As more reports and statements about the Zika virus circulate, the more readers/viewers are reminded of its greatest threat: “malformed babies” or infants with “defects.” Pregnant women are warned against traveling to regions where they could contract Zika as a means to protect their fetuses.
But responses to this disease also reveal a troubling underlying attitude about disabilities and the people who live with them. The message is clear: Disability is something to be prevented at all costs.
Zika is believed to be the cause of a growing number of babies born with “birth defects” like microcephaly (a disorder characterized by a disproportionately small head) and others that affect a child’s vision and hearing. Symptoms of an actual Zika infection are relatively minor, so much so that some mothers who delivered babies with related physical impairments (Zika babies) have trouble remembering even being sick.
Whereas news stories about Ebola since 2014 have often included images of supine suffering bodies surrounded by white hazmat suits, recent images about Zika feature babies born with small heads on the laps of parents (interestingly, often with their own heads cropped out of the frame). The story of this disease is one of disabled children.
Information about a disease gives rise to fears, which is something the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization have to negotiate when a new outbreak of a disease occurs. Remember the H1N1 pandemic in 2009? President Obama declared a national emergency to ensure people took the threat of the disease seriously, yet he played golf the same day to assuage fears that declaration was likely to inspire. People fear the pain, inconvenience, disruption, unknown effects, and expense of a disease as well as the potential loss of life.
As news about the Zika virus in South and Central America spreads, so does its companion anxiety—the anxiety about children being born with disabilities. This is surely a serious concern because these children may require additional care and resources, and in many cases, they are born into relatively poor families.
However, the fears associated with this disease are less about the care that will be needed for the children born with disabilities and more about their existence. Their birth is presented as the devastating outcome of the infection as a death count for Ebola or Cholera might be.
Images of children with microcephaly reinforce this point. We can see the impact of this disease and stare at the “malformed” body with the impunity of a computer screen. On January 27, NPR’s Renee Montagne, who interviewed Monica Roa, reported, “It would be fair to say we’re going to be seeing more of these babies being born with the birth defects of the Zika virus.” And seeing these babies is the real threat of Zika.
People with visible disabilities frequently experience staring and gawking as if they were on display. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Disabilities Discrimination Act are meant to protect against the kind of prejudice that can prevent disabled people from securing work, health care, housing, and the assurance of a quality life. The real disabling aspect of life with a disability is the way able-bodied people perceive, react to, and even ignore disability.
Disease—Ebola, H1N1, Cholera, etc.—expose social inequities like contaminated food or water, restricted access to health care, or a break down in public health. And while disability is not a disease, the Zika virus brings a light to cultural attitudes about disabilities as objectionable.
A life with disabilities has challenges and complexities that vary from one person to the next, but it is a life. We need to stop treating the birth of Zika babies as the outcome, the end point of the narrative of the Zika virus and focus on the lives the children and their families will live.
A simple way to begin focusing on the Zika babies as new lives and not tragedies is to change the language used to discuss them. A simple shift from “malformed” and “birth defect” to impairment or disability changes the story. Rather than a medicalized diseased body with its “defects,” we have a human being with a challenging life ahead.
Sarah Schuetze is a visiting assistant professor of English at St. Norbert College. She specializes in narratives of disease in American Literature, and she’s currently working on a book project called Calamity Howl: Fear of Illness in Early American Literature and Culture.
I’m thrilled to bring this interview with Joanne C. Bamberger, editor of the new anthology Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press), to Girl w/Pen. Joanne and I were both part of the first class of the Women’s Media Center’s Progressive Women’s Voices program waaay back, and I’ve been following her writing with admiration ever since. An entrepreneurial journalist and award-winning writer, Joanne is the publisher and editor in chief of The Broad Side, a digital magazine of women’s commentary. Joanne was chosen for the Forty Over 40 “disruptor” list for her work in amplifying the voices of women for political and social change, and was awarded the 2013 Advocacy Innovator Award by Campaigns & Elections magazine. Working Mother Magazine has called her one of the most “powerful” moms in social media. Her new anthology explores the question of why so many Americans, especially women, have such complicated and conflicting feelings when it comes to one of the most well-known and admired women in the world — Hillary Rodham Clinton. She’ll be moderating a panel, with contributors Veronica Arreola and Emily Zanotti, TONIGHT at Women and Children First in Chicago at 7:30pm. If you’re local, I invite you to join me there!
