of desire” (Snitow, Stansell, and Thompson 1983) and expanding the potential for sexual and gender freedom and self-determination at the same time that we combat sadly persistent forms of sexual danger and violence.  Exemplified in the US context by Carole Vance’’s landmark collection, Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, feminist debates over sex, gender, and society have been incendiary.  First published in 1984, as proceedings of the infamous “Scholar and the Feminist” conference at Barnard, which initiated the equally infamous “sex wars,” this volume reproduced intense dialogue while also contributing to a much broader investigation of the politics (and pleasures, and dangers) of sexuality within feminist theory and culture. Articles that threw down gauntlets were subsequently canonized and celebrated.  Much has changed since that explosive conference and book. Even the subtitle, – “exploring female sexuality,” – would now be more deeply interrogated (biologically female? presumptively heterosexual?) and certainly pluralized.  But however reframed, the paradoxical joining that is “pleasure and danger” remains poignantly relevant.

For this special issue, we invite transdisciplinary and transnational submissions that address questions and debates provoked by the “pleasure and danger” couplet.  Submissions may engage with the historical (how different is our moment from that formative “sex wars” era? have the sex wars moved to new terrain such as trafficking and slut-shaming?); the representational (how does the digital era transform our sexual lives? what does “livestreaming” sexual assault do to/for feminist organizing? what possibilities are there for feminist and queer imagery in an era of prolific porn, commodified otherness, and everyday inclusion?); the structural (how do race, ethnicity, religion, and national cultures enable and constrain sexual freedoms? how do carceral and governance feminisms frame and perhaps contain earlier liberatory impulses?); and/or the intersectional (how do we analyze the mutually constituting relations of sexuality, gender, race, ethnicity, class, nationality, ability, age, and so on?). There are local and global questions to be asked and strategic arguments to be resolved.  And the very terms are themselves constantly debated (whose pleasure are we speaking of and for?  who is the “we” doing that speaking? who is imagined to be “in danger?” how does “gender” signify differently in that couplet from “sexuality?”).

We particularly encourage analyses from all regions of the globe that address pressing concerns and that do so in a way that is accessible and, well, passionate!  We encourage bold and big thinking that seeks to reckon with the conundrum still signaled by the pleasure/danger frame.  We especially seek submissions that attend to the couplet itself, to the centrality of pleasure/danger within the project of making feminism matter and resonate in ways both intimate and structural, deeply sensual and liberatory, simultaneously championing multiplicities of pleasures and a lasting freedom from violence and abuse.

Manuscripts may be submitted electronically through Signs Editorial Manager system at http://signs.edmgr.com.  Please choose the article type “Pleasure and Danger – Special Issue Article.” Guidelines for submission are available here. This Call for Papers is also available as a PDF. Please email the journal office with any questions.

References

Snitow, Ann Barr, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson. 1983. Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality. New York: Monthly Review.

Vance, Carole. S, ed. 1984.  Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Manly Musings

It turns out male sexuality is just as fluid as female sexuality

Originally posted at The Conversation
conversation-logo-a169934cb682c6bb4532560172df9046

If women can kiss women and still be straight, what about men?

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When Madonna and Britney Spears kissed during the 2003 Video Music Awards, no one questioned their sexuality. Win McNamee/Reuters

Some scholars have argued that female sexual desires tend to be fluid and receptive, while men’s desires – regardless of whether men are gay or straight – tend to be inflexible and unchanging. Support for this notion permeates popular culture. There are countless examples of straight-identified female actresses and pop stars kissing or caressing other women – from Madonna and Britney to Iggy and J-Lo – with little concern about being perceived as lesbians. When the Christian pop star Katy Perry sang in 2008 that she kissed a girl and liked it, nobody seriously doubted her heterosexuality.

