Tag Archives: sexual orientation

Should There be Trigger Warnings on Syllabi?

Apparently universities are issuing guidelines to help professors consider adding “trigger warnings” to syllabi for “racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” and to remove triggering material when it doesn’t “directly contribute to learning goals.” One example given is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” for its colonialism trigger. This from New Republic this week.

I have no desire to enter the fray of online discussions on trigger warnings and sensitivity. I have used trigger warnings. Most recently, I made a personal decision to not retweet Dylan Farrow’s piece in the New York Times detailing Woody Allen’s sexual abuse. I was uncomfortable shoving a very powerful description at people without some kind of warning. I couldn’t read past the first three sentences. I couldn’t imagine how it read for others. So, I referenced the article with a trigger warning and kept it moving.

But, I’m not sure that’s at all the kind of deliberation universities are doing with their trigger warning policies. Call me cynical, but the “student-customer” movement is the soft power arm of the neo-liberal corporatization of higher education. The message is that no one should ever be uncomfortable because students do not pay to feel things like confusion or anger. That sounds very rational until we consider how the student-customer model doesn’t silence power so much as it stifles any discourse about how power acts on people.

I’ve talked before about how the student-customer model becomes a tool to rationalize away the critical canon of race, sex, gender, sexuality, colonialism, and capitalism.

The trigger warned syllabus feels like it is in this tradition. And I will tell you why.

In the last three weeks alone: a college student has had structural violence of normative harassment foisted on her for daring to have sex (for money), black college students at Harvard have taken to social media to catalog the casual racism of their colleagues, and black male students at UCLA made a video documenting their erasure.

It would seem that the most significant “issue” for a trigger warning is actual racism, sexism, ableism, and systems of oppression. Cause I’ve got to tell you, I’ve had my crystal stair dead end at the floor of racism and sexism and I’ve read “Things Fall Apart.” The trigger warning scale of each in no way compares.

Yet, no one is arguing for trigger warnings in the routine spaces where symbolic and structural violence are acted on students at the margins. No one, to my knowledge, is affixing trigger warnings to department meetings that WASP-y normative expectations may require you to code switch yourself into oblivion to participate as a full member of the group. Instead, trigger warnings are being encouraged for sites of resistance, not mechanisms of oppression.

At for-profit colleges, strict curriculum control and enrollment contracts effectively restrict all critical literature and pedagogy. We elites balk at such barbarism. What’s a trigger warning but the prestige university version? A normative exclusion as opposed to a regulatory one?

Trigger warnings make sense on platforms where troubling information can be foisted upon you without prior knowledge, as in the case of retweets. Those platforms are in the business of messaging and amplification.

That is an odd business for higher education to be in… unless the business of higher education is now officially business.

In which case, we may as well give up on the tenuous appeal we have to public good and citizenry-building because we don’t have a kickstand to lean on.

If universities are not in the business of being uncomfortable places for silent acts of power and privilege then the trigger warning we need is: higher education is dead but credential production lives on; enter at your own risk.

Tressie McMillan Cottom is a PhD candidate in the Sociology Department at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.  Her doctoral research is a comparative study of the expansion of for-profit colleges.  You can follow her on twitter and at her blog, where this post originally appeared.

Compulsory Coupling: Fit In By Finding Someone

Erika T. sent in this 30 second commercial for Frito Lay chips and dip.   Masquerading as simply “cute,” instead the cartoon sends strong normative messages.

It straightforwardly suggests that single people are inherently sad.  Being coupled up is presented as the norm and single people’s pathetic-ness is visible for all to see, even if they try to hide it.  It’s also implicitly heteronormative (different colors = the perfect blend) and overtly promotes monogamy between two and only two people.

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

A Little Theory of Homophobia

Heterosexuality in the U.S. is gendered: women are expected to attract, men are supposed to be attracted.  Men want, women want to be wanted.  Metaphorically, this is a predator/prey type relationship.  Women are subject to the hunt whether they like it or not, so men’s attention can be pleasing, annoying, or frightening.  It all depends.

Accordingly, women know what it feels like to be prey.  Not all men make us feel this way, of course, but some certainly do.  The leering guy on the street, the heavy hitter in the bar, the frotteurist on the subway, the molesting uncle, the aggressive fraternity brother, etc.  It doesn’t matter if we’re interested in men or not, interested in that guy or not, there are men that — with their eyes, mouths, hands, and more — apparently can’t help but get their “sexual energy slime” all over us.

