Category Archives: Manly Musings

Manly Musings

Racism, Punishment and the Lives of Young Men of Color

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This graphic was created for Colorlines as a part of their story: “Killed by the Cops” by Jamilah King (11/26/14). Infographic: Erin Zipper/Colorlines. Additional Research: Carla Murphy/Colorlines http://colorlines.com/archives/2014/11/infographic_killed_by_the_cops.html

“But can’t nobody protect our sons, not even the president.” While Mr. George, an African American  resident of a large east coast city, uttered these words years ago, they seem oddly prescient given President Obama’s recent comments about the death of Michael Brown. Last summer, as Ferguson responded in protest to Darren Wilson’s murder of an unarmed African American young man, I gave the following comments on the book in which Mr. George appears, sociologist Alice Goffman’s, On The Run: Fugitive Life in an American City at the Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association. For a summary of the book (and the controversy that surrounds it) please see here, here, here and here. I am sharing my comments now, in the wake of the grand jury investigation and an emerging national discussion about racial inequality, because it is important to think seriously about the criminalization of young, black, poor, urban men. It is important to think seriously about how these young men are represented in academic research as well as popular culture. It is important because how we know what we know about race, gender, and class shapes solutions to inequality. These reflections are part of a way in to that conversation:

Comments* on Alice Goffman’s On the Run: Fugitive Life in an American City Author Meets Critics, American Sociological Association Meeting, 2014 

In honor of what I found to be one of the most compelling parts of On The Run – the raw, present, seemingly unfiltered voices of the residents of 6th Street, I’d like to start with a quote from Mr. George. He is someone Professor Goffman highlights as a “clean” resident of 6th street. In talking about his grandsons Mr. George says, “They say it’s changed now with Obama. It’s a new era. But can’t nobody protect our sons, not even the president. I’m telling you, if I was thirty years younger I’d be praying for girls. If I had a son I’d be done lost my mind now. I’d start mourning and praying the day he was born.” (80).

Professor Goffman spends On The Run detailing the lives of Mr. George’s grandsons and their friends, the 6th Street Boys. In many ways, the stories in On The Run validate Mr. George’s concerns, outlining the way in which the lives of young urban African American men are shaped by mass incarceration and state surveillance. The experiences of the young men of 6th street are deeply circumscribed by state surveillance and control – such that their lives are characterized by immobility even as they are on the run, a contradiction that defines their existence.

Professor Goffman’s fieldnotes are so vivid, the stories she shares so dramatic, that many readers may find themselves drawn in, as I was, to the lives of these young men – the dramatic, breathless escapes from the police, the games played with younger brothers to teach them necessary evasion skills, the dramatic and suspenseful wars between the 4th street boys and the 6th street boys, the adventure of the drives to visit friends and relatives in prison, the tediousness of waiting for loved one’s numbers to be called in state institutions. Indeed readers may feel, though many likely have never experienced first hand, the adrenaline rush of those escapes, the cockroaches crawling on one’s skin in a drug addicted mother’s house, the pain and fear of having ones body physically punished by police, the particular pacing of a day, a week, a life shaped by one’s son’s interactions with the criminal justice system. While we are reading the book we are all on 6th street. These dramatic, evocative and compelling stories, invite the reader to deeply feel what it is like to be “on the run” while simultaneously being immobilized, frozen in place by state surveillance

On the Run is one of those books that gives us the chance to have a dialogue about the role of ethnography, its relationship to social theory, and the position of the ethnographer in his or her research, reflexivity and relations with the researched…I suggest that the beauty of this book is in the details, and that linking these details more directly to social theory and empirical context would provide deeper, more contextualized understandings of these stories and fend off misinterpretations, readings of the data likely not intended by Professor Goffman.

…Take, for example the story about Tim catching a case. 13 year-old Tim left school in the middle of the school day. His teacher followed him out of school and on to the street. Tim threw rocks at the teacher, though none of them hit her, but she did apparently twist her ankle in pursuit. For this infraction Tim was not suspended, expelled, or given detention. He was charged with assault.

Like so many of the stories in On The Run this one appears in a larger narrative that brings the reader into the courtroom as well as to the post-courtroom celebration of the fact that Tim’s “victim” didn’t appear to press charges in court. We feel the tension, the boredom and the relief along with Tim’s community. I would like to suggest that this story, compelling as it is, is one of those stories that, much like a single brush stroke in an impressionist painting, needs context. That is, any particular dab of paint may be a color that touches one’s soul, but a viewer cannot comprehend that stroke as one of many that makes up a pond of water lilies until one steps back and looks at that particular point of color in the context of other brush strokes.

What other brush strokes might be important here? What sort of theoretical frame might shed light on Tim’s experience? What sort of empirical context could help us understand his story? I suggest we look to some of the ways scholars understand and analyze the experiences of young men of color in urban areas. For example, in his book Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, Victor Rios brings us a compelling analysis of the ways in which young men of color experience state surveillance. He argues that multiple institutions in these young men’s lives (schools, community organizations and of course the courts) collude in a process of criminalization, literally producing these young men as criminals regardless of their actual behavior. While Tim was pushed out of the school system of punishment and in to the criminal justice system for throwing a rock, the lives of young men of color in Punished indicate that even if their behavior is seemingly benign, it is difficult for young men to escape similar processes of criminalization – either formally (state level punishment) or informally (through labeling processes).

The case of Ronny in Punished exemplifies this informal process of criminalization. Ronny, a young African American man interviewed for a job and then declined to shake the hand of the white woman who was interviewing him. What was likely perceived as rude behavior by the white woman, to Ronny was logical, drawing on knowledge that white women see black men as physical and sexual threats. He didn’t get the job.

This model of criminalization takes into account both the behavior of those who are criminalized, the responses of those around them and the institutions in which they find themselves. According to this approach it would not really matter whether or not Tim caught a case for throwing rocks, because likely at some point he would be criminalized for something, even if that something was nothing.

To speak to this point, sociologist Ann Ferguson, in her seminal book Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity, describes a process she calls “adultification” distinctly related to intersections of age, gender and race in the criminalization of young men of color. She argues, writing about African American middle school boys, that their “transgressions are made to take on a sinister, intentional, fully conscious tone that is stripped of any element of childish naïveté” (83).  Ferguson found that young black boys did not benefit from the “boys will be boys” frame often used to casually excuse white boys’ more socially undesirable behavior, an analysis that is born out by recent findings that African American young men are seen as more adult and dangerous by police (Goff et al 2014). Indeed, in my own research on young men and homophobia I found that African American boys were punished by school authorities for engaging in sexist and homophobic behavior regularly expressed by white boys who were never once punished for it.