The story is different for men. The sexuality of straight men has long been understood by evolutionary biologists, and, subsequently, the general public, as subject to a visceral, nearly unstoppable impulse to reproduce with female partners. Consequently, when straight men do engage in same sex contact, these encounters are viewed as incompatible with the bio-evolutionary coding. It’s believed to signal an innate homosexual (or at least bisexual) orientation, and even just one known same-sex act can cast considerable doubt upon a man’s claim to heterosexuality. For instance, in 2007, Republican Senators Larry Craig and Bob Allen were both separately arrested on charges related to sex with men in public bathrooms. While both men remained married to their wives and tirelessly avowed their heterosexuality, the press skewered them as closeted hypocrites.

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Close quarters: sexual encounters between men and ‘fairies’ were commonplace in the dense neighborhoods of working class Manhattan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Jacob Riis

Despite the common belief in the rigidity of male heterosexuality, historians and sociologists have created a substantial body of well-documented evidence showing straight men – not “closeted” gay men – engaging in sexual contact with other men. In many parts of the United States prior to the 1950s, the gay/straight binary distinguished between effeminate men (or “fairies”) and masculine men (“normal” men) – not whether or not a man engaged in homosexual sex. Historian George Chauncey’s study of gay life in New York City from 1890-1940 revealed that through much of the first half of the 20th century, normal (i.e., “straight”) working class men mixed with fairies in the saloons and tenements that were central to the lives of working men.

With sex-segregation the general rule for single men and women in the early 1900s, the private back rooms of saloons were often sites of sexual activity between normal men and fairies, with the latter perceived as a kind of intermediate sex – a reasonable alternative to female prostitutes. Public parks and restrooms were also common sites for sexual interaction between straight men and fairies. In such encounters, the fairy acted as the sole embodiment of queerness, the figures with whom normal (straight) men could have sex – just as they might with female sex workers. Fairies affirmed, rather than threatened, the heteromasculinity of straight men by embodying its opposite.

Deep kissing was an expression of brotherhood among Hells Angels gang members. thisisthewhat

Deep kissing was an expression of brotherhood among Hells Angels gang members. thisisthewhat

The notion that homosexual activity was not “gay” when undertaken by “real” (i.e. straight) men continued into the 1950s and 60s. During this period, the homosexual contact of straight men began to be undergo a transformation from relatively mundane behavior to the bold behavior of male rebels. The American biker gang The Hells Angels, which formed in 1948, serves as a rich example. There are few figures more “macho” than a heavily tattooed, leather-clad biker, whose heterosexuality was as much on display as his masculinity. Brawling over women, exhibiting women on the back of bikes, and brandishing tattoos and patches of women were all central to the subculture of the gang.

Yet as the journalist Hunter S. Thompson documented in his 1966 book Hell’s Angels: A Strange and Terrible Saga, gang members also had sexual encounters with one another. One of their favorite “stunts” was to deeply French kiss one another – with tongues extended out of their mouths in a type of tongue-licking kiss often reserved for girl-on-girl porn. Members of the Hells Angels explained that the kissing was a defiant stunt that produced among onlookers the desired degree of shock. To them, it was also an expression of “brotherhood.”

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Fraternities often engage in hazing rituals that involve same sex contact. Wikimedia Commons

Today, sexual encounters between straight-identified men take new but similarly “manly” forms. For instance, when men undergo hazing in college fraternities and in the military, there’s often a degree of sexual contact. It’s often dismissed as a joke, game, or ritual that has no bearing on the heterosexual constitution of the participants.  As I document in my forthcoming book, fraternity hazing has included practices such as the “elephant walk,” in which pledges are required to strip naked and stand in a circle, with one thumb in their mouth and the other in the anus of the pledge in front of them.

Similarly, according to anthropological accounts of the Navy’s longstanding “Crossing the Line” initiation ceremony, new sailors crossing the equator for the first time have garbage and rotten food shoved into their anuses by older sailors. They’re also required to retrieve objects from one another’s anuses.

One relatively recent example of the pervasiveness of these kinds of encounters between straight men was revealed in a report by the US-based watchdog organization Project on Government Oversight. In 2009, the group released photos of American security guards at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul engaging in “deviant” after-hours pool parties. The photos show the men drunkenly urinating on each other, licking each other’s nipples, and taking vodka shots and eating potato chips out of each other’s butts.

