By Richard Smith from Bowen Island, Canada (Chicago Marathon – the start) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Last week marked the first installment of the Boston Marathon after the horrible terrorist acts of 2013. Although the world-renowned event will forever be linked to these atrocities, there are also acts of positive social change linked to its. Most famously, the 1967 Boston Marathon saw Kathrine Switzer become the first woman to enter the race as a numbered runner (there had actually been other women run the race unofficially before) by registering as “KV Switzer”. Her run and the attempt by a race official to remove her from the race show how sports can become an arena of progressive social change. Moreover, the history of marathon running over the past half century can also serve as a teaching tool to challenge myths about the supposed fundamental differences between men and women.
Source: Ms. Magazine. 2009.
For many people, the “feminist label” is a problem. For some, the term is stigmatized. For others, the phrase is outdated. And many young people reject being identified as a feminist, fearing the label is so dominating it will minimize the multiplicity of their other social identities. Thus, despite the support film stars, musicians, and even the President of the United States, feminism is still problematic for many men and women today.
In a previous posting, I described my surprise in interviewing female artists (who all produced work that critiqued and challenged gender expectations and asymmetry) when these women refused to label themselves or their work as feminist. As I concluded that project I found myself left with more questions than answers. I asked if there was a possibility that the fight for gender equality could exist on a feminist continuum as some scholars in women’s and gender studies have suggested? And would allowing those who do not identify as feminists to be recognized under the umbrella of feminist ideology improve the fight for an egalitarian society or would it further stigmatize those who work for gender equality across the globe?
These questions have returned to the forefront of my mind as I’ve transitioned from a student of sociology of gender to an instructor. Recently, I have had the opportunity to speak in depth with undergraduate students about gender and feminism in the United States today. Similar to my discussions with female artists, I found undergraduate women, even those deeply committed to social justice and universal equality, were hesitant to identify as feminists, frequently arguing that the label was too limiting in contemporary society.
A side-event at the 2012 meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Attribution: Silje Bergum Kinsten/norden.org via Wikimedia Commons
The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Juliana Carlson, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at the University of Kansas and member of the Mobilizing Men in Violence Prevention research collaboration, on the topic of men’s global engagement in the prevention of violence against women and girls. She argues that “men and boys have been largely relegated to the sidelines of violence preventions efforts” but that a growing movement “aims to create structural change by engaging boys and men in conversations about equality, gender expectations, family health, fatherhood, and the concrete, positive roles they can and do play, such as sharing caregiving and being a role model for younger generations.” The proliferation of NGOs doing this crucial work with men and boys extends well beyond the prevention of violence against women and may signal a larger shift in human rights and global development discourse. (more…)
A couple of weeks ago I was listening to Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee discuss the recent political sex scandal in the UK where Lord Rennard – a Liberal Democrat peer and senior party grandee (picture above) – was accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate ‘groping’ of junior party members. Although cleared of criminal charges, the saga rolls on as the women still maintain their accusations of sexual impropriety against Rennard, which he denies and refuses to apologise for, and the party are trying to resolve the matter internally.
I don’t want to discuss this story directly, which has had plenty of column inches dedicated to it already, but something Toynbee said really made me stop and listen. She implied that Lord Rennard, being a ‘portly, elderly gentlemen’ only stood a chance with ‘younger, more attractive women’ because of his powerful position in the party and the professional favours he might be able to give them. Tonybee admitted that her column had received a lot of negative comments because she had dared to bring up Rennard’s appearance, but she remains defiant that physical attractiveness is part of the story here, because, as she said, only half-jokingly, “I wouldn’t put my hand on George Clooney’s knee – you kind of know your level”. When challenged that if Rennard had been more attractive, then what he had (allegedly) done would still have been unacceptable, she replied that there would be slightly more “equality” there, and that equality comes in all sorts of ways, including “physical attractiveness”. (more…)
**Warning: This posting contains content some readers may find disturbing.
Recently, a student told me about a 2012 Reddit thread where a Reddit user invited rapists to tell their stories and the motives behind their sexual assault(s). Although the posts and all comments connected to the post were eventually deleted, the thread sparked heated debates not only on Reddit but on Jezebel and in the Huffington Post. And despite the site’s attempt to remove the content of the thread, it took me less than fifteen minutes find a large section of the postings and comments in the Museum of Reddit.
My initial reaction to this content was disgust and outrage. I was concerned about the way a forum like this could re-victimize survivors and even validate sexual assault. I was not the only one who found the thread dangerous. A psychiatrist responded to the thread arguing that a forum like Reddit’s can be a trigger for rapists and would be rapists.
Sisterhood Against Sexual Assault hosts conference at Liberty Field House. Conference helps raise awareness and combat sexual assault. Retrieved from wiki commons.
The United States Senate failed to pass a bill that would have altered the military’s response to sexual assault. The bill, sponsored by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) would have stripped senior military commanders of their authority to prosecute or prevent charges for alleged rapes and other serious offenses in favor of giving the authority to military trial lawyers operating under a newly established office independent of the chain of command. The vote fell 5 votes short of the 60 necessary to move ahead with the legislation, with opponents of the bill arguing that commanding officers should be given more responsibility in preventing and punishing sexual offenses and that removing power from commanders threatens the organization of the military. The bill failed to pass despite multiple news reports revealing the extent of sexual assaults in the military and the lack of response by military commanders. (more…)
By mariselise derivative work: Steffaville [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The NBA has its first openly gay player in Jason Collins, and the NFL will follow soon, as former college player Michael Sam is expected to join a team this summer. This might indicate that we are seeing a radical shift in society’s stereotypes about gay men. At the same time, it remains to be seen, as Dave Zirin asks at The Nation
whether gay male athletes like Sam can help shift our definitions of masculinity more broadly or whether they might paradoxically reinforce gender norms and notions of hyper-masculinity at the same time.
Source: The Telegraph
When I picked my friend’s nine year old daughter up from school last week the first thing she said to me was, “We had to do something really weird in class today. The teacher paired all the girls with a boy and we had to be a married couple.” It turns out the teacher was having her students work on writing dialogue and since it was right before Valentine’s Day she thought it would be cute for them to write dialogue about love and marriage.
“Not all girls want to marry a boy. It was so lame,” my friend’s daughter told me. ‘Lame’ was not really the word that came to my mind; I was more thinking about heteronormativity and how it is reproduced through our social institutions.
In case you were the only person who didn’t realise, last Friday was Valentine’s Day. I hate Valentine’s. Its’ ever increasing prevalence, its’ cloying, creeping appearance that infiltrates perfectly normal looking things and makes them red or pink, and the way the world suddenly becomes full of people perpetually and disgustingly in love, or stressed, or miserable and alone, or a combination of all three. If I sound bitter, please know it is definitely intentional. I am bitter, but not for the reason you’d think. (more…)
Genderqueer Pride Flag (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Last year, as I completed my fieldwork, I was unexpectedly reminded of the continuing contention around gender identity. Interviewing dozens of people involved in social movement actions around austerity and economic inequality, I anticipated that there would be some emotional responses, moments of hesitation, perhaps even discomfort around some of my inquiries. I did not expect to elicit these reactions during the demographics section of the interviews. Yet, about a third of the time, when I asked the respondent to disclose a gender identity, there would be silence. Sometimes after the long pause the respondent would cautiously clarify whether I was seeking to categorize them as either male or female (I wasn’t). Other times the interviewee would go into a longer explanation of their opposition to the gender binary before identifying with a gender non-conforming label or declaring gender irrelevant and declining to provide an identity at all. (more…)