Singer-songwriter Hozier played “guess the man buns” on VH1, and Buzzfeed facetiously claimed they had “Scientific Proof That All Celebrity Men are Hotter with Man Buns.” Brad Pitt, Chris Hemsworth, and David Beckham have all sported the man bun. And no, I’m not talking about their glutes. Men are pulling their hair back behind their ears or on top on their heads and securing it into a well manicured or, more often, fashionably disheveled knot. This hairstyle is everywhere now: in magazines and on designer runways and the red carpet. Even my neighborhood Barista is sporting a fledgling bun, and The Huffington Post recently reported on the popular Man Buns of Disneyland Instagram account that documents how “man buns are taking over the planet.”

David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, and Jared Leto all sporting man buns/elle.com
David Beckham, Orlando Bloom, and Jared Leto all sporting man buns/elle.com

At first glance, the man bun seems a marker of progressive manhood. The bun, after all, is often associated with women—portrayed in the popular imagination via the stern librarian and graceful ballerina. In my forthcoming book, Styling Masculinity: Gender, Class, and Inequality in the Men’s Grooming Industry, however, I discuss how linguistic modifiers such as manlights (blonde highlights for men’s hair) reveal the gendered norm of a word. Buns are still implicitly feminine; it’s the man bun that is masculine. But in addition to reminding us that men, like women, are embodied subjects invested in the careful cultivation of their appearances, the man bun also reflects the process of cultural appropriation. To better understand this process, we have to consider: Who can pull off the man bun and under what circumstances?

I spotted my first man bun in college. And it was not a blonde haired, blue eyed, all American guy rocking the look in an effort to appear effortlessly cool. This bun belonged to a young Sikh man who, on a largely white U.S. campus, received lingering stares for his hair, patka, and sometimes turban. His hair marked him as an ethnic and religious other. Sikhs often practice Kesh by letting their hair grow uncut in a tribute to the sacredness of God’s creation. He was marginalized on campus and his appearance seen by fellow classmates as the antithesis of sexy. In one particularly alarming 2007 case, a teenage boy in Queens was charged with a hate crime when he tore off the turban of a young Sikh boy to forcefully shave his head.

Stylehunter.com encourages men to "Think more Indian Sikh than Kardashian at the gym" when creating their man buns.
Stylehunter.com encourages men to “Think more Indian Sikh than Kardashian at the gym” when creating their man buns.

A journalist for The New York Times claims that Brooklyn bartenders and Jared Leto “initially popularized” the man bun. It’s “stylish” and keeps men’s hair out of their faces when they are “changing Marconi light bulbs,” he says. In other words, it’s artsy and sported by hipsters. This proclamation ignores the fact that Japanese samurai have long worn the topknot or chonmage, which are still sported by sumo wrestlers. Nobody is slapping sumo wrestlers on the cover of GQ magazine, though, and praising them for challenging gender stereotypes. And anyway, we know from research on men in hair salons and straight men who adopt “gay” aesthetic that men’s careful coiffing does not necessarily undercut the gender binary. Rather, differences along the lines of class, race, ethnicity, and sexuality continue to distinguish the meaning of men’s practices, even if those practices appear to be the same. When a dominant group takes on the cultural elements of marginalized people and claims them as their own—making the man bun exalting for some and stigmatizing for others, for example—who exactly has power and the harmful effects of cultural appropriation become clear.

Actor Toshiro Mifune in the movie, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto/whitecitycinema.com
Actor Toshiro Mifune in the movie, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto/whitecitycinema.com
Sumo Wrestlers with the traditional chonmage/japanesetimes.co.jp
Sumo Wrestlers with the traditional chonmage/japanesetimes.co.jp

Yes, the man bun can be fun to wear and even utilitarian, with men pulling their hair out of their faces to see better. And like long-haired hippies in the 1960s and 1970s, the man bun has the potential to resist conservative values around what bodies should look like. But it is also important to consider that white western men’s interest in the man bun comes from somewhere, and weaving a narrative about its novelty overlooks its long history among Asian men, its religious significance, and ultimately its ability to make high-status white men appear worldly and exotic. In the west, the man bun trend fetishizes the ethnic other at the same time it can be used to further marginalize and objectify them. And so cultural privilege is involved in experiencing it as a symbol of cutting-edge masculinity.

http://www.aal-europe.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/challenge1.jpgWhile male managers must survive in a politicized environment, one that can be emotionally and intellectually challenging, it is harder for  women because of the added gender dynamics embedded in the…culture. Women must deal with narrow parameters for what is considered acceptable behavior. They must contradict the stereotypes their male colleagues have about women, but avoid being considered too macho. They must be decisive, but not pushy; ambitious, but not expect equal treatment in terms of pay or rate of promotion. They must take initiative, but they must also follow other people’s advice.

This quote is taken from a book I wrote 20 years ago, in which I examined the workplace culture of a financial services company for the workers – women – who used its parental leave policy. (Men only took vacation time when their babies arrived.) I spent a year observing workplace dynamics with a gender and occupational status lens. And I learned that being a woman on the top was not easy.

http://siliconangle.com/files/2012/02/scaling-mountain.jpgI think about this study as I observe Hillary Clinton navigate the precarious waters of power politics. As I review what I wrote a couple of decades ago, it’s clear that while it may be easier now for women to rise to executive positions, it’s no picnic trying to get there, or for that matter, trying to stay there.

