Manly Musings

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

My undergraduate students and I were recently considering the importance of trauma-informed theory for youth with past experiences of neglect and abuse. While discussing the effects of sexual assault on young women and men in contact with the juvenile justice system, one of my students reacted: “I don’t understand how boys can be raped by women. I mean, how would that even be possible?” I noticed some of the other students nodding their heads in agreement. I’ve had questions like these many times before, mostly from students in my sexual offenses course, when we address rape culture and myths of masculinity that boys, to varying degrees, are pressured to adhere to. This cultural “boy code” insists on invulnerability and dominance through the use of talk like “be a man,” “boys don’t cry,” or “don’t act like a wimp/sissy/fag.”

So I asked my students: “What is it about our culture that allows us to normalize sexual harassment and violence of women, but have such a difficult time understanding men as survivors of violence?” They chatted about socialization and hegemonic masculinity in a culture that so often encourages male power and aggression over women and other men. They offered Donald Trump’s “locker room talk” as an example of rape culture. A culture where, because “boys will be boys,” (some) men are not held accountable for aggressive, harassing, and criminal sexual conduct (Brock Turner and Owen Labrie). Other students shared that their younger siblings in local Milwaukee area high schools were amused by recent sexual assaults by teachers, claiming: “the boys were lucky” and “you know they loved it.”

Sad boyThis kind of talk is not harmless; it is toxic. The effects include normalization and acceptance of objectification, harassment, coercion, aggression, and violence against women. It affects boys’ and men’s relationships with one another as well. The boy code is evident among middle school boys and high school boys, and continues into college. And it impacts how boys and men make sense of sexual violence when they are survivors, rather than perpetrators.

My research on young men experiencing sexual assault demonstrates the grave effects that such cultural discourses can have when boys hear, and attempt to measure up to, expectations of toughness, bravery, invulnerability, and detachment. This false bravado is a barrier for boys when they are deciding whether or not to tell someone about their experience of sexual assault. Rather than risk exposure and scrutiny, many young men in my research chose to remain silent. They believed the abuse was their fault because they failed to defend themselves. Many, like 14-year-old Derek, felt that they should “fight or be strong enough” to have stopped their assault from happening. As 11-year-old Sam explained, real men cannot be victimized because they “hit, and punch in the face.” The boys in my study emphasized a perceived lack of masculinity coupled with their fear of being called gay. Being labeled a victim, especially of sexual assault, was shameful and stigmatizing for many young men because it went against real man talk. Being assaulted meant they did not live up to masculine ideals.

When young men were sexually assaulted by women, they worked to normalize their experience; they described their assault as inconsequential. They were supported by others who helped them understand their victimization to be at least partly reciprocal and certainly less harmful than abuse by a man. This talk reinforced codes of masculinity that men should always want to have sex with women, and are expected to demonstrate sexual dominance. 6-year-old Brent was told by his mother, “That’s what boys do with girls.” And just like my undergraduate student,14-year-old Ken asked, “Can boys be sexually abused?” This discourse of boys and men being perpetually ready for sex hurts these boys, too.

There is little room for young men’s experiences of sexual assault in cultural discourses because we rarely recognize boys’ vulnerability, or provide space for their emotional lives. Indeed, our “be a man talk” has influenced the rates of under-reporting of male sexual victimization across the globe. And this talk is dangerous in that boys must contend with relentless messages encouraging them to disconnect from their emotions, objectify and degrade women, debase homosexuality, and resolve conflicts with violence. It perpetuates a rape culture in which many common forms of harassment and assault remain under-reported, unidentified, silenced, and shamed. These effects are serious, and they affect us all.


hlavka-picHeather Hlavka is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University.  Her research focuses on sexual violence, gender, law, and social control.

During last night’s debate presidential candidate Donald Trump doubled down on his 2005 conversation with Billy Bush about “grabbing” women “by the pussy,” making moves on one woman “like a bitch,” and the apparent pride he takes in sexually assaulting women: “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” Answering moderator Anderson Cooper’s question, Trump claimed, “It’s locker room talk – it’s one of those things.”

From 2003-2005, right around the same time Trump bragged about his skill at sexual assault, I was studying how teenage boys at a northern California high school, River High, talked about girls and sex. Indeed, much of what they said sounded just like the “locker room talk” Trump refers to. Here are some examples:

In talking about their plans for Winter Ball Josh told Reggie, “I’ll be fucking pissed if I don’t get some.” Reggie advised him “That’s why you take a girl whose gonna do something. I got Jack Daniels!” Josh countered, “I got a big bag of marijuana…the sooner I get her drunk the sooner I get laid.” Reggie triumphantly bragged, “I can get laid any time, anywhere.”

Jerome complained that he was not “gonna get laid at Winter Ball.” Josh admonished “That’s why you gotta go for the younger ones fool! Like 12 years old!” Josh then claimed he was “so good” at sex that he couldn’t “control the girl from thrashing around on the bed and hurting herself on the headboard.”

In weightlifting class, Pedro proceeded to act out his previous night’s sexual adventures, “Dude I had sex with my girlfriend last night. She tied me to the bed! I was like damn!” Josh chimed in, shaking his head knowingly, “never let a girl tie you up.” Pedro laughed and continued to say proudly “I did her so hard when I was done she was bleeding. I tore her walls!”