Individuals often react to these examples in one of two ways. Either they jump to the conclusion that any straight-identified man who engages in sexual contact with another man must actually be gay or bisexual, or they dismiss the behavior as not actually sexual. Rather, they interpret it as an expression of dominance, a desire to humiliate, or some other ostensibly “non sexual” male impulse.

But these responses merely reveal our culture’s preconceived notions about men’s sexuality. Look at it from the other side of the coin: if straight young women, such as sorority pledges, were touching each other’s vaginas during an initiation ritual or taking shots from each other’s butts, commentators would almost certainly imagine these acts as sexual in some way (and not exclusively about women’s need to dominate, for instance). Straight women are also given considerable leeway to have occasional sexual contact with women without the presumption that they are actually lesbians. In other words, same-sex contact among straight men and women is interpreted through the lens of some well-worn gender stereotypes. But these stereotypes don’t hold up when we examine the range of straight men’s sexual encounters with other men.

It’s clear that straight men and women come into intimate contact with one another in a range of different ways. But this is less about hard-wired gender differences and more about broader cultural norms dictating how men and women are allowed to behave with people of the same sex. Instead of clinging to the notion that men’s sexuality is fundamentally inflexible, we should view male heterosexuality for what it is – a fluid set of desires that are constrained less by biology than by prevailing gender norms.

____________________

Jane-Ward71i3LOTI0nLJane Ward is an Associate Professor of Gender and Sexuality Studies at The University of California, Riverside, where she teaches courses in feminist, queer, and heterosexuality studies. She has published on a broad range of topics including: feminist pornography; queer parenting; gay pride festivals; gay marriage campaigns; transgender relationships; the social construction of heterosexuality; the failure of diversity programs; and the evolution of HIV/AIDS organizations.  This post is based on research for a forthcoming book with NYU Press–Not Gay: Sex between Straight White Men.

Mama w/ Pen

The Whiplash and Dream of Raising Boy/Girl Twins

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My twins

Raising pre-school aged boy/girl twins in a rigidly gender-bifurcated universe where attitudes sloooooowly change is one big gender bender, my friends–I swear. Some days, I get whiplash. Let me show you what I mean.

Last month, the Australian-based initiative called No-Gender December made a valiant stand against the gendered marketing of toys to our children, raising both eyebrows and awareness. I loved it. Huzzah and yay!

But with January comes announcement of the arrival of Heartlake City, a “girl” section of Legoland Florida’s hit theme park scheduled to open this summer. Look at the picture (below, right), and read this post about how the introduction of the girl section (which includes a shopping mall, a convertible where girls can take selfies) implies that all the other sections (dinosaur exploration area, fire station, city streets, pilot school, archeology-themed ride, science area, jousting, playground) are for boys. The creepy tune and lyrics of “Girl Land” from the Free to Be You and Me album come to mind (“you go in a girl, and come out a lady!”). Hiss. Boo.

Heartlake City Legoland

Heartlake City, aka (IMHO) Girl Land

I love Lego, and so do my kids, and I hate that Lego bricks themselves—that once gloriously gender-neutral toy, a Danish toy, for irony’s sake—now have gender.

But the same day I learned about Legoland’s launch of Girl Land, I came across a poster in a coffee shop located on my town’s main drag announcing that come February, About Face Theater is bringing A Kid Like Jake to the Greenhouse Theater Center, along with “weekly post-show discussions around the topics of gender development in children, contemporary parenting and discovering identity for young people.” Huzzah and yay!

Screen shot 2015-01-16 at 5.59.08 PMThis play by Daniel Pearle, an urban drama about an upscale couple annoyingly obsessed with getting their kid into prestigious private kindergarten (the kind that cost an annual $40K), is simultaneously a modern portrayal of a kid with enthusiasms for gender-variant play. The poster I saw in the coffee shop features a little boy, backed turned to the viewer, gazing longingly at a wall onto which a shadow image in the likeness of Disney’s Cinderella is projected at five times his size. “Why can’t a boy be a princess?” the caption reads. Right there on Main Street. Granted, mine’s a progressive town. But I still find cause to celebrate the fact this play, and with it its sweet and beautiful poster, is going around the nation. So I repeat: huzzah and yay!

