sex rolesThe journal, Sex Roles, is among the most highly ranked and influential journals publishing research on gender in the world.  I recently joined the editorial board and am really honored to evaluate research considered for publication there.  This isn’t a  post about the content of the journal, though; it’s a post about the title.  I want to suggest that we change it.  I recognize what a logistical nightmare this would be for the publisher, Springer, and how much work would need to be done to re-brand the journal.  But, I also think that some of the most cutting edge scholarship going on in gender might never see the journal as an appropriate venue with a dated title that relies on a concept and pays homage to a theory gender sociologists moved away from over three decades ago.

Sex role theory was the first systematic attempt to theorize gender when sociology was dominated by the paradigm of structural functionalism.  But, when we teach undergraduate and graduate students about sex role theory today, we often address the various failings of the theory (and to be clear, there are many).  Sex role theory was really the first systematic attempt to tie the structure of gender identities and what others called personality or “sex temperament” to the structure of society.  This might sound like a small feat today, because it is so taken for granted as a basic assumption behind so much scholarship motivated by this simple premise.  Put another way, sex role theory helped to label something “social” that lacked status as something to be studied by sociologists, at least in the ways sex role theory invited.

Like structural functionalist theory more generally, however, sex role theory was subject to a variety of critiques.  In C.J. Pascoe and my introduction in Exploring Masculinities, we summarize four prevalent critiques of sex role theory.  The theory is tautological, teleological, ahistorical, and fails to account for gender diversity or inequality–damning critiques, to be sure.  I won’t belabor the point.  Rather, I’ll put it this way.  The first time I submitted something to Gender & Society there was a brief caveat in the manuscript submission guidelines that explicitly stated that work relying on sex role theory was not appropriate for publication in the journal.  It’s since been removed–and I’d imagine this was probably done because people no longer submit articles that attempt to use the theory to explain their findings.  But it speaks to the level of agreement about the demise of the framework.

The current editor of Sex Roles, Janice Yoder, is fantastic.  She wrote a really insightful and inspiring essay in her new role as editor in December of 2015–“Sex Roles: An Up-To-Date Gender Journal With An Outdated Name.”  I won’t reiterate all of the great points Yoder addresses there (but you should read them).  What I will say is that she addresses the origins of the journal in the 1970s, as an publication desiring to publish scholarship focusing on “sex roles” as opposed to “biological, dimorphic sex”–an important project.  At the time, sex role theory was in vogue, and it was a concept and theory that had purchase in a variety of disciplines, likely helping initial editors justify the need for a journal in a still-emerging field of study.  The first issue was published in 1975.  Other journals emerged around this time as well, like Feminist Studies (1972) and Signs (1975) for instance.

But a separate collections of journals arrived a bit later like Gender & Society (1987), the Journal of Gender Studies (1991), and a whole collection of journals around the world and in different fields of study.  Sex Roles has consistently been ranked a top 10 journal publishing gender studies research.  Below, I want to compare the journal to the top ranked journal publishing research on gender–currently Gender & Society–to illustrate the impact of Sex Roles.  This is helpful to sociologists, I think, because Gender & Society is the gender journal many use to evaluate other gender journals in this field.  Gender & Society and Sex Roles are both hugely influential in the field (Figure 1).  Both journals have climbed in the rankings recently and have seen their impact grow.  Gender & Society is also a journal with a high citation per article count, and articles published in Sex Roles are not far behind (Figure 2).

Figure 1

Figure 2

Sex Roles, however, has also been published over a longer period of time and publishes more articles over the course of a year.  So, while the average article published in Gender & Society receives more citations than the average article published in Sex Roles, the total number of citations that articles published in Sex Roles receive is roughly 2-3 times the number received by Gender & Society (Figure 3).

Figure 3

All this is to say that there are certainly lots of ways to measure influence.  And by all measures, Sex Roles has a lot.  It matters–and the research published in Sex Roles ends up in a whole lot more reference sections of books and articles than does the work published in Gender & Society.

I think the journal should change the title.  And I realize that I’m not centrally involved in the work that would be required to undertake this task.  But, I’d wager that most of the scholars publishing research in that journal would support the critiques leveled against sex role theory in the 1980s by scholars like Barrie Thorne, Judith Stacey, and Raewyn Connell.  And I think a larger group of scholars would consider Sex Roles as an outlet for their research with a different title.  I realize that the logistics of this are much more complex than simply changing the cover and masthead.  It would involve a campaign on the part of Springer, current and former editors, as well as interdisciplinary collaboration among gender researchers.

After considering the change possible, the very first step would likely be to figure out what the new title of the journal might be.  My vote would be for “Gender Relations,” a concept that comes out of Raewyn Connell’s theory of gender.  Embedded in this concept was a critique of sex role theory and the biological reductionism that Yoder discusses in the essay I mentioned earlier.  On top of this, when we look at the mentions of the concept of “sex roles” in Google ngrams, you can see the decline of use over the years from a high point right around 1980.  Since then, the concept has fallen out of favor–a shift that coincides neatly with the increasing prevalence of “gender relations” (see below).
As I’ve become more familiar with the journal over the past couple years and enjoy the research published there.  I realize that I have little influence and that this blog post is unlikely to initiate this change.  But when I’ve discussed this with other sociologists who study gender, I have yet to get into a conversation with someone who doesn’t have a problem with the title.  Maybe we can do something about it.


I am an abortion provider. I provide abortions because I understand that a woman’s ability to control her life trajectory is intimately tied to her ability to control her fertility. Having worked in rural Africa, I have witnessed firsthand the medical and social consequences of limited access to safe and legal abortion. It is my mission to maintain access to safe and legal abortion in the United States. In the U.S. almost half of all pregnancies are unplanned and about half of unplanned pregnancies will end in abortion. This makes surgical abortion one of the most common procedures performed in the U.S. Do I wish there were fewer unplanned pregnancies and abortions? Of course. But there will always be a need for abortion because contraception fails, pregnancy complications arise, and rape doesn’t just “shut that whole thing down.”