For women in politics, getting to, and being on, the top is fraught with personal and professional land-mines. Former Google executive, Cheryl Sandberg, advises women to be more assertive in the workplace and demand equal treatment, while Ann-Marie Slaughter, CEO of the New America Foundation, pushes for work and family policies that create a more even playing field. I tend to think that both approaches are relevant and true, and either alone is insufficient. Despite the unfriendly climate for women who seek and occupy high political office, there are a number of prominent women who have traversed this terrain.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-FTFg4WK2C7U/TvsghnwosGI/AAAAAAAABv4/zaDB9k7nUU0/s1600/41547857Growin_unequal_cover_anim.gifWhile some would argue that women are more likely to promote policies that bring about peace, or work-family balance, or gender equity, this is not inevitable. Women are operating within the broader system, and their power is not necessarily equated with progressive social and economic policies, much less the promotion of gender equity. That said, there are women political leaders who are making real change. It’s fascinating to see how these women – and others who are less progressive – have historically risen and currently rise to the top.

Increase of executive women leaders globally

One can rattle off a list of noted women leaders over the decades, from the first female Indian Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, and the former Prime Minister of the UK, Margaret Thatcher, to more contemporary women leaders, like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Chile’s President Michelle Bachelet, or Brazilian President, Dilma Vana Rousseff. Or one of my favorites (more later!), former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Concurrent to this rise of women executive leaders, there have also been a record number of women voted onto national parliaments worldwide.

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2015/01/ST_2015-01-14_women-leadership-3-03.pngUp until a couple decades ago, women were entering the high echelons of political power at a very slow pace. But in the 1990s, 26 women became executive leaders, and 29 more women entered the ranks by 2009. Between the 1980s and 1990s, the number of new female leaders nearly quadrupled, and this trend continued through the 2000s. According to political scientist Farida Jalalzi, 71 women from 52 countries became national leaders between 1960-2009. While the greatest number of women in positions of executive leadership come from Europe, overall, they represent five world regions, including Asia, African, Europe, Latin America and Oceania. Hillary has a number of sisters who have done it for themselves.

I can imagine that Hillary has a bevy of advisors telling her how to navigate the treacherously gendered waters of power, telling her what she should wear; how she should balance a direct style with her desire to be approachable and likable; how she should argue and debate without being considered arrogant; or even how to use humor to deflect criticism. Just thinking about all of these considerations is exhausting!

Gendered landscape for women in the political process

Who are the women politicians who Hillary should be looking to for inspiration? How did they rise? What are the issues they are passionate about? What are their contradictions? How do they survive?

In her writing about the gendered landscape of women in the political process, political scientist, Farida Jalalzai, reports that the increased numbers of women in top political leadership positions has “sparked widespread discussion of the role of sex and gender in political life…For some, the rise of several prominent female leaders reflects the important gains that women have made in the political sphere”. But she warns that “the experiences and portrayals of female politicians, as well as the continued under-representation of women in politics more generally, draw attention to the many ways in which access to political office is still very much stratified by gender”.

Characteristics of global women leaders

http://news.yale.edu/sites/default/files/Women's%20Forum-3.jpgJalalzai offers some important insights regarding which women rise to executive power and in what contexts. Interestingly, women tend to become national leaders in countries where women’s education and economic status lags far behind that of men. Think, Indira Gandhi of India or President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia. Women leaders in those countries are usually highly educated, and have far more privilege then most women in their countries. Gandhi was mostly taught at home by tutors when she was young, undoubtedly to ensure that she had access to quality education, and later studied political science, history and economics at Oxford university.

Sirleaf didn’t complete college in her homeland, but came to the US to do her BA degree, and then studied economics and public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, where she received a Masters of Public Administration. In a 2011 speech she made at Harvard’s commencement, she thanked the university for the many professors and the “compliments you paid when my papers and interventions were top rate, and for the patience you showed when I struggled with quantitative analysis”. She also noted that the “self-confidence, sometimes called arrogance, that comes from being a Harvard graduate can also lead one down a dangerous path”, as she describes the consequences of questioning her government’s failure to address long-standing inequalities, in a speech at her high school alma mater.

http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02171/Ellen-Johnson-Sirl_2171981b.jpg

This forced me into exile and a staff position at the World Bank. Other similar events would follow in a life of in and out of country, in and out of jail, in and out of professional service. There were times when I thought death was near, and times when the burden of standing tall by one’s conviction seemed only to result in failure. But through it all, my experience sends a strong message that failure is just as important as success.

Later, Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with two other women activists, in recognition “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.

A number of high level political women were part of political family dynasties – like Indira Gandhi, who rose through the ranks when her father was Prime Minister, or Isabella Peron who became Prime Minister of Argentina following her husband’s death. Jalalzai also found that women were more likely to serve in parliamentary systems and as Prime Ministers, where they are selected by their own party, rather than as presidents, who come to power through popular vote. Moreover, she argues that there is a gendered nature to this role, as Prime Ministers tend to share power with cabinet and party members so they exhibit more so-called “feminine” qualities like negotiation and collaboration.

So what about Hillary?
http://www.taylormarsh.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Hillary_Clinton_2016.jpg
Like many international women politicians, Hillary was introduced to the public through her status as wife to the President. Traditionally, the wife status is “lesser than”, but there has certainly been precedence for wives emerging as political leaders. Hillary is highly educated – undergraduate degree from Wellesley College and Law degree from Yale – and while she was being groomed to rise politically during her husband’s tenure as President, she was given the opportunity to demonstrate her strong leadership abilities, notably her efforts to reach consensus on health care policy in the US, an unwieldy job that was destined to fail, given the disparate forces involved.