In autoshop Jay talked about a girl he thought was “hella ugly” but had “titties:” “She’s a bitch. I might take her out to the street races and leave her there so she can get raped.” All the other boys in auto-shop, as usual, responded in laughter.

While Trump framed this sort of sex talk as “just words,” as “things that people say,” this sort of talk undergirds what feminist scholars call “rape culture” in which symbolic violence, especially humorous symbolic violence, dehumanizes women, reducing them to sexual objects. It is precisely the joking quality of many of these instances that make them so hard to see as serious endorsements of violence against women. The line between talk and action, however, is much less clear than Trump claims. For instance, Jay, the boy who talked about raping the “hella ugly” girl who was a “bitch” but had “titties” regularly harassed the only girl in his autoshop class:

One afternoon Jay walked up to Tammy and stood behind her deeply inhaling, his nose not even an inch away from her hair. Clearly uncomfortable with this, she moved to the side. He asked her if she was planning to attend WyoTech (Wyoming Technical College, a mechanic school). She responded “yes.” He said “I’m going too! You and me. We’re gonna be in a room together.” He closed his eyes and started thrusting his hips back and forth and softly moaning as if to indicate that he was having sex.

Girls at River High suffered from this kind of physical sexual “joking” on a regular basis:

Walking between government and drama classes, Keith yelled “GET RAPED! GET RAPED!” as he rhythmically jabbed a girl in the crotch with his drumstick. She yelled at him to stop and tried to kick him in the crotch with her foot. He dodged and started yelling “CROTCH! CROTCH!”

Locker room talk is not “just words.” It is not funny. It is not harmless. And it is certainly not limited to the locker room. This kind of sex talk is a central part of normative masculinity in the global West. It is a way in which some men simultaneously endorse and dodge such endorsement of sexual assault. It is a way in which violence against women and women’s bodies are rendered “just jokes” or “guy talk.” In fact, the girls in my study were often used by young men as props in their competition for status and recognition from one another.

As feminist scholar Adrienne Rich powerfully argued, heterosexuality not only describes sexual desires, practices and orientations; it is also a “political institution.” The “enforcement of heterosexuality for women as a means of assuring male right of physical, economic and emotional access” is a central component of gender inequality. The locker room talk examples of “mythic-story telling” in which boys and men tell humorous larger than life tales about their sexual adventures, their bodies, and girls’ bodies are an important way in which men maintain sexual dominance over women. And dominance is central to contemporary American masculinity – dominance over other men, dominance over other countries, dominance over one’s political opponent, and yes, dominance over women.

So, sure, let’s use Donald’s locker room metaphor. But let’s also remember that Donald was not actually in a locker room when he claimed to have participated in sexual violence and assault to barter for status with another man. He was on a tour bus. He could have just as easily been in a board room, the men’s restroom at a corporate law firm, a strip club, a fraternity, an internet forum, a workplace, a school, a family picnic. Having people claim that he “did not really mean” what he said, or that those comments are inconsistent with “the man they know” does not actually undo the power of the words. Trump’s “locker room talk” is more than locker room talk; it’s an interactional ritual in which boys and men participate. They do it to establish status amongst one another. And just like the high school boys I studied, women often play the “role” of prop in this dramatic performance.

So, yes, it may very well have been “just locker room talk.” But there’s actually a science of locker room talk, Mr. Trump. And it suggests that your “talk” is and was related to institutionalized forms of inequality that make life dangerous for girls and women (and, yes certain men). These “jokes” and “words” are not unique to one time or place and they are not without consequence; rather they are part of, and indeed central to, persistent gendered inequality and violence.


*A big thank you to Sarah Diefendorf and Tristan Bridges for their feedback on this essay.


Men can now openly enjoy My Little Pony, and some now call other men out for rape-supporting attitudes.  But as sociologists C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges astutely note, in these cases men often still cling to a notion of manhood that they have and that the outsider lacks.  Not the right kind of Brony?  Then a guy might hear, “Go be normal somewhere else, faggot!”  Not the right kind of campus dating man?  Then the message might be, “You’re a rapist, not a real man.”  Pascoe and Bridges’ point is that toxic masculinity is about that act of denying a powerful social identity to others.  Redefining the behavior that suits a”real man” doesn’t change the way men seek acceptance from other men as men.

Sensing or at least presuming that being a man is what’s important to guys, rape prevention advocates have tried to appeal to manhood to get guys to rethink their assumptions.  As we explain elsewhere, the “My Strength” campaign offers a series of posters that remind men to choose to use their (presumably natural and superior) strength to protect women, rather than to rape them. 

Campaign for Caleb's Hope NGO.
Campaign for Caleb’s Hope NGO.

Likewise, the “Real Men Don’t Rape” campaign trades on how important manhood is to men, and attempts to redefine manhood as respectful, gentlemanly.

The “real men don’t rape” strategy hopes to convey that manhood ought to be defined by morality, not muscle.  But, as a photo from the campaign illustrates, it winds up essentializing male strength—as if that’s the one thing no one can challenge, that at the end of the day (or date), the man there is more physically powerful and ultimately dominant over the woman.