While Roe v. Wade guarantees women’s legal right to abortion, states have the legal authority to restrict and regulate abortion. “TRAP” (Target Regulation of Abortion Providers) laws are state laws that single-out abortion providers and apply burdensome regulations that make it difficult or impossible to provide abortions. TRAP laws have addressed building regulations, staffing requirements, the informed consent process, mandatory waiting periods, whether public funds (such as Medicare or Medicaid) can be used to pay for abortions, and even the surgical technique physicians are allowed to use to perform abortions (see here for a summary of state-by-state laws). Immediately following Roe v. Wade in 1973, states began to regulate abortion provision. But in the last five years the number of restrictions has skyrocketed. From 2011 to 2015, 288 new TRAP laws were enacted.

On the surface, these laws sound great. Who doesn’t want abortion to be safe? However, abortion is already extremely safe and these laws do nothing to protect women. There is no evidence to support the claim that TRAP laws improve the safety of abortion. Multiple legislators have been pleased to admit that passage of TRAP laws would be a means to the end of abortion in their states; revealing their true motives. What proponents of TRAP laws don’t understand (or maybe they do?) is that TRAP laws actually hurt women and their families.

Clinics close because they can’t afford to adapt to ever-changing facility regulations. Physicians are afraid to provide abortion care because of the stigma and violence associated with doing so. Many states require multiple clinic visits to obtain an abortion. Women have to travel increasing distances to find an abortion provider. All of this burdens women and their families in the form of increased procedure cost, transportation, lost wages, and childcare expenses, to name a few. It also leads to increased gestational age at the time of abortion. First trimester abortion is incredibly safe—much safer than pregnancy and childbirth. The risks associated with abortion, though, increase with increasing gestational age.

Recent data from Texas provides evidence of the harmful effects of TRAP laws. Texas House Bill 2 (H.B.2), required hospital admitting privileges for physicians performing abortions, set strict facility guidelines, required specific surgical practices for medical abortions, and banned most abortions after 20-weeks of gestation. When abortion clinics closed as a result of H.B.2, the number of self-induced and late abortions increased (see here and here). Other women were unable to obtain abortions, forcing them to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Late abortion, illegal abortion, self-induced abortion, and unwanted childbearing are associated with women’s increased morbidity and mortality when compared to early, accessible, and legal abortion. TRAP laws are a form of state-imposed gender-based structural violence.

rate of abortion laws

In the Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, the physician admitting privilege and surgical facility requirements of H.B.2 were challenged. The petitioners, a group of Texas abortion providers, argued that H.B.2 created an undue burden on the right of women to obtain abortion. The defendants argued that the bill was necessary to protect women’s health. Justice Ginsberg got to the heart of the issue when she said “Don’t we know…that the focus must be on the ones who are burdened?” She pointed to the fact that TRAP laws disproportionately affect women already marginalized by their gender, financial resources, geography, and other factors that limit access to healthcare. They institutionalize oppression thinly veiled as the paternalistic desire to protect women from their own decisions about their reproductive lives.

brant quoteWith a 5-3 vote, SCOTUS ruled that H.B.2 created an undue burden for the women of Texas. And the female justices played a major role in shaping the course of the oral arguments on the case. Justice Bryer wrote the majority opinion, stating that the requirements of H.B.2 “vastly increase the obstacles confronting women seeking abortions in Texas without providing any benefit to women’s health.” TRAP laws in other states are likely to be challenged as a result of the SCOTUS decision, with defendants having to demonstrate they benefit rather than create burdens on women’s health. TRAP laws, which have been one of the most successful methods of regulating women’s reproductive choices in the last decade, may be on unstable ground. This is a momentous victory for reproductive rights.

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Brant_headshotAshley Brant, DO, MPH is an obstetrician-gynecologist and abortion provider. She completed her residency at Baystate Medical Center in western Massachusetts. Her research focuses on contraceptive access and medical education. She currently practices in Washington, DC.

 

Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

We’ve read some of the tributes to the feminist sociological genius of Joan Acker.  And much of that work has celebrated one specific application of her work.  For instance, Tristan posted last week on Acker’s most cited article—“Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations” (1990)—which examined the ways that gender is so embedded in the structure of organizations that we often fail to appreciate just how much it shapes our lives, experiences, and opportunities.  But, this specific piece of her scholarship was actually her applied work. It was an application of a theoretical turn she was suggesting all sociologists of gender follow.  And we did.  Acker was involved in an incredibly important theoretical debate that helped shape the feminist sociology we practice today.

“Patriarchy” is a concept that is less used today in feminist social science than it was in the late-1970s and 1980s.  The term has a slippery and imprecise feel, but this wasn’t always the case. There were incredibly nuanced debates about patriarchy as a social structure or as one part of “dual systems” (capitalism + patriarchy) and exactly what this meant and involved theoretically. Today, we examine “gender.”  Indeed, the chief sociological publication is entitled Gender & Society, not Patriarchy & SocietyAcker - The Problem with PatriarchyBut in the 1970s and 1980s, patriarchy was employed theoretically much more often.  Feminist scholars identified patriarchy to focus the critique of existing theoretical work that offered problematic explanations of the subordination of women.  As Acker put it in “The Problem with Patriarchy,” a short article published in Sociology in 1989: “Existing theory attributed women’s domination by men either to nature or social necessity rather than to social structural processes, unequal power, or exploitation” (1989a: 235). The concept of patriarchy offered a focus for this critique.

Joan Acker was among a group of scholars concerned about the limitations of this focus; in particular, patriarchy was criticized for being a universal, trans-historical, and trans-cultural phenomenon—“women were everywhere oppressed by men in more or less the same ways” (1989a: 235).  Concluding that patriarchy could not be turned into a generally useful analytical concept, Acker proposed that feminist social science move in a different direction—a route that was eventually largely accepted and taken up.  It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Acker was among a small group of feminist scholars who shifted the conversation in an entire field.  We’ve been relying on their suggestion ever since.

