Tag Archives: gender: violence

NFL Hazing and Jonathan Martin’s “Man Card”

On October 28th, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the National Football League citing emotional distress as a result of abuse at the hands of his teammate Richie Incognito.  Incognito admits to having sent Martin racist, homophobic, and threatening text messages and voicemails but argues that rather than hazing or bullying, this was merely an instance of miscommunication between the two men.

While a great deal of media attention has questioned the behavior of Richie Incognito, a disproportionate amount of attention has also been given to Martin’s choice to report the abuse.  Why has Martin’s choice to report the abuse received so much attention?  What has been the main theme of those critiquing Martin’s choice?  And, what does this discussion mean for our national discourse on bullying and hazing?  The answers to these questions, I argue, are all linked to masculinity.

The media talks about Martin’s choice to report because his decision violated accepted cultural norms of masculinity.  Some may call these norms, more colloquially, the “bro code,” “guy code,” or “man code.”  Whatever we choose to call it, there are accepted ways in which men and boys are expected to conduct ourselves and our relationships to other men.  Martin stands accused, especially within the athletic community, of having broken the code.

In a very telling interview, Channing Crowder, a former teammate of Incognito, made it clear that this conversation is really about masculinity.  According to Crowder, Incognito tests his teammates.  He “tests you to see if you have enough manhood or enough testosterone” (even though this type of bullying is just as much about the perpetrator’s masculinity as it is the victim’s).

In this case Martin’s masculinity is under attack on two fronts.  First, it is under attack because he failed Incognito’s “test” of his manhood.  Second, he is under attack because his solution to Incognito’s bullying violated guy code.  According to the code, real men solve their problems with one another through violence.

Sports Illustrated reported that many NFL personnel consider Martin to be a coward or a wimp for reporting the abuse.  One NFL informant was even quoted saying “I think Jonathan Martin is a weak person.  If Incognito did offend him racially, that’s something you have to handle as a man.”  Others said it would have been preferable for Martin to “go down swinging” or to “fight.”  Even NPR ran a piece in which a regular guest argued:

Martin should have taken that dude outside and put his lights out.  I do not – I absolutely do not believe in a society where we run to the principal’s office every time these petty tyrants make a threat… Only power dispatches bullies… Jonathan Martin is a grown man and you can’t bully a grown man.

To be fair, in that same NPR piece, another interviewee stated that “not everybody resorts to violence in response to bullying and I applaud him for that.”

Nevertheless, by reporting the abuse rather than physically confronting Incognito, Jonathan Martin has been publicly stripped of his “man card.”

But, so what?  Why should we care about how grown men address bullying?  We should care because just as Jonathan Martin is being told to “man up,” so are young boys all over the country when they are bullied.  Boys are told that when they cannot physically confront a bully they are inadequate and unworthy.  They are taught to remain silent in the face of insurmountable violence because speaking out is a sign of weakness, or worse, femininity.  Too many boys are left with nowhere to turn when bullying makes trauma a daily experience.  In this sort of environment can we really be surprised that boys are committing suicide, developing depression, and lashing out violently at incredibly high rates?

Incognito on film:

Cliff Leek is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at Stony Brook University.  He is a News Editor for Sociology Lens, co-founder of Masculinities 101, a Program Director for the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities and a Research Assistant to TrueChild.  

Cross-posted at Sociology Lens and The Good Men Project.

Is the Penis Dangerous? (TW;NSFW)

*trigger warning for sexual violence; not safe for work*

In a wonderful article called It’s Only a Penis, anthropologist Christine Helliwell talks of how her time with the Dayak community of Gerai in Indonesian Borneo changed her perceptions of the sexual body.  She writes of a time when a man crept through a window and into the bed of a sleeping woman.  She continues:

[She] awoke, in darkness, to feel the man inside her mosquito net, gripping her shoulder while he climbed under the blanket… He was whispering, “be quiet, be quiet!” She responded by sitting up in bed and pushing him violently, so that he stumbled backward [and] became entangled with her mosquito net… His hurried exit through the window, with his clothes now in considerable disarray, was accompanied by a stream of abuse from the woman and by excited interrogations from wakened neighbors in adjoining houses.