So what’s homophobia?  Sometimes I think it’s the moment that men feel what it’s like to be prey.  See, women are used to it.  It’s a familiar feeling we have to modulate all the time.  We’re used to constantly judging whether it means danger or not.  But when it happens to men for the first time, I bet it’s shocking as all hell.  It’s like they’ve been treated like a human being their whole life and then, POW, they’re a piece of ass and nothing more.  It must feel just crazy bad.

Of course, all that’s happened is that they’ve been demoted in the food chain.  No longer the predator, they’re the prey.  The dynamic between two men is the same as the one between men and women, except now they know what it feels like to be slimed.

facebook_1193239299Thanks to Mike Hrostoski for the awesome phrase and Andy Singer for the spot-on comic.  Cross-posted at Slate.

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

2013, An Extraordinary Year for Marriage Equality

More than exponential growth in the percent of the population with access to same sex marriage in their state:

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Graph by Philip Cohen.

And here’s the global data, thanks to @filipspagnoli.

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

On the Sexualized Insult (Not for the Faint of Heart)

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Over at his blog, The Ethical Adman, Tom Megginson asks us to consider the “power symbolism of fellatio.”  His post was prompted by this sign for an Android store (next door to an Apple store) in China:

Get it? Apple is fellating Android, so Apple is inferior. <sarcasm> Obvious right? </sarcasm>

The variations on the insult “you suck” — “suck it,” “suck my balls,” “suck my dick,” “cocksucker,” and Tom’s colorful addition, “this sucks donkey balls!” — are so commonplace that it’s easy to forget where it comes from.  Like the sign implies, and the more elaborate insults make clear, “you suck” works as an insult by positioning the male or female receiver in a position in which they are sexually servicing a man.

This cultural association of power and sex is pervasive throughout our insult vocabulary.  ”Fuck you” is an excellent example, as is “fuck off,” “motherfucker,” and “go fuck yourself.”  Sexualized body parts used as insults are part of this too: “cunt,” “pussy,” “dick,” and “prick.”  ”Scumbag” is a word that originally meant condom and suggests that sperm is somehow contaminating; sexual partners who receive or are covered with sperm can be seen as exposed to a disgusting or filthy substance.  Even “douchbag” may fall into this category (think about it).

People get pretty creative (or not) with this stuff.  Here’s one of my very favorite pieces of hate mail (in response to this post):

Just a tipoff, to let you filthy feminazi CUNTS know that we are exposing you, you fucking pieces of shit… see [name and organization redacted], a leading men’s rights magazine site, and boy does it expose you and your fucking feminazi cunt blog for what you are…. nothing but awful screaming feminazi harpy cunts who need to suck a dick and calm down… you evil twats…

Aside from this tipoff, all I will say to such feminazi CUNTS like you is, suck my fucking dick you awful feminazi cunts. FUCK I HATE YOU, AND EVERYTHING YOU STAND FOR!!!!! DOWN WITH FEMINAZI COCKSUCKING CUNTS WHO I HOPE GET BREAST CANCER.

So 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.”  And this, of course, is what rape is all-too-often about.  It’s also part of how we demean and marginalize gay and bisexual men.  In the language of sex/power, they’ve voluntarily made themselves into lesser human beings, making homophobes feel justified in denigrating or assaulting them.

For my part, I try to avoid all of this language and I encourage you to do so too.

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

Why Are People Changing Their Minds about Same-Sex Marriage?

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

We’ve seen a real shift in support for the issue and acceptance of homosexuality in general.  Since 2011, the majority of Americans are in favor of extending marriage to same-sex couples and the trend has continued.

What is behind that change?  The Pew Research Center asked 1,501 respondents whether they’d changed their minds about same-sex marriage and why.  Here’s what they found.

The overall trend towards increasing support is clear in the data.  Fourteen percent of Americans say that they used to oppose same-sex marriage, but they now support it.  Only 2% changed their mind in the other direction.

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People offered a range of reasons for why they changed their minds.  The most common response involved coming into contact with someone that they learned was homosexual.  A third of respondents said that knowing a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person was influential in making them rethink their position on gay marriage.  This is consistent with the Contact Hypothesis, the idea that (positive) experiences with someone we fear or dislike will result in changes of opinion.

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As you can see, lots of other reasons were common too.  A quarter of people said that they, well, “evolved”:  they grew up, thought about it more, or more clearly.  Nearly as many said that they were simply changing with the times or that a belief that everyone should be free to do what they want was more important than restricting the right to marry.