No Gender December. Girl City. A Kid Like Jake. Yay boo, yay boo, yay.

This whiplash reminds me of a handmade book made by some kid in my elementary school (hello Greeley!) and housed in the school’s library. The book’s title was Fortunately, Unfortunately. On one page, something good would happen to the pint-sized protagonist. (“Fortunately, when I woke up today, Mom made me my favorite pancakes.”) The next page featured the reverse. (“Unfortunately, we were out of syrup, so I had to eat them plain.”) Something delicious would happen, then something annoying would happen that would take that deliciousness away.

Our preschool rocks

That’s how I feel about our culture’s one-step-forward, two-steps-back slouch toward a world in which a very young boy (like mine, pictured up top) can wear pink and purple legwarmers without bystanders batting an eye. He’s five, and who cares. And fortunately, my two five-year olds go to a remarkable preschool, where messages like this one are plastered on the walls:

Unfortunately, not everyone in our wider community may feel the same way as my preschool community does. Yet.

Fortunately, my daughter does. When my son told his twin sister he was jealous of her new legwarmers, she let him “borrow” them without missing a beat.

Unfortunately, he came home without them on. (Not sure what happened at school – highly likely he just got hot.)

And for one final moment of whiplash, while walking down a main street in town the other day returning to my office, I passed by the new French bakery, with a sign on its door that read “Nous sommes Charlie.”

"Nous Sommes Charlie"

“Nous Sommes Charlie”

It broke my heart. And then my spirits rose again.

Because right next door, at an indoor playspace for babies and tots, I saw this:

“Raise courageous people”

“Raise courageous people,” the rainbow-colored sign in the window reads. There’s a second sign above the first, with a quote from Matisse: “Creativity takes courage.”

I have a dream, that my two little children–and all our little children–will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their anatomy, and what they like to play with, and what they like to wear, but by the content of their character.

Raise courageous people. Raise courage, people.

Though I may have whiplash, I, too, have a dream today.

 

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Second Look

Reporting Rape

Once again coverage of rape and sexual assault has devolved into a debate over numbers. Discussions of new studies that claim to disprove previous statistics, disagreements about the size of the respondent pool or other aspects of research methodology, the veracity of a particular incident and, of course, the old saw that victims are simply ‘making it up’ crowd the news media.

And no matter how many times researchers explain that many of these comparisons are of the apples-to-oranges variety — that studies vary in the ways they define rape, in what they consider instances of sexual assault, that even relatively small samples can give important clues about attitudes, we continue on the numbers track. Too often prevalence becomes the central issue. The crime itself takes a back seat. As Jennifer Rothchild did here at Girl w/Pen! last month, activists and researchers repeatedly point out that even one rape is one rape too many. These voices seem lost in the news swirl. For many it is easier to debate the extent of the problem than hunker down and take concrete measures to address it. This has been particularly true on many university campuses. A year ago President Obama announced an initiative to address sexual assault on college campuses and by October 2014 over 80 institutions of higher education were under investigation for possible violations of Title IX related to sexual assaults.

The stories of rape victims who have reported their attackers to college authorities and the lack serious consequences these perpetrators faced are astounding. Such responses further victimize the young women–and men–brave enough to speak up. Many survivors leave school rather than run the risk of encountering their rapists on campus. The lesson is obvious. Speaking up is dangerous. Think carefully before you jump from the proverbial fire into the frying pan. It is not surprising that the most recent data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics show that while sexual assault is a serious problem for all women between the ages of 18 and 24, young women attending institutions of higher education are less likely to report sexual assaults than those not in college.

