Tag Archives: gender: violence

Watch London Cops Subdue, Not Kill, a Man Yelling and Swinging a Machete

Despite the cellphone video of two police officers killing Kajieme Powell, there is some dispute as to what happened (see this account in The Atlantic). Was Powell threatening them; did he hold the knife high; was he only three or four feet away? 

The video is all over the Internet, including the link above. I’m not going to include it here.  The officers get out of the car, immediately draw their guns, and walk towards Powell. Is this the best way to deal with a disturbed or possibly deranged individual – to confront him and then shoot him several times if he does something that might be threatening?

Watch the video, then watch London police confronting a truly deranged and dangerous man in 2011.  In St. Louis, Powell had a steak knife and it’s not clear whether he raised it or swung it at all.  The man in London has a machete and is swinging it about.


Unfortunately, the London video does not show us how the incident got started. By the time the recording begins, at least ten officers were already on the scene. They do not have guns. They have shields and truncheons. The London police tactic used more officers, and the incident took more time. But nobody died.  According to The Economist:

The police in and around Ferguson have shot and killed twice as many people in the past two weeks (Mr Brown plus one other) as the police in Japan, a nation of 127m, have shot and killed in the past six years. Nationwide, America’s police kill roughly one person a day.

The article includes this graphic:

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I’m sure that the Powell killing will elicit not just sympathy for the St. Louis police but in some quarters high praise – something to the effect that what they did was a good deed and that the victims got what they deserved. But righteous slaughter is slaughter nevertheless. A life has been taken.<

You would think that other recent videos of righteous slaughter elsewhere in the world would get us to reconsider this response to killing. But instead, these seem only to strengthen tribal Us/Them ways of thinking. If one of Us who kills one of Them, then the killing must have been necessary and even virtuous.

Originally posted at Montclair SocioBlog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Caveman Courtship and its Mythology

Flashback Friday.

Somewhere we got the idea that “caveman” courtship involved a man clubbing a woman over the head and dragging her by the hair to his cave where he would, presumably, copulate with an unconscious or otherwise unwilling woman.  This idea, as these two products show, is generally considered good for a chuckle.

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(glasses sent in by Cole S.H.)

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(tray for sale at the Rose Bowl Flea Market, photo by me)

Of course, we have little to no knowledge of the social lives of early humans.  First, long buried bodies and archeological dig sites simply can’t tell us much about how men and women interacted.  Second, to speculate about early humans based on humans today is to project the present onto the past.  To speculate about early humans based on today’s apes is (at least) as equally suspect.  Ape behavior varies tremendously anyway, even among our closest cousins. Which type do we choose?  The violent and hierarchical chimp or the peace-loving Bonobos who solve all social strife with sex?

In other words, the caveman-club-‘er-over-the-head-and-drag-her-by-the-hair narrative is pure mythology. The mythology, nonetheless, affirms the idea that men are naturally coercive and violent by suggesting that our most natural and socially-uncorrupted male selves will engage in this sort of behavior.  Rape, that is.

The idea also affirms the teleological idea that society is constantly improving and, therefore, getting closer and closer to ideals like gender equality.  If it’s true that “we’re getting better all the time,” then we assume that, whatever things are like now, they must have been worse before.  And however things were then, they must have been even worse before that.  And so on and so forth until we get all the way back to the clubbing caveman.

Thinking like this may encourage us to stop working to make society better because we assume it will get better anyway (and certainly won’t get worse).  Instead of thinking about what things like gender equality and subordination might look like, then, we just assume that equality is, well, what-we-have-now and subordination is what-they-had-then.  This makes it less possible to fight against the subordination that exists now by making it difficult to recognize.

The idea of caveman courtship, in other words, seems silly and innocuous.  But it actually helps to naturalize men’s aggressive pursuit of sex with women.  And that naturalization is part of why it is so difficult to disrupt rape myths and stop rape.

Originally posted in 2008 and cross-posted at Ms. magazine.

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.

Thankfully, Violence Against Women on the Decline

Shock, frustration, and rage. That’s our reaction to the hate-filled video record that Elliot Rodger left behind. The 22-year-old, believed to have killed 6 people in Santa Barbara this week, left behind a terrible internet trail.

