High-profile cases of rape and sexual assault perpetrated by athletes in the US have become far too common. In a recent column for The Nation, Dave Zirin illustrated the ever more obvious connection between “jock culture” and the perpetration of sexual violence. Jock culture and rape culture, Zirin argues, are intrinsically linked. Young women are seen as “the spoils of being a jock” according to Zirin. In many ways Zirin could not be more right. Clearly young male athletes are learning terrible lessons regarding what their status means about their relationships to women but is “jock culture” the right way to frame this issue?
[ This article was originally published at Masculinities 101 ]
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. (more…)
November is here, which means the season of ghosts and goblins has come to pass. As an enthusiast of all-things-haunted, I filled the month of October with scary movie nights, Halloween costume parties, visits to a haunted house and Phantom Fright Nights at my local amusement park, and even an outing that involved shooting paintballs at zombies. As any good graduate student in the social sciences might do, I pondered the sociological aspects of these activities throughout the month. What makes this campy season of fear so popular in U.S. culture? Does it serve any purposes beyond providing consumers with themed entertainment, as the producers of frightening fun reap massive profits each fall?
Did you know that October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month? As such, the month of October is full of bullying prevention and awareness events. The National Bullying Prevention Center advertises many of these events and hosts a great deal of information about bullying. But, a major piece of the bullying puzzle is missing, both from their website and much of the national (and international) discourse on bullying. That missing piece is gender.
Last Spring, during a Colorado State Senate hearing on gun control, a rape survivor testified that she believed she could have prevented her victimization if she had been allowed by the state of Colorado to carry a concealed firearm. A female state senator then rebuked her claims by citing statistics regarding defensive firearm use. In response to the exchange in the Colorado State Senate, Fox News brought together Zerlina Maxwell, a writer and political analyst, and Gayle Trotter, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, on The Sean Hannity Show to “debate” the issue. In the course of the discussion, Zerlina Maxwell made the bold claim that “we can prevent rape by telling men not to commit it”. For the remainder of the segment Sean Hannity and Gayle Trotter belittled Maxwell’s argument and scoffed at the very idea that reeducating men is an effective method for preventing sexual violence. Indeed, her comments clearly struck a nerve. In the aftermath of her appearance on the show, Maxwell received a slew of racially and sexually charged threats of violence.
But the reality is that there is a lot of truth to Zerlina’s claim whether we as a society are ready to hear it or not. Organizations ranging from the local (i.e. Oregon Men Against Violence and the Mobilizing Men Task Force) to the global (i.e. Promundo and MenEngage) have invested considerable time and money into violence prevention work with men and boys. Not only do these organizations, and many others, work to change the beliefs and behaviors of men and boys, but they do so with a strong theoretical and empirical foundation thanks to decades of work in social and behavioral science. A continuously growing body of research indicates that the perpetration of sexual violence is far more common among men whose beliefs about masculinity and femininity are rigid (see Gallagher and Parrot 2011 and Reed et al. 2011). When men believe that it is their role, as men, to be dominant in interpersonal relationships or that they are entitled to access to women’s bodies they are more likely to perpetrate coercive and/or violent sexual activity. (more…)
Every day, children in the United States are exposed to violence. Whether they are personally victimized or bystanders to the victimization of others, youths across the U.S. are frequently subject to traumatic crimes. From headline-grabbing school shootings to often unreported acts of domestic violence, adolescents are not immune to the violent acts of others. While it may be easy to say that children are resilient and are better able than adults to overcome the consequences of being exposed to violence, recent research suggests that this may be very untrue. From infants to adolescents, violence in a child’s life can result in a variety of negative outcomes. As a result, it is becoming increasingly clear that children who have been exposed to violence need and deserve to receive services that are designed to help them cope with their experiences. (more…)
After the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, many people have asked, “how do we prevent this from happening again?” We have heard propositions for increased gun control and for better mental health care in the United States. These are both important goals, but neither of these policy initiatives completely addresses the problems around the cultural construction of violent masculinity, problems which are central to understanding mass shootings in the United States.