The next morning:

I awoke… to raucous laughter on the longhouse verandah outside my apartment where a group of elderly women gathered… They were recounting this tale loudly, and with enormous enjoyment… one was engaged in mimicking the man climbing out the window, sarong falling down, genitals askew… both men and women shrieked with laughter.

Helliwell was appalled.  It sounded to her Western ears like a case of attempted rape.  It was frightening, not funny.  But, when she explained to the local women that what he did was bad, one replied, “No, no bad, simply stupid.”  Helliwell turned to the woman who had been approached by the man and said, “He was trying to hurt you.”  She replied, “It’s only a penis. How can a penis hurt anyone?”  The Gerai had no word for “rape.”

I often think of this story when observing the way that women’s and men’s genitals are represented in Western culture.  I find the Gerai’s perspective intuitively pleasing.  Penises are, in fact, very sensitive dangly bits imbued with much importance. I can imagine a culture in which their vulnerability was front-and-center, so to speak.  I’m reminded of an observation made by my colleague Caroline Heldman regarding the seemingly secret pact of all men not to fight “below the belt” so as to never draw attention to men’s obvious and uniquely male physical weakness.

Yet, in Western cultures, we do imagine the penis to be a potentially threatening piece of anatomy.  In contrast, Helliwell writes, the vagina is often “conceived of as a delicate, perhaps inevitably damaged and pained inner space.”  Accordingly, we have collectively agreed to somehow believe that penises are potentially brutalizing and vaginas easily brutalized.

Where do these ideas come from?  Well, here’s a clue: the frequency with which penises are represented, literally, as weapons.  Kira recently sent in this example: a lubricant with the name “Gun Oil” advertised in the San Jose Mercury News (this is also going straight to our pointlessly gendered products page).

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A while back, we received this safer sex ad from Germany:

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And Julie C. sent along a link to a set of safer sex ads that included these three:

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While I am all for encouraging sexual pleasure and safer sex, I would prefer that such efforts not conflate the penis with a weapon.  Doing so only contributes to the idea that the penis is inherently useful for enacting violence and women’s bodies naturally vulnerable to violation from men.  Moreover, Helliwell’s experience suggests that this isn’t simply imaginary, but may also contribute to the enactment of violence or lack thereof.

Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Lady Spanking: From Kiss Me Kate to Comic Books

Lauren McGuire pointed us to a post by Gilligan at Retrospace inspired by a scene in the 1963 Western, McLintock!  The movie included a scene in which George McLintock, played by John Wayne, uses a shovel to spank his estranged wife, played by Maureen O’Hara.

The spanking scene apparent stuck quite the chord, as it was used repeatedly in the promotional materials.

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Gilligan suggests that the spanking of adult women by adult men was a midcentury theme, from Kiss me Kate to comic books:

Here’s an Q&A from the New York Daily Mirror, circa 1950s (thanks to @perstornes):

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Lady spanking is a manifestation of the infantilization of women.  The idea that they are not men’s equals, but are expected to obey them as subordinates and can be punished when they do not behave.  Of course, materials riffing on the spanking adult women today (outside of porn and fetish communities) would probably inspire an outcry, but that leaves open the possibility that the gendered power asymmetry simply manifests in other ways.  Adult women are still infantilized (see posts here, here, and here) and dominance/submission is still sexualized in mainstream materials (consider our post asking what love is supposed to look like).

Originally posted in 2010; re-posted in response to a new example. Images borrowed from here, here, here, here, here.  H/t Retrospace.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

From the Mouths of Rapists: The Lyrics of Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines

Trigger warning: Graphic descriptions of sexual assault.  Note: The opinions expressed in this post belong to Sezin Koehler alone and should not be attributed to anyone involved with Project Unbreakable.

Robin Thicke’s summer hit Blurred Lines addresses what he considers to be sounds like a grey area between consensual sex and assault. The images in this post place the song into a real-life context.  They are from Project Unbreakable, an online photo essay exhibit, and feature images of women and men holding signs with sentences that their rapist said before, during, or after their assault.   Let’s begin.

