On September 2, the photograph of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying face down on a Turkish beach circulated internationally on social media. Amid discussions of whether or not it was ethical to post, tweet, and share such a heart-wrenching image, The New York Times rightly noted that the powerful image has spurred international public attention to a crisis that has been ongoing for years. As Anne Barnard and Karam Shoumali noted:

“Once again, it is not the sheer size of the catastrophe—millions upon millions forced by war and desperation to leave their homes—but a single tragedy that has clarified the moment.”

The conflict in Syria has lasted almost five years now. With more than half the population forced to leave, the United Nations reported that the Syrian conflict now represents the largest displacement crisis in the world. Over 12 million people require some form of humanitarian assistance. And almost half of those displaced are children. Like Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation that sparked Arab Spring (and, coincidentally, the current civil war in Syria), the image of Aylan, too, has the capacity to change the world. Bouazizi was not the first person to set himself alight in protest, just as Aylan was not the first child to wash ashore on Mediterranean beaches.

Indeed, those who have been following the refugee crisis over the past four years have viewed countless tragic images. But there is—for the moment, at least—something significant about this particular photograph. It could be because the image is deceptively peaceful, failing to reflect the violence that pushed his parents to flee or the family’s terrifying experience at sea that ultimately led to the deaths of Aylan, his brother Galip, and their mother Rehan. It may also be because of his clothing: red shirt, blue shorts, and Velcro sneakers. He could be anyone’s son, brother, nephew.

Aylan’s image has galvanized attention from around the world, especially the west. The public’s concern and outrage after the photo circulated on social media has already had a significant impact on the refugee crisis. This single tragedy has become the symbol of the refugee crisis in the Middle East. The image and subsequent public outcry has led to an increase in charitable donations, impacted election campaigns, and prompted the public to demand more of their governments, resulting in western nations around the world pledging to increase the number of refugees they will take.

Although it is unfortunate that it takes something as tragic as the body of a boy lying alone on a beach to solidify public resolve, it is also an important reminder that we are, as Goffman suggested, “dangerous giants.” We have the capacity to enact change on a level that is difficult to imagine as an individual.

The graph below shows Twitter activity both before and after the photo of Aylan went viral. Tweet volume about Syria has more than doubled since the world was shown the image.  Tweets welcoming refugees from the region showed and even larger increase. And, although tweets with Aylan’s name appear to have been short-lived, perhaps the international attention they produced can be harnessed as people are forced to learn more about why this tragedy occurred and pledge support.

Dangerous GiantsWhen we georeference and map tweets containing the hashtags #RefugeesWelcome and #AylanKurdi, we can also see how this unfolded around the world. Twitter is a crude measure of impact.  Yet, just as Barnard and Shoumali suggested, a single tragedy amidst a conflict that has led to the deaths of so many seems to have helped to capture the attention of the world.  See the snapshot of Twitter activity around the world using the hashtags #AylanKurdi (green) and #RefugeesWelcome (blue) two days after the photograph went viral (below).

Aylan Kurdi and Refugees WelcomeSo, can an image of a child change the world? Typically, no. But, a powerful image under the right conditions might have an impact no one could have predicted.

ASA Bowties 2015 jpegSpot a bow tie, meet a sex and gender scholar (or someone lucky enough to have donned a bow tie on our day)! The Sex & Gender Section of the American Sociological Association will celebrate its members, increase the visibility of sex and gender researchers at the summer meeting, and support conversation and networking with a “wear-a-bow tie” campaign. The Section’s Membership Committee encourages all members to wear a bow tie on Saturday, August 22nd, Sex & Gender’s designated section day.

Members can wear their own bow ties, pick up one of the free 500 bow tie pins at the Section Business Meeting on Saturday (from 9:30-10:10am), or get creative with jewelry, broaches, bow tie print apparel and other displays. The bow tie is fun way to boost our Section visibility with a trendy gendered style accessory. You can find bow ties clip art and designs in all sorts of places including on phone cases, mugs, socks, various forms of jewelry, emoji, photo editing apps, and, or course, actual bow ties. I personally watch the same YouTube video each time I’ve tied one. And, if you choose to brave one you need to tie yourself, I’ll just highlight the most important piece of information distilled in this How-To video: “Remember, there’s no such thing as a perfect bow tie.”

To discuss the campaign in more detail, I asked Kristen Schilt, chair of the Sex and Gender Membership Committee, and section member D’Lane Compton to join us in a brief digital interview.

Tristan: How was the bow tie decided upon for the campaign?

Kristen: Sex & Gender is one of the largest sections at ASA – in fact, this year, we surpassed all of the other sections with over 1200 members! With such a big section, however, it can be difficult for newer members to find a way in and to meet people. Our idea with this visibility campaign was to come up with a common symbol for all members to display on “sex and gender” day at ASA. Our hope was for it to be an ice-breaker for newer members and a way to show the general ASA what an important part of the discipline the field of sex and gender has become. We asked for suggestions for possible images and the bow tie came out as the winner among the section council. We felt that it was visible – seeing a large group of ASA members in bow ties would raise conversation. The bow tie also has a history of gender transgression in fashion, from Marlene Dietrich to butch subcultures in the 1950s. We recognized that not all members would be excited about the bow tie, but, we also felt no symbol would have full consensus in such a large and diverse section. We decided to move forward with this visibility campaign so we would be taking action on increasing the sense of community among newer and more established members. We imagine that if this campaign is a success that the Sex & Gender section will solicit member suggestions for a new symbol. We look forward to seeing what people come up with!

Tristan: What if members don’t want to wear a bow tie but do want to participate?

11011222_785267271571761_4706088863506098956_nKristen: Sex & Gender has commissioned 500 bow tie buttons that members without bow ties can wear on Saturday, August 22nd. We will give out these buttons at the Sex & Gender business meeting at 9:30 am. Any remaining buttons will be available at Sex & Gender sessions throughout the day. Just look for Jessica Fields, chair of the section, Kristen Schilt, head of Membership, or members D’Lane Compton and Tristan Bridges, who helped promote the winning bow tie idea.

