gender: violence

This seems like a good time to reiterate a simple truth: It can be art/fashion/satire/cutting edge etc. and… and and and it can be offensive, trivializing, and triggering.

Eight readers sent in links to an ad for a hair salon called Fluid. The salon, which has a history of using “shocking” ads (like this one after the Gulf oil spill), is attracting criticism for an ad featuring a woman being offered jewelry by a man; she appears to have a black eye.  Six more sent in a link to a Glee star, Heather Morris, in a photoshoot by Tyler Shields, also with a black eye.

Responding to the criticism, Fluid said it was being “cutting-edge,” “satirical,” “high fashion,” and “editorial,” and “artistic.”  It doesn’t matter what you call it, what tradition it references, or whether you’re trying to get a reaction; your product is still part of a wider cultural context.  Accordingly, you may get called out for being insensitive to other people’s pain. In which case, probably best not to call the critics hypocrites and suggest that there are bigger problems in the world than the trivialization of domestic violence.  Or go right ahead, I guess.

Thanks to Eric S., Kristina V., YetAnotherGirl, Dave S., Caitlin R., @CreativeTweets, Meghan H., Dave S., Judith B., Olivia G., Alexis W., Theresa W., and an anonymous reader for the tips!

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Cross-posted, in Portuguese, at Petiscos de Sociologia.

Noam sent in a link to a website with a post featuring “beautiful” Chinese women who have been executed.  These women are apparently important not because of their sacrifice, or because of what they say about Chinese politics, but because they’re beautiful.  Non-beautiful women who have been executed apparently draw no interest.

Noam’s submission gave me a fantastic excuse to post a video of our very own Gwen Sharp giving a 4-1/2 minute lecture about a similar phenomenon, the Missing White Woman Syndrome (originally posted at the NSC School of Liberal Arts and Sciences; transcript after the jump).

She covers quite a bit of ground.  After introducing the concept, she discusses data on the disproportionate coverage of crimes against white women, and how this shapes perceptions of risk.  In fact, white women are among the least likely type of person to be victimized.  This graph, coincidentally sent in by Grace S., doesn’t break down the data by gender, but it shows a clear pattern by race.

The constant attention to white women’s vulnerability, even though it’s disproportionate, makes it seem as if they are especially likely to be a victim of violent crime.  The risk that women of color will be victimized, then, is underestimated and not taken as seriously as it should be.  Meanwhile, white women may confine themselves to safer-seeming leisure activities and occupational pursuits.

These patterns affirm the role of racism in news making — with violence against women of color apparently less newsworthy — and also shows that white women, though valorized, may self-curtail their lives out of fear that they are, accordingly, the most likely target of violence.

Follow Gwen on Twitter!


Chiricos, T., S. Eschholz, & M. Gertz. (1997). Crime, news and fear of crime: toward an identification of audience effects. Social Problems 44(3), 342-357.

Lundman, R.J. (2003). The newsworthiness and selection bias in news about murder: comparative and relative effects of novelty and race and gender typifications on newspaper coverage of homicide. Sociological Forum, 18(3), 357-386.

Transcript after the jump:


I don’t play video games. The few times I have played a game it involved a furry animal working his way through some kind of tropical forest and the most violent it got was when he hit a villainous turtle on the head with a coconut. So, I am not familiar with Duke Nukem.

Of course, one Google search tells me he is a supremely popular, freakishly over-muscled, machine gun-wielding, hyper-aggressive action “hero” who is described in the Wikipedia entry as “frequently politically incorrect.” His character profile also claims that when he was first introduced, he was a CIA operative hired to save Earth from Dr. Proton. But the current marketing materials make clear what the really important aspects of the game are. Exhibit A is this ad, which greeted me as I came out of the subway this morning:

Duke Nukem is sitting on a throne while two women in schoolgirl outfits sit at his feet. The caption leaves no doubt about the main attractions: “This game has bazookas. Both types.”

The game’s website presents a guy who looks intensely devoted to his steroid regimen, has a penchant for unloading 50 rounds into anything with tentacles, and who appears to live in a post-apocalyptic land which is somehow still able to generously supply women with fetish outfits, bikinis, and manicures. In a video promo for the game on YouTube there are scenes of Duke on a shooting rampage interspersed with what appears to be him walking into a room and seeing a switched-on vibrator skidding around the room. He then encounters two women (the Holsom Twins, Mary and Kate) in schoolgirl outfits who drop their weapons to touch and caress each other in sexually suggestive ways. Duke is watching this while pointing a gun at them, saying, “allll right, time for my reward” (NSFW due to images and language):

Unfortunately for the twins, they later have sex with an alien and get themselves into trouble (thanks to Michael R. for this clip; also NSFW):

Many other reviews of Duke Nukem have also pointed out its violent sexual imagery and encouragement of sexually violent behavior towards women. Just to tally up, we have:

  1. Fetishizing and infantilizing women by putting them in outfits associated with children.
  2. Referring to their breasts as “bazookas,”  both objectifying women and equating  their bodies with a military weapon.
  3. A lesbian encounter presented as titillation for the male viewer.
  4. Watching women engage in sexual activity with one another, and even threatening women with weaponry to continue engaging in sexual activity with one another, is your reward. You deserve it – you deserve to be sexually gratified.