DS: Your book’s title, Love Her, Love Her Not, evokes that game in which one person seeks to determine whether the object of their affection returns that affection or not. Hillary Clinton certainly wants the affection of culturally and politically astute women like those who’ve contributed to this anthology. By embracing the range of our complicated feelings, what kinds of feelings—and thoughts—do you hope the book itself will spark?
JCB: My hope is that the essays in LHLHN will help voters, especially women voters, examine their underlying feelings about Clinton. So many people say, “Oh, I don’t like her. I could never vote for her.” But when those same people are asked why they don’t like her, they’re stumped for an actual reason. So when I gathered the writers for this project, and we talked about essay topics, I asked each writer to really dig deep about the “why” question. What I found was that since we can only view any candidate through the lens of our personal experiences, those experiences significantly inform our feelings about her, rather than forming our opinions about her based on Hillary’s experience and credentials.
In many ways, how we view Hillary Clinton is really more about ourselves than about her. I believe that until women voters can work through their own feelings about Hillary, as well as women leaders in general, and what we expect of women, we won’t be able to elect a woman to the White House.
DS: You’ve brought together writers who are diverse in age, walks of life, race, and political affiliations. What were the most surprising through-lines in these essays, if indeed such through-lines exist?
JCB: One of the most surprising things to me was that so many writers still judge her for not leaving her husband after the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Even for the writers who initially judged her for being open about her personal political ambitions – and viewed her decision to stay in her marriage as a political calculation rather than a marital one – and have changed their minds about that judgment 20 years later, it was just very surprising to me that people judge her negatively for her decision when she was the wronged party in that episode.
Another theme I found fascinating was that while each essay topic was different, each writer was willing to take a step back and really view their feelings about Hillary through a microscopic lens and be really honest in the positives and negatives about Clinton. I’d characterize that kind of “through-line” as finally being able to see Hillary Clinton as a 3-D person, rather than the 2-D portrayal of her we are fed by most of the media, and to re-examine our ideas about her on a truer 3-D level. And isn’t that how we all want to be viewed? Unfortunately, we live in a time were media boil us all down to 2-D versions of ourselves. We won’t be able to elect a first woman president until we can look at ourselves, as well as Hillary, as fully-formed, three dimensional women who, by definition, are full of contradictions.
DS: In your earlier book, Mothers of Intention, you document how women and social media are revolutionizing politics and the uphill battle women still face in the world of politics and activism.How does a grandmother running for president change politics? And what do you make of the way media (social and otherwise) represent and portray her candidacy this time around?
JCB: Since we have had so many grandfathers run for president where that fact hasn’t been a substantive issue at all (most infamously, Mitt Romney with his 23 grandchildren and counting), having a woman who happens to be a grandmother running should not be an issue, either. Sadly, we still live in a society where women are still judged – decades after “women’s liberation” – through a traditional, gendered lens.
Unfortunately, few reporters or pundits are doing anything to change our views of women like Clinton. It certainly doesn’t help with how we view women of a certain age when women of younger generations use outdated language to discuss people like Hillary. Recently, a TIME Magazine reporter who’s written a book about women political leaders, said that grandmothers are viewed as “biddies,” suggesting that such an idea harms their chances of leading.
It seems we can’t escape media sexism when it comes to Hillary Clinton. In 2008, some questioned whether a hormonal Hillary should get anywhere near the “nuclear button,” channeling stereotypical worries about hysterical women. Now, a post-menopausal Hillary gets portrayed by Donald Trump (who is older than Hillary) as not having stamina, and reporters question whether she’s too old to run for president, yet they don’t make it as much of an issue for Bernie Sanders, who is several years older.
Statistically, since women live longer than men, and Clinton, at 68, has a life expectancy of at least 85, maybe we should take a more serious look at the fact that her older male candidates statistically have shorter life spans. 🙂
Until we can take the gendered filter off the lenses through which we view candidates, sadly will be an issue. Just as with the studies that show that woman candidates have to be likable for women voters to view them as “qualified,” yet when don’t require that of male candidates. I just hope I live long enough to see us toss those outdated gendered ideas out the window. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.
