Category Archives: Manly Musings

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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Manly Musings

Colorism, Gender, and School Suspension

By: Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple, coined the “colorism” term to define: “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on the color of their skin” (here: 290). Colorism occurs when groups of people are discriminated against in systematic ways on the basis of skin color alone.  The differential treatment results not simply from being recognized as belonging to a specific racial category, but from the values associated with the actual color of someone’s skin.  And it is one way that social scientists have looked at inequalities within as well as between racial groups.

Some of the social scientific findings that provoked more research on colorism uncovered skin color-based disparities within the criminal justice system. Research has shown, for example, that skin color affects the length of time people are sentenced to serve in prison, the proportion of their sentences that they do serve, and the likelihood of receiving the death penalty.  This research has less often focused explicitly on intersections with gender inequality.

A recent article in Race and Social Problems by Lance Hannon, Robert DeFina, and Sarah Bruch—“The Relationship Between Skin Tone and School Suspension for African Americans”—addresses these intersections centrally. They analyze the relationship between race, skin color, gender, and the school suspension.  Similar to what research on criminal sentencing has shown, Hannon, DeFina, and Bruch found that darker skin tone was significantly related to the likelihood of being suspended in school.  African American students with darker skin had a higher probability of being suspended than those with lighter skin.  But, upon closer investigation, they discovered that that finding was primarily driven by the fact that skin tone has a much larger impact on African American girls than on African American boys.

suspension colorism graph

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Manly Musings

Stop the War on Pink—Let’s Take a Look at Toys for Boys

by C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges

As feminist parent-scholars we’d like to call for an end to (or at least a pause in) the seeming incessant focus on rejecting all that is pink, salmon, rose, coral, blush, and flush. As much of nation recovers from the frantic collective shopping spree that characterizes the end of the year, we’d like to make the case that the denunciation of all things pink should not really be our primary focus if we want to move toward a more gender equal world for girls and boys. Instead, we suggest that we begin to turn our attention to expanding the acceptable range of boys’ toys and their colors.

Goldieblox_Commercial-1Many of us who think about gender and childhood toys are by now familiar with the debate about GoldieBlox, a toy company that sells products encouraging girls’ interest in engineering.   The company’s commercial depicting girls deploying a Rube Goldberg-type setup with the typical girl toys—princesses, dolls, teacups, and oh-so-much pink—was seen as both inspirational and problematic.  Commentators both celebrated the fact that girls were being encouraged to engage in engineering and critiqued the fact that that the products marketed by the company are still firmly framed in terms of girl culture.

The cultural process of “pinkification” (as Gwen Sharpe refers to it) is a way in which toys and forms of play which may have been historically associated with boys are rendered acceptably feminine.  Indeed many, us included, are concerned with toys marketed to girls that are a larger part of a socialization process that encourages girls to be nice, passive and relationship-oriented. As Ellen Seiter notes in her book Sold Separately, “advertisements for girls’ toys have undergone fewer changes than other toys in the past fifty years because they continue to depict girls’ play as a miniature version of their mothers’ domestic work” (74). 91v7kEWiPzL._SL1500_Luckily Pottery Barn simply leads with this sort of gender stereotyping in its toy section (placing gender “neutral” toys at the bottom of its boys and girls pages), even as it divides up its offerings by gender.

We find it a little concerning, however, that this discussion is so focused on girls. What would this discussion look like if we examined boys’ toys? What might this conversation look like if we focused not on getting rid of pink, princesses, or housekeeping toys, but on making these toys acceptable for everyone to play with. After all, as others have pointed out, this “pink is for girls” thing is a relatively new development. In her book Pink and Blue, Jo Paoletti details the historic transformations involved in gendering these two colors.  While a brief look at JeongMee Yoon’s The Pink and Blue Project vividly illustrates the extent of this transformation, there’s no reason that color coding toys by gender couldn’t undergo future evolutions (especially with consumer pressure).  Indeed, organizations like Let Toys Be Toys are fighting to get retailers to stop promoting toys as “for girls” or “for boys” and some toy stores are starting to try to make changes.