People learn by watching. This can be good and bad. It can make us more accepting of others’ opinions and outlooks, and it can also desensitize and normalize harmful opinions and behaviors. In regards to Duke, the latter is where the risk lies — the more one sees images like those presented by Duke Nukem, the more likely they are to be seen as what is acceptable and usual. Normalizing harmful, degrading, and insulting stereotypes of and behavior toward women seems like a high price to pay for a video game’s success.


Larkin Callaghan is a doctoral student at Columbia University studying health behavior and education. She is particularly concerned with gender disparities in access to healthcare and prevention services, and has done research on adolescent female sexual health, how social media operate as an educational platform, and differences by gender in the effectiveness of brief health interventions. You can follow her on Twitter, Tumblr, and at her blog.

One thing I like about Anita Sarkeesian’s series, Tropes vs. Women, is that she doesn’t go for the obvious. Instead, she draws our attention to insidious and ubiquitous tropes that many of us have, nonetheless, never quite noticed before, exactly because they’ve simply become the water we swim in (e.g., the Manic Pixie Dreamgirl).

In this episode she reveals the Mystical Pregnancy trope, common in science fiction, in which women are involuntarily impregnated by aliens and monsters for nefarious and frightening purposes.  Following Laura Shapiro, she calls out writers and directors for using pregnancy as a form of “torture porn” and using women’s biological capacity as a plot device, meanwhile ignoring the real, non-fiction threats to women’s reproductive rights.

Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Anders Behring Breivik has now joined the pantheon of homegrown domestic terrorists who have unleashed horror on their own countrymen. Sixteen years ago, Timothy McVeigh and other members of the Aryan Republican Army blew up the Murrah Office Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 of their own countrymen and women. It was the worst act of domestic terrorism in our history, and, indeed, until 9-11, the worst terrorist attack of any kind in our history. We know what Norwegians are going through; as Bill Clinton said, we “feel your pain.”

As pundits and policymakers search for clues that will help us understand that which cannot be understood, it may be useful to compare a few common elements between McVeigh and Breivik.

Both men saw themselves as motivated by what they viewed as the disastrous consequences of globalization and immigration on their own countries. Breivik’s massive tome, 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, paints a bleak picture of intolerant Islamic immigrants engaged in a well-planned takeover of European countries in the fulfillment of their divine mission. His well-planned and coldly executed massacre of 94 of his countrymen was, as he saw it, a blow against the policies promoting social inclusion and a recognition of a diverse multicultural society promoted by the labor-leaning government.

McVeigh also inveighed against both multinational corporate greed and a society that had become too mired in multiculturalism to provide for its entitled native-born “true” Americans. In a letter to the editor of his hometown newspaper, McVeigh, then a returning veteran of the first Gulf War, complained that the birthright of the American middle class had been stolen, handed over by an indifferent government to a bunch of ungrateful immigrants and welfare cheats. “The American dream,” he wrote “has all but disappeared, substituted with people struggling just to buy next week’s groceries.”

McVeigh and Breivik both sought to inspire their fellow Aryan countrymen to action. After blowing up the federal building – home of the oppressive and unrepresentative government that had capitulated to the rapacious corporations and banks — McVeigh hoped that others would soon follow suit and return the government to the people. Breivik cared less about government and more about the ruination of the pure Norwegian culture, deliberately diluted in a brackish multiculti sea.

For the past five years, I’ve been researching and writing about the extreme right in both the United States and Scandinavia. I’ve interviewed 45 contemporary American neo-Nazis, White Supremacists, Aryan youth, Patriots, Minutemen, and members of rural militias. I also read documentary materials in the major archival collections at various libraries on the extreme right. I then interviewed 25 ex-neo-Nazis in Sweden. All were participants in a government-funded program called EXIT, which provides support and training for people seeking to leave the movement. (This included twice interviewing “the most hated man in Sweden,” Jackie Arklof, who murdered two police officers during a botched bank robbery. Arklof is currently serving a life sentence at Kumla High Security prison in Orebro. To my knowledge, I’m the only researcher to date to have interviewed him as well as members of EXIT.)