Bridges and Messerschmidt quoteAcker’s short 6-page article was published in the same journal that had published Raewyn Connell’s article, “Theorizing Gender” (1985), which spelled out her initial delineation of the problems with sex role theory and what she labeled “categoricalism.” Connell was also concerned with how feminist theories of patriarchy failed to differentiate among the categories of “women” and “men”—that is, femininities and masculinities. Judith Stacey and Barrie Thorne’s “The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology” (in Social Problems) was published that year as well (1985), specifically criticizing sociology for solely including gender as a variable but not as a theoretical construct. Acker (1989a) explained why feminist social scientists ought to follow this trend and shift their focus from patriarchy to gender relations and the construction of gender in social life.  As Acker wrote, “From asking about how the subordination of women is produced, maintained, and changed we move to questions about how gender is involved in processes and structures that previously have been conceived as having nothing to do with gender” (1989a: 238).  And in another piece published in the same year—“Making Gender Visible” (1989b) in the anthology, Feminism and Sociological Theory—Acker argued for a paradigm shift that would place gender more centrally in understanding social relations as a whole. Acker suggested a feminist theoretical framework that was able to conceptualize how all social relations are gendered—how “gender shapes and is implicated in all kinds of social phenomena” (1989b: 77). Today, this might read as a subtle shift.  But it was monumental when Acker proposed it and it helped open the door too much of what we recognize as feminist sociology today.

Acker published what became her most well-known article—“Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies”—in Gender & Society (1990) as an illustration of what the type of work she was proposing would look like.  She was concerned with attempts that simply tacked patriarchy onto existing theories which had been casually treated as though they were gender-neutral.  She explained in detail how this assumption is problematic and limits our ability to understand “how deeply patriarchal modes are embedded in our theorizing” (1989: 239).  And Acker illustrated this potential in her theorizing about gender in organizations.  But her suggestion went far beyond organizational life.

And by all measures, we took up Acker’s suggestion:  “Gender,” “gender relations,” and “gender inequality” are now the central foci of sociological theory and research on gender.  But Acker also concluded her short 1989 article with a warning.  She wrote,

[T]here is a danger in abandoning the project of patriarchy.  In the move to gender, the connections between urgent political issues and theoretical analysis, which made the development of feminist thought possible, may be weakened.  Gender lacks the critical-political sharpness of patriarchy and may be more easily assimilated and coopted than patriarchy. (1989a: 239-240)

Certainly, Acker’s concern leads us to honestly ask: Will shifting the theoretical conversation from patriarchy to gender eventually result in simply a cursory consideration of gendered structured inequality? Will the shift to gender actually loosen our connections with conceptualizations of gendered power? We don’t think so but one way to commemorate the legacy of Joan Acker is to both celebrate gender diversity while simultaneously visualizing and practicing gender equality.  This means continuing to recognize that inequality is perpetuated by the very organization of society, the structure of social institutions, and the historical contexts which give rise to each.

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References
Acker, Joan. 1989a. “The Problem with Patriarchy.” Sociology 23(2): 235-240.
Acker, Joan. 1989b. “Making Gender Visible.” Pp. 65-81 in Wallace, P.A., Ed., Sociological Theory and Feminism. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
Acker, Joan. 1990. “Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organizations.” Gender & Society 4(2): 139-158.
Connell, Raewyn. 1985. “Theorising Gender.” Sociology 19(2): 260-272.
Stacey, Judith and Barrie Thorne. 1985. “The Missing Feminist Revolution in Sociology.” Social Problems 32(4): 301-316.

Screen Shot 2016-06-01 at 3.40.39 PMIn 2014, a story in The New York Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz went viral using Google Trend data to address gender bias in parental assessments of their children—“Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius?”  People ask Google whether sons are “gifted” at a rate 2.5x higher than they do for daughters.  When asking about sons on Google, people are also more likely to inquire about genius, intelligence, stupidity, happiness, and leadership than they are about daughters.  When asking about daughters on Google, people are much more likely to inquire about beauty, ugliness, body weight, and just marginally more likely to ask about depression.  It’s a pretty powerful way of showing that we judge girls based on appearance and boys based on abilities.  It doesn’t mean that parents are necessarily consciously attempting to reproduce gender inequality.  But it might mean that they are simply much more likely to take note of and celebrate different elements of who their children are depending on whether those children are girls or boys.

To get the figures, Stephens-Davidowitz relied on data from Google Trends. The tool does not give you a sense of the total number of searches utilizing specific search terms; it presents the relative popularity of search terms compared with one another on a scale from 0 to 100, and over time (since 2004).  For instance, it allows people selling used car parts to see whether people searching for used car parts are more likely to search for “used car parts,” “used auto parts,” or something else entirely before they decide how to list their merchandise online.  I recently looked over the data the author relied on for the piece.  Stephens-Davidowitz charted searches for “is my son gifted” against searches for “is my daughter gifted” and then replaced that last word in the search with: smart, beautiful, overweight, etc.

And while people are more likely to turn to Google to ask about their son’s intelligence than whether or not their daughters are overweight, people are much more likely to ask Google about children’s sexualities than any other quality mentioned in the article.  And to be even more precise, parents on Google are primarily concerned with boy’s sexuality.  Below, I’ve charted the relative popularity of searches for “is my son gay” alongside searches for “is my daughter gay,” “is my child gay,” and “is my son gifted.”  I included “child” to illustrate that Google searches here are more commonly gender-specific.  And I include “gifted” to illustrate how much more common searches for son’s sexuality is compared with searches for son’s giftedness (which was among the more common searches in Stephens-Davidowitz’s article).

Picture1

The general trend of the graph is toward increasing popularity.  People are more likely to ask Google about their children’s sexuality since 2004 (and slightly less likely to ask Google about their children’s “giftedness” over that same time period).  But they are much more likely to inquire about son’s sexuality.  At two points, the graph hits the ceiling.  The first, in November of 2010, corresponds with the release of the movie “Oy Vey! My Son is Gay” about a Jewish family coming to terms with a son coming out as gay and dating a non-Jewish young man.  The second high point, in September of 2011, occurred during a great deal of press surrounding Apple’s recently released “Is my son gay?” app, which was later taken off the market after a great deal of protest.  And certainly, some residual popularity in searches may be associated with increased relative search volume since.  But, the increase in relative searches for “is my son gay” happens earlier than either of these events.

Relative Search PopularityIndeed, over the period of time illustrated here, people were 28x more likely to search for “is my son gay” than they were for “is my son gifted.”  And searches for “is my son gay” were 4.7x more common than searches for “is my daughter gay.”

Reading Google Trends is a bit like reading tea leaves in that it’s certainly open to interpretation.  For instance, this could mean that parents are increasingly open to sexual diversity and are increasingly attempting to help their children navigate coming to terms with their sexual identities (whatever those identities happen to be).  Though, were this the case, it’s interesting that parents are apparently more interested in helping their sons navigate any presumed challenges than their daughters.  It could mean that as performances of masculinity shift and take on new forms, sons are simply much more likely to engage with gender in ways that cause their parents to question their (hetero)sexuality than they used to.  Or it could mean that parents are more scared that their sons might be gay.  It is likely all of these things.