D’Lane: Beyond the free buttons the section will be handing out, there are other ways you can get creative. For example, while I will be sporting a bow tie on Saturday, I also plan to draw a bow tie on my coffee cups that day. I will likely have a sharpie on hand if folks want to borrow it. I have also heard of some folks who were talking about bow tie-themed socks and various pieces of jewelry including earrings, broaches, hair combs, and necklaces. I will also be playing “I spy…” looking for those folks.

Tristan: What do you like about the campaign?

D’Lane: Beyond the visibility and promotion of the section, what I like most about the campaign is that I am certain it will generate a great deal of interaction whether it be online or on the streets, so to speak. I think it will also offer up different avenues in which we can learn new things about our colleagues and friends and of course just be a simple icebreaker for making new connections. It also gives us something to talk about other than work and may allow some insights into our tastes, likes, and dislikes.

Maybe it’s in my roots growing up under the Friday night lights of Texas stadiums, but I love spirit and “spirit days”. Wearing mismatched clothes on Wacky Wednesday, Thursday was tie day, and of course school colors on Friday. I remember having tie day in high school and loving the fact I had an “appropriate” reason to wear a tie and wouldn’t catch slack for wearing menswear that day. For some wearing a bow tie may feel like drag for the first time, irrespective of sex. Could be professional drag, or dandy drag, some combination, or other types of drag.

Despite all critiques, spirit days made for increased engagement and social bonding. It gave us something new to try, a place to play with who we are; and it was fun. You could also be really annoyed by it and opt out…which still allowed you to engage with others and bond over how ridiculous joiners are or the particular activity was and how over it all you were. It is with this mind set I approach my enthusiasm over the campaign.

Tristan: How are you considering participating?

D’Lane: I plan to wear a bow tie, and, assuming they are down with it, I will take as many pictures as I can of other bow ties and bow tie representing folks to share online. I know people who will not be in attendance plan to show their support by wearing a bow tie Saturday and tweeting it. I have also already changed some of my profile pictures to represent the section. And maybe I will instigate a #ASABowTieScavengerHunt hashtag searching for a collection of the ingenuity of members finding clever ways to participate!

10432120_794886257276529_5923158181651371396_nTristan: Thanks so much for telling us more about it. It sounds like a fun event. The new logo for the section even found a bow tie for the event, thanks to logo designer Eli Alston-Stepnitz. (See the July newsletter for an essay by Eli, Tristan, and Jessica Fields on the process of producing the new logo.) I’ll be wearing a bow tie on Saturday to participate. I chose one from a “conversation starter” line online.

Make sure you participate using the #ASABowties2015 hashtag on social media. And tag @asanews in your posts. In addition to making a show of the size and enthusiasm of our section at ASA, we’re also hoping that this sparks us to make some digital noise this year.

We hope section members will help live tweet the sessions they attend. In addition to flagging posts with session numbers, consider using #ASAGender15 in your tweets during presentations. The Sex & Gender twitter account (@asasexandgender) promoted the hashtag. We are an extremely vibrant section on social media. I’m excited to see whether we can connect our social media energy with this suggestion.

Thanks to Kristen Schilt and D’Lane Compton for the campaign and the interview. We’re all excited to see everyone this weekend. See you soon and safe travels!

Following the recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina on June 17th, 2015–a racially motivated act of domestic terrorism–President Barack Obama delivered a sobering address to the American people. With a heavy heart, President Obama spoke the day following the attack, stating:

At some point we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. And it is in our power to do something about it. I say that recognizing that politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge. (here)

President Obama was primarily referring to gun control in the portion of his speech addressing the cause of attacks like this. Not all mass shootings are racially motivated, and not all qualify as “terrorist” attacks—though Charleston certainly qualifies.  And the mass shooting that occurred a just a month later in Chattanooga, Tennessee by a Kuwati-born American citizen was quickly labeled an act of domestic terrorism. But, President Obama makes an important point here: mass shootings are a distinctly American problem. This type of rampage violence happens more in the United States of America than anywhere else (see here for a thorough analysis of international comparisons). And gun control is a significant part of the problem. But, gun control is only a partial explanation for mass shootings in the United States. Mass shootings are also almost universally committed by men.  So, this is not just an American problem; it’s a problem related to American masculinity and to the ways American men use guns.  But asking whether “guns” or “masculinity” is more of the problem misses the central point that separating the two might not be as simple as it sounds.  And, as Mark Follman, Gavin Aronsen, and Deanna Pan note in the Mother Jones Guide to Mass Shootings in America, the problem is getting worse.

We recently wrote a chapter summarizing the research on masculinity and mass shootings for Mindy Stombler and Amanda Jungels’ forthcoming volume, Focus on Social Problems: A Contemporary Reader (forthcoming, Oxford University Press). And we subsequently learned of a new dataset on mass shootings in the U.S. produced by the Stanford Geospatial Center. Their Mass Shootings in America database defines a “mass shooting” as an incident during which an active shooter shoots three or more people in a single episode. Some databases define mass shootings as involving 4 shootings in a single episode. And part of this reveals that the number is, in some ways, arbitrary. What is significant is that we can definitively say that mass shootings in the U.S. are on the rise, however they are defined. The Mother Jones database has shown that mass shootings have become more frequent over the past three decades.  And, using the Stanford Mass Shootings in America database, we can see this trend here (below) by relying on data that stretches back a bit further.

Mass Shootings FrequencyAdditionally, we know that the number of victims of mass shootings is also at an historic high (below).Victims of Mass ShootingsWe also produced a time-lapse map of mass shootings in the United States illustrating both where and when mass shootings have occurred using the Stanford Geospatial Center’s database to illustrate this trend over time (see below).

Our map charts mass shootings with 3 or more victims over roughly 5 decades, since 1966. The dataset takes us through the Chattanooga, Tennessee shooting, which brought 2015 to 42 mass shootings (as of July).* The dataset is composed of 216 separate incidents only 5 of which were committed by lone woman shooters. Below we produced an interactive map depicting all of the mass shootings in the dataset with brief descriptions of the shootings.

In our chapter in Stombler and Jungels’ forthcoming book, we cull existing research to answer two questions about mass shootings: (1) Why is it men who commit mass shootings? and (2) Why do American men commit mass shootings so much more than men anywhere else?  Based on sociological research, we argue that there are two separate explanations–a social psychological explanation and a cultural explanation (see the book for much more detail on each).