I’ve learned a lot about how the extreme right understands what is happening to their countries, and why they feel called to try and stop it. And one of the key things I’ve found is that the way they believe that global economic changes and immigration patterns have affected them can be understood by looking at gender, especially masculinity. (Don’t misunderstand: it’s not that understanding masculinity and gender replaces the political economy of globalization, the financial crisis, or the perceived corruption of a previously pristine national culture. Not at all. But I do believe that you can’t understand the extreme right without also understanding gender.)

First, they feel that current political and economic conditions have emasculated them, taken away the masculinity to which they feel they are entitled by birth. In the U.S., they feel they’ve been emasculated by the “Nanny State” through taxation, economic policies and political initiatives that demand civil rights and legal protection for everyone. They feel deprived of their entitlement (their ability to make a living, free and independent) by a government that now doles it out to everyone else – non-whites, women, and immigrants. The emasculation of the native-born white man has turned a nation of warriors into a nation of lemmings, or “sheeple” as they often call other white men. In The Turner Diaries, the movement’s most celebrated text, author William Pierce sneers at “the whimpering collapse of the blond male,” as if White men have surrendered, and have thus lost the right to be free. As one of their magazines puts it:

As Northern males have continued to become more wimpish, the result of the media-created image of the ‘new male’ – more pacifist, less authoritarian, more ‘sensitive’, less competitive, more androgynous, less possessive – the controlled media, the homosexual lobby and the feminist movement have cheered… the number of effeminate males has increased greatly…legions of sissies and weaklings, of flabby, limp-wristed, non-aggressive, non-physical, indecisive, slack-jawed, fearful males who, while still heterosexual in theory and practice, have not even a vestige of the old macho spirit, so deprecated today, left in them.

Second, they use gender to problematize the “other” against whom they are fighting. Consistently, the masculinity of native-born white Protestants is set off against the problematized masculinity of various “others” – blacks, Jews, gay men, other non-white immigrants – who are variously depicted as either “too” masculine (rapacious beasts, avariciously cunning, voracious) or not masculine “enough” (feminine, dependent, effeminate). Racism, anti-Semitism, nativism, and homophobia all are expressed through denunciations of the others’ masculinity.

Third, they use it as a recruiting device, promising the restoration of manhood through joining their groups. Real men who join up will simultaneously protect white women from these marauding rapacious beasts, earn those women’s admiration and love, and reclaim their manhood.

American White Supremacists thus offer American men the restoration of their masculinity – a manhood in which individual white men control the fruits of their own labor and are not subject to the emasculation of Jewish-owned finance capital, a black- and feminist-controlled welfare state.

At present, I am working my way through 2083: A European Declaration of Independence, the 1,518 page manifesto written in London by Anders Behring Breivik (under the Anglicized name Andrew Berwick) in the months leading up to his attack. These same themes are immediately evident. (Quotes are from the document.)

(1) Breivik associates feminism with liberal, multicultural societies. He claims that feminism has been responsible for a gender inversion in which, whether in the media or the military, we see the “inferiority of the male and the superiority of the female.” As a result of this widespread inversion, the “man of today” is “expected to be a touchy-feely subspecies who bows to the radical feminist agenda.”

(2) Breivik spends the bulk of the document playing off two gendered stereotypes of Muslim immigrants in Europe. On the one hand, they are hyper-rational, methodically taking over European societies; on the other hand, they are rapacious religious fanatics, who, with wide-eyed fervor, are utterly out of control. In one moment in the video, he shows a little boy (blond hair indicating his Nordic origins), poised between a thin, bearded hippie, who is dancing with flowers all around him, and a bearded, Muslim terrorist fanatic – two utterly problematized images of masculinity. 3:58 in the video:

(3) In his final “call to arms” and the accompanying video, he offers photos of big-breasted women, in very tight T-shirts, holding assault weapons with the word “infidel” on it and some Arabic writing, a declaration that his Crusader army members are the infidels to the Muslim invaders. 9:02 in the video:

This initial, if sketchy, report from Oslo, and Breivik’s own documents, indicate that in this case, also, it will be impossible to fully understand this horrific act without understanding how gender operates as a rhetorical and political device for domestic terrorists.

These members of the far right consider themselves Christian Crusaders for Aryan Manhood, vowing its rescue from a feminizing welfare state. Theirs is the militarized manhood of the heroic John Rambo – a manhood that celebrates their God-sanctioned right to band together in armed militias if anyone, or any governmental agency, tries to take it away from them. If the state and capital emasculate them, and if the masculinity of the “others” is problematic, then only “real” white men can rescue the American Eden or the bucolic Norwegian countryside from a feminized, multicultural, androgynous immigrant-inspired melting pot.