I know you want it.

Thicke sings “I know you want it,” a phrase that many sexual assault survivors report their rapists saying to justify their actions, as demonstrated over and over in the Project Unbreakable testimonials.

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You’re a good girl.

Thicke further sings “You’re a good girl,” suggesting that a good girl won’t show her reciprocal desire (if it exists). This becomes further proof in his mind that she wants sex: for good girls, silence is consent and “no” really means “yes.”

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Calling an adult a “good girl” in this context resonates with the the virgin/whore dichotomy. The implication in Blurred Lines is that because the woman is not responding to a man’s sexual advances, which of course are irresistible, she’s hiding her true sexual desire under a facade of disinterest. Thicke is singing about forcing a woman to perform both the good girl and bad girl roles in order to satisfy the man’s desires.

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Thicke and company, as all-knowing patriarchs, will give her what he knows she wants (sex), even though she’s not actively consenting, and she may well be rejecting the man outright.

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Do it like it hurt, do it like it hurt, what you don’t like work?

This lyric suggests that women are supposed to enjoy pain during sex or that pain is part of sex:

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The woman’s desires play no part in this scenario – except insofar as he projects whatever he pleases onto her — another parallel to the act of rape: sexual assault is generally not about sex, but rather about a physical and emotional demonstration of power.

The way you grab me.
Must wanna get nasty.

This is victim-blaming.  Everybody knows that if a woman dances with a man it means she wants to sleep with him, right? And if she wears a short skirt or tight dress she’s asking for it, right? And if she even smiles at him it means she wants it, right?  Wrong.  A dance, an outfit, a smile — sexy or not — does not indicate consent.  This idea, though, is pervasive and believed by rapists.

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And women, according to Blurred Lines, want to be treated badly.

Nothing like your last guy, he too square for you.
He don’t smack your ass and pull your hair like that.

In this misogynistic fantasy, a woman doesn’t want a “square” who’ll treat her like a human being and with respect. She would rather be degraded and abused for a man’s gratification and amusement, like the women who dance around half naked humping dead animals in the music video.

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The pièce de résistance of the non-censored version of Blurred Lines is this lyric:

I’ll give you something to tear your ass in two.

What better way to show a woman who’s in charge than violent, non-consensual sodomy?

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Ultimately, Robin Thicke’s rape anthem is about male desire and male dominance over a woman’s personal sexual agency. The rigid definition of masculinity makes the man unable to accept the idea that sometimes his advances are not welcome. Thus, instead of treating a woman like a human being and respecting her subjectivity, she’s relegated to the role of living sex doll whose existence is naught but for the pleasure of a man.

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In Melinda Hugh’s Lame Lines parody of Thicke’s song she sings, “You think I want it/ I really don’t want it/ Please get off it.”  The Law Revue Girls “Defined Lines” response to Blurred Lines notes, “Yeah we don’t want it/ It’s chauvinistic/ You’re such a bigot.”  Rosalind Peters says in her one-woman retort, “Let’s clear up something mate/ I’m here to have fun/ I’m not here to get raped.”

There are no “blurred lines.” There is only one line: consent.

And the absence of consent is a crime.

Sezin Koehler is an informal ethnographer and novelist living in Florida. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.  

Double Standards at the VMA Awards: What about Robin Thicke?

The Miley Cyrus performance at the VMAs has received quite the reaction.  She appears to have shocked celebs as well as the media, and has even been blasted by a group of angry parents. The Internet outrage over her performance has spawned multiple offshoots, including a backlash against people slut-shaming Miley, as well as criticisms about her appropriation and exploitation of black culture.

What has been largely been missing from the conversation (with a few notable exceptions) is the lack of outrage at the 36-year-old man who ground up on Miley’s 20-year-old ass while singing his summer megahit rape culture anthem.