A Social Psychological Explanation–Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity.  As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.”  And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.)–some certainly more toxic than others.  The research on this topic is primarily experimental.  Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” (see here for more details) react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.  This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence.  The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women.  Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

A Cultural Explanation–But certainly boys and men experience all manner of gender identity threat in other societies.  Why are American boys and men more likely to react with such extreme displays?  To answer this question, we need an explanation that articulates the role that American culture plays in influencing boys and young men to turn to this kind of violence at rates higher than anywhere else in the world.  This means we need to turn our attention away from the individual characteristics of the shooters themselves and to more carefully investigate the sociocultural contexts in which violent masculinities are produced and valorized.  Men have historically benefited from a great deal of privilege–white, educated, middle and upper class, able-bodied, heterosexual men in particular.  Social movements of all kinds have slowly chipped away at some of these privileges.  So, while inequality is alive and well, men have also seen a gradual erosion of privileges that flowed more seamlessly to previous generations of men (white, heterosexual, class-privileged men in particular).  Michael Kimmel suggests that these changes have produced a uniquely American gendered sentiment that he calls “aggrieved entitlement.”  Of course, being pissed off about an inability to cash in on privileges previous generations of men received without question doesn’t always lead to mass shootings.  But, from this cultural perspective, mass shootings can be understood as an extremely violent example of a more general issue regarding changes in relations between men and women and historical transformations in gender, race, and class inequality.

Mass shootings are a pressing issue in the United States.  And gun control is an important part of this problem.  But, when we focus only on the guns, we sometimes gloss over an important fact: mass shootings are also enactments of masculinity.  And they will continue to occur when this fact is combined with a sense among some men that male privilege is a birthright–and one that many feel unjustly denied.


*The mass shootings in Charleston, South Carolina in June of 2015 and Chattanooga, Tennessee in July of 2015 were not in the dataset when we received it.  The data ran through May of 2015.  So, we’ve added the Charleston and Chattanooga shootings into the dataset for the graphs and maps on this post.

dragSouthern drag kings are interrupting the gender binary and making the South a safer place for queer people. Yes, drag kings do exist in the South, even the rural South. In our recent study (coauthored with Kimberly Kelly), we examine 27 South Carolina drag kings’ ideas about and experiences with drag in the South. The goal of this project is to make queer life in the South more visible and to explore how it differs from larger metropolitan areas that are more often the subject of academic research. Drag culture in the South is thriving and we wanted to know more about its impact.

Our findings suggest that Southern drag kings do not share intentions with drag kings in larger cities. Southern drag kings do not wish to overtly challenge the gender status quo. Unlike drag kings in other areas, they do not think of their performance as political. In contrast, Southern drag kings understand drag as a safe and fun outlet for expressing a female masculinity not respected in their everyday lives. As one king explains, “From all the experiences I’ve had, it’s just about fun and escape.”

drag 1The majority of drag kings in the South entered drag to express their long-term identification with masculinity. Many use drag as a testing ground for gender transition. Southern drag kings often described difficulty finding spaces where their masculine, or otherwise queer, identities were accepted. Performing drag was one place where many kings felt accepted and received positive messages about queer culture and transgender identities. Through drag they were able to receive information about gender identity and sexuality that many perceived unavailable outside these venues in the South. One drag king explains that drag is a place where transgender people can feel more comfortable. He says, “I guess more people are naturally drawn to that if they don’t feel comfortable in their skin because it’s like the first arena where you’re accepted as your new persona.”

Although their intentions are largely individualistic, for entertainment or gender transition, we argue the performance of drag in the South still has the effect of challenging the gender order and leads others to push for change in our society. Intentionality is not necessary for political impact. drag 4By performing as men, drag kings question the innateness of masculinity and show its performative nature. That Southern drag kings do not overtly state these challenges to the gender order does not eliminate the power of their performances.

Though the South may not be ready for an overt challenge to the gender hierarchy, drag provides a safe space for those who wish to step outside the gender binary. Southern drag kings understand the conservative nature of the South, and rather than challenge it directly, seek to remove themselves from it, if only for one show. Although change may be slower in the South than other areas of the country, drag provides a glimmer of hope for overcoming the gender hierarchy, especially in a context where the gender binary is so rarely interrupted.


baker (2)Ashley A. Baker recently completed her PhD in Sociology at Mississippi State University and begins a position as an Assistant Professor of Sociology and Social Work at Simpson College in the Fall of 2015. Her coauthor, Kimberly Kelly, is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of Gender Studies at Mississippi State University.
Their article “Live Like a King, Y’all: Gender Negotiation and the Performance of Masculinity among Southern Drag Kings” will be released for OnlineFirst publication at Sexualities soon.

Originally posted at Inequality by (Interior) Design

photo 1(1)I recently moved to upstate New York.  So, there’s a lot more Victorian-style architecture in my neighborhood.  I’ve posted on the interesting ways that Victorian architecture gender segregates activity within the domestic space before (here and here).  One room I’ve been interested in lately is a room with a few different names and a history that’s not entirely known.  It’s sometimes referred to as a “roofwalk.”  But, it’s more commonly called either a “widow’s walk,” “widow’s perch,” or a “widow’s watch.”  When I first learned about it, it was written about as a widow’s watch.  And there’s a bit of cultural mythology that surrounds these rooms in homes.  Here are two houses in my neighborhood with the room (right and left).

photo 2(1)The story that I’ve always heard about this room is that it was designed for the wives of sailors to watch and wait for their husbands to return.  Women whose husbands died at sea–so I was told–would sit in these rooms, pining for their long-lost lovers.  As it happens, there’s not a great deal of evidence that this was, in fact, the original purpose of the room, nor that this is how these rooms were actually used.  They did initially appear during the period when the sailing industry produced international trade on a level previously unimaginable and during which naval warfare dominated (~1500’s through the mid 1800s).  But the rooms could have equally been intended for (and used by) mariners themselves (rather than their wives) to look out for ships due back in port.  Indeed, in some communities, these rooms are referred to as “captain’s walks.”

