Archive: Dec 2014

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“Lumbersexual” recently entered our cultural lexicon. What it means exactly is still being negotiated. At a basic level, it’s an identity category that relies on a set of stereotypes about regionally specific and classed masculinities. Lumbersexuals are probably best recognized by a set of hirsute bodies and grooming habits. Their attire, bodies, and comportment are presumed to cite stereotypes of lumberjacks in the cultural imaginary. However, combined with the overall cultural portrayal of the lumbersexual, this stereotype set fundamentally creates an aesthetic with a particular subset of men that idealizes a cold weather, rugged, large, hard-bodied, bewhiskered configuration of masculinity.

Similar to hipster masculinity, “lumbersexual” is a classification largely reserved for young, straight, white, and arguably class-privileged men. While some position lumbersexuals as the antithesis of the metrosexual, others understand lumbersexuals as within a spectrum of identity options made available by metrosexuality. defines the lumbersexual as “a sexy man who dresses in denim, leather, and flannel, and has a ruggedly sensual beard.”

One of the key signifiers of the “lumbersexual,” however, is that he is not, in fact, a lumberjack. Like the hipster, the lumbersexual is less of an identity men claim and more of one used to describe them (perhaps, against their wishes). It’s used to mock young, straight, white men for participating in a kind of identity work. describes the identity this way:

Whether the roots of the lumbersexual are a cultural shift toward environmentalism, rebellion against the grind of 9-5 office jobs, or simply recognition that outdoor gear is just more comfortable, functional and durable, the lumbersexual is on the rise (here).

Many aspects of masculinity are “comfortable.” And, men don’t need outdoor gear and lumberjack attire to be comfortable. Lumbersexual has less to do with comfort and more to do with masculinity. It is a practice of masculinization. It’s part of a collection of practices associated with “hybrid masculinities”—categories and identity work practices made available to young, white, heterosexual men that allow them to collect masculine status they might otherwise see themselves (or be seen by others) as lacking. Hybridization offers young, straight, class-privileged white men an avenue to negotiate, compensate, and attempt to control meanings attached to their identities as men. Hybrid configurations of masculinity, like the lumbersexual, accomplish two things at once. They enable young, straight, class-privileged, white men to discursively distance themselves from what they might perceive as something akin to the stigma of privilege. They simultaneously offer a way out of the “emptiness” a great deal of scholarship has discussed as associated with racially, sexually, class-privileged identities (see here, here, and here).

The lumbersexual highlights a series of rival binaries associated with masculinities: rural vs. urban, rugged vs. refined, tidy vs. unkempt. But the lumbersexual is so compelling precisely because, rather than “choosing sides,” this identity attempts to delicately walk the line between these binaries. It’s “delicate” precisely because this is a heteromasculine configuration—falling too far toward one side or the other could call him into question. But, a lumbersexual isn’t a lumberjack just like a metrosexual isn’t gay. Their identity work attempts to establish a connection with identities to which they have no authentic claim by flirting with stereotypes surrounding sets of interests and aesthetics associated with various marginalized and subordinated groups of men. Yet, these collections are largely mythologies. The bristly woodsmen they are ostensibly parroting were, in fact, created for precisely this purpose. As Willa Brown writes,

The archetypal lumberjack—the Paul Bunyanesque hipster naturalist—was an invention of urban journalists and advertisers. He was created not as a portrait of real working-class life, but as a model for middle-class urban men to aspire to, a cure for chronic neurasthenics. He came to life not in the forests of Minnesota, but in the pages of magazines (here).

Perhaps less obviously, however, the lumbersexual is also coopting elements of sexual minority subcultures. If we look through queer lenses we might suggest that lumbersexuals are more similar to metrosexuals than they may acknowledge as many elements of “lumberjack” identities are already connected with configurations of lesbian and gay identities. For instance, lumbersexuals share a lot of common ground with “bear masculinity” (a subculture of gay men defined by larger bodies with lots of hair) and some rural configurations of lesbian identity. Arguably, whether someone is a “bear” or a “lumbersexual” may solely be a question of sexual identity. After all, bear culture emerged to celebrate a queer masculinity, creating symbolic distance from stereotypes of gay masculinities as feminine or effeminate. Lumbersexuals could be read as a similar move in response to metrosexuality.

Lumbersexual masculinity is certainly an illustration that certain groups of young, straight, class-privileged, white men are playing with gender. In the process, however, systems of power and inequality are probably better understood as obscured than challenged. Like the phrase “no homo,” hybrid configurations of masculinity afford young straight men new kinds of flexibility in identities and practice, but don’t challenge relations of power and inequality in any meaningful way.


