I’m reposting this originally from 6/2/2009, because today is Peggy’s husband John Schmitt’s funeral.

That’s Peggy Schmitt: she’s my boyfriend’s mom. She died at age 68 on April 25, 2009, after a fierce yet sane battle with lung cancer. A remarkable thing happened last Sunday at her memorial service. Friends and family that spanned communities as diverse as an urban homeless (Protestant) ministry and a city Catholic parish outreach program along with teachers from Chestnut Hill independent schools, Philly public schools, and inner city academies, hipsters from the arts and culinary communities, some do-good doctors and one or two do-well lawyers, grieving friends from the very young to the much, much older, just hint at the kind of mind-boggling scope of her life.

Among the many ways in which Peggy was a force for good– for meaningful, substantial, public kinds of good, as well as the more intimate kind– was the discovery that she had been a feminist role model for women who are barely in their 30s, to those nearly in their 60s.

One after another, at our stylized Quaker meeting in Philadelphia, various women spoke at random, interspersed with men, interspersed with teenagers. The stories had thick resonance, as recollections of a life well and intensely lived often do.

The speakers, I started to notice, recalled crashing up against the heartbreak of being young, of wanting something, everything, that-not-this-but-something-else. We delicately avoided too many personal details, but the themes were about how to be kind to ourselves while doing big brave things in a world that wasn’t particularly on our side. We told our stories of Peggy’s compassion and confidence in the face of our pain, just as she had in the face of her own, right up until the until the very end.

Peggy did a lot of “empowering.” But the difference was her solidarity. This woman knew struggle; she recognized it without sentimentality, showed us how to respond without judgment of ourselve–or (and this was very important) others. She told us it was hard, but you can do it. And by telling and showing us what she did, she helped make it so.

Peggy herself had triumphed over hardship while creating a beautiful, beautiful life with four unusually wise, non-conforming, justice-loving children, and a life-long partnership with her soulful husband John. I met Peggy on Memorial Day 23 [now that’s 31!] years ago, and her solidarity from way back then was a lasting resource, and helped me through hard times that inevitably were to come. And here at her memorial were all these other people from different worlds for whom this was also true.

I don’t think that Peggy would embrace the phrase ‘feminist role model’ but I do think she would like the way so many women in her life felt her particular influence. She wouldn’t embrace the phrase because Peggy saw issues of justice as bigger than feminism, and saw people as much more than a reduction to a single or a few attributes. And that is precisely what, for me, makes Peggy one of my feminist heroes.

Thank you Peggy. Nice Work.

Have you ever seen a baton twirler perform? They manipulate a metal stick in magical ways: rolling it between their fingers, tossing it 20 feet into the air, and catching it between their legs or completely blind behind their head. If you have seen a baton twirler, it was likely a young woman in a bedazzled swimsuit-style costume. While it is true that baton twirlers are more often young women and girls, it was not always that way. In fact, much like cheerleading and figure skating, men were the first to twirl, not women.

Baton twirling as we know it today originated in the military where corps leaders and drum majors would spin maces and rifles. The tradition of the twirling drum major is kept alive in The Ohio University’s Buckeye Marching Band (check out the 2017 auditions). A part of Americana since the 1930s, today baton twirlers can most often be seen in football halftime performances and occasionally on parade. Because of the number of twirlers who took up twirling in the years following WWII, the notion that twirling a baton is “girly” persists, helping to shape the stereotype of the effeminate, presumably gay male baton twirler. The persona of the female twirler remains: graceful gals in sparkly costumes and tasseled boots prancing around the gridiron. Baton twirling for men is often stigmatizing because of its association with high femininity: such as beauty pageants like Miss America where it is often satirized.

Joe Rowe and Gwen McDonald posing for a photo op in “The Jackson Independent” local newspaper Jonesboro, Louisiana, 1952.

 

There is another, lesser known performance arena for baton twirlers, however: competitive baton twirling. Behind the scenes, baton twirling has developed into an athletic event rivaling rhythmic gymnastics, figure skating, and competitive dance. In the US, two organizations dominate: National Baton Twirling Association (NBTA) and the United States Twirling Association (USTA). Approximately 30 countries around the globe host baton organizations, many with individual competitors and teams that compete in world-level Olympic-style events. Given the history of the sport around which they were formed, in the US these organizations are have become increasingly feminized.

Thus, “boys don’t do that” is a script heard by boys who wish to pursue dance, figure skating, cheerleading, and baton. A baton twirler myself, I grew up hearing this phrase to which my response was, “why not?” Nobody seemed to have a clear explanation so I decided to investigate how the experiences of young men in baton twirling to show the impact of cultural scripts associated with gendered organizations. I found that the social costs of participating in a feminized sport leave boys feeling shameful and out of place—singled out for their lack of commitment to sports boys are supposed to play.

The men and boy’s divisions line up for award announcements at the 66th National “Majorette” Contest in 2016.