And it’s also true that a great deal of these rooms were initially built around the chimneys of homes to provide quick and easy access to the chimney both in case it needed repair, and for a quick way to put out chimney fires–a constant dilemma in early American architecture.  This was the reason people had their chimneys “swept” every so often.  The accumulated ash and soot, if not regularly removed, could ignite.  Sweeping chimneys was serious–and extremely dangerous–business.  victorian style chimney sweep, a child chimney sweep,  hulton piChildren were often used because of their size, but it was a job often given to orphaned children.  It’s also a powerful illustration of historical understandings of children and childhood.  Despite being illegal, it would be unthinkable to ask a child to do something this dangerous today.  Chimney fires were serious business.  So, having quick access to pour sand down might have saved your home.

Yet many of these rooms today are not around chimneys, and if they were intended for either men or women, they were a room gendered by design.  And if intended for women, then they continued a tradition within Victorian architecture of designing rooms specifically intended to segregate (and/or isolate) certain emotional displays of women, keeping them out of sight.

Boudoirs and fainting rooms are similar examples.  Boudoirs, I think, are popularly thought of as rather large closets for women, in which wealthy Victorian women would bathe, dress, sit gazing at themselves in mirrors and brushing their hair (at least this is how they’re sometimes depicted on film).  It was also a private space in which women could carry out hobbies (like reading and embroidery) or entertain lovers away from various others in the house.   Interestingly, men’s private chambers were referred to as their “cabinet” (a term also used in American politics referring to the small group of people who advise and assist the president).  Boudoir is not as commonly used today.  It actually translates to something like “sulking room.”  And, boudoirs were also designed as spaces to which women might flee to avoid having socially “inappropriate” emotional displays in front of others.

Fainting rooms served similar purposes.  Typically on the main level of the house, fainting rooms were typically equipped with fainting couches.  How these rooms were actually used is the subject of some debate among historians.  Some have assumed that women were fainting because of the pain and various bodily restrictions caused by regularly wearing corsets.  Others suggest that these rooms and couches were used in some of the treatments prescribed for hysteria.  In either case, fainting rooms were designed to isolate women during periods of intense duress.

Rooms dedicated to socially “inappropriate” emotional displays from men are absent in Victorian architecture, perhaps because “real men” were presumed not to ever have need of them.  It’s an interesting case in which architecture plays a critical role in our interactions, either segregating or suppressing certain displays.

Lots of time and care consideration goes into the production of new superheroes and the revision of time-honored heroes. Subtle features of outfits aren’t changed by accident and don’t go unnoticed. Skin color also merits careful consideration to ensure that the racial depiction of characters is consistent with their back stories alongside other considerations. A colleague of mine recently shared an interesting analysis of racial depictions by a comic artist, Ronald Wimberly—“Lighten Up.”*  “Lighten Up” is a cartoon essay that addresses some of the issues Wimberly struggled with in drawing for a major comic book publisher. NPR ran a story on the essay as well. In short, Wimberly was asked by his editor to “lighten” a characters’ skin tone—a character who is supposed to have a Mexican father and an African American mother.  The essay is about Wimberly’s struggle with the request and his attempt to make sense of how the potentially innocuous-seeming request might be connected with racial inequality. Skin ToneIn the panel of the cartoon reproduced here, you can see Wimberly’s original color swatch for the character alongside the swatch he was instructed to use for the character.

Digitally, colors are handled by what computer programmers refer to as hexadecimal IDs. Every color has a hexademical “color code.” It’s an alphanumeric string of 6 letters and/or numbers preceded by the pound symbol (#).  For example, computers are able to understand the color white with the color code #FFFFFF and the color black with #000000. Hexadecimal IDs are based on binary digits—they’re basically a way of turning colors into code so that computers can understand them. Artists might tell you that there are an infinite number of possibilities for different colors. But on a computer, color combinations are not infinite: there are exactly 16,777,216 possible color combinations. Hexadecimal IDs are an interesting bit of data and I’m not familiar with many social scientists making use of them.**

There’s probably more than one way of using color codes as data. But one thought I had was that they could be an interesting way of identifying racialized depictions of comic book characters in a reproducible manner—borrowing from Wimberly’s idea in “Lighten Up.” Some questions might be: Are white characters depicted with the same hexadecimal variation as non-white characters? Or, are women depicted with more or less hexadecimal variation than men? Perhaps white characters are more likely to be depicted in more dramatic and dynamic lighting, causing their skin to be depicted with more variation than non-white characters. If that’s true, it might also make an interesting data-based argument to suggest that white characters are featured in more dynamic ways in comic books than are non-white characters. The same could be true of men compared with women.

Just to give this a try, I downloaded a free eye-dropper plug-in that identifies hexadecimal IDs. I used the top 16 images in a Google Image search for Batman (white man), Amazing-man (black man), and Wonder Woman (white woman). Because many images alter skin tone with shadows and light, I tried to use the eye-dropper to select the pixel that appeared most representative of the skin tone of the face of each character depicted.

Here are the images for Batman with a clean swatch of the hexadecimal IDs for the skin tone associated with each image below:


Batman Hex Codes

Below are the images for Amazing-man with swatches of the skin tone color codes beneath:Amazing-Man

Amazing-Man Hex Codes

Finally, here are the images for Wonder Woman with pure samples of the color codes associated with her skin tone for each image below:

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman Hex CodesNow, perhaps it was unfair to use Batman as a comparison as his character is more often depicted at night than is Wonder Woman—a fact which might mean he is more often depicted in dynamic lighting than she is. But it’s an interesting thought experiment.  Based on this sample, two things that seem immediately apparent. Amazing-man is depicted much darker when his character is drawn angry. And Wonder Woman exhibits the least color variation of the three.  Whether this is representative is beyond the scope of the post.  But, it’s an interesting question.  While we know that there are dramatically fewer women in comic books than men, inequality is not only a matter of numbers.  Portrayal matters a great deal as well, and color codes might be one way of considering getting at this issue in a new and systematic way.

While the hexadecimal ID of an individual pixel of an image is an objective measure of color, it’s also true that color is in the eye of the beholder and we perceive colors differently when they are situated alongside different colors. So, obviously, color alone tells us little about individual perception, and even less about the social and cultural meaning systems tied to different hexadecimal hues. Yet, as Wimberly writes, “In art, this is very important. Art is where associations are made. Art is where we form the narratives of our identity.”  Beyond this, art is a powerful cultural arena in which we form narratives about the identities of others.