Research on school punishment indicates that these gendered and raced processes are widespread, beyond ethnographic findings by Goffman, Ferguson and myself. In general African American students are disciplined more in schools. African American students are overrepresented in so-called “discretionary” expulsions, or expulsions for offenses that are subjectively, rather than objectively judged. Recently Hannon, Defina and Bruch indicated the centrality of intersections of race and gender to these punishment practices. Their research indicates that while skin tone plays a key role in the likelihood of suspension for black girls (i.e., girls with darker skin are suspended at significantly higher rates), African American boys are simply at a higher overall risk for suspension for any infraction regardless of skin tone.

Given that information, let’s pull back the lens on On The Run’s findings. What does it do when we place Tim’s experience in this theoretical and empirical context? It does a couple things.

First it may indicate that whether or not Tim throws a rock at a teacher while skipping school may be irrelevant. He would likely be drawn into the crimininalization process anyway. Focusing on the process of criminalization suggests that Tim’s violent behavior  may be less important than the reaction of other actors and institutions which already frame young men of color as dangerous, predatory and criminal. Something that we perhaps saw play out devastatingly in Ferguson Missouri, with the murder of Michael Brown.

Second, placing the vivid and compelling stories in On The Run in theoretical and empirical context may also suggest slightly different interpretations of some of these stories. For instance, the problem of the “manly flaws” explanations provided by the men for their failings. Professor Goffman finds that the men of 6th street sometimes use an updated version of what Leibow termed “manly flaws” to explain their “personal inadequacies.” They could not be a good father, find a good job, finish a degree because they were wanted by the police. They were “on the run.” In this line of thinking, being “on the run” serves as a way to save face. But to return to Ronny’s story about shaking the hand of the white woman, or rather not shaking the hand, we can see a third explanation – the criminalization process. Whether one is actually under state control or not certainly isn’t the only factor that determines one’s ability to perform one’s social role successfully. One can be criminalized without actually being directly subject to state control. To suggest otherwise relies a bit heavily on individualized explanations at the cost of systemic and structural ones.

Finally, placing these stories in theoretical and empirical context raises questions about the nature of ethnography, the role of the researcher and how one writes up one’s ethnographic findings. As I said earlier, one of the strengths of this book is its immediacy. I’m sure I was not alone in the end as tears filled my eyes when Chuck passed away, his too short life a testament to the immorality and injustices of racism, policing, and poverty that defines contemporary America. The rage, helplessness and grief shared by Professor Goffman over her friend’s death immediately called to mind another ethnographer’s experience with death. Renato Rosaldo lost his wife Michelle Rosaldo while she was hiking members of the community they researched. A decade later he reflected on that experience, using psychoanalytic, sociological and anthropological theory to understand, explain his grief and range. The community he had been studying practiced headhunting, a ritual he had a hard time understanding, until he experienced his own personal tragedy. In analyzing his grief (and accompanying rage) years later he was able to understand the strange, the foreign, perhaps what seemed deeply immoral, as familiar, understandable, as perhaps, normal.

This of course, is the job and the challenge of the ethnographer – to render the strange, the foreign, the problematic as familiar. And the familiar – strange, problematic and foreign. What is the role of the evocative story in ethnographic research – the breathless escape from the police? The moment when the cop steps on your neck? The shooting of a friend? Can these stories be rendered in a way that underscores the persistence of inequality, racism, and institutional and personal violence while not reinforcing tropes of the savage, the lawless or the failed man?

Answering these questions suggests that linking ethnographic data to social theory is not merely an intellectual exercise. Rather theory provides context, deepens the analysis and can protect against interpretive distortions. Connecting the compelling evidence from 6th street more intimately to social theory as well as other empirical findings on racism, inequality and gender helps to underscore that these young men are not suffering from their own series of particularly poor choices, but because of their position in larger structural inequalities…

[On the Run] raises important questions about the role of ethnography in examining inequality, racism, punishment and surveillance practices. It highlights the multiple relationships between ethnography and theory. But most importantly, On the Run provides dramatic and compelling evidence for the daily interactional ways in which young urban men of color are surveilled, criminalized and punished.

*These comments are edited. Please email CJ Pascoe at cjpascoe@cjpascoe.org for the full text.

Manly Musings

Gay Men, Straight Women, and Queer Sexism

I remember thinking to myself when I first came out, “Thank God I don’t have to deal with women like straight men do.” Identifying as a gay man meant I could hold on to the aspects of relationships with women that I enjoy and not have to “deal with the rest.” I admit this is quite shameful for me to say so publicly. However, the more I pay attention, the more I realize how easy it is to be sexist as a gay man. I learned from Madonna that I knew what it felt like for a girl (here). Or so I thought. Because I had experienced homophobia at a young age and realized that being gay was a threat to manhood, I thought I understood sexism. It turns out, I understood more about homophobia and masculinity than sexism.

My simultaneous dismissing of and identification with women exemplifies what Jane Ward calls “queer sexism”. Because some gay men have been denied aspects of male privilege does not mean they don’t still have male privilege, or that they are free of masculine expectations and hang-ups. This type of thinking “obscures the ways that gay men, like heterosexual men, have the privilege of making agentic choices about whether to support or reject feminism, whether to listen to or ignore women, whether or not to leave the party when women arrive, and what to say to the men who do.” (here: 158-9).

Gay men’s well-intentioned yet lopsided relationship with straight women has received a lot of attention in the last few years. Interestingly, they commonly argue for straight women to change their thinking and behavior in order to accommodate gay men. For example, this post (here) on the gay guy/straight girl contract reminds straight women that gay men “don’t want to go shopping” with you; that we are fine with “giving sex tips” but not hearing about your “lady business” (vagina); that “your boyfriend drama bores us”; that you shouldn’t come to our clubs; and that “you are not a gay man in a women’s body.”

Why is it easier to recognize when a straight man reinforces sexism than when a gay man does it? This becomes even further complicated considering that gay men have different experiences of race, gender expression, class status, culture, and regional identity where the enforcement and ideals of masculinity and femininity vary dramatically for people in different contexts. As a well-mannered Cuban-Mexican-American man, with a very proud Mom, I thought I stood for women and anti-sexism. But as my confession exposes, I wasn’t really fighting for women; I was fighting for acceptance of homosexuality and men’s diverse gender expressions. I now understand that sexism and homophobia are different things.