DS: In so many ways, as you suggest, the debate seems as much about us as her. I love the title of a piece Jessica Grose wrote in Elle, “Have We Gotten Less Sexist Since Hillary Clinton’s Last Run.” Have we? And about that “we”: it’s easier to claim sexism when haters are men. Are there ways in which women, in our own love/hate, are enacting sexism too? If yes, how so?
JCB: Some of that sexism comes from the grandmother question we talked bout earlier.
Women, sadly, aren’t exempt from sexism when it comes to Hillary. The idea that some women have that a former first lady has no place running for national elective office, regardless of her own personal qualifications, is blatantly sexist. That many women loved her as secretary of state but loathe the idea of her as president is sexist. Women’s sexism toward Clinton is sometimes less obvious than the sexist commentary thrown her way by men, but it’s there – our continued questioning of her fashion choices, whether she’s strong enough to be commander in chief, and, yes, whether she is “likable” enough to women – all sexist, even if those same women can admit that her resume more than qualifies her to run for president.
DS: If you were to design a Hillary Studies course for college students (as you hint at in the introductory essay to the book!), what would the curriculum be?
JCB: It would be easy to put together a curriculum, with academic articles and books being written every year about her, and I think the focus would be on gender, media and whether we are, in fact, a post-feminist society.
While I know that many women younger than myself believe that we have finally reached a point where we are post-feminist – meaning we don’t need a woman to advocate for feminist issues, and that men who identify as feminists can do just as good a job as a woman, I disagree. And I think that a Hillary Studies curriculum would focus on: (1) the media sexism Hillary endured during the 2008 campaign and how all women are negatively impacted by that, (2) how Hillary’s leadership potential is undermined in our world of memes, and how those undermine all women, (3) right-wing, gendered hate speech (one example – “rhymes with blunt”) against Hillary and the negative impact that has on other women who follow her onto the national stage, and (4) what has to happen in society to get beyond these issues to finally be able to envision a woman sitting in the Oval Office in her own right so that we can actually elect one.
DS: Anything else you’d like readers to know?
JCB: One of my favorite things about the essays in the book is that they are all so nuanced, and written with insight and yes, humor. I had thought that the essays would fall neatly into three categories – the lovers, the haters, and those still on the fence. But because all the writers – even the ones who aren’t Hillary Clinton fans – could recognize the importance and the value of having someone like Hillary on the national stage, I couldn’t package them that way. If more of the coverage of her as a candidate was as thoughtful as the essays in LHLHN, we would be having a very different national conversation about her. I hope the readers of LHLHN will enjoy the various perspectives from these amazing women.
Buy the book from Women and Children First, right over here.
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.
Amanda 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.
By now you’ve read that Robert Dear, accused of killing three people at a Colorado Planned Parenthood, is a religious zealot. Most likely, you were not surprised when he was described as “Christian” and “extremely evangelistic.” News coverage of anti-abortion terrorists like Dear often cites religious motivations for violence. This coverage implies an automatic link between extreme religious beliefs and anti-abortion terrorism. But read beyond the headlines and the relationship between religiosity and pro-life attitude and action becomes much more complicated.
Yes, a majority of U.S. Catholics and Protestants identify as pro-life (54% of those in both religious groups according to a Gallup poll), but stopping there paints an incomplete picture. Because this means 46% of Catholics and Protestants are not fundamentally opposed to abortion. More surprisingly, 39% of Protestants and 38% of Catholics identify as pro-choice. A Pew Research Center poll finds that white evangelical Protestants are the religious group least likely to support legalized abortion (31%), but 54% of Black Protestants and 63% of white mainline Protestants support it. 89% of Jewish Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
When it comes to anti-abortion activism, sociologist Ziad Munson finds that religion permeates the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, but that many activists do not claim religion as the reason for their activism, nor are they significantly more religious than their non-activist pro-life counterparts. Through in-depth interviews with activists, he learns that many develop a religious framing of the abortion issue after they become involved in the movement, not before.
There is not a simple connection between pro-life convictions, religious beliefs, and protest. There is, however, a much more straightforward link between abortion attitudes and religious “nones,” or those who claim no religion. According to the Pew Research Center poll, 72% of those unaffiliated with a religion support legalized abortion. Another survey finds 80% of Americans who profess no religious identity are pro-choice. In other words, our assumptions about who is likely to be pro-life or pro-choice may be reflective of the strong relationship between lack of religion and pro-choice attitudes.