Kind of Like Unicorns

In my research where I interviewed men and boys who twirl or once twirled, I found that they stand out when in the limelight because, as one twirler, Hayden, mentioned, guys who twirl are “kind of like unicorns,” rare yet powerful. Even at young ages, male twirlers are aware they are not the norm because so few boys join them in baton classes and competitions. Their numerical minority in a feminized sport places them in unusual circumstances for experiences of advantage and disadvantage. In the realm of competitive baton twirling, the appearance of a boy is cause for excitement. In a rough estimation, I project that there is only one male twirler for every 100 female twirlers—a figure likely very conservative.

There are some benefits to being uncommon like unicorns. Male twirlers easily stand out and receive attention on a crowded competition floor. According to NBTA rules, no matter their skill level, boys do not have to qualify for national-level events whereas girls do in most events. And, it is suspected they are given higher baselines scores to encourage their continued participation. The advantage seems to stop there, however.

In constant comparison to their female counterparts, male twirlers detailed how they are not given the same spaces to twirl and are often relegated to awkward spaces under basketball hoops. They explained to me that they do not feel they receive the same accolades as the female champions with their crowns, banners, and trophies. Additionally, male twirlers are automatically placed in the Advanced difficulty division whereas young women beginning to twirl typically rise through Novice, Beginner, and Intermediate levels before moving into the Advanced category. While this may seem like a benefit, it is discouraging for young male twirlers like Garrett who has competed for only a year may compete against Brad who has been twirling for ten years. Needless to say, their skills are no match for each other.

Male baton twirlers are encouraged by coaches and judges to attach themselves to pieces of masculinity in hopes to remain within the parameters of acceptable masculinity. Male twirlers’ performances challenge notions of masculinity because baton twirling is simultaneously athletic, yet also aesthetic in a way uncharacteristic of sports associated with traditional notions of masculinity. To make up for this, they choreograph fists in their routines, twirl to rock music, and often wear “masculine” colored costumes in blue accentuated with anything from skulls and cross bones to animals, stars, fire, lighting strikes, and super hero emblems.

The Gender of Twirling

Perhaps the optimistic read of the unicorn men who twirl is that they challenge the effeminate image of the baton twirler and offer up a fresh interpretation of baton twirling. In recent years, three male baton twirlers have performed to great applause on America’s Got Talent, one of whom just missed the top ten by placing 11th. Male baton twirlers have also been featured with marching bands at high-profile universities across the country. During football season, fans at games root for the “baton guy,” and get in lines for autograph signings. Across generations, twirlers have performed at World’s Fairs and have been featured on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Author, Trenton Haltom, twirling fire at a University of Nebraska Husker football game in 2016. Image credit: Rose Johnson

Internationally, few countries with large populations of people of color compete on a world level (with the exception of Japan) pointing to how baton twirling is a Western sport. Yet, as twirling has spread across the globe, male twirlers have been met with praise indicating that perhaps some of the femininity of baton twirling is limited to American perspectives. For example, at the 2016 World Baton Twirling Federation championships, France competed an all-male team in which they played up their boyband-like sexuality. And, the current men’s world champion, Keisuke Komada, of Japan is a well- respected artist who has pushed the sport to new heights—literally. Baton twirling in the US is a predominately white sport and, in many ways, reflects class stratification and racialized inequalities.

At work here is a gendered organization (the sport of twirling) influencing gender at an individual level (male twirlers).With women increasingly entering male-dominated jobs like coaching in the NFL, men and boys have not equally been encouraged to enter female-dominated spaces with the same fervor. Male baton twirlers, just like female boxers or weightlifters, should be celebrated as gendered inequalities within organizations continue to be challenged.

Trenton M. Haltom is a PhD student in the Sociology Department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His research sits at the intersection of masculinities, sexualities, and sociology of the body. He is a nationally recognized competitor, member of Team USA 2015, and a former feature twirler for the University of Nebraska Cornhusker Marching Band. His work on baton twirling has also been featured in MEL Magazine. You can find him at www.tmhaltom.com.

Girl w/ Pen is happy to share the following guest post from Kayla Parker, a senior Sociology major and Entrepreneurship minor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. (read more about Kayla at the end of the post)

Being a black woman in America can be absolutely terrifying at times. One of those times was a year ago when I stopped for gas off an unfamiliar exit and left thankful I still had my life. At this gas station, I was both objectified and degraded in a white man’s twisted version of a compliment. When I went inside for gum, one man shouted at me, “Oh you’re a cute little nigglet, aren’t you!” Acknowledging the 15:1 ratio of white men to my black ass, I turned to leave. Only to have one of them follow me. I left the gas station alive, but for a moment, I thought I would not. I remember hitting my lock button five times, like I do every time now. Regularly, I fear that my physical body will be assaulted for being a woman, being queer, or because of the melanin my skin contains.

In my Gender in Society class, we explored the unfortunate realities found at the intersection of race and gender and how those who find themselves there navigate white spaces. In The White Space by Elijah Anderson, Anderson defines white spaces as “overwhelmingly white neighborhoods, restaurants, schools, universities, workplaces, churches and other associations, courthouses, cemeteries, and situations that reinforce normative sensibilities in settings in which black people are typically absent, not expected, or marginalized when present.”