Hillary was dealt a huge setback when her husband got caught having sex with an intern and then lied about it. All eyes were on her, as she – and her husband and all of their political consultants – had to figure out the smartest way to help her survive unscathed, walking a fine line of avoiding being perceived as a “scorned” woman, while personally maintaining self-respect, as an independent woman who was disconnected from her husband’s bad behavior. Ultimately, Hillary was able to establish herself as a professional, separate from this crisis that could have marred their family’s prospects for political engagement. And perhaps by some, she was viewed as grounded and able to tolerate adversity, and ultimately proved herself as a capable Senator and Secretary of State.

Many progressives are critical of Hillary’s moderate economic policies and links to big money, at the same time, feeling outraged at the sexism and ageism she endures. In a recent campaign speech, she retorted,

Well, I may not be the youngest candidate in this race. But I will be the youngest woman President in the history of the United States!

Which women leaders around the world should Hillary look to for inspiration?

Which political leaders’ playlist can Hillary learn from?

Let’s start with former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who lambasted her opposition leader, Tony Abbott, in her now-infamous and highly watchable “Misogyny Speech”, in which she says, “I say to the Leader of the Opposition I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man. I will not!” When Abbott claimed he was offended by a colleague’s discovered sexist texts, Gillard doesn’t buy it, saying:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/linkableblob/4328810/data/julia-gillard-holds-up-finger-in-question-time-data.jpg

Let’s go through the Opposition Leader’s repulsive double standards, repulsive double standards when it comes to misogyny and sexism. We are now supposed to take seriously that the Leader of the Opposition is offended by Mr Slipper’s text messages, when this is the Leader of the Opposition who has said…and I quote, in a discussion about women being under-represented in institutions of power in Australia, the interviewer was a man called Stavros. The Leader of the Opposition says “If it’s true, Stavros, that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?

Or perhaps Hillary could learn a few things from Dilma Vana Rousseff, current President of Brazil, who – like Margaret Thatcher – has been dubbed “the Iron Lady” because of her apparent “brusque manner and short temper”, a title that doesn’t seem to faze her. She grew up in an upper-middle class home, joined the left-wing movement against Brazil’s military dictatorship which had seized power in 1964, and was imprisoned for three years during which she was subject to torture, and refused to break. She was called “the high priestess of subversion” during her trial. From 2005-2010, she was Chief of Staff to President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. And then she was elected President in 2011. While Rousseff is progressive around some economic issues, she is also a leader in a religious country. She herself is pro-life, supporting abortion only in certain circumstances (e.g., health of mother, cases of rape), but even then was criticized by the Roman Catholic Church and other religious groups. Rouseff is also opposed to gay marriage, even though she supports same sex civil unions. Nothing is simple.

http://thehoopla.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Leymah-Gbowee.jpgI return to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia since 2006 and the first elected head-of-state in Africa. Her collaboration with Leymah Roberta Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist who led a women’s peace movement, helped bring an end to Liberia’s civil war, which enabled a free election in 2005 that resulted in Sirleaf’s winning the Presidency. Gbowee was one of the activists who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Sirleaf, who understood the importance of being aligned with a social movement that reflected her values and promoted peace. Sirleaf has said she promotes women’s involvement in politics because she says women “have a story to tell” and their participation can promote more peaceful policies, economic empowerment, and provide young girls with role models and aspirations.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/bc/Tarja_Halonen_1c389_8827-2.jpgAnd finally, if Hillary is looking for a real ally, she should look no further than Tarja Kaarina Halonen, former trade unionist turned lawyer and two-term President of Finland (2000-2012). A human rights activist and avid supporter of LGBT rights with an 88% approval rating throughout her tenure, Halonen is currently an active member of the UN’s Council of Women World Leaders. Were Hillary ever to become President, this international “network of current and former women prime ministers and presidents” is a place she could possibly call home. The Council was founded in 1996 by Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, President of Iceland (1980-1996) and the first woman in the world to be democratically elected president; Mary Robinson, President of Ireland (1990-1997) and Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders. It aims to “support(s) women’s full participation and representation in the political process at the highest levels, and future women leaders”.  Commenting on the status of women globally, Liswood said, “There is no such thing as a glass ceiling for women. It’s just a thick layer of men”.

Some may argue that women rule differently from men. But we have learned from history that all political leaders operate within the social and political context of which they are a part. Politics is a gendered space, and women leaders walk a narrow line. The wisest of political leaders look for allies who build the base and fight for change from the outside in, as well as the inside out.

Who are the other global women political leaders you admire?

http://www.unfoundation.org/features/cwwl-main2.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10:15 a.m. Ten minutes before my first class of the semester. It was January and Connecticut was buried under several feet of snow. Damn. There was no point trying to run over to one of my friend’s offices to find an accomplice for my exercise. I’d never make it back in time. Who could I grab for this experiment so last minute? As I pulled out my phone to check the time, I mentally smacked myself on my head. Of course!

But I should back up a bit before I go on. Every year in my Introduction to Sociology class, I like to start the first class with an experiment. This is often an exercise that introduces my students to basic sociological concepts, such as norms, cultural values, roles, and legitimate authority (since all of these are very central to what I teach in my course). In the past, my experiments have included asking students to follow me around the building without explanation and then returning to the classroom and resuming the lesson; asking them to jump around the room; asking them to switch their seats in a given pattern (first two rows move to the last two rows, the middle rows switch left and right). But this year, I wanted to do something more. Something that was blatantly wrong. My original plan was to ask a faculty colleague of mine to stand outside the classroom with me and chat past the time that class was supposed to start. But now, just minutes before my class, my friend had told me she couldn’t make it. So here I was, considering my options. And now as the solution dawned on me while I stared at my phone, I muttered, “Who needs humans in the flesh when you have a phone at your disposal.” I went over the plan in my head. “Don’t give in in less than 10 minutes… you have to make it last.” I said to myself as I took a deep breath and walked into class.