Yet media stories consistently portray religion as the driving force behind pro-life activism. Take the example of Norma McCorvey, better known as Jane Roe in Roe vs. Wade. In 1995, McCorvey converted to Christianity after being baptized by Philip “Flip” Benham, an evangelical preacher and the national director of the militant pro-life organization Operation Rescue/Operation Save America. McCorvey quit her job in a Texas woman’s clinic, started working at Operation Rescue, and committed to “serving the Lord and helping women save babies.” Stories of anti-abortion conversion can be constructed to progress according to a conventional morality tale: “Pro-choice. Born-again. Pro-life. Peace.” These accounts suggest that the way to make even the most committed pro-choice advocate into a darling for the pro-life cause is to add religion and stir.
One of the most infamous examples of anti-abortion violence in recent years is perhaps the best illustration of the puzzling relationship between religion and abortion attitudes. In 2009, George Tiller, a Kansas physician who provided late term abortions, was murdered by Scott Roeder, at middle-aged,“born-again Christian who believes abortion is a sin.” What you may not remember: Tiller was killed while volunteering as an usher at his church. A doctor we associate with providing access to late term abortions was also a devout member of the Reformation Lutheran Church.
Though less visible, religious pro-choice groups and activists fought to maintain access to abortion since Roe’s inception and remain active today. From the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice to Pastors For Moral Choices (a South Dakota group that opposed a 2006 state bill banning most abortions), religious leaders have risked their reputations and sometimes their jobs in order to advocate abortion rights. The stories of pro-life activists and terrorists oversimplify the connection between religion and anti-abortion attitudes. Pro-life religious voices are the loudest and most often heard in American debates. Yet they do not encompass the totality of religious positions on abortion rights and the fight to preserve and expand reproductive health care.
Dr. Alexa Trumpy is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at St. Norbert College. She is currently researching the role converts play in social movements and protest.
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 FiveThirtyEight.com 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.
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).
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.
This month’s column features our first guest-post from Dana Benyas. Dana followed the pre-med track at the University of Michigan, graduating with honors in Sociology when she earned her Bachelor’s Degree in 2014. Interested in increasing access to preventive healthcare, especially reproductive health care, Dana reports on the findings from her undergraduate thesis.
Women who have unplanned pregnancies or contract sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are often incorrectly stereotyped as being promiscuous, poorly educated, from a minority group, or as having low self-esteem. It is dangerous but easy to indulge the rhetoric that “those kinds” of women have unplanned pregnancies or STIs because they made poor decisions.
Engaging in unprotected sex is fairly common among all women, with about one-third of U.S. women at risk for unplanned pregnancies reporting that they do NOT consistently and correctly use contraception. However, given sexual stereotyping of “at-risk” women, I questioned if social status would influence a woman’s autonomy in making sexual-safety decisions. In other words, would privileged, highly educated, and motivated women make risky sexual safety decisions when labeled with a diminished status in an isolated social status system?
I conducted interviews and anonymous surveys for my undergraduate thesis on how social status influences the sexual safety patterns of sorority women at an elite public university in the Midwest. At this university, the fraternal system has well-known rankings, whereby a woman’s sorority affiliation equates with a social status ranking (1 being the highest and 5 being the lowest). These rankings supposedly indicate coolness, greater wealth, attractiveness, and gregariousness. The vast majority of the 23 women I interviewed were from upper-middle class and upper class families. All were obtaining Bachelors degrees from an elite institution, and many planned to pursue Masters or Doctorate programs. They were born into a privileged status, but, within Greek Life, they did not necessarily feel privileged.
Sorority women’s sexual experiences varied greatly depending on their sorority’s rank. Women in lower ranked sororities felt more pressure to have sex and/or have unsafe sex with higher-ranked fraternity men:
We were at [a tier 1 fraternity]… It was my first time there and I was talking to this kid. My friends thought we were going to hook up. We ended up not… The next morning my friend was like, “Did you ever hook up with that kid?” and I was like, “No” and she said, “But he was in [a tier 1 fraternity]!