In the educational film designed to reconstruct gender for African American boys and men, My Masculinity Helps, many male allies are shown taking the problem of violence against women seriously.  One woman in the film states, “Men have power. Now let’s talk about how to harness that power for good.”  While we would all agree that we need those with privilege to embrace the social movement’s goals.  But why does it have to be about their masculinity and how useful or helpful it is?  The feminist movement has challenged gender ideology and, importantly, the centrality of demarcating manhood.  Could we imagine, and would we accept, a film about stopping racism called My Whiteness Helps?

C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander argue, in a recent article published in Gender & Society, that campaigns attempting to mobilize men turns men’s not raping into a “chivalrous choice,  a courtesy extended to a subordinate rather than the respect due to an equal.”  These campaigns highlight women’s subordinate status and almost celebrate men’s putatively superior strength and power.  They oppose rape “in ways that work to reinforce, rather than challenge, underlying gender inequalities.”

When men are enlisted as allies in ways that attempt to make them feel good about themselves as men, we are continuing the rape culture by privileging men’s feelings.  That same privileging of men’s feelings and needs is exactly what men who abusively control their partner and sexually assault women expect: their feelings and desires to be prioritized.  Moreover, in this movement men continue to be framed as the more powerful sex, and women continue to be framed as damsels in distress who “real men” help and not hurt. “Real men” are still dominant—they are just to use that power and dominance benevolently.  This protectionist discourse actually works to reinforce some of the very beliefs that it appears to call into question.

The strategy behind “real men don’t rape” and “my strength” is meant to suggest that respecting women, rather than getting laid, is what makes you a man.  Of course, this tactic turns the tables, given the assumption that men are so eager, even desperate, to have sex with women (even if the women aren’t willing), because it helps them see themselves as manly.

As a result, we are now told that rape is something committed only by weird, desperate, unmanly men.  But, as we point out elsewhere, Prof. Michael A. Messner argues in his Gender & Society article that the effort to change rape culture by framing the problem as one of a few bad apples is a major break from the feminist movement that challenged rape to begin with.  As Messner puts it, in the 1970s feminist women and pro-feminist men thought that

“. . . successfully ending violence against women would involve not simply removing a few bad apples from an otherwise fine basket of fruit. Rather, working to stop violence against women meant overturning the entire basket: challenging the institutional inequalities between women and men, raising boys differently, and transforming in more peaceful and egalitarian directions the normative definition of manhood. Stopping men’s violence against women, in other words, was now seen as part of a larger effort at revolutionizing gender relations.”

As Messner points out, the institutionalization and professionalization of anti-rape work since that time has led us to embrace a health model of rape prevention, which has medicalized the problem of sexual violence–and thereby, at least in some ways, de-politicized it.  Once the overall problem of rape has been depoliticized, nobody cares that we’re kowtowing to some dude’s need for his manhood to be confirmed.

In those earlier days of the anti-rape movement, male feminist writer John Stoltenberg argued in his book Refusing to Be a Man that, when a man is making out with a woman, he should be more worried about being the friend there than about being the man there.   Stoltenberg’s point was far more radical than today’s tactic of simply reversing what counts as real manhood.  Stoltenberg suggested that we just stop worrying about who’s a real man.

whos-a-good-boyThe current campaigns basically presume men are like the dog waiting for affirmation in the dog meme–you know the one in which the dog is saying, “What if I never find out who’s a good boy?”

Our message to guys would be: No, you’re never going to find out who’s a real man.  Let’s move on and worry about what being a respectful human being actually looks and feels like. We really aren’t concerned about your masculinity, however you conceive it. Because your sense of manhood is not what this movement is about.


mccaughey-cermeleJill Cermele is a professor of psychology and an affiliated faculty member of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program at Drew University. Her scholarship, teaching, and activism are focused on gender and resistance, outcomes and perceptions of self-defense training, and issues of gender in mental health. With Martha McCaughey, she was a guest editor for the March 2014 special issue of Violence Against Women on Self-Defense Against Sexual Assault. McCaughey and she also write the blog See Jane Fight Back, where they provide commentary and analysis on popular press coverage of self-defense and women’s resistance.

Martha McCaughey is a professor of sociology and an affiliated faculty member of the Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies Program at Appalachian State University. She is the author of Real Knockouts: The Physical Feminism of Women’s Self-Defense and The Caveman Mystique: Pop-Darwinism and the Debates Over Sex, Violence, and Science. With Jill Cermele, she guest edited the special issue of Violence Against Women on self-defense against sexual assault and blogs at See Jane Fight Back.

Originally posted at the Gender & Society blog.

Researchers increasingly find that American men who are millennials—more than men of earlier generations—aspire to create relationships in which they and their spouse equally share earning and domestic responsibilities, including care of young children. Such egalitarian ideals are difficult to attain, however, given the time and energy demanded by today’s employers.

balanceOne oft-cited remedy to this problem has been the introduction of progressive work-family policies, such as paid parental and family leave as well as flexible workplace practices. Such policies make gender-egalitarian relationships considerably more feasible because they provide workers with the time and resources needed to more realistically balance the often competing demands of employment and family obligations. In practice however, men are much less likely than women to take advantage of such policies.