From my position behind the podium, I watched the students shuffle in without greeting them. When they were all seated I announced, “This is Introduction to Sociology. Please put all cell phones away.” I then pulled out my own cell phone, walked behind the desk, sat down and started scrolling through my email on my phone. The students sat patiently. A couple of minutes went by and no one said a word. I was getting nervous at this point myself. I giggled as if I had read something funny. Clearly, it was not an emergency that was forcing me to stay on the phone. The students started to shift in their seats a little. I looked up and glanced around the room. They looked at each other. I went back to my phone.Using smart phone

Five minutes passed, although it seemed much longer. Not being one who uses her phone very much, I was really struggling to keep busy with my phone, plus I was nervous. I made a point to look at the clock. 10:32 a.m. Seven minutes had passed since the start of class. I heard a couple of students laugh uncomfortably but no one spoke to each other. I went back to my phone and pretended to scroll through news. “Just a few more minutes,” I thought to myself. “You need to go past the ten minute mark at least.”

At 10:37 a.m., exactly 12 minutes since class was supposed to start, I put my phone away, picked up the syllabus and started class as if nothing unusual had just transpired. After going through my office hours, assignments for the semester, policy on late assignments etc. I looked around and asked, “So, what questions do you have for me?” I encouraged them to deviate from the syllabus, “Ask me anything,” I prodded, “If appropriate, I’ll answer it.” They asked me all kinds of questions . . . but not the one I was waiting for. After a while, I looked around and said, “ Is there ANYTHING else you think you should ask me about?”

The students shook their heads.
At this point my experiment was complete and it was time to let them in on it.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
Uncomfortable silence.
“No really, why are you here?”
“To learn”, a student in the front row said after a while.
“Then why didn’t you ask me to stop using my phone and teach?”
The students gave me range of obvious answers, from they don’t know what I would do in return, to they don’t want to question the professor.
“What if I told you, you are also here to un-learn?” I countered.
Uncomfortable laughter.

From here on, we had a lively discussion about the lessons learned and un-learned from this exercise. To briefly summarize:

1) The first lesson of this exercise is to understand that social norms – how we are expected to behave in a given situation—are always working on us whether we know it or not. For my students, it was their socialization in schools, the expectation that they do not question their teachers that encouraged them to not challenge my inappropriate behavior. Students could probably excuse a professor coming in late by a couple of minutes, or taking a couple of minutes to get themselves together. But I had made certain that the experiment lasted longer than ten minutes – an arbitrary choice by me, but one I felt made the experiment long enough to make the situation absurd and unreasonable.

2) This experiment also exposed the power of the “path of least resistance”, (as Allan Johnson discusses in his book, The Forest and the Trees) for my students: nobody else was questioning me, so why should they? It’s much easier to do what everyone else is doing in a given situation. This lesson is one of the most valuable one perhaps, especially as we cover the by-stander effect later on in the semester when discussing hazing in fraternities, or military abuse of prisoners for example.

3) Relatedly, it also revealed the nature of legitimate authority and obedience to authority: my students obeyed my instructions (putting cell phones away) and did not question my behavior, not because they knew who I was as an individual, but because of the authority vested in me by the title of “professor”. In our society, we see professors and teachers as generally moral, intelligent, and ethical. The authority of a professor is further emphasized by the physical structure of the classroom with the professor at the front of the room, and by the “material culture” of a classroom: desk, podium, chalkboard, and smart-board for professors. The students on the other hand, sit in chairs, physically looking up to the professor.

These are all sociological lessons that my students learn on the first day through this experiment. But implicit in this experiment is the hope that they will “un-learn” some of the behavior that they’ve been socialized into, whether it’s being a passive student or a passive by-stander. It is only through learning about and critically analyzing our social world that we are actually able to “un-learn” or challenge the many lessons we’ve been taught.

As a critical, feminist sociologist, that is the most important lesson that I can teach my students—sociology is not a collection of facts and theories, it is a perspective, a way of seeing. And as the writer Arundhati Roy says “once you see, you can’t unsee.” To this I would add: truly seeing, that is, seeing the world through a sociological lens, is the first step towards unlearning. Welcome to Introduction to Sociology.

Works Cited:

Johnson, Allan. 2014. The Forest and the Trees. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Roy, Arundhati. 2001. “The Ladies Have Feelings, So . . . Shall We Leave it to the Experts?” In Power Politics. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

____________________

Jafar-2015Afshan Jafar  is in the sociology department at Connecticut College. She studies globalization, gender, and the body.

In 2010, PinkRibbon.org did a “quick poll” to ask “whether commercialization of the pink ribbon adds to the cause.” They reported that 71 percent of respondents said “YES” – pink ribbon commercialization adds value. Well, there we have it! But is it true? As I wrote in the new introduction to Pink Ribbon Blues,

Breast cancer is indeed one of the most popular and profitable social causes of our time. The pink ribbon not only signifies a good and moral cause but also functions as a proxy for awareness and support. Countless promotions and publicity materials are carefully crafted to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of eager, well-meaning consumers as imperative language echoes across the pink cultural landscape: hope, fight, win, celebrate, give – now, today, forever. The formula morphs into any number of fun-filled activities from pub crawls and fashion shows to the now commonplace runs and walks “for the cure.” While these actions offer symbolic support and raise money, they sometimes do little to help the diagnosed, promote real awareness, or impact the epidemic at large.

