What I Wore to Interview Men about Fashion

By Ben Barry

This article will be available for free access through SAGE until November 1, 2018.

I have always loved fashion. In high school, I spent hours in second-hand clothing stores searching the racks for velvet shirts, sequined pants and colorful scarves. I mixed my new finds with old ones to create unexpected outfits. This continued during my undergraduate degree in women’s studies and when I worked in the fashion industry. When I started my PhD, my fashion experiments were abruptly crushed. On the first day of classes, I was pulled aside and told that my colorful, textured outfit was inappropriate for the business department: a collared shirt and chinos were the “professional” choice. I have since been mindful when I open my wardrobe and decide what to wear for the day ahead. As I look at the clothes, I often think back to my first day as a PhD student. I consider what I plan to do, where I will go, and whom I expect to see.

Ben Barry_ 2
Author (with his cousin) in his favorite sequined bomber jacket and pants

Men follow this same routine each day. In my Gender & Society article, I discuss results from my research project on men and fashion. I interviewed 35 men of diverse ages, races, sexualities, social classes and occupations to understand what motivates their everyday clothing choices and how their choices influence larger structures of gender. These interviews took place in men’s wardrobes: they showed me their clothing and described the uses and memories that they attached to each piece. My interviews revealed that men’s clothing choices are based on the relationship between their personal and professional identities in conjunction with the contexts in which they find or situate themselves. As I prepared for these interviews, I foreshadowed this finding in my own decision-making process about what to wear.

Dressing for the Interview

Researchers are encouraged to be self-reflexive about their influence on interviews. They often focus on their social identities in relation to participants and their lived experiences in relation to the research topic. However, the clothing that researchers wear to interviews also influences the process because clothing is one of the most visible ways in which we socially construct and express our identities. With this in mind, I carefully considered how I should dress and how my clothes might impact my conversations with my participants. My intention was to make them feel comfortable and create space for an open dialogue. I thought that my clothing would in particular garner attention because I was researching fashion and I was a professor in a fashion department. I also thought that speaking with me would be difficult for many men because they had been taught that, to prove their masculinity, they shouldn’t be interested in fashion.

As I placed different outfit options on my bed before the first interview, I wondered whether I should tailor my clothing to what I knew about each participant from our initial exchanges. If I knew that he was a conservative dresser, should I wear a solid-colored, button-down shirt? If I knew that he was a fabulous dresser, should I wear bold patterns? It was a good thing that my first interview was in the afternoon because I spent three hours assembling and re-assembling different outfits beforehand. I decided to wear dark blue, straight-fit jeans and a black, loose-fit, long-sleeved t-shirt. I wore this outfit not only to the first interview but also to most of the subsequent ones. I thought this look was plain and simple, and so it would go unnoticed. For most interviews, this was the case. The few times that participants did say something about what I had on, it was often to breathe a sigh of relief that I was not a “fashion plate.” As one man said to me, “I’m so glad you don’t look these guys in fashion. I wouldn’t want to offend you.”

Towards My (Critical) Clothing Choices

As a researcher who studies gender inequalities, I recognized these comments as indicative of my own practice of complicity reinforcing dominant masculine ideologies. By wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes, I was rejecting men’s femininity and also devaluing my own love of sequins and colors to appease my participants and obtain the best data. My practice reinforced the idea that men should make dress decisions to “fit in” based on what styles to avoid (i.e., anything deemed feminine). Even knowing that I had the ability to shift what I wore to meet the conditions—to swap sequined jackets for solid-colored ones depending on who I was interviewing—fortified my own privilege. In fact, I did exactly what I argue men do in my article: men strategically shift their clothing based on their identities and contexts to garner opportunities and shore up masculinity.