Generally, the women preferred condoms to be used, unless they were in exclusive relationships. Conversely, all women assumed that all men did not want to use condoms. These conflicts of interest were exaggerated since men, not women, were expected to carry condoms. Another interviewee elaborated on how power imbalances may translate to condom use.
It’s a hierarchy, so the [people] in the higher tiers have more power. I think that definitely manifests itself within their personalities and their actions…[fraternity guys] would think that they can just not use a condom if they don’t want to, especially if it’s a girl from a lower tier. It’s like her opinion doesn’t matter as much.
With these assumptions in mind, engaging in unprotected sex signified a woman’s concession to take more sexual risk than she preferred.
Unable to measure frequencies of unprotected sex, I measured women’s Plan B emergency contraception use and STI diagnoses as proxies. A limitation of these measures is that I did not control for timing or type of STI testing, so some STIs may have been underreported. In addition, Plan B use and STI diagnoses do not equate with unprotected sex: Plan B may be used to quell concerns of condom breakage, and some STIs may be contracted even with the correct and consistent use of male condoms.
The 71.4% of all STIs reported came from tier 2, compared to an even spread of the remaining 28% of STIs across all tiers. Additionally, 38.5% of all Plan B use was in tier 2, compared to an even spread of Plan B at 20% per tier. Women in tiers 2, 3, 4, and 5 saw men give preferential treatment to higher ranked women (i.e., invites to fraternity events and notably greater interest/effort by men in one-on-one interactions). Tier 2 women were invited to a few top tier fraternity events, so they witnessed the preferential treatment tier 1 women received: revered status felt like a missed opportunity. Contrastingly, lower ranked sororities had difficulty getting invites from fraternities of any rank. Those in the second highest tier being most marginalized aligns well with literature on high school cliques, where second tier “wannabes” put aside their own wishes to appease higher status peers.
Women in the lowest status, tier 5, were openly teased in social settings and excluded from romantic opportunities in Greek Life. The majority of tier 5 women I interviewed did not have intimate relationships. Therefore, it is difficult to say whether these women would have succumb to sexual pressures from men to have unprotected sex or have rejected the tier system to preserve self-esteem. To feel more power in sexual decision-making, women in tiers 3 and 4 commonly dated outside the fraternities or dating lower-tiered fraternity men.
Similar results come from studies about people with inferior status not negotiating sexual safety. Green’s research on gay hook-up culture found status rankings based on “erotic capital,” or a sense of power and skill within the sexual-social marketplace. High erotic capital provided men more desirability, more power, and therefore the right to select the kind of sex they wanted—protected or unprotected. Their partner was complaisant, because they felt lucky to have been selected for the sexual experience. England found women’s ability to stay on course with family planning depended on college enrollment, a representation of socioeconomic status. She found that women with higher socioeconomic status more commonly followed a consistent contraception regimen, compared to women with lower socioeconomic status. Lower socioeconomic status made it more difficult to find suitable and affordable birth control, making consistent contraceptive use unrealistic. Also, women in a lower socioeconomic status felt they had less autonomy and became accustom to altering their lives to deal with challenges.
My study shows a correlation between diminished social status and greater likelihood of unprotected sex. Concession to unprotected sex is not a result of amoral character or a lack of sex education; rather it is a response to negotiating status imbalances between romantic partners.
Yet, there is a distinct difference between the women I studied who had unprotected sex and stereotypes about the kind of women who have unprotected sex. The majority of women I studied were diligently on oral contraceptives or LARCs, diminishing risks of unplanned pregnancies, but not of STIs. Those not using oral contraceptives or LARCs either identified as “virgins” or were in tier 1 sororities, where male partners easily consented to condom use. Finally, access to healthcare was unanimous across tiers: they could all easily manage the cost of oral contraceptives, emergency contraceptives, and STI testing. Coming from affluent families, health insurance and comprehensive sex education were norms in their communities.
Unwanted pregnancies and untreated STIs can negatively impact women and society at large. Without the luxury of high-quality, affordable healthcare, women who seem to fit negative stereotypes may simply lack access to contraception, abortion, STI testing, and treatment. Let’s stop inappropriately categorizing women who have unprotected sex, and instead work towards increasing access to sexual health education, reproductive health care, and birth control resources for all women.