Consider a conversation I had with Thomas, from San Francisco. He told me he had few female friends and that they “are like gay men in a woman’s body.” (It’s a well-worn trope; think of Mila Kunis’ recent claim about “being a gay guy trapped in a women’s body.”) Thomas explained that these women are empowered because they have adopted a form of toughness that keep them from accepting the “bullshit” in the world by standing up for themselves. Thomas made it clear that he has no interest in being friends with women weren’t like “gay men trapped in women’s bodies.”

To illustrate his point, he told me about his co-worker, Jane. “Jane likes to touch men, be aggressive, and do whatever she wants at work.” This sort of aggressive, boundary-crossing behavior led to her termination. Though Thomas found her termination to be unjust, more importantly he was disappointed in her for not fighting her termination. “I cannot stand women like that. In fact, I want nothing to do with women who don’t stand up for themselves, especially when it’s because of discrimination [in his opinion]. I only keep women around who ‘get it’ and don’t take bullshit.” For Thomas, Jane fell short of the gay-man-trapped-in-a-woman’s-body standard. She wasn’t changing for “the better” because she didn’t fully adopt a “gay man’s” “I don’t give a shit” mentality.

For Thomas, “Women have to choose to be liberated in order to deal with the ‘bullshit’ of the world” (sexism). And while he was also dealing with “bullshit” (homophobia) it was clear that he didn’t understand the distinction. For Thomas, it is a women’s “successful detachment” from patriarchal confinements that make her worthy of his friendship. In other words, if a woman could adopt a gay man’s perspective, defined and approved by gay men, then she’s living the way a woman “should.” However, this mentality seems, to be little more than doing what one wants and not having to deal with complaints (a luxury of male privilege). So, while some women are highly empowered and praised for being a “gay man trapped in a women’s body,” those who do not are excluded labeled as women who just “don’t get it.”

Thomas’ struggles with women are part of queer sexism. His story highlights one way some gay men feel license to define and hold women accountable for what is and what is not “right for women.” While it has the superficial vestiges of a progressive and empowering stance on women, Thomas’ assertions are consistent with what Ward calls “queer sexism”—a veiled form of patriarchy that privileges gay men’s ideas of how women should behave and based off how gay men experience oppression.

In order to avoid queer versions of sexism, gay men must be more aware of the power imbalances in their relationships with women, and think critically about the expectations they do and do not have of women. Gay men must be more in touch with how our gay all male contexts often makes women seem invisible or irrelevant to our lives. Fighting for an anti-sexist culture requires more than just fighting for a non-homophobic one.

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A_LopezAndres Lazaro Lopez is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. His research exames the intersections of race and gender in work and culture from a pro-feminist perspective. @alazarolopez

Manly Musings

#HeForShe, Domestic Violence, and Privileging Male Allies

“Go Hermione!”

Emma Watson HeForSheA young woman in my Sociological Theory class yelled those words as soon as she saw me pull up a clip of Emma Watson’s speech at the UN for the class to see. We were covering Charlotte Perkins Gilman that day, and I showed the video because I thought she articulated the core tenets of contemporary feminist theory pretty well. For ten minutes, my students sat in rapt attention as Watson explained how (1) gender inequality still exists, (2) gender binaries are socially constructed, and (3) masculinity isn’t healthy for men, either.

While these ideas aren’t new—Perkins Gilman voiced many of them over a century ago—Watson’s speech caught fire both in my classroom and on social media. What attracted the most attention was her call for men to join the HeForShe campaign as advocates for change. Within minutes, #HeForShe started trending on twitter. Within hours, male celebrities began posting pictures of themselves holding handwritten #HeForShe placards. This made me feel good about the world.

But it also made me sad.

The reason for this is because the statistics Watson outlined in her speech have been articulated at conferences, panels, and rallies across the country for decades. In terms of pay, power, and prestige, women almost always lag behind men. Nearly a quarter of women in the US will experience severe physical violence from their intimate partners in their lifetime. However, people aren’t retweeting and sharing Watson’s speech solely because of the facts she cited. Instead, her speech went viral because of the audience who finally listened: men. And this is what made me sad.

We all know that the fight against domestic violence will never be won by women alone. Men need to be an equal part of the movement. Yet, the question of how to get them involved is still a subject of debate. One way to recruit them is to praise their presence and applaud them for voicing their solidarity. This is an effective strategy to get more men involved. It works.

However, there is a downside to this approach. Namely, celebrating the presence of allies can sometimes exacerbate the same inequalities that organizations like HeForShe are trying to combat in the first place.

Moral wages - cover artI’ve seen this process firsthand. As a sociologist who spent roughly a year and a half doing ethnographic field work inside an agency that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, one of the most common questions I get about my research is, “so, what is like to be a guy in a place like that?” Not many men work inside rape crisis centers or battered women’s shelters. Most of the time, when I was answering the crisis-hotline or helping clients fill out legal forms, I was the only man in the building. And while many people presume that this would make my research harder, it had the opposite effect. It made it easier.

You see, like Emma Watson said, domestic violence victim-advocates and counselors aren’t man-haters. This caricature is completely inaccurate. You know why? Because stereotypes like “feminazis” make it harder for them to help their clients.

The more judges and cops see staff at these agencies as spiteful and biased, they less likely they are to sign their clients’ Orders of Protection or dispatch officers to enforce them. Advocates and counselors don’t worry about what people call them—they have thick skin. What they care about is their clients’ safety. Debunking these “anti-male” myths is a way to help their clients.

So, how do they prove they don’t hate men? They applaud men who help out the least bit.

In many ways, this strategy makes sense. Staff at agencies like the one I studied are typically underpaid and overworked. Pats on the back are sometimes the only thing they can afford to offer in exchange for men’s help. In my book, I call these symbolic rewards “progressive merit badges,” and they were given to men who understood how domestic violence was really just a means for abusers to exercise power and control over their intimate partners.

While it might be easy to dismiss the progressive merit badges men can earn for helping out as inconsequential, that would be a mistake. In some careers, these stamps of approval have real value. I watched the men who earned them climb their career ladders quicker than their peers.

During my research, I watched male sheriff’s deputies promoted into better paying liaison positions because of their affiliation with the agency. I watched an assistant district attorney leverage his years of work with victims of domestic violence as a feature item in his successful campaign for judge. I watched a “batterer intervention facilitator” parley his experience counseling abusers into his own private practice.

In these cases, being an ally paid off—not just symbolically, but economically, too. This isn’t an isolated case. Privileging allies to combat social problems is, well… problematic.