Bringing my complicit masculinity to the surface has helped me make more critical clothing choices. As part of my research on men and fashion, I co-created a fashion show to share the research with the public. Participants were invited to model their own clothing, and quotations from their interviews were mixed with music to provide context on their outfits and reflect on the complex relationship between fashion and masculinity. I also took part in the show to demonstrate that I was also connected to my research topic. In front an audience of 300 people, including colleagues and senior university officials, I wore a skirt as well as futuristic vest. While the fashion show offered a safe space to play with fashion, I have begun to wear my flamboyant and fabulous pieces to everyday activities in which these outfits are uncommon, such as meetings at the university or walking my dog in the park.

Ben_Barry_1
Author in the Refashioning Masculinity fashion show on May 5, 2016

The significant privilege that I have to wear these outfits is not lost on me. I am also protected by my career in fashion because these looks are not only expected of me but enhance my status in the field—within the industry and at events in my department these outfits legitimate my creativity and knowledge. But I hope that dressing my body in clothes associated with women and femininity within spaces in which these outfits are not the norm helps unsettle assumptions and inspire unspoken conversations about masculinity. Transforming gender inequalities is messy, but it requires men like me to be mindful of the multiple, conflicting consequences of our actions and to use our privilege to change inequalities rather than fortify them. For me and other men, that process starts when we open our wardrobes.

Ben Barry is an Associate Professor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and incoming Chair in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University.

Advertisements

Seeing Stars: Two Cents on the Internet “Trans Trend”

By Spencer Garrison

*This article will be available for free access through SAGE until October 18, 2018.

 In the 2014 TIME feature “The Transgender Tipping Point,” Laverne Cox – an out trans woman, and the cover model profiled in the piece – argued that rapidly-increasing public awareness of what it means to be trans has made it easier than ever before for gender non-conforming Americans to claim a trans identity label. “We are in a place now where more and more trans people want to come forward and say, ‘This is who I am,’” she suggested. “More of us are living and pursuing our dreams visibly.”

Cox is right, of course – trans people and trans identities are becoming more visible. A widely-reported recent study in Pediatrics (Rider et al 2018) reported that as many as 3% of contemporary teens may identify themselves as gender non-conforming, an estimate which triples previous assumptions; the authors offer, tentatively, that “diverse gender identities are more prevalent than people would expect” (Warner 2018). However, this increasing visibility hasn’t translated into increasing acceptance: in fact, more often than not, it’s tended to generate suspicion, with some speculating that young people may be adopting trans identity labels in an effort to “look cool” or attain social status (a phenomenon that the “gender-critical” blogosphere has termed “trans-trending”). In my recent work on the construction of “accountable” trans identity narratives, respondents voiced ongoing concern about these beliefs, worried that others might interpret their coming-out and transition process as a plea for attention. Some non-binary respondents went so far as to disavow the fluidity of their own identities in interactions with others, presenting more stereotypic or “binary” accounts of their experience than they might otherwise have favored.

Unfortunately, as trans youth have become more visible, the notion of “trans-trending” has seemed to gain public traction too. While some populations – for example, TERFs – have argued the existence of “trans-trending” for many years, it’s only recently that the phrase has entered popular discourse. Late last year, the Icahn School of Medicine recruited parents and children to participate in the first empirical study of what P.I. Lisa Littman terms “rapid-onset gender dysphoria”: adolescent coming-out experiences that occur alongside “an increase in social media and Internet use” (Littman 2017). Already – and in spite of multiple critiques decrying the Littman project as “junk science” – a community of skeptical parents has rallied in defense of the work, affirming Littman’s recognition of what they’ve termed “ROGD.” As one parent writes:

Our children are young, naïve, and impressionable…they are strongly influenced by their peers and by the media, who are promoting the transgender lifestyle as popular, desirable and the solution to all of their problems…and we are horrified at the growing number of young people whose bodies have been disfigured [by] transitioning.