Public attention to breast cancer and the pink ribbon have grown over the past thirty years entwined with a medical system at once the hope and bane of the disease, situated within communities of advocacy and support that help as much as hinder, and popularized to the degree that pink consumption has become more of a trendy lifestyle choice than a rallying call for social change.

Hidden beneath the highly publicized pink ribbon celebration, the push-pull of breast cancer advocacy gave way to those with the largest megaphones, political influence, and marketing potential. As pink ribbon promotions increasingly exploited the cause for public relations purposes and to keep revenues and profit streams flowing, tenacious groups continued to work on the margins to affect the epidemic and support the diagnosed in meaningful and healthful ways.

A persistent reticence persists amid the halo of sound bites, survivorship mantras, product placements, and inattention to strategies and actions that may be more useful. These individuals and organizations go beyond fundraising and self-promotion to consider issues of bioethics, evidence-based medicine, health communication, social justice, conflicts of interest, neglected areas of research, and the limits of consumption-based advocacy. Though they diverge in the problems they tackle and the methods they use, these groups share a critical stance that fosters new thinking about breast cancer and how to address it.

In recent years members of the public have joined their voices to a chorus of serious and uncomfortable questions about breast cancer:

• Are we any closer to knowing what causes breast cancer, how to prevent it, how to keep it from coming back, and how to keep people from dying from it?

• Why are the“slash, burn, and poison” approaches to treatment still the norm?

• Are pink ribbon products outpacing efforts to provide meaningful support to the diagnosed and to influence the epidemic?

• Where does the money go, and who/what does it help?

Not long ago, outside of trusted circles, such questions would have been uttered in hushed tones. Many, including those treated for breast cancer, felt guilty for doubting a cause that was commonly accepted as overwhelmingly good. As the inner workings of pink culture and industry become more visible, largely through the misconduct of breast cancer charities and profit-driven industries, growing numbers are calling for transparency, accountability, and alternatives.


This year for breast cancer awareness month, let’s get behind those calling for change. Let’s move beyond the pink pendulum of fear mongering and feel-good, consumption.

Let’s look at the messaging for what it is.

Simple. Emotional. Symbolic. Advertising.

Breast cancer exists.

Ch4 SunSoy Image 164

Be afraid.

CheckYourself Before Its Too Late

All women are at risk.

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Have hope.

HopeIsBeautiful

Show courage.

024 CourageNightImage 20.1

Cop a feel.

ProjectBoobies

Get a mammogram.

Mammogram Billboard

Have a biopsy.

BandaidImage 283

Think Pink.

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Shoot Pink.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Cheer Pink.

Atlanta Falcons cheerleaders

Jeer Pink.

Go Pink or Go HOme

Fight Pink.

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Win Pink.

Triumphant

Walk Pink.

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Drive Pink.

FrenchieTruck

Eat Pink.

mmsForTheCure EgglandsBestPinkRibbonEggs

Drink Pink.

0197 Sip, Swirl, Support Wine

Porn Pink.

Porn Hub

Pee Pink.

0159 Pink Potty

Shop Pink.

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Spritz Pink.

Promise Me Perfume

Debit Pink.

Drill Pink.

pinkdrill

Live Pink.

Live-Laugh-Love Pink

Die Pink.

Die Pink

Women and men with, and at risk for, breast cancer deserve better. #rethinkpink

It’s different for women to collect tattoos than men. Back in the 1970s when tattooing was just starting to become an interesting, edgy way for people to express themselves, tattoo shops even had a special section of art dubbed, “for the ladies.” Little hearts and cute animals were something for women to hide away on a breast, hip, or shoulder.

Image Source: http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/janis-joplin-tattoo-trailblazer/
Image Source: PCS Blog,  http://www.pcs.org/blog/item/janis-joplin-tattoo-trailblazer/

Janis Joplin popularized the small tattoo style for women after she got a  delicate Florentine bracelet tattoo on her wrist from famed tattoo artist, Lyle Tuttle at his shop in San Francisco. He went on to put the Joplin bracelet on hundreds of women. After awhile, having one or two “small, cute and hidden” tattoos became “gender appropriate,” and if the tattoos were visible, like the Joplin bracelet, small and mild was still the norm for years.

Over the last few decades, women’s ink started to creep out from under their shirts to cover their bodies in earnest, with images that are not so meek or mild. In fact, for the first time in recent U.S. history, women are beginning to outnumber men as tattoo collectors, and they are also becoming “heavily tattooed.” But if women are supposed to strive for beauty, then collecting large, visible, and not-so-cute imagery such as snakes or skulls crosses a socially appropriate gender line. It is not uncommon for heavily tattooed women to be sexually harassed with public comments, like: “You’re such a pretty girl, why would you do something like that to yourself?” In other words, why would you “make yourself ugly?” Women should be objects of beauty.

Kristen Wall
Kristen Wall, a student in Texas.

Embodied gender transgression is the topic of my recently published book, Covered in Ink: Tattoos, Women, and the Politics of the Body (NYU Press, 2015). While other tattoo ethnographies study people with one or more tattoos, Covered in Ink exclusively focuses on “heavily tattooed” women or those who violated that traditional mandate to keep their ink small, cute, and hidden.