To understand my concerns, first consider what it means to be an ally. An ally is someone who helps others solve their problems. Whites who fight racism, straight folks who battle homophobia, the wealthy who seek to end poverty; these actions are considered virtuous because of their presumed selflessness. We expect people of color, those who identify as queer, and the poor to fight to improve their condition. For whites, straight folks, and the wealthy, their privileged positions make their acts voluntary—they do it because they want to, not because they have to.

Second, under what conditions do allies become valuable commodities to social movements? Short answer: when others members of their privileged group behave badly. Without racism, there is no virtuosity in whites taking a stand against discrimination. Without homophobia, being a straight ally would be a meaningless term. For allies, their value is inversely proportional to the harm done by their social group.

To see this at work today, think about the recognition earned by men who declare their support for Emma Watson. The more credible we perceive the threats by some men to post nude pictures of her on the internet as revenge for her speech, the more valuable her male allies become. In other words, the more we fear gender terrorism by some men, the more we applaud other men for denouncing it.

The answer to this dilemma is not for women to do all the work themselves. Obviously, men’s presence is needed. Instead, the solution is to reflect on why male allies become such precious commodities in the fight against domestic violence.

Remember, not everyone has spare time, money, and energy to give; and not everyone can protest without fear for their personal safety. Conferring progressive merit badges to those who already have these privileges—especially considering their value in some career tracks—can unintentionally exacerbate the same state of gender inequality that is the root cause of domestic violence from the outset.

There is a lot of work to do, we need all hands on deck. Men’s help should be applauded just as any woman’s. But being a member of the group who created a mess should not be the criteria for celebration when a select few of them offer to clean it up.

______________________

Kolb PhotoKenneth Kolb is an associate professor of sociology at Furman University in Greenville, SC. He is the author of, Moral Wages: The Emotional Dilemmas of Victim-Advocacy and Counseling, University of California Press, 2014.

Manly Musings

Shameless: Reflections on the Racial Politics of Motherhood

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This image originally appeared at the Concord Monitor: http://tinyurl.com/odqjcdv

From a Politics of Shame to a Politics of Grief

On August 9, Officer Darren Wilson fired his gun at least six times at unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, killing him in broad daylight. Within a day, the streets of Ferguson became the epicenter of a national outcry over racial profiling and police brutality. As images of unrest in Ferguson circulated from the streets and into cyberspace, one meme has been particularly electrifying in calling attention to the ongoing problem of race in America. Typically, it has featured two frames: one taken from the Civil Rights movement, the other from recent events in Ferguson, MO. The intent is to draw the viewer’s attention to the disturbing parallels between today’s and yesterday’s racial landscapes, and most often, they feature men: men as protesters, men as police.

Where are the corresponding pictures of women?

After all, during the Civil Rights movement, women were often on the front lines to expose the blind injustice of Jim Crow America and inspire within white Americans – particularly Northern onlookers – shame by virtue of their apathy and lack of action in the face of images of water-hosed and beaten women. This was a politics of shame, and for at least a time, it worked.

Fast-forward to 2014, however, and a different kind of racialized motherhood is mobilized, one centered not on shame but on grief. On August 25th, three mothers – Leslie McSpadden, Sabryna Fulton, and Valerie Bell – embraced to publicly mourn their sons, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Sean Bell. Speaking with CNN, they talked about the support they could uniquely mobilize for one another, about pushing through the pain of loss and despair, about what it means to carry on the memory of their sons in light of “character assassinations” used to justify their deaths. A day later, Oscar Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson proclaimed in a heart-wrenching open letter: “this is where we, as parents, have to be relentless in the vindication of our sons” (here).

Double Jeopardy, Double Injuries

In pursuing vindication for their sons by insisting that their lives are worthy of grief, the mothers of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell and others face a particular kind of “double jeopardy,” a term that sociologist Deborah Kinguses to call attention to how race and gender intersect to deepen the marginalization of women of color. They are judged on two counts: first, they are on the stand for their sons in the court of law and public opinion. With their sons unable to speak on their own behalf, these mothers are in constant battle to assert the dignity of their sons, to insist on their moral character, to maintain their innocence.

Here, to be a good mother means navigating the sociolegal insecurities that come along with the criminalization of young men and boys of color. It means asking, and coming to terms with, a difficult question: “Will my child be profiled as a criminal, and arrested or even killed as a result?” To be a good mother thus means having – as sociologist Dawn Dow examines in her study of middle-class African American motherhood – “the talk” with their sons about the “first impressions” their mere presence gives to onlookers and how to interact with police to avoid escalation. Indeed, it means coming to grips with the police and the criminal justice system as antithetical to one’s responsibilities as a mother. Perhaps for this reason, Charles Epp, Stephen Maynard-Mooddy, and Donald Haider-Markel’s Pulled Over, a landmark study of racial profiling, found that African American women in their 40s were more likely to agree that “the police are out to get people like me” than any other age/race demographic aside from Black men under 30 years old.

While these mothers take on the burden of proving their sons’ innocence as if it were their own, this burden is their own to the extent that they are defending not only their sons – but their identities as mothers, as well. Patricia Hill Collinsargues that “controlling images” – of the welfare mother, the mammy, the jezebel – have long dictated the terms on which African American mothers are judged as bad, immoral or incompetent mothers. Each of these mothers has had to navigate their own character assassinations. For example, Sabryna Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, has been accused by conservative media of “cashing in” on her son’s death and intimidated by George Zimmerman’s brother from filing a civil suit as the case “might not be very flattering” for her and her family.

This double jeopardy reverses the sociological imagination, rendering collective responsibility for injustice into an individual (and apparently maternal) obligation. With this double jeopardy, the deaths of their sons bring a double injury: the injury of losing one’s child combined with the injury of having failed to navigate an impossible burden.

Cults of Motherhood

In this context, the popular portrayals of today’s grieving mothers of the post-Civil Rights era – the era of so-called “colorblindness” and “post-racial America” – do not cull a politics of shame in the viewer as much as reinforce a politics of grief. This is where the ‘cult of motherhood’ meets a ‘culture of poverty’ narrative to create a discourse that allows for empathy with these women as mothers while denying their structural position as Black women. The public focus on their mourning comes dangerously close to suggesting that the failure of American society is their failure, which is perhaps why these mothers are so appealing to the likes of CNN. Too often in their coverage, their grief is mobilized not to a reveal an uncomfortable truth about American society, one implicating all citizens as members of a structurally unequal society, as much as appeal to a depoliticized maternalism.