C.J. Pascoe and Tristan Bridges on November 4, 2015
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.
This 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. Queerty.com 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 queerty.com. #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. Other posters even thanked straight men for doing this, calling them “great men.” We 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.
The 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)
This 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.
For months I’ve been keeping an eye on (and meaning to write about) various campaigns that address or try to rectify gender stereotyping in children’s clothing. I was cheering on Michele Yulo of Princess Free Zone and her campaign to create a new line of suits specifically for girls, (Suit Her), which looks like it will need another round of funding. Yet more independent online shops seem to be popping up to offer lines of slogan-free, neutral clothing for (mostly) girls and tracking how these shops re-envision engendering their wares could be the basis for a great study. Asking the owners if they’re yet making any kind of significant profit or gaining traction using clothing to enact social change could well be another.
Not too long ago I saw a great think piece which asked why refashioning girls’ clothing always means refusing skirts and dresses (i.e. rejecting the trope of femininity) and not offering boys a range of skirts, dresses, or pink garments and mixing all of this up. It’s a point well taken and the lack of variety in boys clothing, nevermind fewer choices overall, hits close to home as I continue to try to dress my three-year-old in ways that eschew slogans and stereotypes.
While independent visionaries will keep pushing boundaries (so I hope) when a mainstream clothier makes a move it’s significant. I was deeply intrigued (and initially suspicious) by the new line Ellen Degeneres launched with The Gap about two months ago, but am slowly coming around. The videos shot for the line (and the “unstaged” behind the scenes ones) are deliberately black and white, with no pink anywhere. The girls are making faces, getting muddy, catching frogs, creating with robotics, and pounding the drums — what girls do — or, the opposite of what girls are supposed to do?
I was intrigued to learn that some of the nonprofessional models are part of the Pink Helmet Posse — skateboarders who all started young and are frank with Degeneres about the prejudice they have experienced.
I was also cheered to learn that $250,000 from sales “will be donated to Girls Inc.” Even if that’s a tiny fraction of their profit and a simple PR move, it’s something for a nonprofit I respect. Glancing at the #heyworld Twitter hashtag they’ve coined, (meant to foster discussion about supporting girls), didn’t yield much and seems an easy vehicle through which the GAP can keep promoting its campaign — i.e. both sales and a message of social change. But it is a step in a different direction for a major retailer whose children’s departments are fundamentally bifurcated. I assume that this line “GapKids x ED Collection” will be solidly planted on the girls’ side, at least breaking up the color scheme a little, and changing through less static models, (literally, with the girls in their advertising), the message beyond the ad.
The recent article in the New York Times, “Where Have All the Tomboys Gone?” (which highlights Degeneres’s new GAP line) refers to the term “tomboy” as “retro” and outdated, unnecessary when (of the people interviewed) there’s casual acceptance of girls who don’t want to dress in stereotypically feminine ways and surprise that it would be otherwise (at least in their families). The trend of women adapting “men’s wear” is traced with emphasis that this is a one-way street in the mainstream, i.e. there is never a public trend of men wearing styles designated for women.
“Tomboy” as a phrase might be leaving the American lexicon, but keeping an eye on Halloween costume options is one way to watch levels of crossing and acceptance. With the awareness that girls adapting into male-designated clothing is always far less objectionable than the reverse, glad as I was to see lists of feminist costume ideas proliferate on the web, I regret that there wasn’t a list for boys or men. While one girl at my son’s preschool chose a male superhero costume (complete with rippling plastic chest), the winks at how “cute” this was, I’m certain, wouldn’t have gone to a boy dressing up as Elsa. Moving beyond just gender, this article, “What Color is Your Princess?” astutely highlights the assumption of whiteness within the princess universe, which is of greater concern to the author than that her son wants to dress up as one at all.
I didn’t know the Onion ventured into video and stumbled on this one from a few years back. Entitled, “How To Find A Masculine Halloween Costume for Your Effeminate Son” it’s a parody that’s painful to watch as boys who don’t want masculinized costumes are “rehabilitated” into stereotypically “boy costumes” to disguise their features or habits labeled as feminine. It’s stunning in its spot-on precision about anxiety about boys breaking with male code.
