Manly Musings

Bronies, Anti-Rape Chants, and Gendered Change

rainbow_glasses_by_j_brony-d4cw4aoUpon first glance, men who identify as “bronies” (a subculture of men who like My Little Pony) seem to illustrate a fundamental transformation in masculinity. These men appear to be less stigmatized by association with something “feminine” or “feminizing” (like children’s toys initially marketed to young girls). New research by graduate students John Bailey and Brenna Harvey, however, found that even in a subculture formed around a seemingly emasculating hobby, participants still lob gendered and sexualized insults and epithets at one another. In his write-up on the research in The Guardian, Adam Gabbatt explained some of Bailey and Harvey’s findings in this way:

Bailey and Harvey found that even men who fancy My Little Pony cartoon characters are likely to scrap with each other using similar terms and putdowns to “normal” men, even to the point of using the same terminology, such as “faggot,” to police their environment.

One particular incident was a putdown from one member to another in an online brony forum that read: “Go be normal somewhere else, faggot.” While we might expect “fag” to be lobbed at members of the group by outsiders, it might seem odd that (at least some) bronies use the term as well.

AP_OREGON2_150102_DG_16x9_992Contemporary Western masculinity is in many ways characterized by these seeming contradictions. Consider what happened when the University of Oregon defeated Florida State University at the Rose Bowl earlier this year (to which CJ would like to add: “Yeah we did! GO DUCKS!”). In the post-game revelry, some of the Oregon players began to chant “No means no!” to the tune of the (racist) “War Chant” regularly sung by FSU fans. As ThinkProgress reported,

The chant was almost certainly intended to target [Jameis] Winston [Florida State’s quarterback], who has been embroiled in a sexual assault scandal since 2012, when a female student accused him of raping her. He has not been officially charged or sanctioned for the incident, and won the Heisman Trophy amid the ongoing controversy.

Commentaries on this incident widely lauded it as a moment in which young men were collectively, publicly, shaming another man accused of sexual violence with a long time feminist slogan.

While on the surface these two events are incredibly different, elements connect the two. Among the bronies, a man chastised another as a “fag” in part to defend his own gender transgressive interest and identity and the community in which he participates. Among the Oregon Ducks, a group of men appear to be embracing the feminist principle that Sarah Silverman recently tweeted so eloquently (to the anger of at least a few men), “Don’t rape.” These examples involve men telling other men, “You are not masculine, and here is why… Oh, and I am (just in case that wasn’t clear).” The content of what makes someone masculine doesn’t actually matter nearly as much as the ability to deny that powerful social identity to others.

Now, don’t get us wrong; we are thrilled to see high profile athletes embracing the notion of consent and refuting sexual violence. Men publicly condemning sexual violence are important and can be extremely powerful. But, behind these statements is a protectionist ideology that involves men claiming to symbolically protect women from other “bad” and (importantly) “less” masculine men. The White House-sponsored “1 is 2 Many” public service announcement combats sexual violence using a similar tactic. 1is2ManyPSA60Second-YouTube7-tile_zps0c2a2e3fIn the PSA, a group of professional actors, along with Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama, call for an end to sexual violence and assault. Many say things like actor Daniel Craig, who says, “If I saw it happening, I’d never blame her. I’d help her.” Craig is probably most identifiable as having recently portrayed James Bond—a character who, among other things, is best known for having his way with any woman he chooses. But positioning sexual assault as something that other, bad, less masculine men do (like those, say, who lose football games) allows some men to say, “Real men don’t rape. And WE are real men.” But the “real men” discourse may be problematic in and of itself. (See the “My Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign for another example of this tactic).

What all of these instances illustrate and what draws us to them is that they seem to illustrate (positive) changes in contemporary masculinity—young men engaging in activities stigmatized as feminine, athletes shaming one of their own for sexual assault, male politicians and actors publicly espousing an end to sexual violence. If, as activists have argued, a problematic aspect of masculinity is the fact that it entails putting others down, distance from femininity, and sexually dominating women, then we should be unequivocally celebrating these changes.

However, as we have written about before, gendered change is complicated. These changes illustrate that masculinities are flexible—sometimes incredibly so. Masculinities can be prodded and reworked in ways that incorporate practices and symbols not historically associated with masculinity at all. But, in reworking them, masculinity reveals that depriving others of this powerful social identity is often the key ingredient of the social identity. These transformations hold incredible potential. But, whether that potential is realized is an entirely different question. And that, it seems, is the next project: realizing potential for gendered change that does not revolve around repudiating less socially desirable gendered identities or rely on the methods of dominance involved in sustaining some forms of social inequality in the first place.

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.

Manly Musings

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

Originally posted at The Conversation
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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.

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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.

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.

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!