I thought that the 5% that said they’d changed their minds for religious reasons were especially interesting.  Support for same-sex marriage is rising in every demographic, even among the religious.  Following up on this, Pew offers an additional peek into the minds of believers.  The table below shows that 37% of the religious  both believe that same-sex marriage is compatible with their belief and support it, but an additional 28% who think marriage rights would violate their religious belief are in favor of extending those rights nonetheless.

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While we’ve been following the trend lines for several years, it’s really interesting to learn what’s behind the change in opinion about same-sex marriage.  Contact with actual gay people — and probably lovable gay and lesbian celebrities like Ellen and Neil Patrick Harris — appears to be changing minds. But the overall trend reflects real shifts in American values about being “open,” valuing “freedom” and “choice,” extending “rights,” and accepting that this is the way it is, even if one personally doesn’t like it.

Cross-posted at BlogHer and Pacific Standard.

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

Classism in the Rise and Fall of the Duck Dynasty Patriarch

This Duck Dynasty thing seems to have everyone’s undies in a culture war bunch with lots of hand wringing about free speech (find out why this is ridiculous here), the persecution of Christians, and the racism, sexism, and homophobia of poor, rural, Southern whites.

There is, however, an underlying class story here that is going unsaid.

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Phil Robertson is under fire for making heterosexist comments and trivializing racism in the south in GQ.  While I wholeheartedly and vociferously disagree with Robertson, I am also uncomfortable with how he is made to embody the “redneck.”  He represents the rural, poor, white redneck from the south that is racist, sexist, and homophobic.

This isn’t just who he is; we’re getting a narrative told by the producers of Duck Dynasty and editors at GQ—extremely privileged people in key positions of power making decisions about what images are proliferated in the mainstream media.  When we watch the show or read the interview, we are not viewing the everyday lives of Phil Robertson or the other characters.  We are getting a carefully crafted representation of the rural, white, Southern, manly man, regardless of whether or not the man, Phil Robertson, is a bigot (which, it seems, he is).

The stars of Duck Dynasty eight years ago (left) and today (right):

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This representation has traction with the American viewing audience.  Duck Dynasty is the most popular show on A&E.  Folks love their Duck Dynasty.

There are probably many reasons why the show is so popular.  Might I suggest that one could be that the “redneck” as stereotyped culture-war icon is pleasurable because he simultaneously makes us feel superior, while saying what many of us kinda think but don’t dare say?

Jackson Katz talks about how suburban white boys love violent and misogynistic Gangsta Rap in particular (not all rap music is sexist and violent, but the most popular among white audiences tends to be this kind). Katz suggests that “slumming” in the music of urban, African American men allows white men to feel their privilege as white and as men.  They can symbolically exercise and express sexism and a sense of masculine power when other forms of sexism are no longer tolerated.  Meanwhile, everybody points to the rapper as the problem; no one questions the white kid with purchasing power.

Might some of the audience of Duck Dynasty be “slumming” with the bigot to feel their difference and superiority while also getting their own bigot on?  The popularity of the show clearly has something to do with the characters’ religiosity and rural life, but I’m guessing it also has something to do with the “redneck” spectacle, allowing others to see their own “backwoods” attitudes reinforced (I’m talking about racism, sexism, and homophobia, not Christianity).

He is a representation of a particular masculinity that makes him compelling to some and abhorrent to others, which also makes him the perfect pawn in the culture wars.  Meanwhile, we are all distracted from social structure and those who benefit from media representations of the rural, white, southern bigot. 

Sociologists Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Michael Messner suggest that pointing the finger at the racist and homophobic attitudes of rural, poor whites — or the sexist and homophobic beliefs of brown and black men, like in criticism of rap and hip hop — draws our attention away from structures of inequality that systematically serve the interests of wealthy, white, straight, and urban men who ultimately are the main benefactors.  As long as we keep our concerns on the ideological bigotry expressed by one type of loser in the system, no one notices the corporate or government policies and practices that are the real problem.

While all eyes are on the poor, rural, white, Southern bigot, we fail to see the owners of media corporations sitting comfortably in their mansions making decisions about which hilarious down-trodden stereotype to trot out next.  Sexist, homophobic, and racist ideology gets a voice, while those who really benefit laugh all the way to the bank.

Mimi Schippers, PhD is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Tulane University.  She is working on a book on the radical gender potential of polyamory.  Her first book was Rockin’ Out of the Box: Gender Maneuvering in Alternative Hard Rock.  You can follow her at Marx in Drag.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post and Marx in Drag.  Photos from the Internet Movie Database and Today.