I’m not necessarily sold on the idea that the trend can only be seen as a sign of the endurance of gender and sexual inequality.  But one measure of that might be to check back in with Google Trends to see if people start asking Google whether their sons and daughters are straight.  At present, both searches are uncommon enough that Google Trends won’t even display their relative popularity.

 

It was “Latino night” at a gay club. When the story finally broke, that’s all I heard. Orlando’s tragedy at the Pulse puts Latina/o, Latin American, Afro-Latinos, and Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean LGBT people front and center. Otherness mounts Otherness, even in the Whitewashing of the ethno-racial background of those killed by the media, and the seemingly compassionate expressions of love by religious folk. The excess of difference—to be Black or Brown (or to be both) and to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender (or queer, as some of us see ourselves) serves to shock, through difference, how news are reported. Difference – the very basis of feminist and ethnic politics in the 20th century – has been co-opted and ignored, sanitized even, to attempt to reach a level of a so-called “humanity” that is not accomplishable. We know this, but we don’t talk about it.

Don’t get me wrong: empathy is essential for most social codes of order to functionally sustain any given society. To pay one’s respects for others’ losses, however, does not mean that we think of those lost as equals. Liberal people demanding that sexuality be less important in the news (and thus removed from the coverage) is an inherent violence toward those who partied together because there was real love among them, in that club, for who they were – and are. Religious righters may spread hate while trying to give the illusion of compassion, but they do so in a clear hierarchical, paternalistic way –that is hypocrisy, and we must call it out every chance we get. But this goes beyond liberal notions and conservative hypocrisy – even while Anderson Cooper wept when reading the list of those killed, he knows the distance between himself and many of those at the club is enough to build a classed, raced, and social wall between them. Clearly, empathy is not enough.

To be Latina/o in the US – increasingly another Latin American country, again – is to breathe in hate, to face retaliation, to be questioned at every turn about our allegiances, tested on our sense of citizenship, pushed in our capacity to love the nation and thus hate “like the rest” (a testament to the masculinity of the nation). At a minimum, to be Latina/o guarantees one to be looked at oddly, as if one was out of place, misplaced, inappropriately placed. Simply by being, Latinas/os rupture the logics of normalcy in USAmerica. To be Latina/o and LGBT is to disrupt the logics of racial formation, of racial purity, of the Black and White binary still ruling this country – all while de-gendering and performing an excess (of not only gender, but sexuality) that overflows and overwhelms “America.” In being Latino and queer, some of us aim to be misfits that disrupt a normalcy of regulatory ways of being.

A break between queer and América erupted this past weekend – in Orlando, a city filled with many Latin Americans; a city that, like many others, depends on the backs of Brown folk to get the work done. Put another way, Orlando’s tragedy created a bridge between different countries and newer readings of queerness – Orlando as in an extension of Latin América here. Queer-Orlando-América is an extension of so many Latin American cities as sites of contention, where to be LGBT is both celebrated and chastised – no more, or less, than homophobia in the US.

Enough has been said about how the Pulse is a place where people of color who desired others like themselves, or are trans, go dance their fears away, and dream on hope for a better day. Too little has been said about the structural conditions faced by these Puerto Ricans, these immigrants, these mixed raced queer folks – some of whom were vacationing, many of whom lived in Florida. Many were struggling for a better (financial, social, political—all of the above) life. Assumptions have also been made about their good fortune as well. Do not assume that they left their countries seeking freedom—for many who might have experienced homophobia back home, still do here; though they have added racism to their everyday lived experience. Of course, there are contradictions on that side of queer-Orlando-América, too; yet same sex marriage was achieved in half a dozen countries before the US granted it a year ago. This is the world upside down, you say, since these advances – this progress – should have happened in the US first. Wake up. América is in you and you are no longer “America” but América.

You see, this is how we become queer-Orlando-América: we make it a verb, an action. It emerges where the tongues twist, where code switching (in Spanish/English/Spanglish) is like a saché-ing on the dance floor, where gender and race are blurry and yet so clear, where Whiteness isn’t front and center – in fact it becomes awkward in this sea of racial, gendered, and sexual differences. This queer-Orlando-América (a place neither “here,” nor “there,” where belonging is something you carry with you, in you, and may activate in some dance floor given the right people, even strangers, and real love – especially from strangers) was triggered – was released – by violence. But not a new violence, certainly not a Muslim-led violence. Violence accumulated over violence – historically, ethnically, specific to transgender people, to Brown people, to effeminate male-bodied people, to the power of femininity in male and female bodies, to immigrants, to the colonized who speak up, to the Spanglish that ruptures “appropriateness,” to the language of the border. And in spite of this, queer-Orlando-América has erupted. It is not going down to the bottom of the earth. You see us. It was, after all, “Latino night” at a gay club. You can no longer ignore us.

Vidal-Ortiz FR quote Queer-Orlanda-AméricaAs the week advanced, and fathers’ day draws closer, I have already noticed the reordering of the news, a staged dismissal so common in media outlets. Those queer and Brown must continue to raise this as an issue, to not let the comfort of your organized, White hetero-lives go back to normal. You never left that comfort, you just thought about “those” killed.  But it was “Latino night” at a gay club. I do not have that luxury. I carry its weight with me. Now the lives of those who are queer and Latina/o have changed – fueled with surveillance and concerns, never taking a temporary safe space for granted. Queer-Orlando-América is thus a “here and now” that has changed the contours of what “queer” and “America” were and are. Queer has now become less White – in your imaginary (we were always here). América now has an accent (it always had it – you just failed to notice).  Violence in Orlando did this. It broke your understanding of a norm and showed you there is much more than the straight and narrow, or the Black and White “America” that is segmented into neatly organized compartments. In that, Orlando queers much more than those LGBT Latinas/os at the club. Orlando is the rupture that bridges a queer Brown United States with a Latin America that was always already “inside” the US – one that never left, one which was invaded and conquered. Think Aztlán. Think Borinquen. Think The Mission in San Francisco. Or Jackson Heights, in NYC. Or the DC metro area’s Latino neighborhoods. That is not going away. It is multiplying.