*We would like to thank the Orange Couch of NOLA, Urban Outfitters, the rural (&) queer community, and Andrea Herrera for suggesting we tackle this piece. Additional thanks to C.J. Pascoe and Lisa Wade for advanced reading and comments.

Part 3 in a series

At a recent speak-out, I shared how Rodney King’s treatment by police 20 years ago helped me to find my voice as a social justice activist. And yet, despite our national attempts to stop traffic and speak back to injustice, I am horrified by how little progress we have made since then. Yet another generation is forced to confront these structural problems.

Following on Gayle Sulik’s recent post, Don’t Black Lives Matter?, many of us are involved in protests on our own campuses. This is the letter our feminist faculty at Colgate posted in solidarity with students on our campus. Now I want to share it widely with student activists across the nation. Students, we are here with you. We feel broken too. Let’s move forward together.

Dearest Students:

We write this letter in the spirit of solidarity and love. And we begin this letter with one word, one potentially problematic idea: “to be broken.” And then to ask, “what does it mean to break, to be broken?” Certainly, the events of this last week, this last month, this last semester have left many of us with broken hearts and a more general sense of brokenness: a broken justice system that facilitates impunity and the abuse of power, a broken society where the humanity of the racialized and the poor is subject to daily assaults and being disappeared, a broken world all together where the cracks reveal far too many injustices. There is much that is broken. And we recognize that in this vulnerable moment things and persons nearest and dearest to us feel all the more fragile, easily broken, as we pause to also reflect on the histories and structures that render some lives, some bodies, more fragile, more easily broken, than others. It’s possible that many of you, as you read these (broken) words, are likely feeling that brokenness in your hearts. And that some of you are likely feeling that brokenness in your bodies and in your very spirits, the week’s/semester’s/year’s events leaving you feeling weary, broken-down, on the side of a shadowed road with your spirits deflated, while “hope,” that elusive winged-thing, speeds by, sees you for a moment, but can’t be bothered to stop to help with the repairs. Many of you know this brokenness far too well, so well in fact that it’s beginning to feel like a broken-in shoe. And you are tired.

As faculty, we write this letter to say that we know this brokenness too, and that we are living with that brokenness, albeit in ways both similar and different, alongside you. We write this letter in an effort to recognize and name that brokenness and to note that we are here, standing beside you amidst the fissures and the cracks that have been revealed. Without undermining or glossing over the very real pain that has resulted from so much breakage, we write this letter from a space of hope for what these heart-breaking moments of rupture might reveal and what lessons they might teach us about how we want to be and belong as a community here and beyond. Breaking offers opportunity for building anew. After all, “[a] writer’s heart, a poet’s heart, an artist’s heart, a musician’s heart is always breaking,” says Alice Walker. “[I]t is through that broken window that we see the world.” As we look, cautiously perhaps, through these broken windows in our midst, what can we now see? What connections and opportunities for new relationships and alliance-building does such breaking reveal?

The events of this last week (and prior) have served to illuminate the inherent brokenness of a system—a broken system that facilitates students feeling uncared for, unseen, unsafe. We write this letter to let you all know that we recognize this brokenness and that we take serious our responsibility to make sure those gaps in the system are addressed so as to trace the threats to their source(s). With all of that said, we thus hope that this letter will signal a different kind of break—the fracturing of a narrative that tells you are in this alone. You are not alone. This letter gestures towards the possibility inherent in what we recognize is a heart-breaking moment, but one that has also broke open the opportunity for us to share our stories of breaking and being-broken—stories that might bring us closer to recognizing the deeper bonds and commitments we need to have to one another during these heart-soul-body breaking times. We are here, with you.

In solidarity,

Your feminist faculty

Read the entire Black Lives Matter Series on Feminist Reflections

Part 2 in a series

Last Thursday night, I sat in Boston’s Hope Church with over 300 white people, not for a concert or for a sermon. But to respond to a call from local and national Black leadership asking white people to come together to talk about our role in the movement for racial justice. Like so many people, I had been seething about the targeting of young Black men by police, and the increasing militarization of the police in responding to legal protests in Ferguson and elsewhere.