The argument is that the Internet and social media play a key role in facilitating this alleged “social contagion” (Christakis & Fowler 2013). While evidence to support the “contagion” of social identities is limited, there is evidence to support the idea that some users – in particular, young users (Gross et al 2010) and users with pre-existing mental health conditions (Bell 2007) – may be more susceptible to peer influence online than other groups of users, facilitating the transmission of particular social behaviors. Similar arguments have been levied against various “extreme communities” – online spaces promoting physically dangerous behaviors (for instance, pro-ana communities). These communities are thought to target vulnerable readers, seducing them with the promise of inclusion and increased social status. Those who propose “trans-trending” argue that online spaces organized around trans identities may operate in similar ways.

Garrison_2

However, I’d like to propose an alternative explanation: namely, that these online spaces may be uniquely attractive to trans users (and, in particular, to non-binary users – often, the users most likely to be called out as “trans-trenders”) because of the new embodied possibilities that these spaces offer them. In offline contexts, non-binary folks typically find their identities elided in interactions with others. Even if they explicitly attempt to present themselves as androgynous, others may thwart their efforts, assigning them instinctively to whichever category seems the “closest  fit.”

Yet, in online contexts, new possibilities emerge. Part of the appeal of these online spaces is the prospect of being able to represent the self in ways that would be impossible in “real time.” Users can attach durable identity labels to themselves by including identity descriptors in their social media profiles, or adding identity-specific tags to the images they post; they can create online avatars that transcend gender, or avoid creating any visual representations of self altogether; they can create and manage multiple profiles, across multiple platforms, each of which might offer a different performance of gender. The Internet enables users to “do” gender identity in a variety of novel (and empowering!) ways. As one of my respondents (Ben, a 19-year-old trans man) explained:

I think [the Internet] is really different…like, I know a lot of people that identify as trans on the Internet, but in real life, they’re in the closet completely…I know [some] trans women who are like this, where they’ll have, like, female characters online, but then in real life they don’t medically transition…because they feel like no one will take them seriously. They feel like, ‘I could never be a real girl’…I see that happen a lot…Like, people in real-life trans spaces – most of the people in those spaces are usually the people who can pass, [or] people that are better at handling social situations…the Internet is a safer place than real life is, a lot of the time.

Those who argue that the Internet has created a “trans trend” conflate correlation with causation: they presume that social media use has caused an increase in social media users identifying as trans or non-binary. In fact, however, the Internet has simply facilitated this increase, by providing trans users (and non-binary users in particular) with new, accessible, and visible means of enacting their identities for others. Trans and non-binary people have always existed – perhaps, have always existed even in the numbers they do now — but, not unlike the stars above us, we can realize their presence only once we’ve created the conditions to see them.

 Garrison_3

Spencer Garrison is a doctoral candidate in Sociology and LGBTQ Studies at the University of Michigan.  He studies the (re)production and management of gender and sexual identity narratives within (and across) digital worlds.  Learn more about Spencer’s work at http://spenceragarrison.com/.

References

Bell, V. (2007) “Online Information, Extreme Communities, and Internet Therapy:

Is the Internet Good for Our Mental Health?” Journal of Mental Health 16(4):

  1. 445-457.

Gross, E.F., J. Juvonen, and S.L. Gable. (2002) “Internet Use and Well-Being in

Adolescence.” Journal of Social Issues 58: 75-90.

Christakis, N. A. and J.H. Fowler. (2013) “Social Contagion Theory: Examining

Dynamic Social Networks and Human Behavior.” Statistics in Medicine 32(4): 556-577.

Rider, G.N., B.J. McMorris, A.L. Gower, E. Coleman, and M.E. Eisenberg. (2018)

“Health and Care Utilization of Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Youth: A Population-Based Study.” Pediatrics 141(3): p. 1683-1692.

Littman, L.L. (2017) “Rapid Onset of Gender Dysphoria in Adolescents and Young

Adults: A Descriptive Study.” Journal of Adolescent Health 60(2): s95-s96.

Gender & Society Releases Statement on Hoax Paper: ‘We are even more confident in our review process.’