This supports a distinct cult of motherhood – a cult of the mourning Black mother, who bears the brunt of a vast carceral apparatus and who has no one to turn to but other mothers-in-mourning when she fails at this impossible task. Indeed, there’s something neo-Moynihanian about the public portrayal of these mourning mothers and the way this cult of motherhood has been distorted in ways that individualize their pain. This portrayal reinforces what many Americans want to think about their nation’s problem of race: that there’s really no broad issue of race, but rather an issue of circumstance and perhaps bad choices.

Gendered frames become the co-conspirator of racial ideologies: the racism of a “colorblind” society becomes masked as nothing more than a mother’s failure. Whereas the politics of shame held white Americans responsible in an era of Civil Rights, today’s politics of grief reduces this issue to one implicating Black sons and their mothers. It shouldn’t take a maternal discourse to recognize, empathize with and speak truth to the profound injustice of racialized violence in America. These women should capture the American public’s attention not because they have proven themselves as mothers but because they are fellow citizens. Yet with the recognition of the value of black life tied to the cult of motherhood, Leslie McSpadden, Sabryna Fulton, Valerie Bell, Wanda Johnson and others are left with the burden of not only their sons’ deaths but also the heavy problem of race in America.

__________________

Jennifer Carlson (PhD, UC Berkeley) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto who studies policing, gun cultures, and violence. Her book Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline (2015, Oxford) examines the growing popularity of gun carry among Americans.

Manly Musings

From Pink and Blue to Brown: Gendering the Garden

9780520277779by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo

Author, Paradise Transplanted: Migration and the Making of California Gardens (University of California Press 2014)

___________________________

Are flowers feminine and lawn masculine? Or are gardens, with their domestic allure and food provisioning, feminine altogether?   Thinking about gender as a duality of flowery femininity and masculine mowing doesn’t get us very far. It’s like trying to squish bio-diversity into a binary code.   We know gender is shaped by intersections of race, class and nation, by myriad subcultural groups and by everyday acts of gender bending and deliberate non-compliance.  So what do we see when we look at the residential garden as a project of gender?

The lawn is the obvious place to start. The American suburban lawn once received derisive commentary from urbanites and novelists but now, as the entire western portion of the United States fries after years of drought, anti-lawnism is catching on with many sensible people. But who insisted on front yards of lawn in the first place? Suburban homes set back from the street, with ornamental plants around the foundation of the house and lawn stretching out to the street is a style attributed to Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-52), the nation’s first popular garden designer, merchant and Martha Stewart-like tastemaker. He loved the lawn. In his 1841 book, he instructed Americans on how to have a garden in good taste: men should tend the lawn, walkways, vegetables and fruit trees, and women, the flowers. Jane Loudon’s Gardening for Ladies, published in England around the same time and widely read in the U.S., cautioned women not to over-exert themselves in the garden. Meanwhile, lawn as a symbol of masculine status and power, was marketed to men by lawn mower companies as early as the 1850s.

As the suburbs expanded in late nineteenth-century America, the man mowing the lawn and the lady as manager of the home and garden defined new gender ideals that reached their apogee when the GI Bill swelled the ranks of suburban home owners. Today, this gendered template of women tending to life in the domestic interiors and men tending to the domestic exteriors still lingers, but it’s now a shadow. Gendered household divisions of labor have loosened and they have also been outsourced to others. In affluent communities around the nation, from Los Angeles to Long Island, it is increasingly Latina/o immigrant women and men doing this work. Latina women are cleaning and caring indoors, and Latino immigrant gardeners are tending to the plant life and the dirty work of mowing lawns and blowing away fallen leaves outdoors.

Paradise4

Photograph by photographer, Nathan Solis

Domesticas and jardineros are gendered mirror images, dual vestiges of nineteenth- and twentieth-century ideals that take shape in new racial, immigrant, and class formations. While men of color undergo surveillance in many public and upscale places, Latino immigrant gardeners freely circulate in white middle-class and upscale neighborhoods and stride through private gates into other people’s backyards. Their tool-laden trucks and mowers and blowers serve as their passports, allowing them to do gendered labor in other people’s private property.

Latino immigrant men are doing the hard work in residential gardens across the nation, but gardening still registers as flowery and feminine, calling to mind images of earth mother. Gardening, like motherhood, is associated with virtue, integrity, and morality and it is something women are supposed to want to do.  In my interviews with homeowners, men were not lusting for a chance to mow the lawn, but women yearned to grow flowers and herbs, to savor a moment of rest on the front porch. The women voiced wistful aspirations of “I should be in the garden” as they listed their many obligations and activities. No one—really, no one!—wished to mow the lawn. That iconic masculine performance of home-ownership has now become a quaint mid-twentieth-century relic in Southern California, and in other regions of the U.S. Professional class men who employ paid gardeners can now focus more on their leisure and relationships, easing their time-binds so they can be more present as fathers and soccer dads, as Hernan Ramirez and I underscore in a book with UK colleagues. It is the domestic labor of Polish immigrant handymen in the UK and Latino immigrant gardeners in the U.S. that make that possible.

Using a migration lens and intersectional perspective helps us to see the gendered garden in a new light. It’s not pink and blue, but it’s brown, and brown men’s labor allows for a blurred gender division of labor in households privileged by class, race and nation. The outsourcing of domestic exterior mowing, trimming, pruning and cleaning allows for new shifts in gendered household divisions of labor, freeing privileged men from some of their domestic masculine housework, and maybe opening doors to other types of family work.   Global migration is part of the shared landscape now.

image from npr.com - http://tinyurl.com/kfknbsl

image from npr.com – http://tinyurl.com/kfknbsl

Our arguably coolest first ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt and Michelle Obama, symbolically picked up a shovel and dug White House gardens. But of course they too outsourced the hard work of turning soil and making compost. Does that make the efforts of these uber earth mothers of the nation any less significant? I think not. Let’s look beyond the binaries of pink and blue, and strive for a world where environmental sustainability accompanies social justice and a cultural sustainability based on recognition and just remuneration for Latino gardeners.

Manly Musings

NPR’s “Men in America” Series

Screen shot 2014-08-05 at 12.25.26 PMThis summer, National Public Radio produced a special series on “Men in America” (#menpr). In it, they attempt to consider what it means to “be a man” in the U.S. today. There are a number of interesting stories on different issues related to contemporary masculinity: from demographic trends, to the meanings of fatherhood to men today, to health concerns, educational dilemmas, depictions of masculinity in popular media, and much more.  I thought I’d use this post to highlight some of the stories in the series that I enjoyed.