At any rate, it’s an interesting idea. And I hope someone smarter than me does something with it (or tells me that it’s already been done and I simply wasn’t aware).


*Thanks to Andrea Herrera for posting Ronald Wimberly’s cartoon essay, “Lighten Up.”

**In writing this post, I was reminded that Philip Cohen wrote a short post suggesting that we might do more research on gender and color by using color codes to analyze children’s clothing. The post is here if you’re interested. After re-reading his post, I used the same site to collect pure samples of each hex code and I copied his display of the swatches.  Thanks Philip!

This is the second half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The first half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades—Part I” can be found HERE.

Flash forward to 2010. I was now a tenured full professor, pushing 60, a number of books under my belt. I was working with two young male Ph.D. students who in some ways reminded me of myself thirty years earlier—inspired by feminism, wanting to have an impact on the world. Both Tal Peretz and Max Greenberg had, as undergrads, gotten involved in campus-based violence prevention work with men. Unlike three decades ago, this work had become pretty much institutionalized; a guy like Tal or Max now can plug in to a campus or community organization, be handed an anti-violence curriculum, and get to work with boys and men. I figured this was a great opportunity to do a study with these two guys, tapping in to the roots of men’s work against gender-based violence in the 70s and 80s, and contrasting it with the work being done today.

NortonCropOf course, I thought of Chris Norton and MASV. I located Chris online. Ever generous, he agreed to be interviewed. In December of 2010, I drove to his house in Sebastopol, and as I knocked on his door, I wondered how different he’d look or be. After all, I had morphed from a long-haired, bearded youngster thirty years ago to clean-shaven gray-haired, gradually balding, stooped-shouldered guy. I spied him through the window as he came to the door, and as he opened it I was mildly astonished to see that he looked pretty much the same—bristly mustache and full head of hair—reddish, but with some gray mixed in. He also still had the same warm smile, accented now by smile lines around his eyes that, if anything, made him appear even more warm and friendly than before.

We went out to lunch, and did what older guys do: caught up on each others’ lives, shared our hopes, fears, and challenges we’d faced with our kids, commiserated about our ageing bodies. On this latter topic, Chris had more serious news to share than I. He was facing, with strength and optimism, a liver transplant in the near future.

We returned to his home, and settled in for the interview in a cozy cabin-like structure behind his and Mary’s home. We fell right in to a nice conversation, and I used bits of the transcript of my 1980 interview with Chris to prod his memory, and to probe ways in which he’d changed, or not, since then.   Most interesting to me were his reflections on the work that MASV had done so many years ago. He joined the several other MASV men whom I would eventually also interview in saying that he was very proud of the work the group had done. But in retrospect, he said he wondered how effective they’d been, and figured that if the group had it to do all over again, they might have done their work differently:

I don’t think I would go at it at all the way we did then, ‘cause I think in some ways, … I think we were doing something to prove something to ourselves and other people of our age group, and I don’t think we were thinking about, like, what’s it like to be a teenage boy in high school, and what are these images going to do to you when they’re shown up on a screen, and is it going to have any of the effect that we’re hoping to have? And I think it would have been really good to kind of get guys to talk about, well, there’s issues of bullying, issues of, you know, being popular, not popular. I mean, it seems like there could be a lot of things that could have been much more valuable, ‘cause in some ways, I think we almost had this stick and we’re going to beat you over the head with this thing. And… perhaps if they felt like they were more understood, maybe they could be more understanding of women and, and where women are coming from. And I think that would be more the way I would go about it now.

[Back then], we were really just making it up, I mean, it was the seat of our pants… we felt like we should be doing something. We were feeling like we need to be also talking about the same things that the women were talking about—but we basically just took their analysis and presented it. You know, it didn’t—it didn’t feel like it was coming from our core, you know, from who we were, other than maybe from our guilt

And, and you know, I think—having more of a positive vision of what a man should be, rather than going in there and telling men what they shouldn’t be doing—having a more pro-active, having a more kind of like, basically creating an ethic of, “This is what a man should do.” You know, this is, this is a positive thing for a man to do, and also like, what does a man want? You know, rather than like, “Oh, you shouldn’t be bad,” but…you wanna have a good relationship, you wanna have a relationship with someone that’s based on some degree of equality, on some degree of, of mutual respect, of everyone having opportunities, or people feeling good about their lives, about who they are. And, that presupposes having some degree of, of understanding of who you are yourself and what you want. And I felt like we weren’t, back then, we weren’t coming at it from that—it was more sort of like, you know, men are bad—Andrea Dworkin told us this—we know men are bad, we are bad, we’re gonna’ go and tell the high school boys that they’re bad too, for looking at pornography, and that pornography’s gonna’ make them badder than they already are. And, there wasn’t that—I think there’s gotta’ be a positive vision. And you have to have, I mean, you don’t want to be blind to the bad stuff that goes on, but there has to be kind of some upside for doing this, ‘cause I don’t think otherwise people are gonna’ really pay any attention or wanna listen to you.

Chris’s statement very neatly encapsulated about thirty years of change in the ways that men now approach doing violence prevention work with boys and men. In Some Men, the book that Max Greenberg, Tal Peretz and I wrote from this research, we chronicle the grassroots of this activism—set in place in the 70s and 80s by community groups like MASV—in part because it is important to honor the foundations of positive social change. But it’s also important because today’s younger activists, however savvy and pragmatic they may be about the ways they approach boys and men with their message, may also have lost something very important that earlier activists like Chris Norton had: a grounding in a larger view of social change that viewed their efforts to stop sexist violence against women as intricately connected with efforts to humanize and bring justice to the world.   For groups like MASV, feminist work with boys and men, Chris explained, was an integral part of a larger transformative movement:

… an important way of sort of humanizing socialism, or getting rid of some of the hard-edged more Stalinistic tendencies that some socialist movements could have. And it also just made a lot of sense [for] those of us too, who also were rejecting militarism and the traditional terms of being masculine or man, and were looking for some kind of a new way—when I came to Berkeley initially I was involved in the anti-war movement, and lived in communal houses, and we’d gotten involved in the food conspiracy, and—it was all part of this whole, you know, sort of community, alternative society in a way that we kinda’ felt like we were creating it back then.

In retrospect, like many radicals of his generation, Chris expressed frustration with the current prospects for transformative social change.