 A recently submitted article that has since been discovered to be false, circulated through Gender & Society recently. Through a rigorous process, editors for Gender & Society found that the paper lacked the empirical data necessary for the flagship publication of Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS).

“We encourage people not to write devastating reviews of papers,” said SWS member Dr. Amy Stone, Deputy Editor of Gender & Society and Associate Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Tex. “There was a generosity of spirit in which we presumed that the author was a graduate student who needed mentoring. We provided 13 pages of feedback to coach and mentor the author, but the paper was clearly not up to our standards.”

Gender & Society is a peer-reviewed journal focused on research related to sociology, gender studies and women’s studies. The journal publishes less than 10% of all papers submitted to it. Articles focus on gender and gendered processes in interactions, organizations, societies and global and transnational spaces. The journal follows a rigorous review process that goes through several stages of review. Editors and reviewers noted that writing a long paper under false pretense is unprecedented in their experience, and demonstrates a larger attack on the social sciences with a particular focus on fields related to gender and sexuality.

“This experience demonstrates a larger assault on the truth and our need to be literate in our reading and absorption of information. We tend to trust that the authors are genuine people,” said SWS member Dr. Jo Reger and Editor of Gender & Society and Professor of Sociology, Oakland University in Rochester, Mich. “This shows a lack of respect for the work that we do. People don’t really know what we do. If they did, they should be convinced by it. We are publishing knowledge that is not politicized.”

The Perils and the Possibilities of All-Black Male Schools

 

By Keisha Lindsay PhD

Cross-posted with permission from The Society Pages 

What do Louis Farrakhan, George H. W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They are examples of the strange political bedfellows who support separate, publicly funded schools for black boys.

As a public school graduate and one of the few black women faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know what discrimination in the classroom looks like. So, when I first heard about the effort to establish all-black male schools (ABMSs), I was relieved that school districts were finally listening to anti-racist activists’ assertion that structural racism in schools is unacceptable. In other words, I situated the push to open ABMSs within black people’s well-established understanding of the classroom as a place for resisting racism. To this end, proponents of the forty-plus ABMSs established since 1991 rightly argue that: black urban schools are under-resourced relative to white suburban ones; traditional public schools utilize racist curriculablack students are disciplined more harshly than white students, and black teachers are under-representedin the nation’s schools.

At the same time, the anti-feminist ethos sometimes present in #Black Lives Matter and other expressions of black politics is also evident in conversations about ABMSs. It is unsurprising then that my initial optimism about ABMSs soon turned to concern. I recognized that despite their best intentions, some advocates of ABMSs minimize the degree of black girls’ own oppression in school. Equally disturbing is many ABMS supporters’ assumption that black schoolboys underperform because they are distracted by black girls. This claim reproduces harmful images of black women as “jezebels” who sexually corrupt the men in their midst.

There is much to learn from the movement to open ABMSs. One lesson is that intersectionality – the analytical framework pioneered by black feminists to illuminate how racial, gendered, and other systems of power are mutually reinforcing – can be used to advance multiple political agendas, including anti-feminist ones.  On the one hand, advocates of AMBSs embrace intersectionality when they assume that black boys underachieve not only because they are black in racist schools but also because they are black boys in white, female-dominated classrooms. This intersectional logic highlights black boys’ experience of gender-specific racism or the fact that the nation’s teachers, most of whom are white women, suspend black boys at higher rates than other students, including black girls. On the other hand, numerous advocates of ABMSs assume that black boys underachieve because white women teachers create racist, “feminized” classrooms at odds with these boys’ “naturally” aggressive learning style. This latter intersectional approach obscures research which indicates that biology does not automatically make boys tactile learners and girls oral learners. Most significantly, ignoring these data leads far too many supporters of ABMSs to overlook the needs and aptitudes of black children, like highly verbal black boys, who defy stereotypical gender roles.