In “The Modern American Man, Charted,” Sarah Graslie provides a sort of demographic profile of boys and men in the U.S. today. They’re getting married later than they used to, young men are more likely to be living at home, fewer of them are earning Bachelor’s degrees, and in school, they’re getting lower grades—on average—than are girls. Despite this, men’s media income ($33,904) is still over $10,000 higher than women’s ($21,520). And while husbands share of the family income in falling, their participation in the household has not seen the increase we might expect (all things being equal)—though numbers of stay-at-home dads are on the rise. Finally, men are still more likely to die earlier than women, but the life expectancy gap is closing as well.

may-lake-bellTwo stories deal with how masculinity is mediated—how we receive masculinity through the media and what’s changed. In “The Evolution of the ‘Esquire’ Man,” David Granger, the editor-in-chief of Esquire (of 17 years), is interviewed about changing notion of manhood in the U.S.—changes he’s situated as both having witnessed and played a role in shaping. Some of this conversation is less satisfying than it could be, but might offer interesting ways of addressing important points about gender in the media with students. may-hardyFor instance, Granger discusses the two covers they had for the May2014 issue—one with filmmaker Lake Bell and one depicting the actor Tom Hardy (both seen here). Granger stated, “That issue, we happened to have two covers… And on both of them, they were topless. We were trying to be an equal-opportunity objectifier.” Yet, this sidesteps important conversations about what objectification is and how it might be working very differently in these two images.  See, for instance, Caroline Heldman‘s four part series on sexual objectification on Sociological Images (the first in the series is here).

In “Who’s the Man? Hollywood Heroes Defined Masculinity for Millions,” Bob Mondello discusses transformations over the course of the 20th century in the film industry on the gradual loosening of restrictions that allowed Hollywood to start glorifying anti-heroes along with the heroes. Mondello takes us from John Wayne, to the adultolescents that populate Judd Apatow’s films, to Iron Man. And in the end, he suggests that the mainstays of big screen macho heroes haven’t changed much. I’d suggest that a great deal has changed. Sure, he’s a sort of lone warrior, dealing out his own form of justice, making the “right” decisions outside the law when the law doesn’t seem to work. But, heroes today are super-powered, all-knowing, gravity-defying, and capable of much more than John Wayne. I wish these differences were highlighted, not glossed over. But, stories that trace the history and meaning of boy bands and movies that make men cry certainly complicate the story.

There are a few stories on men navigating issues that might challenge masculinity. While one story discusses one man’s struggle looking for men’s clothing in small sizes (men don’t have extra-small), another says that masculinity can be just as tough in much larger bodies. Noah Berlatsky discusses remaining a virgin through college and another story challenges the mantra “Real men eat meat!” by highlighting the efforts of some men in Brooklyn who attempt to masculinize veganism. I liked these stories if only because they break from the stereotypes and are interesting illustrations of some of the ways that masculinity is probably better thought of as something men navigate than as a status they occupy.

Michael Kimmel played a role in helping put this series together, and he’s featured in a couple of the stories as well. In one story, Kimmel highlights some of the characteristics that helped him identify the population he was interested in when writing Guyland. He draws, in broad strokes, “The Face of the Millennial Man” and addresses some of his struggles, aspirations, and quandaries. And in another, he participates in a conversation with Pedro Noguera about transformations in masculinity—“The New American Man Doesn’t Look Life His Father.”

Collectively, the stories provide a provocative look at some interesting transformations in how boys and men think about what it means to “be a man” today, but also illustrate some of the more insidious ways that they simultaneously seem tethered to ideologies of masculinity that are proving more resistant to change.  It’s an interesting collection.  There were some issues I wish received more coverage (like criminalization of lower-class men of color, the status and stigma of being a boy or man who’s “served time,” gay masculinities, the relationship between masculinity and bullying, among others).  But, the stories are interesting and help illustrate the complex terrain of contemporary masculinities.  Check ‘em out!

Manly Musings

Why We Should Care How Straight Allies Benefit From Their Support

By: Tristan Bridges and CJ Pascoe

This post was originally written for and posted at Slate.com continuing a discussion that emerged in response to our first post for our “Manly Musings,” our column at Girl W/ Pen!—“Bro-Porn: Heterosexualizing Straight Men’s Anti-Homophobia.” We thought we’d repost it here for The Society Pages readers as well. Reactions to both pieces were either incredibly supportive or extremely critical (some of which had the—likely unintended—effect of proving the point of the post). It seems we touched a cultural nerve.

Let’s talk about allies for a moment. What is an ally? The term is used to describe those who support and stand by marginalized groups as they work to combat various social and legal inequalities. For instance, white people can work as anti-racist allies alongside communities of people of color, pro-feminist men can act as allies to women, and straight people can stand as allies alongside sexual-minority communities.

How one can best be an ally has recently come up for debate in the blogosphere (see here, here, and here). Indeed, being an ally is a tricky business. It requires careful thinking through and distinguishing between intentions and the effects of one’s actions.

2cqlvqnybuikm7dz4jllsgGiven recent changes in public opinion on civil rights for sexual minorities in the United States, it is perhaps little surprise that straight white men are publicly “coming out” for gay rights in an unprecedented way. Survey studies have shown that Americans’ opinions about sexual prejudice and inequality have taken a sharp turn for the liberal. Gallup reports that, for the first time since it has been asking, more than 50 percent of the American public identifies gay and lesbian relations as “morally acceptable.” Similar trends are happening across all manner of beliefs about sexual inequality (support for same-sex marriage, opinions regarding the legality of same-sex sexual behavior, and so on). Demographically speaking, this is a huge shift. The hearts and minds of Americans appear to have altered dramatically in a short period of time. This is wonderful, and it certainly deserves to be celebrated and recognized.

Part of this shift has included increasing numbers of public figures acting as straight allies on issues like marriage equality, school bullying, and workplace discrimination against GLBTQ people. The intentions of straight allies are significant and merit recognition. And yet … as sociologists, we are also interested in the consequences of people’s actions regardless of their intentions. Sociologists often find, for instance, that the consequences of individual or collective actions may be at odds with the intentions driving those actions. For example, when Macklemore (a young, straight, white hip-hop artist) came out with his 2012 song “Same Love” in support of gay marriage, he had great intentions. Macklemore, the nephew of gay uncles, claims he was frustrated with the homophobia in hip-hop music and wrote a song to simultaneously challenge it and to “come out” in support of gay marriage. That’s great, and it deserves recognition. But, here’s our question: How much recognition?