I think I’ve retreated some degree from utopianism. But I do feel that it’s definitely possible to have a far more egalitarian society than we do. And I just, I feel like—and that’s part of my frustration too, is those of us who feel that way haven’t found ways to be very effective in putting forward that vision and, and making that vision something that’s attractive to people, and making people realize that what we’re living under is not actually that great for a lot of people, and it’s very difficult for a lot of people.

Part of my goal in writing Some Men with Max and Tal was to encourage today’s anti-violence activists to re-connect to that larger vision. It is stories from this generation of activists like Chris Norton that help to keep alive this larger vision.

The community bonds that sustain that vision were palpable when I attended Chris Norton’s memorial service in 2012, after he had succumbed to cancer.  Included among the scores of family and friends celebrating Norton’s life were a handful of MASV men—guys who in their youth had pioneered anti-violence work. Now considerably older, they shared a sense of pride in what they had accomplished so many years ago. Following MASV’s demise, they had gone on to do other progressive work: Chris Anderegg worked for years helping women’s DV shelters with their finances; Larry Mandella created workshops for fathers; Santiago Casal did community organizing to get a memorial built in Berkeley for civil rights leader Cesar Chavez. All of them, in their own ways, were clearly in it for the long haul.

Still today, I am not and probably never will be much of an activist. But I hope that my research and writing makes some small contribution to progressive thinking, and progressive social change, a contribution that both honors and learns from the brave and important work that’s been done in the past by the doers of the world, like Chris Norton, whom I so admire, and whose collective work helps to make the world a better and more just place.


Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).

This is the first half of a two-post series on the pro-feminist and activist Chris Norton at Feminist Reflections by Michael A. Messner. The second half of “Learning from Chris Norton over three decades” will be published on May 21, 2015 @ 9:00am EST (and linked here).

The guy at the front of the room was saying stuff I’d never heard a man say before, especially to a room full of young college guys.   Through my basketball-player-eyes, I sized him up to be at least 6’5” with the broad shoulders of a power forward. He had medium-length reddish hair and a ruddy face dominated by a bristly mustache that left his mouth a bit of mystery. And what words emerged from this mouth! With a style that seemed simultaneously gentle and passionate, he urged these young guys to think critically about their own relationship to pornography. BlackBlueBacked up with a slideshow that depicted popular album covers (The misogynist public billboard promoting The Rolling Stones’ album Black and Blue was one of them), he pointed to the links between sexual objectification of women, men’s use of pornography, and men’s violence against women.

This stuff was hard to hear for young men—and I include myself in this. It was 1980. I was 28 and in recent years had come to define myself as a “pro-feminist man.” I’d even been in a men’s consciousness-raising group in Santa Cruz. But like many younger men like me who were awakening to feminism, I was still struggling with my own deeply engrained erotic attachments to conventional sexualized imagery of women, as depicted not only in Playboy and Penthouse, but pretty much everywhere around me. So here was this giant guy standing up there, calling us out—calling me out—on my shit. What struck me most, and what made it possible to hear what he was saying, was how he spoke as one of us—self-reflexively talking about his own immersion in a culture of eroticized sexism and violence against women, how it affected and continued to affect him. He revealed that he was part of a group of men, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV), that did educational work on sexism with boys and men—in schools, on the radio, in prisons—while also supporting each other to become pro-feminist men. (As I watched him in action, the punster in me wondered with a private chuckle whether the other members of his group were so, well, massive.)

I agreed with everything this guy said in his presentation and I admired his courage. I wanted to talk with him, maybe become friends with him, and for sure I wanted to interview him for my new research project for grad school—in-depth interviews with men in pro-feminist men’s groups. After the talk, I introduced myself. He greeted me warmly and immediately agreed to allow me to interview him.

Chris Norton was his name, and it turned out he was a guy of middle class origin who had moved to Berkeley in recent years, taken up work as a carpenter while also immersing himself in the progressive politics of the time. I had initially imagined he might become a basketball buddy, but we were only two minutes into our interview before he assuaged me of that illusion. When I asked him about his boyhood relationship to masculinity, he said,

…in sports, I didn’t feel like being aggressive often times and for instance I’m tall and was supposed to be good at basketball, to stand under the hoop and get all the rebounds, and it just didn’t work out—and people’d get pissed off at me for not getting all the rebounds—and then we wouldn’t end up winning and I’d get resentment back, and frustration from people, because I wasn’t doing what I was expected to do and then I’d feel bad about myself and think, “Well I guess I’m a failure, I’m not strong enough or not aggressive enough, maybe there’s something wrong with me or wrong with my masculinity; I’m not a man.”

Longtime comrades and SF Bay Area pro-feminist pioneers: L-R, Larry Mandella, Men Against Sexist Violence (MASV); Tom Berry, Berkeley Men’s Counseling Center; Chris Norton, MASV; Dana Francis, Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE).

My 1980 interview with Chris Norton not only helped me to complete a study toward the goal of getting my Ph.D.   It also helped to me begin to clarify the sort of person I am. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed thinking of myself variously as a socialist, a radical, a feminist, a progressive, an advocate for social justice. But mostly I don’t do much with these political commitments. Oh, I’ve marched in a few protests and paid dues in some progressive organizations, but I can’t stomach meetings and I hate the grind of building and sustaining organizations. I live so much inside my own head; I read, I write, and the most public thing I do is to lecture and occasionally write an op-ed on some social issue. But this guy, Chris Norton, though he had nearly identical politics as mine, was an opposite character type, a type I admired, even romanticized—a doer, a man committed to acting in the world rather than sitting around thinking about things.

In our interview, Chris spoke of the tensions of being a pro-feminist man, of struggling with how to integrate his commitments to feminism with his daily life as a carpenter, where he worked with men who didn’t always share those commitments. He spoke of MASV’s internal discussions of sexism and pornography, and of his own complicated relationship to feminism and other progressive politics. When I asked him if he called himself a feminist, his response revealed his ongoing self-criticism at his own internalized sexism, while also telegraphing what would become his next major political commitment:

I used to; I don’t know if I do right now. Just because I think I’ve been seeing a lot of limitations to feminism or some of the lacks that it has as far as dealing with class and other things… Some feminists, a certain branch of middle class feminists are sort of like “I want more of the pie” and as someone who’s real interested in changing class relationships and in a more thorough-going revolution I don’t really want to identify with that and I don’t feel real supportive of women executives and women in those positions… In my experience in Latin America, seeing the need to deal with class relationships—I see that as a real difference. The starting point of feminist consciousness between the U.S. and Latin America is really different. I think that any kind of revolutionary movement in the US has to pay a lot of attention to women’s issues, just because that’s where we are. But I think there’s like a bourgeois women’s movement that’s really self-centered and on some level I don’t think I’d call myself a feminist—I think I feel guilty about using that term when I have so much (This whole thing about looks)—I feel guilty because I have so much of this stuff that feels unresolved in myself—It’d be dishonest to call myself a feminist.