As a yearly barometer, Halloween can offer a quick read of current trends, pop culture, and what gender stereotypes are readily available and which are still transgressive to cross. Yet, studying what commercial retailers and independent outlets do the rest of the year is a far more steady signifier of what change has occurred, and what trend is edging over into expectation. In a year’s time it will be interesting to see what is (still) considered humorous, provocative, or casually acceptable. Happy feminist Halloween!
Here’s what we know: Even with a college degree, young blacks still face lower employment rates and higher unemployment rates than their white counterparts. I’ve shown previously that young blacks are entering and completing college at higher rates than in the past. The third report of my Young Black America series examined the employment and unemployment rates of young blacks and whites from 1979 to 2014, and I made a striking discovery: Employment gaps between blacks and whites have become worse since the onset of the Great Recession. The jobs recovery, apparently, is not colorblind.
From 1979 until the Great Recession, young blacks with college degrees had employment rates that were basically the same as their white counterparts. However, once the recession hit, employment rates decreased for all – even those with college degrees. At the same time, the gap between blacks and whites widened, with college-educated young blacks being 3.9 percentage points less likely to be employed than their white peers (see Figure 1).
In 2007, 87.2 percent of young blacks with college degrees were employed, and 88.3 percent of their white counterparts were as well. Both rates bottomed out in 2011, with a black employment rate of 80.3 percent and a white employment rate of 86.3 percent. This gap of 6 percentage points for college-educated young blacks and whites represents the largest racial employment gap since 1979.
In 2014, employment rates still hadn’t fully recovered, with young blacks having more ground to make up than whites. During that year, 83.3 percent of young blacks with college degrees were employed, and 87.0 percent of young whites, for a racial employment gap of 3.7 percentage points. Young blacks with college degrees had an employment rate that was still 3.9 percentage points below their pre-recession level. Young whites with college degrees were only 1.3 percentage points below their pre-recession employment level.
The data on unemployment rates tell a similar story. Even with a college degree, unemployment is a fact of life for many young blacks. In 2007, the unemployment rate of young college-educated blacks was 4.6 percent, 2.8 percentage points above their white counterparts (see Figure 2). Black unemployment peaked in 2010 at 9.1 percent, more than twice the rate of whites (4.2 percent). In 2014, black unemployment dropped to 6.4 percent, still 1.8 percentage points higher than its pre-recession level. Young whites with college degrees had an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent, 0.8 percentage points higher than their unemployment rate in 2007.
Looking at young blacks overall can often mask the different experiences of black men and women. This is certainly true for unemployment rates during the recession and recovery. Black men were hit harder during the recession, and still have higher unemployment rates than black women. In 2007, young black men with college degrees had an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, and black women had an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent. These rates peaked in 2010 at 10.7 percent and 8.0 percent for black men and women respectively, before falling to 7.1 percent and 5.9 percent in 2014.
By contrast, throughout most of the recession and recovery, white men and women have had virtually identical unemployment rates.
These numbers show that employment and unemployment rates of college-educated young blacks are still far from their pre-recession levels, suggesting that the economic recovery is incomplete. They saw their employment rate drop 6.9 percentage points during the recession, and have only recovered 3.0 percentage points. Their unemployment rate increased 4.5 percentage points, and recovered 2.7 percentage points. Despite the gains in educational attainment that I found in earlierreports in this series, there are still noticeable racial and gender differences in labor market outcomes.
Cherrie Bucknor is a research assistant at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. She is working on a year-long series of reports on Young Black America. Follow her on Twitter @CherrieBucknor.
This month, I bring you a guest post which sheds light on current events, events that literally hit home for me when the Planned Parenthood clinic closest to my university was attacked by arsonists. I welcome back Jennifer Rothchild, Ph.D. Associate professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies (GWSS) Program at the University of Minnesota, Morris, she is one of the founders of the American Sociological Association’s section on the Sociology of Development. She currently researches gender and development, health, childhoods, and social inequalities by examining the intersections of gender, sexuality, and reproductive health in the United States and abroad.
“Choose mercy! While there is still time!” A man shouted to me as I walked into a Planned Parenthood office. I couldn’t see him, which made the comment oddly affecting. I kept my eyes forward and pushed through the front door.