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.

I traveled to Silsbee, Texas five times in the past six months, with conservative blogger Brandon Darby, to investigate why, despite the volume of evidence, a grand jury did not indict two football players accused of raping a high school cheerleader (who was later kicked off the squad for refusing to cheer for one of them).  The case is a troubling example of what many victims experience when they dare to report their rape and proceed with a prosecution.  In this post, I’d like to highlight the community reaction.

Hillaire was found half-clothed and crying under the pool table, saying she’d been raped.  She reported that Rakheem Bolton, a star high school football player, raped her while another football player, Christian Rountree, held her down. Three students outside the room heard her cries of “stop” and broke through the door, only to find that three of the four athletes in the room had fled out the window, breaking it in the process.

As Bolton ran off, Stacy Riley, the homeowner, heard him yell:

I didn’t rape no white girl.  I wouldn’t use anyone else’s dick to fuck her. I didn’t put my dick up inside her. I don’t know if she has AIDS. I don’t even know that girl.

Bolton would later admit to penetrating Hillaire.

This was not a he said/she said situation and you can read the evidence in more detail in the full report at my blog. Suffice to say: Witness statements from the police report confirm that Hillaire was raped. An inexperienced drinker, Hillaire was exceedingly intoxicated after drinking a beer and six shots and could not legally consent. Before her friends cut her off, Hillaire made out with a guy in the living room and was egged on to kiss a female friend by a group of ogling young men. Bolton and his friends arrived late to the party, and, seeing an intoxicated and flirtatious Hillaire, isolated her in the pool room.

Hillaire spent the early morning hours after the rape at the police station and at a nearby clinic.  Of the four guys in the room, Bolton and Rountree were charged with “child sexual assault” (because Hillaire was a minor and they were “of age”) which carries a prison term of two to twenty years.

Hillaire assumed this crime would be fairly prosecuted. Instead, she faced intense mistreatment from her peers, many residents of Silsbee, school officials, public officials prosecuting the case, and the local press.  When she returned to school she faced a chilly environment from her peers and school administrators. School officials urged her to take a low profile, and the cheer squad wanted Hillaire to skip homecoming because, according to a fellow cheerleader, “Someone from another city had called and threatened her. If she cheered at another game, they were going to shoot her.” Hillaire went anyway, and some students painted Bolton’s and Rountree’s jersey numbers on their faces to protest their removal from the football team. Students also chanted “free tree” (referring to Rountree) at the homecoming bonfire within earshot of Hillaire.

Many in Silsbee bought the “slut” defense – that Hillaire was to blame for what happened that night because she made out with several people at the party. Describing Hillaire’s sexual behavior at the party, Sarah [name changed], a fellow student and cheerleader, told me that she believe Hillaire was raped and that “a majority of the school felt this way.”  Hillaire was called a “slut” several times to her face.

An anonymous letter to Hillaire’s family laid bare the “slut” defense that so many in Silsbee seem to hold:

These boys are nice respectable boys and you can’t tell me that there were no other girls that wanted to be with them so they raped your daughter (please).  Just think how you have ruined these children [sic] lives and your daughter gets to carry on and be a cheerleader after drinkingherself and going against your family values… This makes your daughter [sic] reputation look very bad and if you think people will forget, remember we live in Silsbee. Someone will always remember!  (Don’t think she won’t be talked about).

A toddler approached Hillaire at a town parade shortly after the rape and called her a “bitch.”

Hillaire’s status as a popular cheerleader at the high school couldn’t compete with the popularity of high school sports that grants the best male players special privileges. The high school stadium seats 7,000—equal to the town’s population—and it’s full on game days. Celebrating high school sports is ingrained in Southeast Texas cultures, so it’s no wonder that many in Silsbee rallied behind Bolton and Rountree.  A common argument, articulated to me by one student, is that Bolton wouldn’t rape anyone because “he was popular. A lot of girls wanted to be with him.”

Bolton and Rountree did not receive the same chilly treatment as Hillaire. In a taped interview with The Silsbee Bee, Rountree’s mother thanked “all the members of the Silsbee community that have supported us; all the love and prayers that have been sent out. We’ve had a tremendous, just a tremendous outpouring of support and we just appreciate everyone and thank you for believing in these boys.”

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The local paper, The Silsbee Bee, favorably covered the accused, even publishing an article titled, “Sexual Assault Prosecutions Cost County Nearly $20,000.” It was hard to miss the implication that this was money ill spent.

Later the editor of the Silsbee Bee would resign.