Why might this be the case? One possibility centers on pure economics: men tend to have higher paying and higher status jobs than women, and therefore may feel they have more to lose if they modify their work for the sake of family. However, men’s cultural beliefs about gender also likely play an important role. For instance, some men may not take advantage of these policies simply because they do not believe it is right for men to take on equal responsibility for family responsibilities.

Furthermore, sociologists routinely find that men’s preferences and behaviors are driven by their sense of social approval by other men. From this perspective, some men may not utilize or support work-family policies because they believe that other men will judge them negatively for taking advantage of such policies. In short, if men believe that their male peers value paid work as a distinctively masculine responsibility, they may fear that taking on a substantial amount responsibility for housework and childcare—the behavior that supportive work-family policies facilitate—will undermine their masculine identity within their social circle.

Our study tackles this complex set of issues by identifying and measuring the extent to which young men’s cultural beliefs about gender are relevant for their responses to supportive work-family policies. We implement a novel survey-experimental design to investigate whether the causal effect of the presence of supportive work-family policies on a young man’s preference to take on equal or primary responsibility for housework and childcare depends on his cultural beliefs about gender.

To that end, we focus on two types of cultural beliefs. First, we examine gender ideology: whether respondents believe that other men should have gender-egalitarian relationships. Second, we examine perceptions of masculinity norms: whether respondents believe that other men actually do aspire to have gender-egalitarian relationships.

In our survey experiment, which was conducted with a nationally representative sample of unmarried, childless, American men between the ages of 18 and 32, we asked each respondent to express how he would ideally prefer to divide work and domestic responsibilities with his future partner. As part of the study, we randomly assigned participants to one of two groups. In one group, participants were told to state how they would ideally organize their future work and family responsibilities under the assumption that supportive work-family policies—specifically, paid family leave, subsidized childcare, and flexible workplace practices—were in place. In the other group, we made no mention of such policies, but still asked the men about how they would ideally like to balance work and family like in the future. All participants then asked a series of questions about how they believe most men should organize work and family obligations, and how most men their age actually do prefer to organize these obligations.

Our key finding is that men’s responses to the supportive work-family policy prime are contingent upon their perceptions of normative masculinity—that is, beliefs about what the majority of other young men want. Among the subgroup of men who believed that the majority of their male peers actually want to take on equal or primary responsibility for housework and/or childcare, supportive work-family policies increase the chances of selecting a progressive relationship structure (e.g., being in an egalitarian relationship or being in a relationship where they would be primarily responsible for housework and childcare) by nearly 26 percent.

Further, we show that men’s responses to the supportive work-family policy prime are not contingent on men’s value-laden beliefs about whether men ought to share equally in earning and caregiving. While gender ideology matters for many things, it does not appear that deep changes to men’s ideological beliefs are a prerequisite for increasing men’s endorsement and take-up of supportive work-family policies.

Together, these findings contribute new and important insights to the study of work and family life, masculinity, and the determinants of men’s responses to supportive work-family policies. Whereas men’s overall resistance to interventions aimed at supporting dual-earner, dual-caregiver relationships has proven to be a stumbling block to attaining greater gender equality, our findings demonstrate that such resistance is far from ubiquitous, and is in fact contingent on a man’s localized perceptions of masculinity norms. Thus, our study identifies one key factor that contributes to persistent patterns of inequality in the workplace and at home. By designing work-family policies that take masculinity norms into consideration, policymakers and business leaders alike may take an important step toward dismantling patterns of inequality.


Sarah Thébaud is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a faculty research associate of the Broom Center for Demography. Her work investigates social psychological and macro-institutional sources of gender inequality in the new economy. In addition to studies on the relationship between gendered cultural beliefs, workplaces, and families, her research examines patterns of gender inequality in entrepreneurial activity, investment markets, and academic science and engineering. 

David S. Pedulla is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Faculty Research Associate in the Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Using primarily experimental and quantitative approaches, his research examines the processes underlying racial and gender stratification in the labor market. One ongoing project investigates the gendered and racialized consequences of nonstandard, contingent, and precarious employment on workers’ social and economic outcomes.

Their article “Masculinity and the Stalled Revolution: How Gender Ideologies and Norms Shape Young Men’s Responses to Work–Family Policies” can be found in the August 2016; 30 (4) issue of Gender & Society

C.J. and her public school teacher female partner have had some version of the following conversation with faculty wives (those married to men) countless times over the past decade:

Wives: “Wow, my husband just works so hard. It’s like I’m a single parent. But academia’s just like that –totally unpredictable. He has to work evenings and weekends to get published and travel all the time to conferences. I have to not work/adjust my schedule/work part time to make sure child care is covered/food is made/house is taken care of.”

C.J.’s public school teacher partner: “Huh. That doesn’t sound like C.J.’s schedule at all. She works 9-5 and we share childcare equally. She does some work after they go to bed and during naptime (and let’s be honest between the 4 am and 6 am wakeups in those early days), but we have a fairly regular schedule and division of labor. FullSizeRenderShe grocery shops, I take the kids to dance classes while she does so. She puts the kids to bed, I clean the house. Mornings are evenly divided between the two of us (though we do make the kids stay in bed until 6:20 so we can both get in early morning workouts!). Sure there are evening events/conferences/invited talks, but we plan those out in advance to make sure each of our jobs are covered. In fact when C.J. travels the table is covered in Tupperware and prepared meals so she holds up her part of the labor before she leaves (see image). Weird, it’s like our partners work in two totally different industries.”