So where does the reality that the push for ABMSs resists racial inequality but sometimes relies on gender inequality leave those of us committed to challenging intersecting inequalities in our personal, activist, and/or professional lives? I believe that supporters and critics of AMBSs can form politically progressive coalitions. This might seem like an unrealistic goal given that advocates of ABMSs sometimes reject black feminist criticism of their efforts. Indeed, black feminists who express concerns about these schools have heard that we are “colluding with the enemy” or giving racist whites the opportunity to condemn ABMSs and, in turn, stifle black boys’ academic prospects. It is also true, however, that while many proponents of ABMSs conceptualize black children’s oppression in ways that threaten bridge-building, other advocates recognize that the sometimes sexist and heterosexist rhetoric in favor of these schools harms both black boys and black girls.

Building on this finding requires all participants in the debate about ABMSs to embrace a particular type of educational advocacy – one which recognizes that public schools are key to addressing oppression and that black children are forced to learn in some of the worst public schools. Putting this kind of nuanced advocacy into practice means using accessible, community-based spaces to challenge our assumptions about how and why black children are oppressed in school. It also means defining “good” public schools as those which foster all black children’s capacity for self-determination and self-actualization in the classroom, and beyond.

As a public school graduate and one of the few black women faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know what discrimination in the classroom looks like. So, when I first heard about the effort to establish all-black male schools (ABMSs), I was relieved that school districts were finally listening to anti-racist activists’ assertion that structural racism in schools is unacceptable. In other words, I situated the push to open ABMSs within black people’s well-established understanding of the classroom as a place for resisting racism. To this end, proponents of the forty-plus ABMSs established since 1991 rightly argue that: black urban schools are under-resourced relative to white suburban ones; traditional public schools utilize racist curriculablack students are disciplined more harshly than white students, and black teachers are under-representedin the nation’s schools.

At the same time, the anti-feminist ethos sometimes present in #Black Lives Matter and other expressions of black politics is also evident in conversations about ABMSs. It is unsurprising then that my initial optimism about ABMSs soon turned to concern. I recognized that despite their best intentions, some advocates of ABMSs minimize the degree of black girls’ own oppression in school. Equally disturbing is many ABMS supporters’ assumption that black schoolboys underperform because they are distracted by black girls. This claim reproduces harmful images of black women as “jezebels” who sexually corrupt the men in their midst.

There is much to learn from the movement to open ABMSs. One lesson is that intersectionality – the analytical framework pioneered by black feminists to illuminate how racial, gendered, and other systems of power are mutually reinforcing – can be used to advance multiple political agendas, including anti-feminist ones.  On the one hand, advocates of AMBSs embrace intersectionality when they assume that black boys underachieve not only because they are black in racist schools but also because they are black boys in white, female-dominated classrooms. This intersectional logic highlights black boys’ experience of gender-specific racism or the fact that the nation’s teachers, most of whom are white women, suspend black boys at higher rates than other students, including black girls. On the other hand, numerous advocates of ABMSs assume that black boys underachieve because white women teachers create racist, “feminized” classrooms at odds with these boys’ “naturally” aggressive learning style. This latter intersectional approach obscures research which indicates that biology does not automatically make boys tactile learners and girls oral learners. Most significantly, ignoring these data leads far too many supporters of ABMSs to overlook the needs and aptitudes of black children, like highly verbal black boys, who defy stereotypical gender roles.

So where does the reality that the push for ABMSs resists racial inequality but sometimes relies on gender inequality leave those of us committed to challenging intersecting inequalities in our personal, activist, and/or professional lives? I believe that supporters and critics of AMBSs can form politically progressive coalitions. This might seem like an unrealistic goal given that advocates of ABMSs sometimes reject black feminist criticism of their efforts. Indeed, black feminists who express concerns about these schools have heard that we are “colluding with the enemy” or giving racist whites the opportunity to condemn ABMSs and, in turn, stifle black boys’ academic prospects. It is also true, however, that while many proponents of ABMSs conceptualize black children’s oppression in ways that threaten bridge-building, other advocates recognize that the sometimes sexist and heterosexist rhetoric in favor of these schools harms both black boys and black girls.