James-Franco-covers-Attitude-Magazine-April-2013How much recognition does Macklemore deserve for coming out as a straight ally? (And he lets us know that he’s straight, mentioning early in the song that he’s “loved girls since before pre-k,” and his other hit songs feature a fantastic array of misogynistic lyrics.) How much recognition does James Franco deserve for responding to rumors about his sexuality by claiming he is straight, but “wishes [he] was gay.” (Attitude magazine depicts Franco on the cover of a recent issue with the caption, “Hollywood’s Gayest Straight Man.”) How much recognition do a couple of straight guys deserve for staging a kiss-in at Chic-fil-A to oppose the chain’s stance on same-sex marriage? How much recognition is Alec Baldwin entitled to for his donations to GLSEN and his public support of gay rights? How much attention does a group of (mostly) straight college boys deserve for taking off their clothes in opposition to homophobic bullying?

Let’s think seriously about the Chic-fil-A protest staged by comedian Skyler Stone with his friend and fellow comedian Mike Smith. The two men made out in front of a Chic-fil-A as a form of protest. However, they didn’t just make out—they asked gay men how men should kiss one another in the video they distributed on YouTube to document the event. They brushed their teeth, ate mints, and swirled mouthwash to sweeten their breath. In other words, they actively geared up to kiss. And then when they did kiss, it was arguably one of the least erotic make-out sessions ever caught on film. Sure, it was funny. Perhaps their intentions were laudable. But what did they actually accomplish? Did their protest question the naturalness and inevitableness of heterosexuality? Or did they, in effect, re-heterosexualize themselves in a sort of unorthodox way? Their heterosexuality is presented as so powerful, stable, and inevitable that they have to ask others how to kiss another man; and when they do kiss, it is a distinctly unattractive kiss. Allowing for any eroticism would be to call into question the naturalness and strength of their heterosexual drive. (Note to those who might protest that it is indeed their heterosexuality that makes their kissing un-sexy, two words: Brokeback Mountain.)

This is why studying effects, not just intentions, is important. The effect of Stone and Smith’s protest is, in part, to underscore the stability of their heterosexuality, while it seems their intentions were to act as straight male allies.

It’s important to study the effects of allies’ actions for another reason: The positive attention we direct toward these white, straight, male allies for their intentions may be less than desirable. The best way to think of this may be in terms of what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls the “economy of gratitude.” When she studied the division of household labor in the 1980s in her now famous book, The Second Shift, Hochschild was interested in how American couples divided up work in the home, both physically and emotionally. In the book, she discusses the ways that women’s movement into the workplace was accompanied by continued expectations of domestic upkeep, constituting what Hochschild calls the “second shift.” She found that the home was characterized by an “economy of gratitude”—the ways couples express appreciation to one another for performing the more onerous elements of household maintenance.

In her research, Hochschild found that husbands were often given more gratitude for their participation in work around the house than were women. That is, men were subtly—but systematically—“over-thanked” for their housework in ways that their wives were not. This simple fact, argued Hochschild, was much more consequential than it might at first appear. It was an indirect way of symbolically informing men that they were engaging in work not required of them. In fact, we have a whole language of discussing men’s participation in housework that supports Hochschild’s findings. When men participate, we say they’re “helping out,” “pitching in,” or “babysitting.” These terms acknowledge their work, but simultaneously frame their participation as “extra”—as more of a thoughtful gesture than an obligation.

We would suggest that something similar is happening with straight male allies. We all participate in defining the work of equality as not their work by over-thanking them, just like housework is defined as not men’s work. By lauding recognition on these “brave” men in positions of power (racial, sexual, gendered, and in some cases classed) we are saying to them and to each other: This is not your job, so thank you for “helping out” with equality.

Sometimes, these men are participating in over-thanking themselves for their own support—a phenomenon sociologist Michael Kimmel refers to as “premature self-congratulation.” And at other times, the rest of us are doing it, through Likes and shares on Facebook, public awards, and honors. Sociologist Tal Peretz has also studied the ways that pro-feminist men are sometimes over-thanked in similar ways, referring to the phenomenon as “the pedestal effect.” Peretz finds men are symbolically placed on a pedestal for their efforts. In doing so, we are actually producing a new form of privilege from which they benefit: the privilege of not having their actions (or the consequences associated with them) subject to critique. This form of privilege allows these noble men to escape a critical evaluation and appraisal of their participation.

187757345_jpg_CROP_promo-mediumlargeBy situating “ally” as a static state of being, we implicitly suggest that allies are capable of no harm. So, when Alec Baldwin—who puts big bucks behind LGB organizations—calls a man trying to take a picture of his family a “fag,” he relies on this understanding of ally when he claims that he can’t possibly be promoting sexual inequality. He donates money to gay organizations and causes, he’s got gay friends, he’s an actor for crying out loud.

Let’s not make anti-homophobia the equivalent of “babysitting” for dads and activism a de facto “second shift” for marginalized folks. The movement toward equality should be everyone’s responsibility and mandate.

Manly Musings

New Masculinities Blog! – Masculinities 101

This month, we invited Cliff Leek to discuss a new collaborative blog he and some of his colleagues put together that deals with issues of men and masculinities: Masculinities 101.  Cliff is a graduate student in the Sociology Department at Stony Brook University and writes extensively (for academic and popular audiences) on issues of men, masculinities, and inequality.

By: Cliff Leek

cropped-img_0214_edit2Masculinities 101, founded by four graduate students in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University, is an online forum for scholars and activists working on issues related to men and masculinities. The blog seeks to create a space in which academic and activist voices can be heard and the two can learn from one another. The editors actively seek to foster dialogue between scholars and activists around contemporary issues related to men and masculinities as well as gender and feminist theory.

The blog features bi-weekly posts from up-and-coming and established scholars, as well as from activists working on the ground. The posts seek to generate conversations about gender, race, sexualities, and class by drawing connections between social science research and everyday life. Additionally, the editors of Masculinities 101 contribute a “week-in-review” every Friday. The week-in-review recaps and highlights current events, activist endeavors, and recently published scholarly work.

Masculinities 101 hosts scholars and activists with diverse interests. Among the blog’s writers are experts in disabilities and embodiment, culture and sports, education, gendered violence, and men’s activism. Some of the most popular posts on the blog include an analysis of the gendered politics of meat consumption, representations of masculinity in comic books, and a letter by a scholar-activist to a 13-year-old boy.