I cannot and will not speculate about the “mind of the killer” in such cases, but I can offer a little perspective on the nature and social context of these acts. This sometimes entails showing how mass shootings (or school shootings) remain quite rare, or that crime rates have plummeted in the past 20 years. I won’t repeat those reassurances here, but will instead address the bald-faced misogyny and malice of the videos. It outrages us to see a person look into a camera and clearly state his hatred of women — and then, apparently, to make good on his dark promises. It also raises other awful questions. Are these sentiments generally held? If you scratch the surface, are there legions of others who would and could pursue “retribution” as Mr. Rodger did? Is serious violence against women on the rise?

Probably not. Rates of sexual violence in the United States, whether measured by arrest or victimization, have declined by over 50 percent over the last twenty years. As the figure shows, the rape and sexual assault victimization rate dropped  from over 4 per 1000 (age 12 and older) in 1993 to about 1.3 per 1000 in 2012.  And, if you add up all the intimate partner violence (including all rape, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault committed by spouses, boyfriends, or girlfriends), the rate has dropped from almost 10 per 1000 in 1994 to 3.2 per 1000 in 2012. The numbers below include male victims, but the story remains quite consistent when the analysis is limited to female victims.

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Of course, misogyny and violence against women remain enormous social problems — on our college campuses and in the larger society. Moreover, the data at our disposal are often problematic and the recent trend is far less impressive than the big drop from 1993 to 2000. All that said, “retribution” videos and PUA threads shouldn’t obscure a basic social fact:  22-year-olds today are significantly less violent than 22-year-olds a generation ago.

Chris Uggen is a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota and the author of  Locked Out: Felon Disenfranchisement and American Democracy, with Jeff Manza. You can follow him on twitter and at his blog, where this post originally appeared.  Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.

Questioning Media Portrayals of Female Drunkeness

At the New Statesman, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter skewer the common media hand-wringing over women who get drunk in public.  Above and beyond the victim-blaming “don’t make yourself so rape-able” message, Cosslett and Baxter point out that the tsk-tsking is deeply laden with the idea that women should behave like “ladies.”  This, of course, is an old-fashioned notion suggesting that women are or should be the moral superiors of men (invented during the Victorian era).

Using a Daily Mail article as an example, they criticize the typical language and imagery that accompanies these stories:

Platell’s piece manages to feature almost every aspect of drunken female behaviour that tabloids simultaneously loathe and desire. Yes, this article has the whole shebang: long lens photos of young women with their fishnets torn up to the bum at a fancy dress party in freshers’ week; phrases like “barely leaving anything to the imagination” and “neo-feminists behaving like men” and creepily voyeuristic descriptions of “pretty young girls lying comatose on the pavement.”

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From another point of view, Cosslett and Baxter argue, this looks like “a pretty cracking night out,” stumbles and all.

They point out, smartly, that many of these stories frame women’s interest in alcohol as an effort to hang with the boys.  The message, they explain, is that “‘young ladies’ are being warped by the hard-drinking university culture… going along with men’s behaviour because they’re weak-willed and they think it will make them look cool.”

Because men invent things, and then women jump on board because they feel like they have to — that’s the way of the world, isn’t it? It’s not like those of the female variety enjoy a pint, after all, or even — God forbid — enjoy the sensation of drunkenness once in a blue moon. It’s not as though our decision whether or not to drink has anything to do with us or our own lives… modern female binge drinking is still all about the men.

This is not to defend drinking per se, or binge drinking or public drunkeness, but to point out the gendered coverage of the phenomenon, which still portrays women’s drinking as somehow less natural, more worrisome, and more dangerous than men’s.

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.

Bullying, the “Fag,” and the Problem with Grown Ups

In this excellent 6 minute video, CJ Pascoe discusses some of the findings of her widely acclaimed book, Dude, You’re a Fag.  She points out that, while being called “fag” and other terms for people with same sex desires are the most common and most cutting of insults between boys in school, they rarely mean to actually suggest that the target is gay.  Instead, the terms are used to suggest that boys are failing at masculinity.

This, she points out, is not “unique to childhood.”  For this reason, calling it bullying it is probably a distraction from the fact that this doesn’t just happen among kids.  She includes, as an example, a bomb destined for Afghanistan with the phrase “highjack this, fags” written on it by American soldiers.

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Kids, then, aren’t in a particularly nasty stage.  They’re “repeating, affirming, investing in all of these norms and expectations that we as adults are handing down.”  If we used more adult language, Pascoe argues, we might do a better job of thinking how we’re teaching boys how to be this way.

A great watch:

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

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  The original of this post can be found here.

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.  

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:

SafeSexPSA-Germany

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

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mtv_shot_condom3938

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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.