Building on this finding requires all participants in the debate about ABMSs to embrace a particular type of educational advocacy – one which recognizes that public schools are key to addressing oppression and that black children are forced to learn in some of the worst public schools. Putting this kind of nuanced advocacy into practice means using accessible, community-based spaces to challenge our assumptions about how and why black children are oppressed in school. It also means defining “good” public schools as those which foster all black children’s capacity for self-determination and self-actualization in the classroom, and beyond.

Keisha Lindsay, PhD is an associate professor of gender and women’s studies and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include black feminist theories, black masculinities, and gender-based politics in the African diaspora. She is the author of In a Classroom of Their Own: The Intersection of Race and Feminist Politics in All-Black Male Schools (University of Illinois Press 2018).

2018 ASA Sex & Gender Section Distinguished Article Award

We here at Gender & Society just want to say congratulations to two of our authors on their recent awards!
The winner is “Risky Mothers and the Normalcy Project: Women with Disabilities Negotiate Scientific Motherhood” by Angela Frederick (Gender & Society 2017). Frederick brilliantly shows how mothers with disabilities experience increased surveillance and invisibility and how modern mothering ideologies are based on an assumption of “normalcy” that excludes women with “abnormal” bodies. This article makes an exceptional contribution to the gender scholarship by drawing innovative connections between the literatures on gender, mothering, and disabilities.
The honorable mention is “Working for Redemption: Formerly Incarcerated Black Women and Punishment in the Labor Market” by Susila Gurusami (Gender & Society 2017). Advancing a theory of intersectional capitalism, Gurusami uniquely contributes to our understanding of how capitalism is both gendered and racialized. The article powerfully theorizes state efforts to transform “criminals” into “workers” and how this legitimates the surveillance and continued punishment of formerly incarcerated Black women.

Taking Time to be a Manly Dad: Gender Inequality and the Politics of Fatherhood

By Jennifer Randles

Randles    Randles_2

Randles_3

In 2008, the Advertising Council launched a media campaign featuring fathers with their children. Several United States government agencies were partners in the campaign, including the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Family Assistance, and the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. Superimposed over images of racially diverse fathers reading to, playing with, and holding their children were the taglines “The smallest moments can have the biggest impact on a child’s life” and “Take time to be a dad today.” Given that most mothers spend hours per day cleaning, cooking, and caring for their children, a similar ad with an image of a woman playing with her children that read “Take time to be a mom today” would not resonate in the same way. In a society where women still do most childcare, what are the gender implications of publicly encouraging fathers to “take time” to be dads?

            Understood in context, the ads make more sense and raise more questions. They are part of a larger policy effort to address a perceived crisis of fathering in the U.S. In the past decade, the federal government has funded hundreds of “responsible fatherhood” (RF) programs to increase fathers’ economic stability and involvement with children. RF programs provide disadvantaged fathers with opportunities to finish school, train for work, and take parenting classes. What do fathers learn in these programs? Do they similarly teach men that good fathering is about “moments” and “taking time” to be a playful parent?

            To find out, I studied an RF program I call “DADS” that served low-income men of color. DADS taught that men uniquely benefit children as masculine role models and that fathers should be more expressive and nurturing—just like the fathers in the ads. On the surface, this seemed like a progressive revisioning of fatherhood, one with the potential to promote egalitarian parenting. The program enabled the 64 participants I studied to claim identities as good fathers and defy race and class stereotypes that they were “dead beat” dads just because they did not have a lot of money to offer children. Though they struggled to be good financial providers, DADS taught them that they were specially equipped as men to provide the affection and attention children also need.