In many ways Hillaire was the perfect victim.  She’s pretty, white, and underage; a cheerleader in a football-loving town. She went to the police and the health clinic immediately after her assault. In addition to the physical evidence that was collected, she brought into court the testimony of witnesses and a threat from her rapist.  Detective Dennis Hughes, the officer assigned to the case, told Hillaire’s father that, given his four decades of police experience, “This is a slam dunk case. There’s more evidence than we see in most sexual assault cases, and we’ve got lots of witnesses.”

Still, despite all of this, the community turned against her. It’s no wonder that rape victims are reluctant to report their assaults; how much evidence, and how much privilege, does one need to get justice?  Three months after the rape, a grand jury dismissed the case.  Later Bolton would plea guilty to assault, a misdemeanor.


For more — including ways to help Hillaire and protest her treatment, as well as details about the role of the NAACP and highly suspicious ties between Bolton’s family, the police, and the district attorney – see the unabridged reporting on this story here.

A while back Yvette sent us a vintage ad for a children’s laxative that was posted over at Boing Boing. It’s a great example of changing expectations of parenting, disciplining children, and parental anger. In the ad, the mom and dad are arguing because the dad wants to use a hairbrush to spank his son, who is apparently crying because he doesn’t want to take a nasty-tasting laxative:

Transcript of dialogue:

“Don’t let daddy lick me again!” An old, old problem solved in an up-to-date way.

1. Mother: Oh, John, why don’t you let him alone? He’s only a child.

Father: Well, somebody has to make him listen to reason.

2. Mother: That’s the first time I ever heard of a hairbrush being called “reason”!

Father: Look! Let’s settle this right now! He needs that stuff and he’s going to take it whether he likes the taste or not!

3. Mother: That’s right, Mr. Know-it-all — get him all upset and and leave it for me to straighten him out.

Father: Aw, don’t get yourself in a stew!

4. Mother: I’m not! All I know is that Doris Smith used to jam a bad-tasting laxative down her boy’s throat until her doctor put a stop to it. He said it could do more harm than good!

Father: Then what laxative can we give him?

5. Mother: The one Doris uses — not an “adult” laxative, but one made only for children…Fletcher’s Castoria. It’s mild, yet effective. It’s safe, and Doris’ boy loves it!

Father: OK. I’ll run down to the druggist and get a bottle. But boy, he better like it!

6. Mother: Would you believe it? I never saw a spoonful of medicine disappear so fast!

The mom wins out, and clearly spanking the boy isn’t being advocated. But the company felt perfectly comfortable presenting a dad as angry and even aggressive, and in need of calming from his wife to avoid him spanking his child with a household item, yet still a perfectly good dad once Mom had intervened and fixed the immediate problem, returning family harmony.

Given increased attention to issues such as child abuse and domestic violence, and changes in expectations of parenting that have replaced the “father as nothing but breadwinner and strict disciplinarian” role, many viewers today would likely interpret the narrative in the ad (not to mention the line “Don’t let Daddy lick me again!”) as inherently problematic, not as a taken-for-granted commentary on family life and the need for helpful products to smooth over domestic conflicts.

Kelebek and Laurie L. both let us know about a recent example of the use of images of dead or brutalized women in fashion advertising. A recent catalog, titled “Deadly Deals,” from the Australian clothing chain Rivers, included this image (via The Age):

And way back in July of last year, Caroline submitted an article from Amazing Women Rock about an ad for Beymen Blender, an upscale clothing boutique in Istanbul. The ad shows a woman’s dismembered body hanging from meat hooks; it and the rest of the photos below may be triggering for those sensitive to images of violence toward people, so I’m putting it after the jump.

However, Dmitriy T.M., Melissa F., and Noelle S. found an example from the October 2010 issue of Interview magazine that inverts the usual gender pattern by showing a woman with brutalized men. The photo shoot was apparently supposed to evoke the types of torture and murder used by organized crime in Russia.

In this case, Naomi Campbell is shown in positions of dominance over an extremely pale-skinned, and clearly badly injured, man. So those images reverse not just the usual gender dynamic in images of violence and brutality in fashion photos, but also the frequent pattern of seeing naked or partially-naked Black bodies displayed as props around more fully-clothed White bodies (though Campbell is certainly scantily clad and sexualized). I suppose you could see this as undermining or commenting on the images we often see of violence toward women in fashion. Yet we could also argue that it does so by reinforcing the association of Blackness, in particular, with violence and aggression. And the photo shoot includes the same sexualization of violence seen so often in the fashion industry.


Gwen Sharp is an associate professor of sociology at Nevada State College. You can follow her on Twitter at @gwensharpnv.