Over and over and over again. So it was with only a little surprise that I read this headline in the Washington Post: “The Surprising Reason Why Lesbians Get Paid More Than Straight Women.” It turns out Marieka Klawitter, professor of public policy, examined 29 studies “on wages and sexual orientation and found a 9 percent earnings premium for lesbians over heterosexual women.” She suggested that this premium was due to lesbians’ increased levels of education and work experience.

Another another recent study, the article goes on to point out, showed that lesbians who had previously lived with a male partner made 20% less than those who never had lived with a man (though even these lesbians still made more than heterosexual women who lived with a male partner). Indeed, this “male partner penalty” reflects what Philip Cohen points out in this graph about women’s median earnings as a proportion of men’s by education (below). You can see the increase in salary proportionally for those who have not only never had kids, but are also not married.

Graph produced by Philip Cohen -
Graph produced by Philip Cohen –

So what is going on here? We, in consultation with Facebook friends, have a few ideas:

  1. See the conversation above – that perhaps the premium is reflecting the fact that women in same-sex couples don’t perform a full second shift and perhaps engage in a more equitable division of labor. Time is not valued or undervalued by gender, in other words.
  2. Women’s work success may threaten their heterosexual relationship and they may reduce their professional efforts. This reduction is reflected in salary. Certainly research by Christin Munsch on women’s earnings and cheating patterns suggests that women’s earning power may not positively affect heterosexual relationships. (Idea credit: Kate Howlett McCarley)
  3. The wage premium has nothing to do with lesbians and everything to do with whether or not a woman lives with a man. We might see something similar for single straight identified women. (Idea credit: Siri Colom)
  4. The living with a man penalty might reflect regional patterns of homophobia and be less about the man himself. (Idea Credit: Megan Carroll)
  5. This might have something to do with queer gendered embodiments in the workplace. As Jane Ward asked “did they control for butchness?” Or Terri Eagen-Torkko suggested (tongue perhaps in cheek): “It’s probably just the half of us who are ‘the man.’” Indeed, could it be that there is something about the way one “does gender” that is different when one is lesbian identified? So lesbian identified that one has never lived with a man? More assertive perhaps? As such less prone to the mistakes women are told they make in negotiating salaries?
  6. Finally, these findings need to be squared with the recent study that showed that women who might be read as queer because of their work experience are less likely to be called by prospective employers in the first place. (Idea credit: Dawne Moon and Sascha Demerjian)

It’s likely a combination of all of these factors and more. But given the difference male partners make in the equation, we can’t shake the notion that domestic division of labor plays a big role here. And while those of us in same-sex couples may be freer to create new scripts for these duties, as Tristan can attest, it’s challenging, but can be done, in heterosexual relationships, too.

In heterosexual relationships, the script is institutionalized such that deviating from it is challenging for many reasons beyond people feeling like “less of a man” or as though they are failing to live up to motherhood ideals. While actually measuring an equitable division of labor is challenging in any relationship, there are social forces working against heterosexual couples attempting for forge egalitarian divisions of labor—perhaps particularly when they have children. Part of this might have to do with actual, authentic collaboration and support. The joys and burdens of relationships need to be balanced, and it’s probably not all that shocking to hear that lesbian couples might be better at this. Heterosexual relationship scripts are institutionalized in ways that make men and women unhappy (though, for very different reasons). Challenging these means forging new scripts—a march that is invariably uphill.

Indeed, we have learned to rely on one another as coauthors in this way as well—passing papers back and forth and trying to assess work/family balance issues, and more. It enriches our work lives. The labor for this blog post itself, in fact, was aided by a queer digital network of people interested in similar issues and ideas and eager to help. In the end, these studies seem to raise as many questions as they answer about sexuality, gender, and the wage gap. And we ought to consider the questions posed as well as those that appear to be answered.

A PhD student of economics at Harvard—Heather Sarsons—generated quite a buzz with her working paper, “Gender Differences in Recognition for Group Work” (HERE for the paper, and HERE for Justin Wolfers’ summary of her research in TheUpshot). Sarsons looked at the careers of young economists recruited by top universities in the U.S. over the past four decades. She discovered that while women publish at roughly the same rates as men, they are significantly less likely to achieve tenure, even after accounting for all the things one might first think to blame for this discrepancy (tenure rates at different universities, subfield differences, quality of publications, influence, etc.). There was one group of women, however, who received equivalent rates of success to men—women who publish without men, either alone or with other women. Simply put, Sarsons finds that when women publish with men, they do not receive the same credit.

Screen Shot 2016-02-03 at 11.53.03 AMBoth of us are sociologists. And, in Sarsons’ paper, she also analyzed sociology and did not find the same difference in terms of how men and women receive credit for collaboration. Economists list authors alphabetically on publications. Sociologists select author order on the publication. Thus, we have publications listed as “Bridges and Pascoe” as well as “Pascoe and Bridges.” We see each of these collaborations as equal partnerships, but have worked out a system for selecting first author that has to do with who manages the various projects on which we collaborate.

