friendship

In this excellent 6 minute video, CJ Pascoe discusses some of the findings of her widely acclaimed book, Dude, You’re a Fag.  She points out that, while being called “fag” and other terms for people with same sex desires are the most common and most cutting of insults between boys in school, they rarely mean to actually suggest that the target is gay.  Instead, the terms are used to suggest that boys are failing at masculinity.

This, she points out, is not “unique to childhood.”  For this reason, calling it bullying it is probably a distraction from the fact that this doesn’t just happen among kids.  She includes, as an example, a bomb destined for Afghanistan with the phrase “highjack this, fags” written on it by American soldiers.

Kids, then, aren’t in a particularly nasty stage.  They’re “repeating, affirming, investing in all of these norms and expectations that we as adults are handing down.”  If we used more adult language, Pascoe argues, we might do a better job of thinking how we’re teaching boys how to be this way.

A great watch:

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

We’re celebrating the end of the year with our most popular posts from 2013, plus a few of our favorites tossed in.  Enjoy!

Flight attendants are not only friendly with their passengers, they’re also often super friendly with each other.  This may be because especially gregarious people go into the profession, but it’s also an adaptation to a surprising structural feature of their job. It turns out that, on any given flight anywhere in the world, most flight attendants are meeting their co-workers for the very first time.

There are about 100,000 flight attendants in the U.S. alone and they get their flights through a process of bidding, one month at a time, one month ahead.  Most really do “see the world,” as the old glamorized image of the intrepid stewardess suggests, instead of working the same route over and over again.  As a result, explains Drew Whitelegg in Working the Skies, they rarely run into the same flight attendant twice.

This means that flight attendants must get to know one another quickly once they get on board.  They need to do so to make food and beverage service efficient, to coordinate their actions in the tight galleys in which they work and, most importantly, so that they will trust one another if they are called upon to do what they are really there for: acting in an emergency, one that could theoretically happen within seconds of take-off.  There’s no time to lose. “[F]rom the moment they board the plane,” writes Whitelegg, “these workers — even if complete strangers — begin constructing bonds.”

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Image credit: National Library of Australia

 

Their instant bonding is facilitated by their shared experiences and their “peculiar identity,” Whitelegg explains — few people understand their job and the airline industry deliberately misportays it — and also by a culture of confession.  The galley has its own rules to which new flight attendants are socialized.  So, even though the workers are always new, the workplace is predictable.  Whitlegg describes how galley conversations during downtime tend to be extremely, sometimes excruciatingly personal.  “The things you hear,” laughs Clare, a flight attendant for Continental, “I could write a book. The things you hear at 30,000 feet.”  It’s the odd combination of a habit of bonding and the anonymity of strangers.

So, if you have the pleasure of taking a flight, spend a few minutes watching the surprising coordination of strangers who seem like old friends, and take a moment to appreciate the amazing way these workers have adapted to their very peculiar position.

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post, Pacific Standard, and Work in Progress.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In Pew Research Center data collected earlier this month, only 4% of respondents said that the thing they liked best about Christmas was the gift exchange. Only 1% said they most liked shopping or good deals and only 2% said it was the food.  Instead, the majority (69%) said it was the family and friend time that they most appreciated, followed by religious reflection (11%), and general happiness and joy (7%).  My pet suspicion, that people really like it for the vacation, came in at only 3%.

What do they like the least?  Commercialism and materialism top the list (33%), the expense comes in second (22%), and shopping comes in third (10%).

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There may be some response bias here — that’s when people say what they think the researcher wants to hear instead of the truth — but, if the data are good, it reveals why marketers have to try so damn hard every season to convince us that the gifts, decorations, and food are what make the holiday special.  What would happen to spending if we all decided to do Christmas the way we wanted instead of the way it is in toy and jewelry commercials?  There are lots of monied forces that don’t want us to find out.

1All images from a Google search for “Christmas marketing.”

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

A recent Guinness ad has been getting a lot of kudos and I want to join in the praise.  It involves a set of guys who get together to play a pick-up game of wheelchair basketball and then join each other at a bar to celebrate the game.  Lots of people have mentioned that it’s nice to see (1) a lack of objectification of women as a form of male bonding  and (2) a nice representation of people with disabilities.  Both of those things are great in my book.

But here’s another thing I really liked: their retreat to the bar and their formation once they got there.  They sat in a circle.

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Why is this neat?  Because scholars have found that male and female friendships tend to be different.  Male friendships tend to be more “shoulder-to-shoulder” than “face-to-face.”  Men are more likely to get together and do stuff: they watch football together, go out and play pool, have poker nights, etc.  Women are more likely to spend time just talking, confessing, disclosing, and being supportive of each other’s feelings.

The benefits of friendship are strongly related to self-disclosure.  And so men’s friendships — if they don’t involve actual intimacy — often don’t offer the same boost to physical and well-being as women’s friendships.  The fact that these guys sit down together at a bar, in a circle, in order to engage in some face-to-face time after their shoulder-to-shoulder time… well, that’s really nice to me.

Thanks to Rebecca H. for submitting the commercial!

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Screenshot_1In a wonderfully provocative article titled “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence” (full text), writer and poet Adrienne Rich argues, among other things, that the assumption of heterosexuality in the context of patriarchy alternatively erases and stigmatizes woman-to-woman bonds.

Though the title specifies lesbianism, she means intense and meaningful relationships between women more generally.  In other words, an overbearing heterosexuality orients women towards men not just as sexual and romantic partners, but as the arbiters of all that is good and right. Accordingly, women don’t turn to other women to validate their ideas, their value, their beauty, or anything else about them.  This post, analyzing the reality show Battle of the Bods, is a stark example.