I started this research as a heavily tattooed woman who herself wondered if her experience was representative of other women who chose to cover their bodies in ink. Did other women hide their tattoos from their fathers, or carry around a sweater in their car for last minute tattoo hiding, as they went about their day? Did strangers approach them and to touch their skin without permission? Was it common for them to worry about losing their jobs, in the chance that a tattoo might pop out from under their sleeve?

tampaTattooFest_contest
Tampa Tattoo Fest 2007 hosted a tattooed women beauty contest.

From 2007 when I attended my first Marked for Life all-female tattoo convention held annually in Orlando in January until 2010, I traveled to tattoo studios, conventions, and the homes of seventy women tattoo artists and collectors.

Shorty and Kody Kushman are tattoo artists at Outer Limits Tattoo in California
Shorty and Kody Kushman are tattoo artists at Outer Limits Tattoo in California. They are sitting in font of a picture of Lyle Tuttle and Burt Grimm, famous tattoo artists who spoke out against women working in the profession in the early days. The women are giving the middle finger to these old timers views on women.

These beautifully tattooed women were an inspiration to me, and their stories did overlap with my own in many ways. I share their experiences in this book and also a documentary film, Covered. [https://vimeo.com/94019352]

Each chapter of the book opens with a personal story of my own before sharing the similarities and differences across women’s experiences in the varied contexts of their lives — the family, the workplace, and the larger societal beauty culture within which women define themselves. It wasn’t surprising for me to learn for example that for other women, too, there is a world of difference between having a small, safe tattoo and sporting something like a large skull on your forearm, especially in terms of the negative social sanctions we receive.

“What does that say on your arm?” A man asked me as I sat in a coffee shop, deeply immersed in a textbook, studying for an exam, when I was eighteen years old.

“Feminist.” I replied, looking up at him, cringing as I awaited his response.

“Oh? Does that mean you hate men?” He asked with a frown, shaking his head.

“Something like that,” I replied.

The lettering this man was so interested in evaluating was my second tattoo, a stylistic, cursive script that stood alone on my arm until I collected more tattoos around it, making it harder to discern. It always leads to questions. And whenever I clarify that it says “feminist,” well, you might imagine the interactions that follow, with men attempting to define the word and me offering up sassy answers, growing more insolent depending on how bold I feel at the moment. The chapter “Tattoos Are Not for Touching” shares this story and the voices of other women who have been reprimanded for their tattoo collection, including the stares, comments, and touches that sociologist Erving Goffman demonstrated in his research on public self presentation.

Beverly Back ArtDuring my fieldwork I found an amazing artist who spent five years giving me a back piece tattoo, in her own beautiful style, that represented my academic journey.

Since Covered in Ink has been published I’ve been hearing more women’s stories of their artwork and the social struggles, both positive and negative, that accompany them.

What’s yours?
________________________

Listen to Beverly Yuen Thompson’s interview on KERA’s Think with host Krys Boyd.


Beverly with her book Covered in Ink

Beverly Yuen Thompson is an Associate Professor and Chair of Sociology at Siena College, Loudonville, New York. She earned a PhD and MA in Sociology from the New School for Social Research in New York, a Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies from San Diego State University, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Eastern Washington University. Her first book, Covered in Ink: Women, Tattoos, and the Politics of the Body, was published by NYU Press in 2015. Her research interests include subcultures, visual culture, and gender.

I traveled to Winthrop University five months after my baby was born to talk to faculty and students about women’s unique needs during disaster. I was flying with my electric breast pump, which would both save me from the horrifying pain of engorgement and allow me to avoid dumping what women’s health practitioners call “liquid gold.” I am not a “breast is best” advocate; I’m a “whatever-the-mother-wants-to-do” advocate. Women, after all, already experience a lot of pressure around what it means to be a good mother, and research shows that the discrepancies between their expectations (like breastfeeding) and their experiences (finding breastfeeding difficult, impossible, painful, frustrating, and just plain not wanting to do it) causes stress, unhappiness, feelings of failure, and affects their overall experiences of motherhood.

Look how easy it is/Blogs.babycenter.com
Look how easy it is/Blogs.babycenter.com

Older women have oohed and ahhed over my pump, wishing they had something so efficient when their children were babies. Indeed, I came home from the hospital with a manual pump that was completely useless (the only pump my insurance covered), and I wondered how the generation before me didn’t chuck them in the fire just to watch them burn (yes, they are that bad). To these women, I was a “good” mother—a mother so dedicated to breastfeeding my child that I was able to bridge my work and my motherly duties. If I was going to insist on working outside of the home, they suggested, at least I was still putting my baby first. There is no short supply of family and friends who applaud mothers of infants for toting their pumps to work, and who tsk-tsk women for forgoing breastfeeding (or, ironically, for breastfeeding “too long”).

The portable electric breast pump symbolizes the supposed freedom of contemporary mothers and conjures up the image of the Supermom who juggles it all seamlessly: work, family, husband. Supermom’s repertoire notably does not include self-care, which reflects the cultural conflation of motherhood with martyrdom and ignores women’s experiences of postpartum depression, anxiety, and OCD. (see also, Trina’s post on maternal mental health). What these women didn’t see, though, was me anxiously looking for space to pump while I traveled. Considering that we as a society are so quick to demand women breastfeed, the lack of such space is both curious and telling.