Two weeks before the Newtown tragedy, my sociology of gender class watched the Media Education Foundation film, Tough Guise. At the time, I did not realize that I was arming them with a framework through which to understand a very current event. After the events in Newtown, students started emailing me and referencing this film, reminding me how important it is to talk about the violence that characterizes masculinity in the United States.
In the film, the narrator, Jackson Katz, explains the link between masculinity and violence, positing that as women gain more power in public and social spheres, men’s bodies and their guns get bigger and more dangerous. Boys and men need to prove their masculinity, policing themselves and others with homophobic epithets (an observation also made by C.J. Pascoe in Dude, You’re a Fag) and through violence (or at least the threat of violence). Katz reminds us that the school shootings in the 90s were not gender or race neutral; the perpetrators are mostly white young men. If we want to prevent mass shootings, we need to start addressing the violence that seems to be central to the cultural construction of masculinity and, in particular, white masculinity.
How do we do this? The idea of changing a cultural construction does not easily lend itself to clear policy initiatives. Katz suggests that we need better role models that allow more room for emotional expression and disavow violent tendencies. In particular, he points to Mohammad Ali and Mark McGuire, sports figures that are strong and tough, but also are sensitive and caring. In the year 2012, who would fill the public role of this alternative model of masculinity?
I would like to open up a dialogue about how to go about transforming our notions and definitions of masculinity. In addition to having better role models, what else can be done? Are there policy initiatives that can help redefine what it means to be a man? What can parents do to raise boys who refrain from violence? What should be the role of schools? And, though I am not an advocate of censorship, should the media be held to higher standards when it comes to marketing and displaying violence targeted at young men?
Changing a cultural idea is a hard task, but one that we should be committed to undertaking. Now is the time to address the tough issues and questions that do not have easy answers.
Katz, Jackson and Sut Jhally. 1999. “The National Conversation in the Wake of Littleton is Missing the Mark” The Boston Globe, Focus Section, E1.
Waldron, Linda M. 2009. “Cultural Approaches to Understanding School Violence.” Sociology Compass 3(4): 595-619.
There appears to be a link between neoliberalism, individualism, and violence. In reference to the association between neoliberalism and individualism, consider neoliberalism’s insistence that we do not need society since we are all solely responsible for our personal well-being (Peters 2001; Brown 2003). From a criminological standpoint, it is not hard to understand how this focus on the individual can lead to violence. According to Hirschi’s (1969) social control theory, for instance, broken or weak social bonds free a person to engage in deviancy. Since, according to this theory, individuals are naturally self-interested, they can use the opportunity of individualization to overcome the restraining powers of society. Bearing in mind neoliberalism’s tendency to value the individual over society, it could be argued that this ideology is hazardous as it acts to tear apart important social bonds and to thereby contribute to the occurrence of ego-driven crimes, including violent interpersonal crimes. Such a thought suggests that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that individualism and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)
Increasingly, there appears to be a connection between neoliberalism and the development of anomie. Such an association is unsurprising considering that neoliberalism encourages individuals to achieve ever greater success even though such a goal is unrealistic. In response to being blocked from realizing their never-ending aspirations, Merton (1968) argues that people in success-driven societies will feel deprived and frustrated as a divide forms between idealistic ambitions and factual reality. While such a divide has traditionally been the widest in developed capitalist states like the U.S., Passas (2000) contends that the growth of neoliberalism has exacerbated this problem in countries throughout the world. As a result, anomie, or the “withdrawal of allegiance from conventional norms and a weakening of these norms’ guiding power on behavior” has increased on a global scale (Passas 2000:20). Oozing with the anomie brought about by constant strain, neoliberalism can intensify the occurrence of violence as frustrated people struggle to live and to succeed in an unequal society. In response to this idea, it appears that as neoliberalism becomes more prominent in a country, it can be expected that anomie and, as a result, interpersonal violence within that country will increase. (more…)