If only men can validate women’s worth, then other women exist only as competition for their approval.  This is good for patriarchy; it divides and conquers women, keeping them constantly looking to please the men around them and making them feel invisible and worthless if they can’t get attention from or endorsement from men.

There are various strategies for getting men’s stamp of approval: being the busy and useful mother of a man’s children is one way, while being a childless so-called “trophy wife” is another.  You can imagine, right away, that these two kinds of women might see themselves as in competition.  One may be more harried, with less time to tend to her physical fitness and keep her hair shiny and her make-up and clothes just right.  The other may have plenty of time to keep herself fit and beautiful, but knows that her connection to her husband may feel less permanent without children to tie her to him.  Moreover, the childless wife is often a second wife.  So all sexy, single, childless women are, theoretically, a threat to the wife and mother.  And all husband/dads are, theoretically, a target for wanna-be second wives.

Pop culture constantly re-affirms these narratives.  It frequently naturalizes the idea that women should turn to men, and not women, to reinforce their value. Portraying women as in competition is part of that.  The “trophy wife” vs. the “busy mom” is one of those match-ups. Enter this Volvo ad, sent in by Dolores R.:

The ad encourages us to think mean-spirited thoughts about the married but (presumably) childless woman with the puckered lips.  She clearly sees herself as in competition with the redhead, looking over to check that she is, in fact, more beautiful, and looking satisfied that she is.  The redhead, though, has (supposedly) more important things to do than check herself out in the mirror.  She’s got kids.  How shallow the blond, we’re told to think, how fake.  “Designed for real people,” the narrator explains, “designed around you.”

These battles — between childless women and mothers, one kind of mother and another, old women and young, thin women and fat, ugly women and beautifulpopular and less popular, mother-in-laws and daughter-in-laws, between strangers and between best friends — this is patriarchy in action.  It weakens women as as group and makes it more difficult to fight oppression.

As my good friend Caroline Heldman says, when we see women that excel in some way — whether they be accomplished in their career, impressive fashionistas, incredible parents, truly loved partners, inspired artists, or what-have-you —  we are taught to find something about them to dismiss because they make us feel insecure. Instead, we should think “How fabulous is she! I want to tell her how great she is and be her friend!”

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College.  She elaborates on these themes in her talk, A Feminist Defense of FriendshipYou can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Cross-posted at PolicyMic.

1Let me ask you a question: Do you have a good friend of the opposite sex?

Odds are you do. In fact, the odds are overwhelming.

When I first began teaching, 25 or so years ago, I asked my students how many of them had a good friend of the opposite sex. About 10% said they did. The rest were from what I called the When Harry Met Sally generation. You’ll remember the scene, early in the film, when Harry asserts that women and men can’t be friends because “sex always gets in the way.”  Sally is sure he’s wrong. They fight about it. Then, thinking she has the clincher for her position, she says, confidently, “So that means that you can be friends with them if you’re not attracted to them!”

“Ah,” says Harry, “you pretty much want to nail them too.”

Young people today have utterly and completely repudiated this idea. These days, when I ask my students, I’ve had to revise the question: “Is there anyone here who does not have a friend of the opposite sex?” A few hands perhaps, in the more than 400 students in the class.

But let’s think, for a moment, about the “politics” of friendship. With whom do you make friends? With your peers. Not your supervisor or boss. Not your subordinate. Your equal.  More than romance, and surely more than workplace relationships, friendships are the relationships with the least amount of inequality.

This changes how we can engage men in the efforts to end sexual assault, because there are three elements to sexual assault that can be discussed and disentangled.

First is m en’s sense of entitlement to women’s bodies, to sex. This sense of entitlement dissolves in the face of an encounter with your friends. After all, entitlement is premised on inequality. The more equal women are, the less entitlement men may feel. (Entitlement is not to be confused with resentment; equality often breeds resentment in the privileged group. The privileged rarely support equality because they fear they have something to lose.) Entitlement leads men to think that they can do whatever they want.

Second, the Bro Code tells those guys that they’re right – that they can get away with it because their bros won’t challenge or confront them. The bonds of brotherhood demand men’s silent complicity with predatory and potentially assaultive behavior. One never rats out the brotherhood. But if we see our female friends as our equals, then we might be more likely to act ethically to intervene and resist being a passive bystander. (And, of course, we rescue our male friends from doing something that could land him in jail for a very long time.)

Men’s silence is what perpetuates the culture of sexual assault; many of the excellent programs that work to engage men suggest that men start making some noise. We know the women, or know people who know them. This is personal.

Finally, we’re better than that – and we know it.

Sexual assault is often seen as an abstraction, a “bad” thing that happens to other people: Bad people do bad things to people who weren’t careful, were drunk or compromised. But, as I said, it’s personal. And besides, this framing puts all the responsibility on women to monitor their activities, alcohol consumption, and environments; if they don’t, whose fault is it?

This sets the bar far too low to men. It assumes that unless women monitor and police everything they do, drink, say, wear etc., we men are wild, out of control animals and we cannot be held responsible for our actions.

Surely we can do better than this. Surely we can be the good and decent and ethical men we say we are. Surely we can promise, publicly and loudly, the pledge of the White Ribbon Campaign (the world’s largest effort to engage men to end men’s violence against women): I pledge never to commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women and girls.

Our friends – both women and men – deserve and expect no less of us.

Michael Kimmel is a professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Stonybrook.  He has written or edited over twenty volumes, including Manhood in America: A Cultural History and Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men.  You can visit his website here.

The 13-minute video below is a Ted Talk given by SocImages contributor Caroline Heldman.  The aim is to define sexual objectification, refute the myth that it’s empowering, and offer strategies for navigating objectification culture.

Follow Dr. Heldman at her blog or on Facebook or Twitter.  Or read all of her SocImages posts here.