I may be a queer Latino man at home, at the University, at the store, and at the club. That does not mean that the layered account of my life gets acknowledged (nor celebrated) in many of those sites – in fact, it gets fractured in the service of others’ understandings of difference (be it “diversity,” “multiculturalism” or “inclusion”). But it sure comes together on the dance floor at a club with a boom-boom that caters to every fiber of my being. It is encompassing. It covers us. It is relational. It moves us – together. So, even if I only go out once a year, I refuse to be afraid to go out and celebrate life. Too many before me have danced and danced and danced (including those who danced to the afterlife because of AIDS, hatred and homophobia), and I will celebrate them dancing – one night at a time.

We are not going away – in fact, a type of queer-Orlando-América is coming near you, if it hasn’t arrived already, if it wasn’t there already—before you claimed that space. No words of empathy will be enough to negotiate your hypocrisy, to whitewash our heritage, or make me, and us, go away. If anything, this sort of tragedy ignites community, it forces us to have conversations long overdue, it serves as a mirror showing how little we really have in common with each other in “America” – and the only way to make that OK is to be OK with the discomfort difference makes you experience, instead of erasing it.

We must never forget that it was “Latino night” at a gay club. That is how I will remember it.

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Salvador Vidal-OrtizSalvador Vidal-Ortiz (Ph.D.) is associate professor in the sociology department at American University (AU), in Washington, DC; he also teaches for their Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies program. He coedited The Sexuality of Migration: Border Crossings and Mexican Immigrant Men (NYU Press, 2009) and Queer Brown Voices: Personal Narratives of Latina/o LGBT Activism (University of Texas Press, 2015). Aside from his Fulbright-supported research on forced migration/internal displacement and LGBT Colombians, he is now engaged in a new project, with Juliana Martínez, also from AU, on “Transgendering Human Rights: Lessons from Latin America.” He is currently writing a manuscript on Santería, tentatively titled: An Instrument of the Orishas: Racialized Sexual Minorities in Santería, as well as a book he is co-authoring with two of his former students: Brandon A. Robinson (UT-Austin) and Cristina Khan (U-Conn) titled Race and Sexuality (to be published with Polity Press).

When I returned to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I was acutely aware that I was a woman. Families were slow to return and the influx of military and construction workers rebuilding the city and its infrastructure meant that women were severely outnumbered by men. Street lamps were inoperable and police were over extended. Gendered violence was up (see here, here, and here). When I rang in the New Year down in the French Quarter, camo clad military police in Humvees and carrying open automatics patrolled the street—but they did not make me feel safe.

As a sociologist and gender scholar, these experiences made me think more about women in post-disaster spaces. During the ten years since Hurricane Katrina, I have been immersed in the study of gender in the men’s grooming industry. But my new biography shaped my sociological imagination and spurred my now second vein of research. I have explored why it is gender analysis comes second to race and class analyses in disaster work and traced the movement of women as they evacuated and relocated or returned to New Orleans. I am currently working with colleagues at the Centre for Community Disaster Research on analyzing data of single-mothers during the Southern Alberta Flood. Biography, the lived experience, informs scholars’ research trajectories and data, and this is certainly the case with my disaster work.

Narrating the Storm

Sociology is a science, as it is a rigorous and methodical empirical process. Perhaps it is in defense of this that sociologists have a history of prioritizing objectivity as the “gold standard” of research. In the 1980s, though, feminist scholars began a critical conversation about the myth of objectivity, or what Donna Haraway refers to as the “god trick.” The notion that researchers are unattached from their work is only smoke and mirrors and has often silenced already marginalized people. By writing themselves out of their work, many researchers help to veil the fact that very few—privileged white men—were and are speaking for many. It is no coincidence that gender studies grew only as women entered academics, and that scholars of color lead the fight for university race and ethnic studies departments. Diversity of voice, that is the diversity of lived experiences, is key to creating a diverse sociology—or any field for that matter. We need to know who is speaking and move past the dangerous idea that white men represent unbiased authorities—those same authorities whose supposedly objective science led to conclusions like women have smaller brains and thus an inferior intellect than men.

In the classroom I constantly tackle the entrenched god trick in the sciences when students express discomfort or confusion around my requests to write themselves into their papers. “Use the ‘I’,” I say. “Don’t pretend that you don’t exist,“ I tell them. “Why is it that you are interested in this topic? How does being you impact your entrée into your field site? The questions you ask? The data you get? The analysis you do?” In other words, don’t continue the androcentric legacy that the scholar-author should be and can be a disembodied authority and that subjectivity hinders “real” science.

In our article, The Experiential Gap in Disaster Research, my co-author, Tim Haney, and I discuss how the god trick continues to shape sociological work. We argue what is now taken for granted by many gender scholars as obvious but has not yet seriously shaped all fields of sociology: standpoint matters. We should acknowledge and have honest discussions about how researchers’ closeness to or distance from a topic, including disaster, shapes what we know about a phenomenon. In terms of environmental disasters, valuable lessons go missing if we define closeness as bias and bias as bad science.

We sampled and compared work in a modest number of qualitative articles written by researchers who were affected by Hurricane Katrina and others that weren’t. Both did great work, asked important questions, and presented important results. There were a couple of key distinctions, though:

  1. Scholars who experienced Hurricane Katrina were more likely to focus on localized problems and organizations, while those who didn’t were interested in testing more generalizable theories. This reflects the investment affected scholars have in the wellbeing of their communities.
  2. There were several cases where the disaster experiences of scholars clearly led to new lines of inquiry, including questions about a women’s studies brain drain from local gender scholars. These scholars worried about what the post-Katrina financial cuts to such programs meant for crucial research on women (see here).

Right now, larger discussions on the epistemic importance of experiential based research is ghettoized in already reflexive-friendly subfields, like gender and ethnic studies. And this is a problem because social scientists in all fields have accepted a significant degree of influence over policy and in litigation cases as experts. That is, we may indeed encounter moments when we can influence the material realities of other people; and so we have a responsibility to be honest about how this influence is unequally distributed among scholars and may continue the colonization of marginalized groups struggling against allegations of bias to be considered experts on their own lived experiences and community needs.