I had joined two of the rallies in Boston the week before, the first, following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson, who had killed Michael Brown, in which thousands of people took over the streets, chanting “No justice, no peace, no racist police.” We paused in front of the South Bay House of Correction, where inmates stood at the windows with their arms held up to communicate “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

BLM post_Inmate picUltimately, many of the marchers shut down a ramp leading to the interstate. In contrast to the media framing of this demonstration, a number of people I know personally were punched in the head or ribs, or trampled on by police. The other rally followed the non-indictment of Daniel Pantaleo, the police officer who killed Eric Garner, marching up to the city’s Christmas tree lighting and celebration. The message was that we cannot go on with business as usual, while Black people are being victimized.

image002In both of these rallies, I was struck by the power of Black women leadership, and discovered the organizers of these events were from a group called Black Lives Matter (BLM) Boston, affiliated with the national BLM.

BLM is a national organization with an action agenda. It started as a hashtag, created by three Black queer women organizers with a deep understanding of “intersectionality” (or, ways in which different oppressions – including gender, race, and sexual preference – intersect and co-produce one another). Queer is an umbrella term to refer to all LGBTIQ – lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, intersexual and questioning people – that reveals the fluidity of social categories such as sex and gender. As Black feminist and social activist, bell hooks, writes: “Every day of my life that I walk out of my house, I am a combination of race, gender, class, sexual preference and religion or what have you.”

To be in a huge throng of people demanding an end to racism, to chant Black Lives Matter, was nothing short of inspiring. Here is a short clip of activist Ife Franklin, who spontaneously led us in singing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.”

Video from Ferguson Rally (11.25.14)

But while marching, there were moments I felt confused. Should I, as a white woman, be chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot?” or “We can’t breathe?” Do whites as a group face systematic victimization by the police? No. Can I breathe when I see a police officer when I walk down the street? Hell, yeah! They might even help me, if I’m in need, without presuming that I am guilty of some infraction. As a collectivity, white people are not incarcerated or murdered because of the color of our skin. It seemed wrong to use the language of people who are.

I wondered, more broadly: What is my role in this struggle for racial justice, as a white person?

When I read about the local meeting to help white people figure out their role in the context of this organizing effort, I was compelled to go. Sitting in the pews of Hope Church, I listened to three young white organizers deftly walk us through a set of guidelines to frame how we can be allies – or “accomplices” – to this Black led movement “without replicating racist dynamics.” To set the stage, the trainers began by presenting findings from a study (conducted by scholars from Harvard and Rutgers for the ACLU) that confirmed the existence of racial discrimination within the Boston police force. The study concluded that Boston police officers disproportionately interrogated, observed, or searched Black residents during the period between 2007 and 2010.

Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts

And despite these Boston “police-street encounters,” there was little evidence of probable cause. Researchers reported that the “hit” rate was incredibly low, with no documented seizure and no documented arrest in 97.5 percent of the cases. Black people were 8.8 percent more likely than whites to be stopped repeatedly by police, and 12 percent more likely than whites to be frisked or searched during a stop.

Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts
Courtesy of the ACLU Massachusetts


In defining our role as white people in supporting Black Lives Matter, the trainers acknowledged that we in the audience might be leaders in our own worlds and in many of our endeavors, but now we have an opportunity to “follow the leadership of this Black-led, women-led, and queer-led movement.” They challenged us to keep “Black lives at the center,” meaning that it is Black people who suffer the consequences of anti-Black racism, and they must be in charge of the movement to eradicate it.

White people need to critically assess what it means to be white in a society that systematically privileges whiteness. Peggy McIntosh, who writes extensively on white privilege, says,

“I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets which I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious…White privilege is like an invisible weightless backpack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools and blank checks.” [She cites many examples of white privilege.]

“Whether (I use) checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, poverty, or the illiteracy of my race…I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race…I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having co-workers on the job suspect that I got it because of race…I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen.”

White people have a critical role to play, not only in supporting the efforts of Black people, but also in educating ourselves and other white people about the nature of structural economic and racial oppression.

How can white sociologists contribute to a Black-led movement for racial justice? What role can we play in combating racism?

We may say, “I am not a race scholar,” so what can I do? But sociologists specializing in any field are still human beings living in a racist society. We understand the social structures within society that reproduce inequities of all kinds. How can we bring this sociological eye to our work to address and help to eradicate racial oppression? I can think about a number of ways, and maybe you can think of others.