It’s two different things. On one level I have objections to some of the tendencies that feminism has and on the other hand I don’t think I’m good enough to call myself a feminist. When we were in the radio collective we called ourselves “pro-feminists,” [which] means that you’re supporting feminism, but not being women, we couldn’t be feminists.

Chris continued working with MASV for the next couple of years, but was shifting his attentions to Latin American solidarity work. I got together with him—maybe around 1983 or 1984 or so—and he told me he was planning to go to El Salvador to work as a freelance journalist, covering the brutal U.S. war that was attempting to suppress a popular uprising. At the time, following the 1979 Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, there was good reason to believe in the possibility of a succession of victorious liberation movements in Latin America. It was the mid-80s now, and Chris wanted to be a part of this history. He told me he dreamed of being in San Salvador when the victorious FMLA marched in.

I wanted to help—to support Chris, to contribute to the revolution—but of course I’d not stray too far from the local comfort of my oak desk, the very same one upon which I now rest my hands as I write, more than three decades later. I organized a big launch party for Chris at my rambling old rented house in the flatlands of Berkeley. The idea was to gather Chris’s friends and political comrades, as well as some of my own, for a fund-raiser to help Chris get to El Salvador and begin his work as a freelance writer. We cooked up industrial-sized vats of spaghetti for the event, and Chris presented an inspiring El Salvador slide show that outlined the political struggles and stakes. As it turned out, Chris and I had lots of friends; the house was packed to the gills with supporters. And, as it turned out, Chris and I had very few friends who had any money. The pittance we raised may have paid for Chris’s first handful of notebooks.

But he got there. During the latter half of the 1980s, Chris wrote from San Salvador, freelancing for the Christian Science Monitor and other magazines and papers. When I would see Chris’s byline in the CSM I would smile and shake my head in admiration. During those years, still glued to my desk, I wrote my dissertation, prepared articles for academic journals that would hopefully secure me a job, and started my salaried faculty job at USC. Oh, I attended anti-Reagan demonstrations in the early 80s, protested U.S. interventions, donated tiny amounts of money to Latin American solidarity and other progressive organizations—but never did I put my body on the line in the way that Chris Norton did. My admiration for Chris grew… but somewhere starting in the early 1990s, I lost track of him. Immersed in my academic career, building a family in L.A. with Pierrette and our young sons Miles and Sasha, Chris’s life and mine headed in different sorts of directions. I’d think of Chris occasionally, wondering what he was up to.

Part II will be posted on May 21st, 2015 at 9:00am EST and linked here.


Messner2013cMichael A. Messner is professor of sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California, and author (with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz) of Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women (Oxford University Press, 2015).


The floor plan of the White House recently made headlines because of a subtle change that’s caused a bit of a stir: it now features a gender-neutral restroom. Just one. But one was enough to make headlines. Many people don’t think twice about which restroom to use in public. Some people’s choice, however, is more of a dilemma than you might assume. Many transgender individuals struggle with the restroom issue in public settings. And this is an issue that forces cis-gender folks to confront deeply held beliefs about a gender-segregated setting—beliefs some may not fully realize they hold and many may be ill-equipped to discuss.

Making use of a public restroom is not often understood as a political act. Yet, a group of transgender folks in the U.S. and Canada are participating in a bit of digital activism by doing just that. It’s a quiet social movement, but it’s already gained some media attention. Pictures posted alongside the hashtags #Occupotty, #WeJustNeedToPee, and less often #LetMyPeoplePee on all manner of social media are starting a much-needed conversation about gender in and around public restrooms.

Brae Carnes
Brae Carnes, a transwoman in Victoria, depicted here using a men’s public restroom to raise awareness about what discriminatory legislation associated with “bathroom bills” would actually look like in practice.

Brae Carnes is a transgender woman living in Victoria, Canada whose photo-activism went viral when she posted an image of herself applying lipstick in a public restroom with a line of urinals against the wall behind her (see left). Brae told reporters at the Times Colonist, “I’m giving them what they want… I’m actively showing them what it would look like if that became law and how completely ridiculous it is” (here). And Brae is not alone. Michael Hughes, a transgender man living in Minnesota, also caused some digital waves when he posted a series of pictures of himself in women’s restrooms with captions like: “Do I look like I belong in women’s facilities?” (see below). Brae and Michael are part of a vocal group of trans* rights activists opposing legislation that would force transgender people to use the public restroom facilities associated with their birth gender (the sex they were assigned at birth). So-called “bathroom bills” are being introduced in the U.S. and abroad, and #Occupotty is an important challenge to the proposed legislation.

B_6vNpGUQAAm_bgThose introducing bathroom bills most often justify them as being about “protection,” “public safety,” and as attempts to reduce violence and assault. The bills rely on the transphobic myth that transgender individuals are sexually perverse and that they are likely to be sexual predators.  Thus, defenders of these bills often claim that they are about protecting cis-gender people. This avoids the troubling truth that transgender individuals are far more likely to have violence committed against them than they are to commit this kind of violence against others. Indeed, Media Matters found no evidence to substantiate the claim that restroom sexual assaults were higher in trans-inclusive jurisdictions.  One survey of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in Washington D.C. found that 70% of respondents reported having been either harassed in, assaulted in, or denied access to public restrooms (see here).   It’s an important issue and Brae Carnes and Michael Hughes are helping to draw more attention to the lives that hang in the balance.

Bathroom bills portray trans* persons as sneaky and deviant and as attempting to trick the rest of us into using a restroom with them. But, as Mic.com reported, there have been zero reported attacks on cis-gender people by transgender people in public bathrooms. All of the documented attacks victimized trans* persons. So, why is the conversation about transgender people committing violence rather than about protecting transgender folks from cis-gender violence?