Screen shot 2014-06-04 at 11.26.41 AMIn addition to being a blog, Masculinities 101 is sponsored by Stony Brook University’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities (CSMM). CSMM, founded in 2013, is dedicated to engaged interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities, and gender. Masculinities 101 partially fulfills CSMM’s vision to “support and promote research that furthers the development of boys and men in the service of healthy masculinities and greater gender equality” and “to build bridges among a new generation of researchers, practitioners, and activists who work toward these ends.” Masculinities 101 proudly promotes CSMM’s events and often offers recaps of CSMM seminars and lectures.  To pique your interest, below are a few poignant excerpts from posts on Masculinities 101.

Meat and Masculinity: “Animals are commodified and sold in ways that feminize and sexualize their bodies.  Meat isn’t just manly, it’s sexy, literally.  To consume these animal’s bodies is to wield power – to dissect, ingest, and ravage female bodies.  Here, meat eating becomes a symbol, a tool, of patriarchy and oppression.  It is both a reflection of a culture that allows violence against women and a means through which to perpetuate it.” – Ashley Maier

Superhero Masculinity – A Conversation with Artist, Writer, and Comic Book Enthusiast Steven M. Jones: “Expanding characters’ sexualities is only one of the ways in which comic books have challenged social expectations of gender according to Jones.  “From the beginning men wore tights” he joked.  Jones argued that Marvel crossed gendered lines by presenting male superheroes that struggle with deep inner conflicts.  He said, “Marvel created these male characters who experience all kinds of emotions.  They have anxiety.  They have depression.  These are not stoic men.  They have self-doubt.  They’re relatable because they have an emotional life.” – Heidi Rademacher

Guiness, “Made of More” or Just More of the Same: “While the subject of disability is indeed central to the Guinness message, the script itself hasn’t been rewritten in a way that really challenges mainstream disability stereotypes. It fails to articulate an alternative picture to what we often see. TV, film and print tend to make disability into an example of tragedy, misfortune or heroism or use it as a prop to illustrate the strength of the human mind over the fragile body. Such references are for the benefit of the non-disabled majority, to make the everyday reality of disability more palatable for them.” – Tara Fannon

Follow us on twitter  (@masculinities01) and like us on facebook.

You can also contact us via email: masculinities101@gmail.com

Manly Musings

Violence and Masculinity Threat

By: Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

Just under two weeks ago, in Milford, Connecticut, Chris Plaskon asked Maren Sanchez to attend prom with him at the end of the year at Jonathan Law High School.  They’d known each other since 6th grade.  Maren said no.  Witnesses told authorities she declined and told Chris she would be attending the dance with her boyfriend (here). Chris knew Maren had a boyfriend and, likely, that she’d be attending with him. After being turned down, Chris threw his hands around Maren’s throat, pushed her down a set of stairs, and cut and stabbed her with a kitchen knife he’d brought to school that day.  It was April 25, 2014.  Maren got to school just a bit after 7:00 that day and before 8:00, she was dead.

This tragic, almost unfathomable violence reminds us of so many stories of adolescent male violence over the past couple decades. Jackson Katz discusses a seeming epidemic of violence among young, white men in his new film, Tough Guise 2.  In analyzing the tragedies of school shootings, Katz tells us that we need to think about these tragedies as contemporary forms of masculinity. When young men have their masculinity sullied, threatened or denied, they respond by reclaiming masculinity through a highly recognizable masculine practice: violence. When events like this happen, it’s easy to paint the young men who perpetuate these crimes as psychologically disturbed, as—importantly—unlike the rest of us.  But, stories like Chris Plaskon follow what has become a predictable pattern.

Sociologists investigating similar phenomena address this as a form of “social identity threat.”  The general idea is that when you threaten someone’s social identity, and they care, they respond by over-demonstrating qualities that illustrate membership in that identity.  Michael Kimmel writes about a classic example:

I have a standing bet with a friend that I can walk onto any playground in America where 6 year-old boys are happily playing and by asking one question, I can provoke a fight.  That question is simple: “Who’s a sissy around here?” (here: 131)

While you might think Kimmel’s offering easy money here, he’s making a larger point.  By asking the question, Kimmel is inviting someone’s masculinity to be threatened and assuming that this will require someone to demonstrate their masculinity in dramatic fashion.  Sociologists have a name for this phenomenon: masculinity threat. New research relying on experimental designs suggests there’s a lot more to these claims than we might have thought.

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Manly Musings

Making Sense of Changes in Masculinity*

By: C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges

coverWhat it means to be masculine changes over time and from place to place.  After all, men used to wear dresses and high heels, take intimate pictures with one another and wear pink in childhood.  In our scholarship and blog posts we have been grappling with making sense of some of these more recent changes as we’ve watched (and contributed to) a discussion about what it means to be an ally and changing views on gender and sexual inequality—primarily among men (see here and here).  We recently published an article thinking through changes in contemporary definitions of masculinity allegedly occurring among a specific population of young, white, heterosexual men.

We sought to make sense of some complex issues like the contradiction between what seems like an “epidemic” of homophobic bullying alongside rising levels of support for gay marriage.  Or the seeming contradiction between young white men’s adoration and emulation of hip hop culture side by side with deeply entrenched racism toward African-American men.  Or the way in which contemporary men speak of desiring equal partnerships and marriages, yet women still earn less  in the workplace and do more of the housework and childcare.

In our article, we collect a body of research illustrating that, often, what is going on in contradictions like this, is that systems of power and inequality are symbolically upheld even as their material bases are (partially) challenged (e.g., here). We show how these seemingly disparate issues might be better understood as small pieces of a larger phenomenon—something we refer to as “hybrid masculinity” (drawing on other scholars—see here, here, and here).

Hybrid masculinity refers to the way in which contemporary men draw on “bits and pieces” of feminized or marginalized masculine identities and incorporate them into their own gender identities.  Simply put, men are behaving differently, taking on politics and perspectives that might have been understood as emasculating a generation ago that seem to bolster (some) men’s masculinities today.  Importantly, however, we argue that research shows that this is most often happening in ways that don’t actually fundamentally alter gender and sexual inequality or masculine dominance. In other words, what recognizing hybrid masculinity allows us to do is to think through these changes in masculinity carefully.  While these changes may  appear to challenge gender and sexual inequality, we argue that most research reveals that hybrid masculinities are better understood as obscuring than as challenging inequality.

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