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Manly Musings

Masculinity, Gender (Non)Conformity, and Queer Visibility

By: Tristan Bridges and CJ Pascoe

WarpaintCoco Layne got a haircut.  She shaved both sides of her head, but left the top at a length that falls roughly to the bottom of her face.  As a feminist fashion, art, and lifestyle blogger, she was quick to recognize the ways that she could subtly re-style her hair and dramatically alter her presentation of gender (here).   So, in classic feminist art blogger style, she produced an art project depicting her experience.  Coco’s project—“Warpaint”—comes on the heels of several other photographic projects dealing critically with gender: JJ Levine’s series of photographs—“Alone Time”—depicting one person posing as both a man and a woman in a single photograph (digitally altered to include both images); the media frenzy over Casey Legler, a woman who garnered attention, recognition and contracts modeling as a man; the Japanese lingerie company that recently went viral by using a man’s body to sell a push-up bra, just to name a few.

Along with these other photographic projects on gender, Warpaint is critical commentary on what gender is, where it comes from, how flexible it is, what this flexibility means, and what gender (non)conformity has to do with sexuality.  Coco’s work provides important lessons about how gender is produced just below the radar of most people most of the time.  These projects all point out the extensive work that goes into doing gender in a way that is recognizable by others. Indeed, recognition by others is key to doing gender “correctly.” It is what scholar Judith Butler calls performativity or the way in which people are compelled to engage in an identifiably gendered performance. When people fail to do this, Butler argues that they are abject, not culturally decipherable and thus subject to all sorts of social sanctions. Butler points out that the performance of gender itself produces a belief that something, someone, or some authentic, inalienable gendered self lies behind the performance.  These photographic projects lay bear the fiction that there is this sort of inevitably gendered self behind the performance of gender.  This is precisely why these projects produce such discussion and, for some, discomfort.  It makes (some of) us uncomfortable by challenging our investments in and folk theories surrounding certain ways of thinking about gender and sexuality.

Much of the commentary the Warpaint project focused on Coco’s ability to get a retail job when she displayed her body in ways depicted on the bottom row.  Indeed her experience reflects research indicates that different workplaces reward particular gender appearances and practices. Kristen Schilt’s research on transmen at work, for instance, highlights the way that performances of masculinity get translated into workplace acceptance for these men. Yet doing gender in a way that calls into question its naturalness can put people (including those who do not identify as gender queer or tans) at risk. In Jespersen v Harrah, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that female employees can be required to wear makeup as a condition of employment (in a workplace where men are not required to wear it).  While recent decisions have been more favorable to trans identified employees, most states do not have employment law or school policies protecting gender non-conforming individuals.  Simply put, most states do not have laws addressing —to use Coco’s language—gender expression.

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Manly Musings

Bro-Porn: Heterosexualizing Straight Men’s Anti-Homophobia

by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe

Warwick BoysEvery year, since 2009, the men of England’s Warwick University’s Rowing Team pose nude together in a series of photos that can be purchased individually or collectively as a calendar. The sales from this calendar go toward supporting their team and to raise awareness about bullying and homophobia among youth. This year, however, the team received international attention (prompting the development of a twitter account, a website, and a store to sell the photos and other team paraphernalia—like their 2013 film, “Brokeback Boathouse”). At first glance it may seem surprising that (presumably) straight men would pose naked with one another to raise money. But, when looking at other straight, young, white men’s stances on homophobia it becomes clear that, ironically, part of what is happening here is a shoring up of a particular form of heterosexual masculinity. Indeed the Warwick Women’s Rowing Team produced a similar calendar without the same amount of media attention (significantly, however, the attention they did receive was more often condemnatory).

MacklemoreThe attention the Warwick boys received echoes that directed at Seattle-based hip-hop artist Ben Haggerty (Macklemore) upon the release of his hit song “Same Love” in 2012.  The song, a ballad of support for gay and lesbian rights, was recorded during the 2012 campaign in Washington state to legalize same-sex marriage. It reached 11 on Billboard’s “Hot 100” list in the U.S., and hit number 1 in both New Zealand and Australia.  The single cover art features an image of Ben’s uncle and his partner, Sean. Macklemore, who “outs” himself as straight in the song’s opening, same-loveclaims that the song grew out of his frustration with hip-hop’s endemic homophobia.*

What do the Warwick University men’s rowing team and Macklemore have in common?  They are all young, straight, attractive, white men taking a public stance against homophobia and receiving a lot of credit for it. This development seems to contradict a great deal of theory and research on masculinity (as well as conventional wisdom) which has consistently shown homophobia to be an important way in which young men prove to themselves and others that they are truly masculine (see here, here and here for instance). Upon first glance it seems that Macklemore and the Warwick University Rowers are harbingers of change – young, straight, white men for whom homophobia is unimportant and undesirable. That is, homophobia is no longer a building block of contemporary forms of masculinity.  Indeed, such a reading may be part of the story.

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