Debates on the prevalence of sexual assault help most when they lead to better data collection efforts. This week I had an opportunity to talk with Jessica Ladd, the founder of Sexual Health Innovations, about procedures to address sexual assaults on campuses. Sexual Health Innovations develops technology to advance sexual health and wellbeing in the US. Their latest effort, Callisto, recently received seed funding from the Google Impact Awards program. Callisto is designed to provide a more transparent, empowering and confidential reporting mechanism for college sexual assault survivors. The website states:

“Callisto allows sexual assault survivors to complete an incident report online, receive a clear explanation of their reporting options, and then either directly submit the report to their chosen authority or save it as a time-stamped record. Survivors saving a record can log back in at any time to officially report their assault or can choose to have their report automatically submitted to the authorities if someone else reports the same assailant.”

The development of Callisto began by listening to the voices of those most involved and affected. The system is based on interviews, focus groups, and surveys with over 50 survivors of campus sexual assaults. Respondents shared their perspectives and the difficulties they experienced in reporting rape. Ladd noted that a critical component of addressing sexual assault adequately is enabling survivors to report their experiences in a timely manner, while also giving them more control and choice in the decision to report as well as in the timing of their reporting. Given the many possible consequences involved in reporting and the traumatic nature of the crime, it is not always a decision that can be made quickly. At the same time, investigators may see waiting to report as a sign of doubt concerning the seriousness and/or the facts of the incident.

A time-stamped, third party sexual assault reporting system such as Callisto provides a confidential record of the attack. Such a report is less likely to be dismissed as a second thought or a reinterpretation of events even if the decision to report is made weeks later. Furthermore, in order for colleges and universities to develop effective policies on sexual assault they must understand the problems on their own campuses. Collecting campus specific information is key.

Better data can foster more effective procedures, but neither data nor policies can ensure redress and justice for students. Ladd points out that Callisto is an aid in the first two steps of what she sees as a five-step process:

  1. Recording and preserving evidence
  2. Reporting the assault
  3. Investigating the incident reported
  4. Adjudicating the case
  5. And finally, reaching a resolution.

Ideally every educational institution would have an advocate available for sexual assault survivors to turn to for confidential information, advice and support. But this advocate would not be responsible for investigating a rape when and if it is reported. Effective support and advocacy require different skills and entail different responsibilities than those of investigation or adjudication. Investigations should be thorough and professional; evidence needs to be considered carefully by administrators who grasp the seriousness of the crime and who are without personal ties to the survivor or the accused. Furthermore, once an investigation is undertaken, a different university staff member may be needed to advise the accused.

These procedures are needed to ensure justice for every student. Institutionalizing them may be complicated. Justice is seldom as simple as we’d like it to be. But fair and just treatment is the only way to assure survivors they will be heard and heeded. The only way to prevent attackers from assuming they will ‘get away’ with no more than a slap on the wrist. Once in place, these five steps can go a long way toward making our nation’s campuses safer for all students.

 

Manly Musings

Pride and Professionalism Shape the Lives of Gay and Lesbian Teachers

In a recent article in The Atlantic, writer and Teach For America alum Amanda Machado considered the difficulties of being an LGBT teacher in the contemporary US. Machado spoke to a number of teachers who struggle with how, when, or even whether to come out to their students and colleagues. Connell - School's Out (cover image)Their stories closely mirror those of the gay and lesbian teachers I interviewed for my recent book, School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom. I interviewed 45 gay and lesbian teachers for the project; because I was interested in knowing how context matters for their experiences, about half of the interviews were with teachers in California, a state with multiple legal protections for LGBT teachers, and the other half in Texas, a state with none – LGBT teachers (and all non-federal employees, in fact) can be fired for their sexual identity in the state. In addition to varying the legal context, I also varied school level (elementary, middle, and high school), community (rural, suburban, and urban areas), and school size (small, medium, and large student populations). Across these varied settings, a common theme emerged—gay and lesbian teachers struggle to integrate the dictates of gay pride with the demands of teaching professionalism.

Some would argue that LGBT teachers who come out to students violate the expectations of teaching professionalism by exposing children to unnecessary displays of sexuality. Look no further than the comments on The Atlantic piece for ample evidence of this discourse! Of course, this position neglects the fact that heterosexual teachers put their own sexualities similarly on when they talk about or display pictures of their spouses and children. In the US, teachers have always faced intense levels of moral scrutiny. Gay and lesbian teachers feel even more under the microscope than others. As a result, they struggle with unsupportive administrators and fears of discrimination and harassment, just as Machado describes.