Black spaces, on the other hand, are often depicted as crime filled ghettos and are easily avoidable spaces for weary white people. Growing up black, I quickly learned that it would not be as easy for me to avoid white spaces as it was for white people to avoid black spaces. Finding a way to navigate these spaces is a condition of my existence and historically, navigating these spaces incorrectly has had negative and, sometimes, fatal effects on black women.

For centuries, black women have been persecuted in the United States and reminded that they are outsiders who need to find a way to incorporate themselves within our predominantly white and patriarchal society. Subtle reminders, such as the events that took place on the Napa Valley Wine Train in 2015, are intended to remind black women of how to behave in white spaces. One victim says it best when she explains that their only offense was “laughing while black”. On August 22, 2015, a group of book club members, ten of them black and one of them white, hopped aboard the Napa Valley Wine Train for a fun trip through the Wine Country. Though allegedly laughing no louder than the other inebriated white passengers on the train, they were asked twice by management to lower their voices. Minutes later, they were ordered off the train and turned over to the police.

Time and time again, we’ve seen differences between how black women and white women are treated when doing otherwise normal acts. A few actions that garner disproportionately negative and sometimes fatal responses for black people that achieved trending topic status on Twitter included: #LaughingWhileBlack, #DrivingWhileBlack, and #ShoppingWhileBlack. In my experience, I would’ve hashtagged #BuyingGumWhileBlack.

In The Continuing Significance of Race: Antiblack Discrimination in Public Places Joe Feagin states, “[One problem with] being black in America is that you have to spend so much time thinking about stuff that most white people just don’t even have to think about.” Activities that white men can do without simultaneously thinking of their race, gender, or sexuality are not available to me because I don’t have that privilege. I was born queer, black, and female so activities like buying gum at night put me at a higher risk for assault than most.

To navigate white spaces as a black woman, I am constantly making sure I’m Black but not too Black. To ensure my safety when I navigate these spaces, I stay strapped, but I also make room for white people. When I am walking on the street, I find myself constantly stepping out of the way for white men and I believed I was doing so at a disproportionate rate than my white female friends.

My friend Emma and I decided to obtain some empirical evidence. We sought to discover if white men, whether consciously or subconsciously, make room for white women on the crosswalk more frequently than they do for black women. Whenever the crosswalk had over five people, one of us would stand directly across from a selected white man. When the light would turn red, we’d cross the street and if we had to move out of the way within two feet of chosen white man, we counted it. Emma and I tested this and walked across the crosswalk over 250 times. Emma stepped out of the way for 51 white men. I stepped out of the way for 103.

My overwhelming feeling on this crosswalk was that I did not belong. There were several times when I would move out of the way too slowly and would find myself bumping shoulders with the men I passed. Twice, I found myself stepping out of the way for a gaggle of three to five white men. One time, one man angrily mumbled under his breath when I did not move out of his entitled pathway.

I believe this experiment speaks volumes to the character of our society and negates speculation that we are moving towards a “post-racial” world. For centuries, Blacks were legally banned from white spaces, thus coddling and developing white entitlement to these spaces. Today, Black women face the consequences of the white man’s entitlement.

In this era of Trump, a man who campaigned and won with rhetoric of textbook sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia, we must work to de-normalize the white supremacy that thrives at the expense of other minority groups. Stepping out of the way for a person of color may seem small, but I’m sure we’d see some positive outcomes from us feeling more included on the goddamn street.

Our society must be better and our society must be more tolerant. Maybe a world where black women and white men are equal on the street, is a world where a black woman doesn’t have to be afraid to buy gum from the gas station.

After transferring to UTK in 2015, Kayla continued her passioned for business but also discovered that she has a passion for social justice. When seeing the growing wage disparity, racism, and sexism in the world, Kayla began dreaming of ways to make Knoxville more tolerant and more safe for everyone, especially those who are disenfranchised. Combining her love for business and social justice, Kayla worked as a Marketing and Event Planning Intern for Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Tennessee. She helped plan, organize, and host their largest annual fundraiser, Cash 4 Kids Sake which helped pair more positive mentors with impoverished youth in the community. She continues to volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters during events. The marketing and event planning skills acquired during this internship with nonprofit, BBBS helped Kayla in organizing and planning events for her on campus organization, Students Who Stand (SWS). SWS is a support group for student sexual assault survivors. Their aim is to provide an inclusive environment to provide support to survivors, increase awareness, and engage in continuous dialogue with the University to encourage policy changes that will make campus safer and more supportive. Recently, Kayla organized, executed, and hosted a Sexual Assault Round Table with University administrators who handle sexual assault cases and activist Kamilah Willingham who was featured in CNN’s The Hunting Ground. She also organized an open mic for sexual assault survivors called Survivor Voices ft. Kamilah Willingham which gave other survivors a safe platform to share their experiences. Kayla has recently discovered her passion for writing and writes on her blog. In her final year of college, Kayla plans to continue to dedicate herself to her studies, grow her organization, and dream of the day she can finally own and love a Great Dane.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Adam and Eve, created by Albrecht Dürer, 1471-1528. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA

On May 4, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that allows churches and religious leaders to explicitly endorse or oppose a political candidate without penalty to their nonprofit, tax-exempt status. Responses from white conservative evangelicals showed that this wasn’t what they were looking for. What they wanted, it seems, was legal protection for religious institutions and business owners to deny services to same-sex couples and transgender persons. The Conversation

I am a sociologist studying contemporary evangelicalism and sexuality, and my research shows that the political beliefs of white evangelicals have deftly shifted from the bully pulpits of the Moral Majority in the 1980s to cultural messages that appear hip and modern. In particular, Christian sex advice caught my attention because it showcases how evangelicals can hold beliefs that are simultaneously pro- and anti-sex.

Sex advice websites

In my book “Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet,” I conducted a virtual ethnography of online Christian websites – blogs and message boards that discuss sex from a Christian perspective and online stores that sell sex toys and intimacy products.

In total, I studied 36 websites and conducted 44 interviews with users of two of the most active sites as well as six interviews with creators of different sites over two years – between 2010 and 2012. I collected survey responses from nearly 800 users of seven different sites. Collectively, these sites have attracted thousands of users who believe that God wants married, heterosexual couples to have great sex.

Though in my work, I use pseudonyms to describe the names of websites and their users, these sites are easy to find for anyone who is searching for “Christian sex advice.”

Christian sexual websites present evangelism as sexy for couples. Gill Poole, CC BY-NC

The problem that these websites try to solve is that many Christian couples don’t know how to achieve the great sex that God made possible, having grown up hearing a constant refrain of negative messages about sexuality. The content of these sites is a curious mix of secular and religious language that resembles both the liberal sex advice column “Savage Love” and the religious fiction novel series “Left Behind” – aimed at reminding believers that all of their actions are a part of a larger spiritual battle between good and evil.

On these websites, messages abound about self-improvement and being a good, giving and game sexual partner, as well the power of Jesus, the influence of Satan and the importance of being born-again.

Women make up the majority of bloggers and sex toy store owners I studied. They describe using vibrators and achieving orgasms; men talk about open communication with their wives about their deepest sexual desires.

It is a relatively recent historical phenomenon for Christians to claim sexual pleasure as part of their religious framework. As historian of religion Mark Jordan notes, sexual sins have included virtually every erotic action other than sex intended for conceiving children.

Christian sexuality websites, however, present evangelicalism as a sexy and modern representation of a religious tradition that is stereotypically the opposite.

Conservative beliefs

In the years I spent studying these sites, I never saw a single post endorsing or opposing a political candidate. Nonetheless, political beliefs were reflected in the implicit and explicit rules that were required of website users regarding their beliefs related to gender, sexuality and marriage.

On one website, for example, a message board where users post hundreds of comments every day, the moderators allow for “minor theological disagreements” among members, but require that “Members must be married (one man, one woman), and followers of Jesus Christ and His Word. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the only way to salvation, and the Bible is the ultimate authority.” Off limits is “any defense of the practice of homosexuality, so-called ‘gay marriage,’ or the like.”

The beliefs on these websites are far from representative of American Christianity. Most Christians today believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society. A majority of LGBT Americans have some religious affiliation and there are LGBT-affirming groups in many Christian denominations (Matthew Vine’s The Reformation Project is one evangelical example).

Yet on these websites supporting gay sex (or gay marriage), sex outside of heterosexual marriage or any relationship that is nonmonogamous is fundamentally heresy.

In other words, the websites present a sexual logic that combines both limits and freedoms: Christian sexuality, all of these websites adamantly claim, is one full of choice and autonomy so long as Christians follow God’s demands for who is allowed to have sex.

As one blogger told me in an interview, “I think a couple has tremendous freedom” so long as sex is consensual and between husband and wife. In my book, I refer to this as the “logic of Godly sex:” a logic that makes sexual pleasure possible for straight, married Christians but forecloses it for everyone else.

Advancing conservative politics

In other words, I would argue, the sexual freedom that these websites claim to offer is illusory. This illusion is also central to the arguments that proponents present in favor of religious freedom legislation.

These state-enacted bills provide a practical route by which individuals can use the courts to make free exercise violation claims against the state.

The Christian sexuality websites do not accept homosexuality. Nathan Rupert, CC BY-NC-ND

For instance, Mississippi HB 1523 (passed in April 2016 but later blocked by a federal judge) protects persons who have “the sincerely held religious belief” that marriage “should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman” to decide whether or not to provide services, including housing and employment, to LGBT people.

It defines “a man” and “a woman,” according to law: “an individual’s immutable biological sex as objectively determined by anatomy and genetics at the time of birth.” Laws like HB 1523 offer a strategy for religious conservatives to use their religious freedom to advance an anti-gay, anti-transgender, and anti-abortion political agenda.

In my opinion, emphasizing freedom and choice alongside conservative ideas about gender, sexuality and marriage is how conservative Christians can adapt to a changing world while maintaining their religious distinction.