We also have a good working relationship in terms of giving each other credit, and for collaboratively taking credit for work that belongs more to “us” than to either of us individually. As we’ve theorized hybrid masculinities, for instance, we have tried to be careful to ensure that the framework is attributed to both of us. The initial publication came out of research Tristan published in Gender & Society—an article that benefited a great deal from C.J.’s reading and feedback. And we collectively realized that part of what Tristan had found was something lots of different scholars were finding. So, we collaborated on a paper for Sociology Compass that creates a more general framework for studying transformations in masculinity. Tristan was first author on that paper (though it was an equal collaboration) in part because C.J. was first author on our recent anthology, Exploring Masculinities (also an equal collaboration). We are currently at work on a separate theoretical article building on the framework we established a year ago and C.J. will be lead author on this. Author order has always been an easy conversation for us.  But we do talk and worry about whether there is or will be an discrepancy in the credit we each receive for the work.

Sometimes we perceive that Tristan receives more credit for our collaborations which may be due to the fact that he is a man. Sometimes we perceive that C.J. receives more credit for our collaborations because of her seniority and previous publishing record. We each attempt to negotiate these potential credit discrepancies differently, hoping to make up for something that might occur in our own collaboration relationship (despite Sarsons not finding it in sociology more generally). And, if we had a finer measure and found the gender credit gap in sociology, we admit that it would be something over which we have little control as individuals. But, as feminist sociologists who believe in the collaborative process, we decided to develop a list of feminist practices for cross gender collaborations.

10 Practices Men Who Collaborate with Women Should Consider

  1. ALWAYS acknowledge your coauthor whenever you discuss or write about the collaboration.
  2. Promote your coauthor’s solo-authored work and accomplishments.
  3. Consider very carefully if and when you are listed as lead author in your collaborations.
  4. Cite your coauthor’s solo-authored work.  #CiteHerWork
  5. When writing about or discussing the work, use “WE” and “OUR.”
  6. Acknowledge this bias when discussing, teaching, citing, other collaborations between women and men.
  7. Involve your coauthor in any attention, recognition, or opportunities that result from the collaboration.
  8. Whenever you can, discuss the work together and/or SHE speaks for US.
  9. Say something if and when you feel you’re receiving an undue proportion of the recognition.
  10. Understand that this issue is structural and you are not always aware of when and how you benefit.

This list is a work in progress and we would love to hear your additions!



*Deciding on author order for this post was simply not possible.

Originally posted at

Circumcision is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. It is also among the most hotly debated. Scientists and doctors aren’t settled on the benefits or risk of the surgery and it is so politicized that it’s hard to parse fact from fiction, objective truth from medical mythmaking. Recently, vlogger Justin Dennis, at Everyday Feminism, gave us five reasons why (feminist) parents should consider not circumcising their boys. An important feminist foray into the topic, Dennis points to important issues like consent, bodily integrity, sexual health, and sexual pleasure (1). Those are great entry points for feminists who care about children’s rights and human rights.

But not every anti-circumcision position is a feminist one, and that’s where we need to be careful. In fact, male circumcision has been actively politicized by the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), a dangerous and reactionary grouping of organizations who seek to undo many of the gains made by feminists (called ‘misandrists’ in the MRM). According to Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), they fight for gender equality, against a feminist movement that has made men subservient to women. When you hear men (and sometimes women) speak about the danger of false rape accusations, or the myth of the wage gap, or a marriage boycott, chances are you are talking to a Men’s Rights Activist, or at least someone influenced by their ideology.

And the MRM has also latched onto male circumcision (2)(3). Like so many of their issues, they see male circumcision as evidence of men’s subordinated position in society. Society sacrifices men—through military conscription, through dangerous and forced labor, through circumcision. And this is why I’m writing; circumcision can be a feminist issue, but not the way MRAs talk about it. Here’s what they’re missing (and what we need to remember).

Male circumcision is symbolic of men’s power.

Circumcision has always been symbolically connected to male privilege. As a Jewish religious ritual, for example, circumcision separates the sexes. Boys are marked with full patriarchal power, and full group belonging; girls are a secondary class, not worthy of the mark. Men are full participants in the ritual; traditionally, women are not worthy of participation. As a medical practice, circumcision was part of a medical movement against masturbation. Masturbation was believed to sap boys’ and men’s energies, energies which were rightly saved for their participation in the public sphere—as workers, as leaders. Women, whose lives were relegated to the private sphere didn’t need such energies…and anyway, we didn’t think of them as particularly sexual to begin with.

Medicalizing circumcision also served male power. Circumcision’s inclusion as a normal part of childbirth was a tool, helping to solidify medicine’s dominance over pregnancy. What was once the realm of women, of midwives, childbirth rapidly came under the purview of men’s authority. The medicalization of birth and pregnancy was part of a concerted campaign by male doctors seeking to create a discipline of their own. Aided by the building of hospitals (claimed to be safe and sanitary, contrary to much evidence), and the development of medications which could ease women’s pain during birth, midwives were discredited. Circumcision, a surgery requiring training and precision, arose alongside these other developments. Ironically, doctors and mohels (traditional Jewish circumcisers) even conversed in medical journals over who was best trained and most precise. It didn’t really matter who won that fight—either way, men were guaranteed dominance over childbirth.