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JEFF KRAVITZ/FILMMAGIC via Vanity Fair

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Far fewer people are expressing concern about the catchy song in which a husband and father outlines with complete confidence his ability to infer when “good girls” “want it.”  The same guy who, when discussing the lyrics to his song, tells an interviewer:

Even very good girls have a little bad side. You just have to know how to pull it out of them.

The guy who boasts that he based his hit song on the time-honored masculine performance of hollering at bitches:

We started acting like we were two old men on a porch hollering at girls like, ‘Hey, where you going, girl? Come over here!’ That’s why, in the video, we’re doing all these old men dances. It was great.

That does sound pretty great, Robin.

Overall, the 2013 VMA debacle provides a painfully accurate example of the sexual double standard we have for women and men.  A woman who performs sexuality (for whatever reason) is to be castigated, while a man who engages in the exact same performance (and who has unabashedly doubled down on his support for the rape myth that no means yes) hardly raises an eyebrow.

Brett Wheeler is a part-time psychology professor who is pursuing a PhD in positive psychology. His research interests include human sexuality, humor, and how these variables contribute to well-being.

Sexual Harassment and Battery in Public Spaces: Women Tell Their Stories

Screenshot_1This 4:15 minute video features women recounting instances of sexual harassment and battery by strangers. It’s a wake up call for the kinds of treatment that women routinely receive just by virtue of daring to be in public spaces.

Made by Laura Bates for the The Everyday Sexism Project. Thanks to Mytch for the tip.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

“I Hate Your Friend… So I Stuck My D— in Her Water Bottle”

Earlier this year I wrote about how truly disturbing it is that so many of our insults have sexual connotations.  “Fuck you,” is a choice example, but I give lots more in the original post (read at your own risk).  I concluded:

…it’s interesting, right, to notice how often attempts to hurt other people come in the language of sexuality.  This reveals why sex can be scary, especially for women who are so often positioned as the one who “gets fucked”…  It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.

This post came to mind when I saw this confession at PostSecret:

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Let me put this in black and white: this person expressed “hate” by exposing another person to his penis.  So he considers his penis a thing that can defile.  This is the same penis that he puts (presumably) in his wife who he (presumably) doesn’t hate.  If I were his wife, I would wonder how exactly he decides when putting his penis in things is a loving thing to do and when it’s a way to harm or humiliate someone.

I don’t mean to pick on this individual.  The idea that it’s funny (“LOL”) to expose this woman to his genitalia without her consent is widespread.  This confession is just a manifestation of our cultural belief that men can hurt people with their penises.  And that it’s funny when they do.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Failing to Understand When Non-White People Distrust the Police

Screenshot_1When white Americans are in trouble, they rarely hesitate to call the police. That’s because most of them trust the police. They rarely realize the significance during encounters with the police of their own protective “white” skin.

Many white folks also have trouble understanding the deep distrust of the police in other racialized communities. That’s because they fail to realize how quick many police officers are to harass non-white people, and how much less they tend to value non-white lives.

White Americans should listen, with sincerity and respect, to the reported experiences of others with the entrenched racist attitudes among the police, and the rampant abuse such attitudes inspire. They should also listen to the corrosive effects on non-white communities of the relative impunity with which police repeatedly harass, and murder, non-white people.

In the following short film, Stacey Muhammad’s “I AM SEAN BELL, black boys speak,” black Americans effectively explain their reasoned fear, distrust, and dismay regarding the police. I think that for starters, this film is perfect discussion material for all American classrooms. And any other gatherings that include white eyes and ears.

See a complementary post, featuring a great clip from Michael Moore, at Stuff White People Do here.

[h/t: Kai @ Zuky]

Originally posted in 2009. Re-posted in solidarity with the African American community; regardless of the truth of the Martin/Zimmerman confrontation, it’s hard not to interpret the finding of not-guilty as anything but a continuance of the criminal justice system’s failure to ensure justice for young Black men.

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About himself, Macon writes, “I’m a white guy, trying to find out what that means. Especially the ‘white’ part. I live in that heart of the heart of American whiteness, the ever-amorphous ‘Midwest.’”  Macon’s blog, Stuff White People Do, is an excellent source of insights about race and racism.