 

Beginning today, I will be “going home” to Mindy’s Muses, a blog that I created over five years ago. Over past two years, I have had the honor of writing for Feminist Reflections (FR). I began as a Guest Author, having been invited to share a few posts from Mindy’s Muses. Then one of the FR Founders, Gayle Sulik, and I decided to collaborate on a series of posts about Black Lives Matter, because we felt it was important to write about how white allies could support this movement. After a relatively short run as a “Guest” on FR, I was invited to join as a Contributing Author, one of five writers who churn out provocative essays weekly. Mindy’s Muses went on an unofficial “semi-hiatus”.

feminismBeing a member of FR has strengthened my understanding of the challenges of “doing public sociology” for academic Sociologists. Because I’m an Applied Sociologist and don’t work in academia, I don’t have pressure to publish in peer reviewed journals, nor do I have constraints on what I write about, other than those I self-impose (!). I have been inspired by my academic colleagues who navigate these demands, and maintain a commitment to reaching an audience beyond academia.

Over the past year, FR experienced some turnover, as a few of its Founders moved on. Tristan Bridges and I became Co-Chairs of the Editorial Board, and in that role, I learned more about the logistics necessary to maintain the hum of weekly posts by a variety of authors. We also added two new writers:  Kristen Barber and Tressie McMillan Cottom. I can truly say that being a part of FR has been exhilarating. I love reading drafts of essays by my “FRiends” (or “FRolleagues”!), and providing feedback and editing advice. I continue to be in awe of their talent and it’s exciting to discover whatever new essay they publish. And I deeply value their feedback on my work.

Being part of a “writing group” is a different animal than writing solo, as I had been doing with Mindy’s Muses. When I consider what I want to write for FR, my thoughts are thread through a feminist lens that weaves the personal and the political. I know that my fellow FR writers are available for feedback on potential topics as well as on drafts. Writing for Mindy’s Muses is a little scarier and also maybe a little freer. While my writing style generally brings a feminist sociology lens to issues that I face personally, I also allow myself, at times, to write pieces that are just “stories”. Unlike FR, it’s on me if a post doesn’t fly. And while I can reach out to friends to read a draft, it’s more of a favor than an implicit “obligation” or commitment that comes with being part of a group.

caring for red coverSo with all this said, it is with a feeling of gratitude that I have decided to take a “sabbatical” from FR. I am thrilled to say that I have a new book coming out this summer: Caring for Red:  A Daughter’s Memoir (Vanderbilt University Press).  I will return to writing for Mindy’s Muses, which has just moved to a new website on WordPress called www.mindyfried.com. For now, the focus of the blog will have a broad lens – which is care work scholarship – as I feature the important research and writing of some of my colleagues, both in the US and Canada. The blog – still called Mindy’s Muses – will also provide a platform to write about my own experiences vis a vis Caring for Red, and will include excerpts of the book, lists of author readings (including Seattle on August 21st at 3PM at the Eliot Bay Book Company!), and more.

My plan, ultimately, is to provide platform on the blog portion of the website – once my book is out this summer – for other people to share their experiences, thoughts, fears and resources about caregiving for elder parents. My story – as I tell it in Caring for Red – is a universal one, and I hope that my book provides a portal for others to share their stories as well.

THANK YOU to my esteemed FR colleagues:  Kristen Barber, Amy Blackstone, Tristan Bridges, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Meika Loe, Trina Smith and Gayle Sulik! It has been a pleasure working with you, and I look forward to continued opportunities in the future. I am still here to run by an idea or read a draft! And finally, a big thanks to Jon Smajda and Letta Wren Page from The Society Pages, who have been fantastic to work with on the technical side of FR business.

 

Originally posted at Huff Post Women and Inequality by (Interior) Design

Most people think of gender as some kind of inalienable property of individuals — as something we either are or have. Decades of scholarship on gender have uncovered a perspective at odds with the conventional wisdom. The thing about conventional wisdom, though, is that it’s difficult to challenge even when we can prove it wrong. It’s much more accurate to talk about gender as something we “do” than as something we simply “are” or “have.” While this might initially seem like splitting hairs, people’s lives, legislation, and more hang in the balance. Sociologists Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt just published a new study on how the media manage moments of conflict over who “counts” as a woman or a man, and they’ve uncovered new reasons why we ought to care more about this distinction than you might have thought. Their study of how media navigate transgender individuals tells us more than why transgender people challenge conventional wisdom on gender. They continue a tradition in the sociology of gender of relying of the experiences of transgender people to provide new insights into what gender is and how taken for granted gender inequality has become.

Transgender individuals have long been of interest to sociologists of sex and gender. Transgender people are a powerful illustration of some of the cracks in the ways we think about gender and gender difference, and they often have the most to tell us about what gender is and how it gets produced. But, before I explain why Westbrook and Schilt’s new research is so important, I want to provide a short history of why the experiences of transgender people are so important. Perhaps the most famous transgender woman to be studied is a woman who scholars refer to as “Agnes” to protect her anonymity. Agnes is an American woman who, in the 1960s, was in her late teens when she heard about study at UCLA concerned with “disorders of gender identity” on the radio. The research team was interested in coming up with a set of medical guidelines for determining who ought to be allowed to undergo what were then called sex reassignment surgeries (now more accurately and respectfully referred to as gender confirmation surgeries).

Agnes first came in to meet with the research team because she was had a dilemma she couldn’t solve on her own and she was hopeful they could help. Agnes had all of the bodily signs of femininity you might expect with one small exception. She had a small waist, slender fingers and wrists, long hair, feminine breasts, and more. Beyond this, Agnes had the gamut of feminine intangibles. She was soft-spoken, moved slowly, sat with her legs together, crossed at the ankle. She waited to have doors opened for her, rarely interrupted. She was, in other words, a paragon of femininity. And, despite coming in to talk with a group of researchers concerned with disorders of gender identity, there really wasn’t anything “disordered” about Agnes’ gender at all. She was completely comfortable with and confident in her gender. Her real problem was that she had a penis and was interested in receiving a surgery that would better help her body confirm her gender more completely.