A final point about circumcision’s medical history; it has not only been about male privilege, but white male privilege. Circumcision was implemented medically at a time when industrialization and urbanization were encouraging immigration. Migrants from around Europe threatened white, American born men’s position in the workforce. Migrants from Europe were not likely to be circumcised, and thus the surgery served to distinguish the groups. The myth of circumcision’s hygienic benefits is likely borne of this part of its history. Migrants were poor and unclean; circumcised ‘native’ born whites were different from, better than, the unwashed masses.

Circumcision is painful. And it may very well be related to long-term psychological harm; for the men who fight against circumcision, the experience of harm is quite upsetting (4). But, what they are missing is that harm has historically and symbolically been in service of men’s power. It served men’s dominance in the public sphere and in the medical discipline; and it worked to distinguish white men’s superiority in a changing society and economy. Circumcision has been American society’s way of readying individual men for group power and privilege. Missing this point—that individual harm =/= group subordination—is a fundamental flaw of nearly all MRM arguments.

It is evident in their arguments against military conscription. Yes, individual men die as soldiers, but the reason they are sent to battle is because society views them as stronger and more courageous, as leaders. It is precisely because we value masculinity that we send men to war.

It is evident in their arguments in fathers’ custody battles. Yes, individual men suffer when they are denied custody of children during divorce. But it is because we have always given men positions of power and authority and relegated women to the subordinate position of homemaker and caretaker. It is precisely because we value masculinity that we do not see men as parents.

If we want to oppose male circumcision, we can recognize that it harms men. Dennis does this, recognizing the violation of consent and bodily integrity, and the potential physical and sexual harms of circumcision. But, if given the chance, I would have added another point to her list—circumcision is a feminist issue because circumcision is about patriarchy. To recognize this history (and its contemporary relevance) will necessarily shape how circumcision is feminist issue, and how we resist it. We must acknowledge its connection to men’s privilege, even as we acknowledge men’s pain. We can recognize individual harm without equating circumcision to the subordination of men. If not, we find ourselves with strange bedfellows. If we want to fight circumcision, we must fight patriarchy, not ignore it.


(1) She also mentions issues around hygiene and biology, though those are less directly relevant for feminist conversations on circumcision.

(2) See, for example, groups like the National Coalition for Men and A Voice for Men. I won’t link to their sites, because I’d rather they get fewer page views, but you’re welcome to google them to see their positions on the issues I discuss.

(3) Not all groups who politically oppose male circumcision are necessarily affiliated with the MRM. Groups in the Intactivist Movement (or, alternatively, the Genital Integrity Movement)–an umbrella term for groups fighting male circumcision–occupy a variety of positions on the political spectrum.

(4) The link between circumcision and harm is debated. For those men who are unhappily circumcised, the harm seems quite obvious. But because sexuality and our bodies are so loaded with social meaning, it is hard to know whether the harm is physiological, or psychological; that is, it is difficult to separate their belief in the harm from actual harm. The social construction of penises and masculine sexuality helps explain why many circumcised men in the U.S. never experience any problems with the circumcised penises, while other men seem to suffer greatly.


188676_684774569445_3096435_nAmanda Kennedy is a PhD candidate in sociology at Stony Brook University (SUNY). Her main areas of interest are race, gender, sexuality, and the body, issues she approaches from a critical race/postcolonial feminist perspective. She teaches courses on race/gender/sexuality, the media, and technology.

Reddit is a website for sharing links and commenting on them.  You may not have heard of it, but it’s might be more popular than you think.  In November of 2015, Reddit received just shy of 200,000,000 unique visitors from 215 countries viewing a total of more than 7 billion pages on the site.  In the U.S., it ranks as 1 of the top 10 visited sites.  So, it’s a massive undertaking and the site receives an incredible amount of online traffic.  And users don’t comment on every link shared and some certainly just view conversation threads without commenting.  But there are close to 2 billion comments on the site as well.  And those comments are chock full of internet slang, and all manner of online vernacular.  Recently, Randal S. Olson partnered with to produce a n-gram viewer for Reddit comments similar to the Google n-gram viewer introduced in 2010. The tool allows you to search for 1, 2, or 3-word phrases and to see their prevalence among all n-grams between 2007 and August of 2015.

But, it’s important to note that although Reddit has an extremely large audience and readership, the tool does not provide a representation of how all people communicate online.  Rather, it represents how Reddit users communicate with each other online.  So, who, you might ask, are Reddit users.  According to Google Display Planner and FiveThirtyEight, Reddit users are almost entirely 35 or younger and around 80% are men.  And Reddit has a reputation for being a racist, sexist, homophobic, and generally anti-woman online space.  So, it does give us an interesting peek at trends within one popular online hangout.

For instance, below you can see the prevalence of “dude” and “bro” among Reddit comments.  Both have become more popular over time.  I don’t know what it means that they’re more common, but it’s interesting to see.

Dude vs. Bro
Similarly, “no homo,” “fag” and “faggot” enjoy a healthy portion of Reddit comments. And we can track trends in the recent spate of masculinity-related portmanteaus connecting masculinity with all manner of socially undesirable behavior–like “mansplaining” and “manspreading” (below).