After researching Christian sexuality websites, I am convinced that they do as much or more to advance conservative politics as does a preacher telling his congregation to vote for a particular candidate.

Kelsy Burke, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

The essentialist and dichotomizing battle over who is ideologically, morally, indeed humanly, more advanced (the West or the rest), has for centuries been fought over women’s bodies. A few hundred years ago the rationale for imperialism in the case of the British Raj included the idea of white men saving brown women from brown men. The post 9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was also partly justified as a war between good and evil, with the US representing all that is good in terms of democracy, human rights, and, significantly, women’s rights.

The same debate, boiling down to the ideologically simplistic question of “who is better?,” continues to be fought over Muslim women’s bodies. In recent months, this has been acutely evident with the Syrian refugee crisis raising pressing questions in Europe about whether “these” people can assimilate given the difference in cultural values; as well as with the alarming stories of seemingly “modern” young women’s recruitment to the decidedly fundamental ranks of ISIS on the promise of marrying a jihottie.

Perhaps the most visually potent symbol of this assumed backwardness of Islam is the headscarf that some Muslim women wear. How emancipated can Muslim women really be, the argument goes, when they have to cover themselves lest they sexually tempt men?

So it’s unsurprising that much feminist scholarship on Muslim women, especially in the US, has sought to illuminate and unpack the multi-layered meanings of the headscarf for women who wear them – meanings which extend beyond religious identities and injunctions. Scholars have shown that for some Muslim women, wearing the headscarf is a defiant way of embracing their besieged cultural and religious identity; for others, particularly African American Muslim women, the headscarf offers a way of transcending a national, cultural context where black female bodies are particularly hyper-sexualized. This research highlights the idea that what may seem to some an incomprehensible and even regressive practice, is actually a far more nuanced, and oftentimes times agentic, experience for women themselves.

In my ethnographic study of American coverts to Islam at a conservative Sunni mosque in the United States, these experiences rang true for my participants. But they also rang incomplete. By imagining veiling as a necessarily agentic act, as much recent sociological research on religion has done, we obfuscate how religious injunctions – including in the act of veiling – can, and do, normalize unequal gender relations within, and even outside of, religious institutions, as they push women toward accepting certain unequal practices as divinely ordained.

Much of the sociological research on veiling in the United States, amongst converts and born-Muslims alike, imagines veiling largely as an individual choice. My own data suggested a more complicated process. From the women I interviewed and in my observations at the mosque I found that women in the process of converting were constantly being taught – through religious classes that new converts attended – about the proper way to be a Muslim woman. This unequivocally included wearing, at the very least, a headscarf. Rather than being a choice, wearing a headscarf here was clearly presented as a woman’s religious obligation. In their interviews, women who had converted to Islam explained the fraught process of learning to veil. One explained how she resisted wearing the headscarf for a while after she converted because she thought she looked ugly in it. She described her eventual ability to don the headscarf despite her initial misgivings as a triumph of Islam over Satan. She proudly added how she has overcome her vanity to such an extent that now she even incorporated the full-length abaya in her everyday life.

I don’t doubt that for the women I interviewed and observed, wearing a veil and expressing themselves visually as a Muslim was, as sociological literature would suggest, agentic in some ways. These women were, after all, “self-authoring.” But, it’s important to note that these women were also institutionally compelled to view being a “good” Muslim woman as someone who wears, indeed cherishes wearing, a headscarf. Alternative, and perhaps more liberal, forms of “doing” Islam were not here presented as viable ways of being Muslim.

My in-depth data was collected at one mosque. So does this type of soft coercion also occur in other mosques and religious spaces? I think that my findings are part of a broader global trend, where certain forms of conservative Islam are becoming more visible and more mainstream. An example of these well-financed efforts could be the enormous amounts of money that Saudi Arabia provides for building madrassas in some South Asian countries, where particularly conservative forms of Islam are taught to those who will eventually become religious leaders. It would also be in prioritizing the headscarf as symbolizing Muslim women’s identity, as done through the World Hijab Day, as though the headscarf is necessarily the most potent symbol of women’s religious belief in, and practice of, Islam.

Muslim women’s bodies will doubtless remain the ideological battleground over which these contemporary debates about Islam will continue to unfold – particularly given the acutely troubling and anti-Muslim climate in the US and Europe, where all Muslims continue to bear the burden of being seen as responsible for the acts of the aberrant few. Muslims, in ways specific to their history of being in each nation, nevertheless remain the perennial Other who have to disprove their Otherness. At this time, we would do well not to succumb to simplifying complex phenomenon, and to consider the symbolic nuances of the headscarf, as sometimes reflecting agency and sometimes not. As history informs us, this religious and cultural issue is inherently bound up in larger social and economic forces, where some versions of culture/religion may be mobilized more readily at particular times and in specific spaces.