This is an instance of what Laurel Westbrook and Kristen Schilt call a “gender panic”—situations in which people collectively react to challenges to biology-based ideologies about what gender is and where it comes from by attempting to reassert those ideologies. Bathroom bills produce just this type of ideological collision where biology-based ideologies and identity-based ideologies are pitted against each other in public discourse. Inside this ideological discord, we gain new information about the gender binary, gender inequality, and how our beliefs about gender difference take a lot more work to uphold than we may assume.

Bathrooms are intensely gendered spaces. The belief that men and women, boys and girls, ought to relieve themselves in separate rooms is a powerful illustration of our collective investment in gender differences. But, sex-segregated bathrooms are a matter of social preference and organization rather than being recommended by our biology. And when we attempt to resolve this gender panic by resorting to biology (such as introducing legislation mandating the criteria of “birth gender” for public restroom use), we continue an awful tradition of putting transgender people at risk of violence under the guise of protecting “us” from “them.”  But, social scientific research shows that we are in far greater need of policies that protect “them” from “us.”

Bathroom segregation is a political issue and one that deserves academic and public feminist support. The proposed legislation relies on myths associated with cis-gender and transgender people alike. Whether motivated by hate or misunderstanding, these laws fail to acknowledge well-documented facts about violence against transgender people, and in doing so, play a role in perpetuating continued violence and discrimination against transgender people. #Occupotty is a political statement and a request for recognition and rights. But these brave digital activists are doing more than that, too. They are exposing a set of myths that also work to justify gender and sexual inequality. Whether openly acknowledged or not, it is for this reason that #Occupotty meets resistance and it is for this reason that it deserves more support.



“The fag” and “the slut” are both symbols of contemporary gender relations. Stories about each provide social mechanisms for bonding, betraying, and belonging. Research suggests that “fag” and “slut” are among the more ubiquitous insults traded among young people. Each is simultaneously all about sexuality and has absolutely nothing to do with sexuality. For instance, most of CJ Pascoe’s research participants in her study of the use of “fag” among boys at River High said that they would never aim the insult at someone who is “actually gay.” Pascoe suggests that this indicates a need for a more nuanced way of understanding sexuality—not as some thing inhering in specific bodies or identities, but as something capable of operating to discursively construct social boundaries in social life as well. “Slut” is used in similar ways—as a mechanism of gender policing. Most of the research focusing on either is primarily about gender policing and gender and sexual inequality. But, research shows that sexual discourses play a key role in racial and class inequality as well.

51TJlLPKAJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Pascoe discovered that “homophobia” didn’t fully explain exactly what she observed at River High. It was a gendered and racialized form of homophobia that Pascoe refers to as “fag discourse.” Fag discourse is all about drawing boundaries around acceptable masculinity. Boys hurled the insult at each other in jest, sometimes at random, and as a part of a social game—one in which they were incredibly invested. But it was a “game” primarily played among white boys at River High. There’s a whole section of her book dedicated to “Racializing the Fag” that explores the intricacies of this interesting nuance associated with fag discourse. At River High, Black boys and white boys rely on distinct symbolic resources when “doing gender.” For instance, paying “excessive” attention to one’s clothing or identifying with an ability to dance well put white boys at risk of being labeled a “fag,” but worked to enhance Black boys’ masculine status. Pascoe also discovered that Black boys were unable to rely on fag discourse in quite the same way that white boys did. Indeed, though they were much less likely to use the term, Black boys at River High were much more likely to be punished by school authorities when they did. Black boys were also the only students reported to school authorities for saying “fag” by their peers. White boys, in other words, relied on racial hierarchies to control the meaning of the discourse such that saying “fag” was interpreted as “playful” and “meaningless” when they used the term and “dangerous” and “harassing” when Black boys did.

armstrong book cover, paying for the partyIn a separate study of sexuality in college life, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Laura T. Hamilton, Elizabeth M. Armstrong, and J. Lotus Seely investigated the meaning of the term “slut” among college women. This paper is a part of Armstrong and Hamilton’s larger research project and book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Armstrong et al. discovered that “slut” had a fluid meaning for college women. Not all of them understood the same sorts of behavior as putting someone at risk of receiving the insult. At the institution at which the study was conducted, they found that social status among women fell largely along class lines. “High-status” women were almost entirely upper and upper-middle class. This was at least partially due to the fact that performing the femininity necessary for classification required class resources (joining a sorority, having the “right” kind of body, hair, clothes, etc.).

Armstrong, et al. found that high-status women used “slut” to refer to a specific configuration of femininity, one they defined as “trashy.” While high-status women rarely actually deployed classist language, their comments relied on understandings of performance of gender stereotypically associated with less-affluent women—what Mimi Schippers would refer to as “pariah femininities”—and allowed them to situate their own sexual behavior and identities as beyond reproach. Similar to Julie Bettie’s study of white and Mexican-American girls, Armstrong et al. found that performing “classy” or “preppy” femininity (a performance that is simultaneously gendered, raced, sexualized, and classed) worked to shield high-status women from “slut” stigma.  The low-status women in Armstrong et al.’s study understood “slut discourse” to be more about sexuality than gender. Situating themselves as outside of the alleged “hookup culture,” low-status women used “slut” to stigmatize the sexual behavior of high-status women (sex outside of relationships). In an analogous way to Pascoe’s findings regarding race and fag discourse, these classed differences involving women drawing moral boundaries around femininity were enforced unevenly. While both groups reconstituted “slut” to work to their advantage, casual sexual activity posed little reputational risk for high-status women, so long as they continued to perform a “classy” configuration of femininity in the process.  Similar to Pascoe’s research, high-status women here relied on symbolic class boundaries to control the meaning of the discourse such that participation in casual sexual interactions took on a different meaning when coupled with “classy” performances of gender.   Here, class worked to insulate high-status women just as race worked to insulate white boys in Pascoe’s research.

Both studies illustrate important intersections between sexuality, race and class. Sexual discourses are invoked in a variety of ways throughout social life. They play an integral role in policing gender boundaries. But it is also important to continue to consider the role that sexual discourses play in bolstering boundaries around race and class.