Mansplaining vs. Manspreading
What these trends mean is a different question and not one these data can answer.  But it is an interesting way of tracking trends among this group of primarily young men online.

A few months ago Kentucky county clerk Kim Davies made the news because she refused enact the Supreme Court order to marry same sex couples in her county citing religious objections. Davis was jailed for contempt of court, released, and is now back at work, though letting her subordinates marry same sex couples rather than doing so herself. Last week Justice Kennedy suggested, perhaps not directly, that she resign from her job.

But this post isn’t about Kim Davies; it’s about a protest against Kim Davies. Understandably, people, both gay and straight, were upset about her behavior – some protested outside of her office, some confronted her at her desk, some wrote op-eds, some went on talk shows. Others took to YouTube and Instagram as they staged a virtual kiss-in across the United States in a protest called #kissesforkim.

CPT43X8VEAAu8nYThis protest was started by two comedians from the group Comedians in Public – Jericho Davidson and Michael Albanese. These two heavily bearded, and apparently straight, men, in a video launching the #kissesforkim project said, “Dear Kim Davis, we want to let you know that no matter what you do, love will always win.” They instructed viewers to “grab your closest friend, give him a kiss, take a photo or video, and upload it using #KissesForKim, to let Kim know that she cannot win.”

While these instructions are aimed at “gay, bi, trans WHOMEVER!” according the video, the pictures of two presumably straight men kissing were picked up most favorably by the interwebs. for instance, posted the following “#Heterosexual men the whole world over are making out with each other for a good cause. Find out why at #kissesforkim #kimdavis #kissykissy #smoochsmooch #xoxo #gay #straight #samelove.”  Indeed, much was made of the fact that the two men who created the campaign identified as straight. Now it’s not that same sex couples didn’t appear in these photos, it’s that the straight-identified men got the attention. For instance, in this photo the poster points out that he and his partner are not straight.
Kissesforkim1Other posters even thanked straight men for doing this, calling them “great men.”
kissesforkim2We would suggest that the focus on (and discourse surrounding) straight men kissing is instructive. In fact, it reminded us of a previous episode we had written about who were engaging in seemingly same sex activities in a post we called “Bro-Porn.” In that post we addressed the way in which two straight comedians kissed at Chick-fil-A to protest the organization’s homophobic policies and the Warwick men’s rowing team posing nude for a photo shoot. We suggested that perhaps engaging in acts that seemingly contradict normative expectations of masculinity, may in fact bolster it:

This sort of “bro-ing” of anti-homophobia stances does not necessarily have the effect of challenging the naturalness and inevitability of sexual and gender categories. Much like the anti-Chick-fil-A video made by two straight, white men to protest the restaurant’s homophobic policies, Macklemore’s and the Warwick rowing team’s gender and sexual practices and proclamations reinscribe their heterosexuality as so powerful and inevitable that even an anti-homophobia stance can’t call them into question. (here)

In that post, we suggested that performances of protest, in some ways, underscore the same understandings of heterosexual masculinity that make the form of protest noticeable in the first place. They illustrate a form of heteroflexibility that is celebrated as heterosexual and masculine when the right men participate in the right ways. In the end, they’re actually strategically relying on the very discourse they claim to oppose. Something similar is likely going on with the #kissesforkim protest.

How could that be? To begin, it’s important that these forms of protest/allyship involve humor; they’re played for laughs.  And part of the “humor” in these forms of digital activism is that these guys are so straight that no one would ever actually think they are gay.  In doing so, they actually shore up heterosexual privilege–albeit in a new and unorthodox fashion.

9781479825172_FullThe very smart new book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by Jane Ward addresses precisely this issue. In studying straight identified men who have sex with one another, Ward shows that sex between straight white men is a lot more common than you might think. In the book, Ward is centrally interested in how it is that sex and sexual acts between straight white men are read as credibly “heterosexual.” Ward uncovers a terrific array of discourses relied upon by straight men that authorize “lapses” in their otherwise heterosexual identities and behavior. She refers to the discourses collectively as “hetero-exceptionalism.” And at the conclusion of the book, Ward makes a really interesting argument about what homonormativity has done for straight white guys who might occasionally engage in sexual behavior with other straight white guys. She writes,

Increasingly central to contemporary discourse about the difference between heteroflexibility and authentic gayness is a romanticized story about queerness as same-sex love, as opposed to “meaningless” same-sex sex. The former is reserved for the real gays, while the latter is available to heteroflexible straights as well. (here: 197)

kissesforkim5This is not to say that the straight white guys participating in #kissesforkim don’t actually want change. We’re not arguing that their “real” motives are sinister and are actually attempts to reclaim the spotlight. We are here interested in how these men’s behavior is understood, what people seem to imagine it “means” and doesn’t mean, and the fact that straight white men’s participation here is so celebrated.  And we are interested in what kinds of cultural transformations provide a framework within which we can make sense of these men’s activism and our collective interest in them.  In this case, homonormativity provides a discourse within which these men’s same-sex behaviors can be read as straight–as “hetero-exceptional.”  #kissesforkim continues a tradition of straight white men receiving an incredible amount of attention for being willing to take a stand against sexual prejudice, even if that “stand” might be little more than a party gag in front of friends.