 

Aliya Hamid Rao is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University. Her research interests are in gender, family, work, religion, and emotions.

photo credit: Alexas_Fotos via pixabay

A recent study by Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer found that 50 percent of Americans feel that by law women should have to take their husbands’ last name. Shafer suggested in an interview that this is a fundamental cultural view: Women should prioritize family over themselves. Such cultural views are evident in other decisions that couples make. Consider the case of the “trailing spouse”—in which one partner follows the other, most commonly a wife follows a husband, almost as if it is part of what it means to be a wife or husband. Thing is, this can happen outside of marriage, too. Women—college women, like me, about to graduate—follow men in support of the man’s career and often at the expense of their own. There are many theories as to why this happens from gender roles to economic practicality to differences in job flexibility. But, I’m not here to talk about theory.

Instead, as a senior in college who is in a relationship, I would like to openly challenge the acceptance of this norm. I am committed to my career goals, such as publishing my own research and working on social policy and to my relationship. I simply relate more to a “backs together facing the world” model than one in which either of us feels the pressure to follow the other at the expense of our own aspirations. I am in good shape: my partner, a lovely guy also about to graduate from college, and I agree on this. Do we want to live with or near each other? Yes. But, we are also both ambitious and are aware that our careers may lead us to separate places at times. This is okay. Loving your work and loving your partner are not mutually exclusive.

Given my views, you can imagine how I felt when reading that half of Americans believe women should legally have to take a man’s last name in marriage. In a world where I feel empowered enough to say yes my relationship matters, and yes my career matters, too, it is disheartening to see the prominence of an opposing worldview. To be clear: I believe name changing is not just a quaint tradition, but also a kind of submission, that can perpetuate the cultural expectation that women should follow men. Following is not the only way to make a relationship work—and there is a lot of research on the new normal in egalitarian relationships and couples satisfaction that suggest that following might not be the best way. That is not to say that studies cannot point to how egalitarian ideals can fall down. But who wants to start out with abandoning egalitarian ideals, by following, or by name changing.

Where do I go from here? Wherever my work takes me.

Megan Peterson is a senior sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs and Social Media Intern.

Hey Girl w/ Pen readers! I’m excited to share with you an excerpt of a piece I wrote recently with sociologist, Orit Avishai, on how some evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews challenge stereotypes about conservative religion and sexuality that appears in the latest edition of the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Contexts magazine. You can read the full article for free for a limited time here.

Orit Avishai and Kelsy Burke. “God’s Case for Sex.” Contexts 15(4): 30-35

The church conference in a small Midwestern town was called, “Intimacy in Marriage,” so Kelsy expected speakers and participants to talk about sex. A graduate student just beginning research on evangelicals and sexuality, she was not expecting the prayers for couples to experience “the deepest sexual pleasure in the name of Jesus Christ” or a raffle for a vibrating massager that sat on a table in the sanctuary. Her field notes were punctuated with exclamation points, like after the phrase, “There is a vibrator in a church!”

On the other side of the globe, in Israel, an Orthodox Jewish bridal counselor discussed with Orit the sexual education component of a twelve-session marriage preparation course. A stern looking woman in her fifties, she served as an example for brides-to-be of Jewish modesty codes—hair covered, she was dressed in a long skirt and shirt with long sleeves and high neckline. Yet she spoke enthusiastically and directly to the sexually uninitiated young women enrolled in the course, telling them to “Get the mood right. Tell him what you want.”

Were it not for the obvious markers of religion, these scenes might not be surprising in the 21st century. At least within western popular culture, “good sex” has seemingly won out over sexual shame and become a prerogative of modern adult life. From advice books like The Joy of Sex to TV shows like Sex in the City and popular podcasts like Savage Love, a fulfilling sex life is promoted as integral to happiness and personal fulfillment. But religious traditions are notorious for sexual rules and norms that seem to fly in the face of modern secular culture, with its emphasis on sexual expression, experimentation, and satisfaction. In fact, many observers associate the expansion of progressive sexual norms and practices with the decline of organized religion.

It is in this context that we examine how some religious followers live and love amid secular and religious messages about sex and sexuality. Kelsy observed, surveyed, and interviewed American evangelical Christians who used websites or attended workshops to discuss sexual pleasure in Christian marriages. Orit interviewed Orthodox Jewish women in Israel about the sexual education that is part of an elaborate marriage preparation. The believers, educators, and experts we interviewed and observed contradicted the stereotype that religiosity is incompatible with sexual pleasure. They self-identified as “traditional,” “conservative,” and “devout,” yet insisted that their religious traditions encouraged sexual pleasure and could even improve how they experienced sexuality. Our respondents learned to navigate the religiously prescribed boundaries surrounding sexuality and embrace “good,” religiously sanctioned sex.