In the United States, we promote conflicting and constraining ideas about women’s bodies as heterosexually titillating or maternal—and which never really belong to them. We show breasts when they are represented as for men, but mothers should hide their breasts by investing in shawls or nursing in dirty public restrooms. On the verge of tears, I stood in a dark humid bathroom stall of the Atlanta airport. My pump hung from a small hook on the stall door, drooped open while I stood there pumping into the toilet. There was no way I could get a clean catch in the bacteria filled lavatory. I snapped a blurry selfie with my iPhone and sent the photo along with an expletive filled text to my husband, expressing my frustration with living in an androcentric society built “by men, for men.” The absence of spaces dedicated to traveling families and nursing mothers does not make the airport gender neutral. On the contrary, by not accommodating nursing and pumping mothers, we push them into the recesses of public spaces and contain their bodies in the home. We imply that public spaces are not meant for them and consequently normalize and privilege adult male bodies. At the same time, demanding that women breastfeed marginalizes their physical, emotional, and psychological struggles with motherhood. It also ignores the multifaceted character of women’s lives, which creates pressure to succeed at both home and work.

Supermom/Christopher Boswell/PhotoSpin
Supermom/Christopher Boswell/PhotoSpin

During my layover returning home, I walked swiftly around the American Airline terminal, desperately looking for a place to pump. I would have just plugged into the nearest cellphone charge station but was sure that the site of me pumping, even if not showing my breasts, would offend someone. When I passed a room dedicated to smokers—with comfy couches and a flat screen cable television—I was tempted to incite protest. An airline representative looked surprised when I asked her, “Where do nursing mothers go?” She finally pointed me to a small family restroom, where I could lock the door. It was dirty and there was no place to sit or set up my pump, but at least it was private—that is until people started knocking at the door to get in and jiggling the handle to hurry me up. I hung my head as a woman yelled through the door, “Other people need to get in!”

Lactation Room Sign Breastfeedchicaho.wordpress.com
Lactation Room Sign Breastfeedchicaho.wordpress.com

Should airports have lactation rooms? Absolutely. So should universities, workplaces, and other public and private spaces. Sometimes all it takes is a clean room, a cozy chair, an electrical outlet, and a mini-fridge. Of course this requires shifting ideologies around women’s bodies and who has a right to be comfortable in social spaces. Lactation rooms don’t make Supermom an attainable ideal and do not excuse people who pressure women about breastfeeding. But they do signal to women and their families that this world is built for them, too. Of course, what might also help is conceptualizing women’s bodies beyond a binary in which they are either exposed heterosexual objects or hidden maternal nurturers. But that’s for another post.

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.

Swan Study image I sit opposite Lila [1], the 25-year-old research assistant, in a small room at a satellite office of Mass General Hospital. She is warm and professional, and we have already discovered that she went to college at the same university where I went to graduate school. She took classes with some of my favorite professors, and we may have been in the same room at one point, when I came back to give a talk on campus. This is a nice ice-breaker. But now, in this room, Lila is in the driver’s seat. She has just finished asking me a load of questions about my health, lifestyle, and social networks. I will be there a total of four hours by the time I complete the entire process, which includes a bone density scan and a few other tests they’ve added this year.

SWAN AA woman hot flashIn 1996, right after I completed my Ph.D. in Sociology, I was randomly selected as one of 3,302 women from diverse racial/ethnic backgrounds to participate in this mid-life women’s health study called SWAN – or Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation. The study is following women as we transition through menopause, to better understand the physical, biological, psychological and social changes we experience during this period. SWAN aims to help scientists, health care providers and women “learn how mid-life experiences affect health and quality of life during aging”. [2]

SWAN participants or “subjects” were all between 42 and 52 years old “at baseline” – that, is, when the study began – and we represent seven cities around the country, including my own city of Boston.

When I got the call inviting me to join the SWAN study, I had just completed a lengthy project that involved a lot of interviewing. I welcomed the opportunity to answer someone else’s questions! It also felt great to be a part of important research that had the prospects of influencing medical science. But when I said “yes” to participating in SWAN nearly 20 years ago, I could not have predicted that I would be interviewed by at least 10 or more 20-something research assistants, most of them en route to medical school following this “real-life” experience.

Last year, there was a funding hiatus for the study. I was having a tough year myself and barely noticed that I hadn’t gotten my annual call to set up an appointment. Then a month ago, a letter arrived. SWAN was back in biz, and I’d be getting a call soon! I was thrilled that the study was re-funded in this era of budget cuts for basic science and social science research. I was also feeling grateful that my health was back on track. It struck me that SWAN gave me a regular opportunity to reflect on my life’s circumstances, and to think about how I’m handling growing older, even if it’s only because of a series of questions read to me by a young research assistant whom I’ve just met.

Lila was trained to draw blood, and as she jabs me with the needle, I think, wow, she’s pretty good. We continue to chat, as she measures my waist and hips, clocks how fast I can walk down the narrow hallway, and how long I can balance in a variety of different positions. I’m feeling pretty cocky, until we get to the cognitive test, which they instituted about four years ago. Even though I think my memory is pretty good, being quizzed by a millennial is unnerving. I tell Lila that this test makes me anxious, and she says “yeah, everyone hates it”. That’s only somewhat reassuring, but I appreciate her attempt to normalize my response. Once it’s over – after I spat back a series of numbers and letters in order, and re-told a story about three children in a burning house being saved by a brave fire fighter – I tell myself, “good enough”. That was something my father used to say in moments of stress.

The SWAN Study has taken care to ensure that we are a diverse sample of participants.

Prevalence of hot flashes by race/ethnicity
Prevalence of hot flashes by race/ethnicity

In Boston, researchers over-sampled African-American women, meaning that the study has intentionally included a larger percentage of African-Americans than are represented in the general population. Other cities have ensured that the sample includes large numbers of Chinese, Japanese, and Hispanic women. This oversampling strategy allows researchers to investigate the influence of race and ethnicity on health outcomes of women as we age.