More than 20 years ago, my friend Kat had told me about her first trip to Planned Parenthood. As she left that building, a woman standing outside approached her, grabbed her shoulders, and cried, “‘DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE JUST DONE? DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU HAVE DONE?’”
I will turn 45 this February, and yesterday was my first visit to Planned Parenthood. Shame on me: a self-proclaimed activist, and a gender and sexuality scholar. Until now, my privilege had allowed me to get all the women’s health care I needed through medical clinics and private practice physicians. All covered by insurance. But I knew Planned Parenthood was always there, should I ever need their services.
I had a health problem, and this time I chose Planned Parenthood because that is what it is: a health clinic. The woman at Planned Parenthood who booked my appointment warned me: “You should know that this clinic will have protesters. Turn into the parking lot, and a volunteer will help you get by the protesters, and then park.”
There are many misconceptions about Planned Parenthood; here are some facts:
Planned Parenthood services include STD/STI (sexually transmitted disease/sexually transmitted infection) testing and treatment for both men and women, cancer screenings, contraception, abortions, and other health services.
Abortions make up less than 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood.
Federal funding for Planned Parenthood is only for Title X: restricted to family planning and STI testing.
Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortion services do not receive any federal funding, even if those particular clinics also provide services that meet Title X criteria.
On a rainy, cold morning, I arrived at Planned Parenthood, and a volunteer waved me into the parking lot. Next to this volunteer stood a protester, holding a sign about texting a certain number before “aborting.” I wondered if these two women talked to each other as they stood together in the rain?
Once inside, I was overwhelmed by a need to express gratitude to everyone I met. I assumed that most Planned Parenthood patients felt same way, if not always vocalizing their sentiments. But I was wrong. My intake nurse told me that just that morning a patient told her, “I hate who you are. I hate what you do. I don’t want to be here, but I need birth control pills.”
Her story made me wonder about the level of denial and disconnect that must be actively maintained to keep those ideas working side by side. In 2012, Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times about a doctor who performed abortions:
He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted ‘murderer’ at him and other doctors and ‘whore’ at every woman who walked into the clinic.
One day she was missing. ‘I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.
She told him: ‘I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.’
‘Nothing like life,’ he responded, ‘to teach you a little more.’
A week later, she was back on her ladder.
That morning, security was at a premium at the Planned Parenthood clinic: a guard stood at the front door, and I needed to show him identification. I was given a name tag that read only “Jennifer.” A few minutes later, “Jennifer R.” was summoned from the waiting room. I wondered how much money could be saved and put to better use if Planned Parenthood didn’t feel compelled by threats and attacks to spend on security measures.
In the waiting room I saw young and old women, white and black and Latina. There were men, too. I couldn’t imagine the individual stories that brought them to Planned Parenthood. But, I might have assumed they all shared was a lack of access and means to the kind of health care that should be their right. According to a 2012 report from the Government Accountability Office, 79% of people receiving services from Planned Parenthood lived at 150% of the federal poverty level or lower (that comes out to around $18,500 per year for a single adult). These people live in vulnerable conditions, where an unplanned pregnancy could result in future burdens, unfair and disproportionate in consequence.
If Planned Parenthood clinics are shut down, we will see not only tremendously diminished reproductive health but also epidemic numbers of unplanned pregnancies and unsafe abortions, as well as greater needs for social services such as WIC. Concerns for women’s health aside, Planned Parenthood delivers mercy upon people who benefit from its services.
The nurse practitioner spent time talking with me, getting to know me. I told her how grateful I was for the work she did. She graciously explained, “I started working here 15 years ago to educate women about their bodies. Women don’t know their bodies.”
Driving out of the parking lot, I stopped and rolled down my window to thank the same volunteer who had stood in the rain when I arrived, waving me into the parking lot. There was now a different protester. This woman was young, white, blonde, and wearing a pink raincoat. She could have been a twenty-something version of me. In her hand, she clutched a brochure limp from the rain. Her sad gaze followed me as I drove away. I wish she saw and knew the things I understood.
Girl w/ Pen, founded by Deborah Siegel, publicly and passionately dispels modern myths concerning gender, encouraging other feminist scholars, writers, and thinkers to do the same.
The views expressed in posts are those of the columnists and do not represent Girl w/ Pen at large.