Continue reading at Contexts.org

I’ve long been a fan of Lyn Mikel Brown’s, professor of education and human development, author of six books about gender and girlhood, and cofounder of multiple grassroots organizations and projects, including Powered by Girl, an online media activism campaign for girls by girls. I’ve more recently become a fan of a sophomore in high school named Lilly Bond, whose middle-school activism you may have read about in Time, The Nation, Cosmo, and on feministing. (If not, I urge you to watch this video and learn about it! Lilly rocks.) I put the two of them together to discuss Lyn’s newest book, Powered by Girl: A Field Guide to Supporting Youth Activists. Here’s how their exchange went down. – Deborah

LILLY: My mother used to be a women’s studies professor at Columbia Chicago, as well as Northeastern, so I was raised in a very “girl power” household. I’ve got an older and a younger brother, and my dad’s a high school teacher. In middle school I went through a whole ordeal where the school banned leggings because they were “distracting” to male students. My mother and I did interviews with the news and were written about by several different news outlets including The Chicago Tribune, and Huffington Post. I loved your book. So as I continue my own activism, I’m interested to know: what got you interested in writing it, or even more broadly, what got you into feminism?

LYN: I remember reading about your activism! My interest in feminism developed in high school. Like so many girls, I was frustrated at the way I was treated because of my gender, both at home (I had two brothers who lived much less protected lives) and at school (I was an athlete and the differences between the support and resources available to boys’ and girls’ teams at that time were startling). As I look back, I see I was also naming injustices that arose at the intersection of gender and social class–the ways my experiences were dismissed relative to other girls or times when I was not seen, heard, or taken seriously because I was a working-class girl.

I read a lot. I asked for a gift subscription to Ms. Magazine in high school. I read Gloria Steinem’s Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions in college. I took Women’s Studies classes, and was introduced to In a Different Voice, This Bridge Called My Back, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Reading Carol Gilligan’s In a Different Voice was an epiphany, an “a-ha” moment. I saw how the field of psychology was not all that different from my high school in the ways it privileged the experiences of boys and men. I applied to Harvard’s Graduate School of Education to work with Carol and could not believe my luck when I was accepted and later asked to join her research team of graduate students and post docs. We became, collectively, the Harvard Project on Women’s Psychology and Girls’ Development. For years we interviewed girls and young women in schools and community organizations–our goal was to learn about girls by listening to girls. We saw girls as experts on their own diverse experiences. Our goal was to insist that psychology as a discipline do the same.

Powered By Girl has its roots in this early work at the Harvard Project. We were developing a way of listening, a way of being in relationship that centered girls. As I moved into my career, I explored more deeply girls’ lives at the intersections of gender, race, and class.

The book also has its roots in community and online activism. For me, it’s never been enough to write about these issues. I really wanted to work with girls to make the world a better, more just place. In 2000, I joined with community activists to create a local feminist nonprofit, Hardy Girls Healthy Women, and then later with colleagues to create SPARK Movement. SPARK, especially, has become a platform for girl-fueled activism. The SPARKteam taught me so much about what girls need to effectively engage in youth organizing and develop social change campaigns.

So I wrote the book as a way to share what I have learned with more people, including my undergraduate students, and in celebration of girls and the power of intergenerational activism.

LILLY: I can definitely relate to the being-treated-differently-than-brothers thing; it’s frustrating to say the least. Your experience sounds a lot like mine. I’ll have to look up some of those books 🙂
I was also wondering, how would you suggest youth activists get involved and active, and be taken seriously? It can sometimes be hard for young girls to be listened to, as I’m sure you know.

LYN: I think it’s so important for youth activists to seek out allies, to find people and groups who share their passion about issues. I also think it’s important to read about the issues they most care about–to move beyond the surface and better understand the root causes of problems. Youth who have researched and explored issues and who can talk with some authority about why a cause matters are much more likely to be taken seriously. They’re also more likely to attract others who share their concerns. And because they see things more complexly, they are more likely to understand how their concerns intersect with others’, which means they recognize opportunities for coalition building.

I also think it’s important to seek out adults who respect youth as change-makers. They can offer perspective, as well as connections with others who have resources and connections. I know this is tricky–it’s an unusual adult who really listens and supports and doesn’t try to take over. So when you find such a person, take full advantage of what they can offer.

LILLY: I agree totally. Lastly, what do you think will change about feminism in the next few years? What new or old issues do you think will come up?

LYN: Given the presidential election and the rise in racism, homophobia, sexual harassment, toxic masculinity, and the assault on reproductive rights and the environment, I think we will experience a new era of feminist activism. In recent years we’ve made progress on these fronts, but there’s clear indication that these gains can be taken away if we are not vigilant and prepared to fight.

We are facing wicked problems—problems that are widespread, complex, and interconnected—and finding solutions will require us to work across our differences and in coalition. It will require organization and participation on all fronts. In a recent op-ed for The Guardian, activist Jamia Wilson writes, “history has shown us that power is taken, never given, so resistance is critical if we don’t want our freedom eroded.”

I think we are facing a real challenge to our basic rights as human beings and we will be tested.

Journalists’ fixation on objectivity resulted in an embarrassment of deceptive comparisons during the election. Reporters’ use of false equivalencies, oversimplifying one shared trait to compare issues, bears a remarkable resemblance to reporting practices that have impeded progress for women. For example, the myth that women abuse their partners at comparable rates as men is partly attributable to false equivalency reporting, distorting what people believe causes domestic violence and how they imagine solving it.