We can assess the critical role of law enforcement as the tool of a white dominant culture. We can question how police brutality against “racialized others” has historically been considered acceptable in our society. We can change our curriculum and incorporate other people’s experiences and narratives. We can include authors on our syllabi who tell stories about racial injustice, providing students with a better understanding of the systemic ways that discrimination is reproduced. We can create space in the classroom for dialogue about these issues. And for those of us who teach social movements, we can include this growing social movement as part of our curriculum, how small acts of coordinated resistance are important for engendering large-scale struggle. We can also incorporate a race lens into our research and writing. We can support social action among our students on campus.

The trainers emphasized that Black Lives Matter is not a pep rally or protest; It is an uprising, and the meeting at Hope Church was held in the hopes that white people in the room would join that resistance. The three energetic trainers asked us white people to understand the structural nature of racism and to find a way to talk – as white people – about the Black Lives Matter movement. They asked us to commit to the practice of talking with other white people about white supremacy, just as we were doing at this meeting. And they asked us to become activists, to mobilize anti-racist white people when we were called upon.

As white people, we have an opportunity to make a difference, just as hundreds and thousands of white people who have joined the struggle for racial justice over the decades. As social scientists, we have tools to support this movement – our teaching and research and our access to spaces to foster a new, constructive dialogue – where we can frame the conversation for our students, our colleagues, and our communities.

To paraphrase an oft-used phrase: If not us, who? If not now, when?


Lyrics, Redemption Song by Bob Marley

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our mind.
Wo! Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them-a can-a stop-a the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfill the book.
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom? –
‘Cause all I ever had:
Redemption songs –
All I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.

Read the entire Black Lives Matter Series on Feminist Reflections

Part 1 in a series
Image from: TheFeministWire.Com

The online platform turned national organization project — Black Lives Matter — started as a call to action against anti-Black racism following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin.

According to The New York Times, the jury rejected the prosecution’s argument that Zimmerman deliberately pursued and started what became a lethal fight with Martin because he assumed he was a criminal. The verdict wasn’t a surprise, certainly not to black people who have experienced and/or witnessed similar outcomes over and over again. Alicia Garza, a co-creator of Black Lives Matter, explained in a Colorlines interview:

A lot of what we were seeing on Facebook and in our conversations was, “I knew they would never convict [Zimmerman]. He would never go to jail.” For us, it wasn’t actually about using the criminal justice system to solve our issues. For us, it’s really about asking, “Do black lives matter in our society?” and what do we need to do to make that happen. We know that someone going to jail is not going to make black lives matter. What’s going to make those lives matter is working hard for an end to state violence in black communities, knowing that that’s going to benefit all communities.

The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter soon became a rallying call. Within days of tweeting it out, Garza teamed up with Patrisse Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End Police Violence in L.A. Jails, and Opal Tometi, who runs the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. Together, these women started a dialogue about what it means to be black in this country, to be the target of a system of anti-Black racism.

The persistent, strained relationship between law enforcement and African Americans that has led to a string of police-related incidents and fatalities is part of that system. The fatal shooting of yet another unarmed, black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, followed by yet another grand jury decision not to indict the white police officer who shot him, begs the question again: Don’t black lives matter?

Recurring incidents like these across the country shine a dim light on the everyday biases and racial, political, and socio-economic structures that uphold racial inequalities and privilege whiteness. But Black Lives Matter is not just about racism; it’s about anti-Black racism.

At this critical time, we, as social scientists, have an opportunity not only to support those seeking transparency, accountability, and safety in their communities, we can examine ourselves, and be proactive in our own work.

What biases do we hold? How do we help to perpetuate racism in our institutions, and specifically anti-Black racism? How might we engage in critical dialogue in ways that will transform our institutions to make black lives matter? What actions can we take to support this growing movement, not only through our classroom teaching, but also informally in our work with students, in our research and how we use that research, in our public sociology, and for some, in direct action?

We’ll be reflecting on these questions here. Please share yours. And we will continue the discussion in the next few blog posts.

Read the entire Black Lives Matter Series on Feminist Reflections

More Information:

On the movement:


Reflections from The Society Pages:

How white people can fight racism:

On Protesting:

Google the words “Beyoncé and Feminism” and you get a mind-blowing number of hits. (Go ahead, Google it, I can wait…)

There’s been a flood of questions about the topic ever since the pop star opened up about her new brand of modern-day feminism in Vogue.UK. Is Beyoncé a feminist? Isn’t Beyoncé a feminist? Is Beyoncé’s brand of feminism “real?” Does it help or hurt the Feminist project? What happens if everyone becomes a Feminist?! Would this dismantle everything we know about feminism? Won’t someone please make the official declaration so we can all go back to watching cats on YouTube!
Photo Credit: Commons.Wikimedia.Org

Maybe things aren’t so desperate. But the chatter about Beyoncé and her feminism— in the wake of the 2013 release of the Beyoncé Visual Album and the image of Bey standing in front of a giant, glowing “Feminist” sign during her 15-minute performance at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards — certainly created a rift among some groups of feminists and others.