What Machado discusses less directly, however, is the countervailing pressure gay and lesbian teachers feel to live up to the expectations of gay pride. Today, LGBTs are expected to be “out and proud” at all times—this 2013 Huffington Post article by Margaret Cho explains why many feel so strongly about it. While there are compelling reasons to encourage coming out, as Cho enumerates, the insistence that coming out is a political responsibility for LGBTs has its drawbacks. Symbolically, it reinforces very black and white definitions of sexuality—the language of coming out suggests an “always was and always will be” model of sexual or gender identity, which may not be true for all people and limits the possibilities of sexual and gender fluidity. On a more practical level, the dictate to be out ignores the high risks associated with coming out for LGBTs disadvantaged by race, class, ability, health status, and a whole host of other factors. LGBT teachers weighing the costs and benefits of coming out consider much more than the psychological and pedagogical benefits of coming out that Machado describes in addition to the costs of potential discrimination. They must also consider the invisible cost of violating the ethic of gay pride. This added burden puts teachers in a no-win situation, stuck between twin uncompromising expectations of gay pride and teaching professionalism.

The lucky few teachers in my book who were out to their students and maintained a good reputation as educators had a number of characteristics in common—all but one worked in California (where the right to be out is legally protected), they were mostly white and thereby able to avoid the added burden of racial discrimination, and they were all partnered and conventionally gendered, meaning they weren’t easily read as gay or lesbian by their look or comportment. These commonalities point to both institutional and cultural factors that shape LGB teachers’ experiences. First, the fact that only one teacher in Texas in my study was out to his students suggests the power of the legal context to shape LGB teachers’ decisions about whether or not to be out. (Indeed, even that Texas teacher happened to work in one of the few counties in Texas that had local nondiscrimination protections at the time.) The other similarities amongst the out teachers—that they were white, gender normative, and partnered—reveals something troubling about the kind of LGB visibility that is achievable in schools. Just as with coming out, LGB visibility is shaped by pride and professionalism. Not only do schools exert pressure on teachers to meet narrow and normative standards of appearance and comportment, but so does the mainstream gay rights movement. In recent years, there’s been a notable turn toward what scholars call “homonormativity” within the LGBT movement, or the insistence that LGBTs look, act, and live just like their heterosexual counterparts. As a result, teachers who don’t fit the ideal archetype of the LGB teacher face the doubly constraining expectations of the teaching profession and of the LGBT movement.

To promote LGBT visibility for some at the expense of less privileged or normatively presenting others is not the sexual justice I envision for a more equitable future. But given these challenges, how can we get there? First, we need comprehensive, enforceable, and accessible nondiscrimination protections for all LGBTs. Not only were Texas teachers hindered by fears of termination and on-the-job harassment, but many California teachers were too, simply because they didn’t know about or understand the legal protections afforded them by the state! Accordingly, widening that safety net and making sure LGBT workers know about it is an important first step. But that’s just the beginning—the teachers in my study and in Machado’s article also contend with more subtle forms of exclusion and censure, including judgmental expectations of what an “acceptable” gay, lesbian, or bisexual teacher looks, sounds, and acts like—expectations that come not just from the school environment, but from the mainstream gay rights movement as well. Changes in the norms of teaching professionalism and gay pride are necessary to enable sexual justice in schools, for teachers and students alike.

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C_ConnellCatherine Connell received her PhD in sociology from the University of Texas Austin in 2010 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Boston University. Her research focuses on the intersections of gender, sexuality, and work and occupations. She is the author of School’s Out: Gay and Lesbian Teachers in the Classroom (UC Press) and is currently beginning a research project on the legacy of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell within the US military.