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The parallels don’t stop there. Attempts to undermine mainstream news are emblematic of the ways men discredit women’s voices. Russian internet trolls spread propaganda during the election, using similar tactics as virtually organized “fathers’ rights” groups who denounce biased child custody cases—despite research showing alleged abusers are twice as likely to be awarded custody than protective parents. Pervasive faux controversies during the election distracted from policy debates, resembling the way the decades-long preoccupation with “mommy wars” delegitimized discussion of policies designed to help women meet work and family demands. The problems of both-sides reporting is akin to comparing ill-informed men’s opinions on reproductive health policy to health providers’ expert recommendations.

Amid the post-election disappointment that another glass ceiling would not be shattered, there is a silver lining in increased demands for better journalism. New research is asking why people believe lies. The commentary generated by a Teen Vogue article and the cancellation of the television show Good Girls Revolt spotlighted the importance of bringing underrepresented groups to the table. And there is hope that changing how news is reported can alter public opinion. After journalists began reporting climate change denial as misinformation, almost 10 percent more Americans acknowledged the seriousness of global warming than the previous year. Mainstream pleas for quality journalism offer an opportunity to improve reporting important to our democracy, and to women’s equality.

Joanna Rae Pepin (@CoffeeBaseball) is a PhD candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Maryland. Her research examines the intersection of the transformation of families and progress towards gender equality. Her current projects investigate the mechanisms behind the way couples share money within their families, and how these in turn shape power dynamics within romantic relationships.

 

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Today, the black woman has been sexualized and objectified in more ways than one. With the degradation of the black woman, the value and uniqueness of them has been ignored. The media offers a made-up truth about black women, and society has swallowed this stereotype. This means Hollywood has a narrow perspective of black women, and only represents a select few. In movies and TV, black women are either a struggling single mom or a successful strong business woman who can’t find love anywhere. Issa Rae, the creator of the hit HBO show Insecure, has come to not only change this narrow-minded portrayal of black women but to also show the many types of women within the black community alone. We are all different.

Insecure is a sequel of the web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl that follows Issa, played by Issa Rae. Issa is a 29-year-old “insecure” woman who struggles with everyone’s depiction of her. Although she tries to defy them, stereotypes seem to follow her and ignorant questions become the norm of her everyday life. Issa Rae’s content follows the different sides of women of color and how multidimensional Hollywood’s depiction SHOULD be. Insecure is just what we need in today’s Hollywood and so I looked for a TV fan who could offer some analysis. I found Janelle Jones, whose work I read as a student of inequality. Janelle Jones is an economic analyst at the Economic Policy Institute. Her work focuses on unemployment, job quality, racial inequality, and economic development. She is an alum of Spelman College, where of which she received her BA in Math. She has an MA in Economics from Illinois State University.

Here’s my conversation with Janelle:

Q: Issa Rae believes that Hollywood’s representation of black women isn’t relatable. Do you think Issa Rae is achieving her goal to change that representation?

JJ: I think Hollywood representations of black women are incredibly narrow, and that makes them not relatable to so many. There are three common depictions that have even the slightest focus on black women: some kind of tragic tale about struggle and redemption, black women as the sassy best friend, or black women in the strict position of service. The thing I love the most about Issa Rae and Insecure is this complete human story that centers on a black woman. The HBO series is an extension of her popular web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (great title). The ability for black women to be silly and awkward is not something we get to see on mainstream television.

Q: What direction can we go in (what else needs to be done) for Hollywood moving forward?

JJ: Shows like Insecure (and Atlanta) are taking huge steps forward by showing complete stories centered on very normal aspects of black life. Another huge step would be more people of color behind the scenes, as directors, writers, producers, etc. Part of telling a genuine black experience on TV is making sure that story is in black hands throughout the process, from conception until it reaches the audience. This is particularly hard to do when only certain aspects of the production process are entirely white. The fact that four blacks, Issa Rae, Prentice Penny, Melina Matsoukas, and Larry Wilmore, are in charge of every part of Insecure is obvious, from the dialogue to the fashion to the soundtrack to the locations.

Q: As a Spelman alumna, you’ve probably met women of color from different walks of life. Do you agree with Issa Rae about Hollywood’s representation of black women?

JJ: The first and most lasting lesson I learned at Spelman is that black women are not a monolith. At times there feels a societal need to put us in very rigid boxes: strong, maternal, angry, loud, etc. To me, Issa is saying that black women are those things but also friends and lovers, and awkward, and ambitious, and flawed. And because Issa is the creative force behind the show, and not just the main actor, it feels very real. The experiences of black women filtered through the white gaze feel very different than Insecure. It’s that authenticity that I think black women specifically recognize, respect, and enjoy it.

My second favorite thing about the show is the representation of black female friendship. I can’t think of another show (other than Girlfriends) that illustrates only black women who are true friends. When asked about this aspect of the show in an interview a few months ago, I love Issa’s response: “It’s so important to show that black women do have friends,” Rae says with a sarcastic edge. “We’re not all just fighting and punching each other and cursing each other out and ending up on the Shade Room together.”

Eunice Owusu is a sociology major at Framingham State University and a Council on Contemporary Families Public Affairs intern.