The Beyoncé-Feminism debates have had an almost Kinsey-Scale feel to them: from extreme arguments about Beyoncé’s use of her body and sexuality as a form of terrorism for Black women (see discussion with bell hooks) to declarations that Beyoncé is a bad influence on all good girls and women, including married women and their husbands, and children (see comments from Bill O’Reilly). In the middle of the scale, we have folks who acknowledge that Beyoncé’s image and music may/may not run contradictory to what is/is not Feminist.

More interesting to me is the way this conversation is affecting pop culture. Suddenly, talking about feminism and discussing how patriarchy affects society is okay, even encouraged.

Women’s function in pop music has mostly been as eye candy. Look good. Do what you’re told. Sing the song created by a male production team. Numerous books have chronicled the evolution of women in pop music. A few examples are Gender in the Music Industry by Marion Leonard, She Bop II by Lucy O’Brien, and my book Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos). These books share a theme: if a woman bares her body she will be judged from those chasing a standard of purity and from feminists who see this action as submission to the male gaze. Even though it is missing from the debates, this is where I see the contention: Beyoncé is challenging the passivity of the male gaze, setting a foundation for a new wave of feminists who simultaneously celebrate their bodies and provide cunning intellectual fodder.

Listening to Beyoncé’s self-titled album, we hear a woman speak about marriage, sex, motherhood, post-partum depression, religion, death, miscarriage, revolution, feminism, and her identity as a Black woman. We hear this woman authoritatively express her views and define them on her own terms. While some bristle at Beyoncé using her body as a means of seduction, for example in her “Partition” video, the song expresses the inner thoughts and feelings of many women who have concerns about men’s expectations of sex. In the song “Flawless,” Bey sings lines like, “I took some time to live my life/but don’t think I’m just his little wife” and then launches into a spoken word piece by renowned Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who illustrates the dynamic of struggle for many women and girls: “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, “You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful. Otherwise you will threaten the man.” In the song “Mine,” with lines that address post-partum depression and concerns about her marriage, Beyoncé presents a multi-dimensional portrait of life. To me, this all sounds feminist.

Women’s identities are largely missing in pop music because the genre is so focused on one-note presentations of womanhood. But Beyoncé’s songs have become anthems for many women because they are written from an “I” perspective that speaks to the messiness of women’s lives. We all have contradictions, even feminists, that may make us seem less perfect in the ways we live out our vision of the world. To argue that Beyoncé is/is not feminist because of a song she sings, something she wears, or the way she carries herself on stage may be counter-productive. There is a reason why so many feminists were amazed and bewildered to see Beyoncé stand in front of that neon “Feminist” sign. The act was defiant, declarative, and gave a new generation of women a gateway to feminism.

Feminist Beyonce Sign
Photo Credit: BitchMedia.Org

The Beyoncé-Feminism debates beg the question: Will feminism get to a point where as long as the core is focused on equality, people (even entertainers) can “do feminism” in a way that makes sense to them without being judged? After all, many people with diverse political orientations agree on the principle of equality even if they have different ideas on how to get there. Feminism is more fluid than many of us would like to believe.

I’ve come to a decision. I think we want Beyoncé Knowles in the corner of feminism. She has the platform to shine a spotlight on issues related to women and girls (as she has done here and here). She has amassed such power through her music that when she speaks, people listen. She can rally people with a simple song release. To me, that is a feminist using her power constructively. And if there is a beat we can dance to, even better.

Adrienne PicAdrienne Trier-Bieniek PhD is a gender and pop culture sociologist. She is the author of Sing Us a Song, Piano Woman: Female Fans and the Music of Tori Amos (Scarecrow Press, 2013) and co-editor of Gender and Pop Culture: A Text-Reader (Sense, 2014). Her writing has appeared in various academic journals as well as xoJane, The Mary Sue, Gender & Society Blog, Feministing, and Girl w/Pen, and she runs the Facebook page Pop Culture Feminism. Adrienne Trier-Bieniek is a professor of sociology at Valencia College in Orlando, Florida.