Off the Shelf

Breaking Down the Pink Aisle/Blue Aisle Barrier

* This post originally ran in the Ms. Magazine blog.  And I can’t help but post a link to father-of-two-girls President Barack Obama who made news recently for sorting toys outside of the expected gender box — literally!

If you’re still thinking about last-minute shopping, it’s not too late to stop and consider the No Gender December campaign from Australian organization Play Unlimited. While their tagline, “Stereotypes Have No Place Under My Christmas Tree,” presumes everyone is celebrating Christmas, their message is one that’s gone global as a quick look at their pledge page reveals, with more signatures still pouring in.

It’s heartening to see wider messaging about the limitations of gender stereotyping in children’s toys, as a flurry of recent articles reveals. More heartening would be harder evidence that toy companies are listening and are open to broader understandings of marketing to kids, not driven by a bifurcated blue-or-pink bottom dollar. Some stores, notably Harrod’s in London have stopped divvying up their aisles, and there is reason to hope that other retailers will followSociologist Elizabeth Sweet’s Atlantic article, “Toys Are More Divided by Gender Now Than They Were 50 Years Ago,” does a great job of revealing the history of marketing by toy companies and how entrenched gender stereotypes have become. Her comment about the subversive repackaging of toys geared to girls which “emphasizes freedom and choice,” is a great one. She comments, “The reformulated story does not fundamentally challenge gender stereotypes; it merely repackages them to make them more palatable in a ‘post-feminist’ era. Girls can be anything—as long as it’s passive and beauty-focused.”

This juncture is one that has been a sticking point for many who deeply desire change in toys marketed to girls but are left stymied by how to do it. Some of the brouhaha around GoldieBlox’s campaign turned on the point that serving up “sparkle science-type” projects to girls in a gateway-like attempt to lure them past masculine associations with STEM fields does nothing but backfire, nevermind is ultimately undermining. This seems to be the pivot point for those who support diversifying the colors, (and stereotypes that accompany them), in the toy aisles, with supporters of change often facing different directions in terms of approach, even as they stand on common ground.

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More recently, a new set of princesses came onto the scene who are also stealthily undermining stereotypes. The Guardian Princesses, who made a splash with their debut last year, are back with newly released titles just this past week. The series is the brainchild of UC Riverside Professor of Media and Cultural Studies Setsu Shigematsu, who found herself at a loss when her daughter began to succumb to the ever-present influence of princess culture and denying access to it only seemed to make things worse. Not unlike Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, and her suggestion to “Fight Fun with Fun” through alternatives to princess culture, Shigematsu wrote a different princess story and, after reading it to her daughter’s friends, a new legacy was born.

The Guardian Princesses are presented in a range of body styles and are of diverse ethnicities and there’s no fighting the long dresses, necklaces and flowing hair that’s considered part of the princess look. The approach of the Guardian Princess Alliance is firmly in the “ease in and then make a change” camp, something they are likely to be critiqued for by those who see capitulation in any form as not radical enough and even pandering. But, as their peppy video (below) reveals, despite their poufy dresses, the princesses are unhindered in their mobility and the rhetoric used about their mission is hardly passive.

The newest series released features Princess Ten Ten, who is the most gender-fluid in appearance of the lot (or “gender independent” as they term it) and who is bullied and faces rejection within her family.  In a wise move, all of the Guardian Princess books are compliant with Common Core standards, meaning they can be adopted for classroom use, and there is a distinctive environmental focus to their stories. One risk with this new series might be making the stories too didactic or pitting the princesses against the evils of corporate greed every time, but, overall, the shift in what these princesses do and what is valued is an exhilarating breath of fresh air. How well they sell, and how long the Guardian Princess Alliance can keep up with demand and generate new work, are perhaps the issues at hand. The desire by visionary small business ownersto put what are still alternative toys, books and gender messaging out to the public seems an uphill battle, one mitigated by energy, perseverance and available funds when up against so many cultural barriers, which is all the more reason to celebrate those that do.

Here’s hoping that the messages espoused by the No Gender December campaign extend beyond the shopping frenzy and, optimistically, become part of retailers, parents, teachers and even kids’ expectations of toys in the new year.