SWAN-affiliated researchers, Drs. Robin Green and Nanette Santoro, found that most symptoms of menopausal women varied by ethnicity. They write,

“Vasomotor symptoms were more prevalent in African-American and Hispanic women and were also more common in women with greater BMI, challenging the widely held belief that obesity is protective against vasomotor symptoms”.

They also found that vaginal dryness was present in 30-40 percent of SWAN participants at baseline, and was most prevalent in Hispanic women. But even among Hispanic women, “symptoms varied by country of origin”. The researchers conclude that “acculturation appears to play a complex role in menopausal symptomatology” and that “ethnicity should be taken into account when interpreting menopausal symptom presentation in women”.

By including an ethnically diverse sample, the SWAN Study is able to compare the experiences of women from varied backgrounds, which has pointed to important differences that should be of great benefit to health care practitioners. Moreover, SWAN researchers provide participants with information about our health, and flag issues we should explore further. For example, I discovered that I had high cholesterol, something that runs in my family. I’m now being monitored by a specialist, who asked me to take a very lose dose of a Statin. And overall, I’m more conscientious about my diet. The upshot is that my cholesterol levels are under control.

Gathering the SWANS…

Jocelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General
Jocelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General

In the past couple of decades, the SWAN team held a number of gatherings to bring Boston SWAN “subjects” together. It’s awesome to be in a room with hundreds of women with one thing in common: we are mid-life women who have gone through menopause! What fun to talk about all the crap we are experiencing without feeling judged or worrying that we might be boring someone.

The first gathering I attended offered workshops where “experts” could answer our questions about sleep (like hot flashes keeping us awake) or provide us with alternatives to Hormone Replacement Therapy. One year, SWAN researchers organized an event that featured the brilliant and outspoken Jocelyn Elders, former U.S. Surgeon General who was a lightning rod for speaking her mind, in support of legalizing marijuana, the distribution of contraceptives in schools, and even suggesting that masturbation might be a means of preventing young people from engaging in riskier forms of sexual activity. Sitting in a diverse crowd of mid-life women and cheering for Elders, whom I have admired for years, was positively thrilling.

Lila tells me a little about this year’s gathering, which I unfortunately missed. I learn that one of the Boston-based Principal Investigators, Dr. Joel Finkelstein, is a serious art aficionado and at the last SWAN Study gathering, he showed a series of paintings by an older woman. His message was that we can continue to grow and be creative as we age. When the interview is complete, Lila hands me my gift. In past years, it has been a cup or a small tote bag, marked with the graceful SWAN logo. But this year, it’s a small box, the top graced with a floral design from this artist.

Gift from SWAN Study
Gift from SWAN Study

In the abstract of his 2014 application to the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Finkelstein concluded by saying, “SWAN will fill important gaps in understanding the impact of the menopausal transition and mid-life aging on women’s health and functioning in the postmenopausal years. Accordingly, it will provide useful information to guide clinical decisions in mid-life and beyond in women who have diverse life experiences and socioeconomic and racial/ethnic characteristics”.

I’m grateful to be a part of this longitudinal study, to know that the aggregate data being collected reflects a diverse population of women, and that we are collectively contributing to scientific knowledge that can improve the lives of women as we age.

Finally, here’s a great clip from Menopause, the Musical!, just for funhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndFBFXV3jjs


[1] Fictitious name

[2] The SWAN Study is co-sponsored by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Office of Research on Women’s Health, and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

As sociologists and feminists we are quick to critique, which does have merit. We tend to look structurally and think individuals are for the psychologists. While we can offer needed critiques on society, it seems our limitation is in proposing solutions that look at both structure and agency, including an understanding of the daily lives of people, especially those who are marginalized in society and have less agency.

I started thinking of this post this the summer when numerous articles posted on the internet reported how a teen with Down Syndrome started modeling. While the articles were positive, I happened to see a comment on Facebook on a feminist group about this young woman modeling. Again, while most of the comments were positive, one person stated how this teen with Down Syndrome should not be modeling or aspiring to be a model because in so many words it reinforced gender subordination. It made me stop and think.

MODELING INDUSTRYYes, the modeling industry is not always an ideal industry. Airbrushed images have pushed women (and men) into eating disorders and unrealistic expectations of body image. Yet, do we critique the industry or the teen? A teen who has lived her life with Down Syndrome in a society that is not always friendly to different abilities? Can we change our lens to see this as someone changing the face or nature of the industry? The comment in ways could be read as critiquing the person, not the industry. How can we critique structures while also remembering how people may have limited options or want to feel included or normal. Can we think of how agency can change the structure? disability inclusion

While we study social problems and issues from a structural view and advocate what we think changes should be, we cannot forget the people who we as a society have not given agency to, such as those with differing abilities. Can we have a focus of inclusion, which sees these individuals as having agency as something that does change the structure for the better?

The first model with Down Syndrome
The first model with Down Syndrome

We can say “embrace your differences” all day long or “normal is boring”, yet it seems part of human nature to want to be included and to feel normal. Or at the least, not just treated with only sympathy and woe, but seen as a person who has something to contribute to society. This does not mean that structural change does not need to happen.

For the teen with Down Syndrome who is modeling, I say go for it! In alignment with a New York Post piece on these issues, http://nypost.com/2015/07/16/this-model-with-down-syndrome-is-changing-the-face-of-fashion/, you are changing the industry, how we view (dis)abilities, and are a role model to others!  Here are some fabulous pictures of this inspiring teen!

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!