Agnes was studied by surgeons, endocrinologists, psychologists, all manner of medical professionals, and — as fate would have it — a sociologist named Harold Garfinkel. Garfinkel wasn’t a sociologist of gender; indeed, the sociology of gender didn’t even really exist at that point. And it may very well be Agnes that we should thank for its production. While the medical professionals meeting with Agnes (among others) were all concerned with helping her, they were also all casually in agreement that it was Agnes who was the one with the problem. Garfinkel’s great insight was to recognize that while her desire for surgery may be statistically rare, there was nothing at all “problematic” about her gender. In fact, Garfinkel found that Agnes knew quite a bit more about her gender than most. Rather than teaching Agnes how to better “fit in” or “pass” as a woman, Garfinkel became increasingly interested in what he could learn from Agnes about gender.

Having been raised as a boy in her youth, much of what Agnes understood about femininity was learned a bit more deliberately on her part and practiced more intentionally than it is for many young women. She was able to talk about the subtleties of gender in ways that are invisible to many people. Transgender communities and medical professionals still use the term “passing” to assess how well transgender people are able to “pass” as the gender with which they identify. Indeed, having successfully passed as a woman or man for a defined period of time is often considered part of the criteria for receiving a diagnosis that enables transgender people to undergo gender confirmation surgeries (if they so desire). But it was Agnes’ intricate insights into her daily performances of gender that allowed Garfinkel to realize that gender is a performance for everyone. It wasn’t just Agnes who was passing; we’re all passing as men and women. Agnes was just better able to talk about it than most. It becomes so much a part of who we think we are that most of us don’t even recognize the daily work we do to pass as men and women (shaving, make-up, clothes, hair cuts, styles of walking, talking, sitting, how to interact conversationally, carrying wallets or a purse, and more). It’s exhausting once you list it all out, and we’re constantly at work.

Passing is important to many transgender people on different levels: from issue of violence personal safety to the psychological pleasures associated with being publicly recognized with who we understand ourselves to be. Yet, transgender people struggle with more than simply being publicly recognized. They also struggle with recognition from a variety of institutions, and it’s here that Westbrook and Schilt break new ground in research and theory on gender and inequality. Transgender men and women struggle having government documents altered to reflect their identities. But, access to legibly and legally gendered identities also comes with access to institutions, like workplaces, housing, competitive sports, and all variety of public accommodations (like, restrooms for instance). We don’t often think about this, but like Agnes, transgender people often make gender more visible — they lay bare gender arrangements in our society, like our fierce allegiance to the idea that bathroom and sports teams (among other things) ought to be gender segregated.

Deciding that a transwoman “counts” as a woman is done on multiple levels. It’s done in our interactions when we publicly recognize her identity. But it’s also done institutionally, if we consider whether or not she ought to be allowed to change her driver’s license to represent her gender or whether we ought to let her compete against other women in competitive sports. A great deal of anxiety is often provoked around these issues — what Westbrook and Schilt refer to as “gender panics” — and Westbrook and Schilt use the media as a litmus test of that collective angst. Surveying newspaper articles surrounding gender panics to do with three separate issues (transgender rights legislation, a 2006 policy proposal in New York to remove genital surgery as a requirement to change sex markers on birth certificates, and controversies over transgender athletes), Westbrook and Schilt provide a new way of thinking about and measuring gender inequality.

It turns out that the criteria for determining a person’s gender vary — they’re not the same everywhere. As Westbrook and Schilt argue, while most people “keep the same classification in all spaces, transgender people may be given different gender classifications… depending on the type of interaction occurring in the space.” So, for instance, while we might collectively acknowledge transgender women as women in their daily lives, we are often less willing (or have a different set of criteria) to acknowledge them as women in restrooms or on sports fields. For example, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) — the body that, among other things, makes decisions about the gender categories in which transgender and intersex athletes can compete — has an elaborate set of criteria for considering whether or not transgender athletes can compete as the gender with which they identify. But we don’t rely on these same criteria in most social interactions. Gender-segregated settings are much more heavily policed and women’s spaces are more heavily policed than men’s. Gender-integrated settings — like workplaces — involve fewer gender panics. It’s those spaces we think men and women ought to be separate that provoke the most powerful reactions.

Westbrook and Schilt also found that the criteria for being considered a man are much less demanding than the criteria to be considered a woman. The real anxiety appears around people who have penises who enter women’s-only spaces. Not everyone with a penis identifies or is identified as a man, nor do all those without penises identify as women. But, the penis is a powerful cultural proxy. Thus, in Katie Couric’s recent interview with Laverne Cox (a transgender woman and actress), it’s not surprising that Cox was asked about the status of her genitals. Cox deftly dealt with the question by refocusing the conversation on transgender people’s lives rather than their genitals. Westbrook and Schilt found that a great deal less anxiety appears around transgender people — even in gender-integrated settings — when the transgender person is penis-free (regardless of whether the person in question identifies as a woman or man). This interesting insight enables Westbrook and Schilt to say something really powerful about gender inequality and our collective investment in its existence.

Public reactions to and acceptance of transgender people function as a sort of gender inequality Rorschach test. This cultural anxiety provoked by penises in “women’s” spaces belies a larger investment in a twin set of cultural ideals: the belief that all people with penises are uniquely capable of violence and the belief that those without penises are uniquely vulnerable. While this anxiety might be easily upset by recognizing that transgender women are most often the targets — not the perpetrators — of violence, Westbrook and Schilt’s research shows that this fact is less publicly recognized than it should be. Indeed, Schilt and Westbrook address violence against transgender women in their previous research as did Cox in her interview with Couric. And our collective failure to recognize violence against transgender women is a testament to the power of conventional wisdom about gender. While transgender people have a unique capacity to help us understand gender as more flexible than we often imagine, Westbrook and Schilt’s research illustrates the ways that the challenges brought about by transgender individuals are often dealt with in ways that have the effect of shoring up our faith in gender as innate and gender inequality is inevitable. This research helps us learn more about some of the most deeply held beliefs in our culture about gender. Their findings show that, despite the many gains toward greater gender equality, we still fervently hold onto a set of beliefs that speak to the endurance of inequality and just how difficult it will be to overcome.

I studied a group of fathers’ rights activists and men undergoing divorce, separation, and custody battles for a little over a year.  Fathers’ rights organizations were, for me, an interesting place to study anti-feminist gender politics because they are, in many ways, one of the most successful arms of the men’s rights movement more generally.  Fathers’ rights activists and advocates are asking for things feminists have long sought from men: a greater investment in their children, a move toward a model of parenting that moves beyond the “provider” model.  And all of these things make fathers’ rights groups the most politically palatable and mainstream of the virulent misogyny that characterizes the men’s rights movement more generally.

At the weekly meetings I attended, I regularly heard men pushing back against this stereotype, wanting to be “more than a paycheck” in their kids’ lives.  And in my experience, the men who gave up on their custody battles the most quickly, those who lost contact with their children, or failed to show up at the times designated by the court had one thing in common: most of them had daughters.  In the group I studied, men with sons stuck with and struggled through really challenging custody arrangements and incredibly tense relationships with the mothers of their children. My study did not involve a sample from which I can generalize about this idea.  But there is a host of interesting scholarship on how fathers in straight couples engage with their children contingent upon the gender of their children.

Gender is a big topic of discussion when people have babies.  It shapes the sorts of names we consider (or don’t).   It shapes the way we set up the nursery, what color we paint the walls, the infant clothes we buy and receive, the things we imagine our child doing one day (or not). And research suggests that, among heterosexual couples, fathers are more invested in gender conformity than mothers. It’s not uncommon to hear that heterosexual men want boys—or are expected to want boys.  Sex selective abortion is a really powerful illustration of son preference.  But son preference can be measured in other ways as well.

I just read a working paper by economist, Laura Giuliano examining the effects of having sons versus daughters on heterosexual marriages.*  The paper was initially published as a working paper in 2007.  So, it’s a little dated.  But the data and argument are really fascinating, if frustrating. Children take a toll on marital happiness for both mothers and fathers (shocking, I know).  Among heterosexual married mothers in Giuliano’s sample, there was no meaningful difference in the level of marital happiness among mothers who had sons compared to those who had daughters.  Among fathers, however, the story is a bit more complex.  Heterosexual married fathers with sons had significantly higher levels of marital happiness than those with daughters (see graph below).

Marital Happines by Child Gender

This makes men look like the problem here.  But, Giuliano found that women are invested in this issue as well.  She also discovered, for instance, that couples in which  the fathers had higher levels of marital happiness but the mothers said that they would be as happy or happier NOT married were disproportionately likely to be couples with sons.  This suggests that mothers in heterosexual marriages that make them unhappy are much more likely to remain married if the child happens to be a boy.  One hypothesis for which Giuliano found support is that this discrepancy is produced by a collective perception that sons and daughters have different needs and that fathers are more essential in the raising of boys than girls.  Add to this that fathers of sons in Giuliano’s sample also engaged in different parenting practices.  Fathers with sons were more likely to look after and spend more time with their kids and the wives of fathers with sons held more positive views of them as parents.

There’s a lot of literature out there on how we need to get men engaged in modeling healthy masculinity to the next generation—showing boys that parenting and care work aren’t feminine practices; they’re human practices.  But all of this can’t be accomplished alongside an “androcentric” ideology that holds that boys and men are somehow more important than girls and women, more deserving of our time, attention, and apparently even affection sometimes.  It’s great that men are participating more as parents.  But we have a long way to go if they’re still waiting to see if the child is going to be “Matthew” or “Megan” before deciding whether to ask for a more flexible schedule at work.

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*I learned about this research from Emily Bobrow’s great essay in The Economist, “It’s a Boy Thing” (shared on social media by Philip Cohen).

This week my Facebook and Twitter feeds filled up with comments about the Man Book Club, featured in Jennifer Miller’s New York Times article. This club is for men, by men, and feature men. In fact, the golden rule of the Man Book Club is: “No books by women about women.” And the International Ultra Manly Book Club, also featured in the article, announces they are “not your mother’s book club.”

At first blush, these clubs appear transgressive. Book clubs are, after all, associated with women. Men getting together to chat about the book of the month seems out of the ordinary or even humorous. One member noted that a woman he met at a bar figured he must be gay since he was in a book club. If book clubs are places for women to talk about fiction, which Houston Men’s Book Club member, Edward Nawotka, said, “is designed to examine empathy,” then these groups are redefining the book club.

Image Source: Salon.com
Image Source: Salon.com

When I read this article, I wondered: When and why did reading become feminine and something only women do? And why do these men feel like they need a place where they can escape women—both in the flesh and as meaningful literary characters? As a woman and a gender scholar who studies these things, I bristled at the idea that leaving women out is something pleasurable to men, something they seek.

Leaving women out is nothing new. And neither is defining masculinity as the avoidance of empathy. In fact, research time and again shows that discouraging men from showing their emotions and from sharing their feelings is harmful to everyone. Scholars have linked emotional distance to men’s loneliness and poor educational performance and the privileging of aggressive manhood to violence against women, other men, and genderqueer people alike. Books highlighted in these clubs thus unsurprisingly promote this theme. Sure, this is not true of all the books, but the list of the “Top 100 Books for Every Man” includes amongst its titles the James Bond novel, Casino Royale, and The Call of the Wild. Classic books? Sure. Books that romanticize womanizing and define men as animalistic? Also yes.

Image Source: iumbc.com
Image Source: iumbc.com

Both of these clubs aim to break supposed stereotypes that men are not thinkers. “[W]e too, are intellectuals,” proclaims the International Ultra Manly Book Club’s webpage. Their vision includes: “That one day we men of the world could be more educated, have deeper conversations, and connect with our fellow men.” But what sort of education leaves women out of the conversation? How are women represented in these discussions if they are not protagonists who help to shape the world?

Women on my Facebook feed responded to this article with sarcasm about how difficult it must be for these clubs to find a book without a female lead or one that is written by a man. These comments play on the fact that women are already underrepresented as lead characters (especially in books written by men) and as authors in literature courses, as well as in other forms of entertainment (See here for a discussion of sexism in Hollywood).

Some men’s book club members Miller interviewed did note that these are important places for them to bond with other men—and not just around misogynistic ideas of women and manhood. Miller quotes one member, Haruki Murakami, as having said, “We’ve seen each other through family tragedies… I turned to these guys.” And so men in these clubs might be able to seek out intimate friendships they often lack, especially straight men. (See also Lisa Wade’s Salon article). At the same time, these friendships are forged in a sex-segregated environment where hypermasculinity is highly regarded. And this contradiction is important. It keeps these clubs from becoming truly transgressive—and transformative—spaces.