Might responsible fatherhood programming be an innovative policy strategy for addressing the gender, race, and class inequalities that can undermine strong father-child relationships among poor families of color? In the almost two years I spent studying DADS, I learned that responsible fatherhood programming teaches fathers to “man up” as good dads who understand their masculinity as a core component of good parenting. Not only did the program teach participants that they are valuable as parents because they are men, it taught them that they are valuable as men because they are good parents. “Manning up” in this way entailed challenging gender stereotypes that manly men are domineering and stoic. Tanner, a 37-year-old, multiracial father of two, told me that he learned from the program how, “Anyone can be a dad, but it takes a real man to be a father. In this class, that means learning how to communicate, how to be in touch with your feelings, learning that a real man cries.” In a distinct departure from how U.S. welfare policies have targeted men in the past, DADS uniquely addressed men as loving, emotionally expressive caregivers and co-parents, not just as workers and potential husbands.

            The problem with this strategy is how it encouraged fathers to care for children in “manly” ways without urging them to take an equal role in childcare or household labor. Some men interpreted program messages to mean that gender did not preclude them from performing carework. David, a 22-year-old, Black father of one, explained, “To be the man of the household [means] … just help out around the house as much as I can, whether it be cooking or cleaning, or bills, or fixing things … Stepping up means not assuming something isn’t my job because I’m a man.” However, casting men as masculine playmates and helpers reinforces gender inequality in families by obscuring that women still do the majority of household labor. Tomas, a 33-year-old, Latino father of three, also used the language of “helping” to describe what he learned: “Being a man is going to work, come home, have your self time … If you have a wife, help make dinner, help do chores. Don’t just come home and think you’re king of the castle and say, ‘I work hard, and I want this done in a certain way.’ Help out with the household, with homework. A lot of guys don’t. I admit I didn’t … Now I know that is wrong … Even the minutest thing, like folding laundry, fix a bike tire.” In line with program messages, it is telling that all the images in the “Take Time” campaign are of fathers having fun with their children.

            In the end, what do government-sponsored ads reminding men to be involved with their children say about the gendered politics of fatherhood? They certainly indicate that fathers are important in children’s lives. But they also suggest, as did DADS, that “involved” fathering is about making caregiving seem masculine without making carework central to social and political ideas of responsible fathering. We must address the gendered division of family labor and financial definitions of good fathering that exclude marginalized men. To do this, we need fewer ads urging fathers to spend time with their children and more policies that promote truly egalitarian parenting, such as those focused on quality education, fair wages, and teaching about caregiving as a gender-neutral activity that takes more than a moment.

Jennifer Randles is an associate professor of sociology at California State University, Fresno. Her research focuses on family inequalities and policies. This blog post is based on her recent article published in Gender & Society. She is also the author of Proposing Prosperity: Marriage Education Policy and Inequality in America (Columbia University Press).

The Unfinished Gender Revolution: Lessons from Russia

By Sarah Ashwin

Revolutions tend to stop at the threshold of the private household, doing little to liberate women from domestic inequality. Even the “gender revolution” of women’s increased access to employment, education and birth control in countries such as the US since the 1960s is generally viewed by scholars as “stalled” (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0891243210361475). Along with continued inequality in employment, a key item of unfinished business is domestic inequity, with women continuing to perform the lion’s share of domestic and caring labor despite their mass entry into paid work (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/000312240406900601). How does such stalling occur? Here I examine the iconic case of the Russian revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.

Women’s liberation from what the Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, called their “state of household slavery” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm) was a declared aim of the new Soviet state. But women’s emancipation was not viewed as a goal in itself. It had an economic and political purpose – to draw women into the labor force so they could contribute to the industrialization drive, and to induct them into Soviet public life, turning them from “kitchen slaves” into Soviet citizens.  What Lenin called “exceptionally petty” domestic labor such as cooking was to be socialized in public institutions (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm). This ambition is perfectly illustrated by the 1931 Soviet poster “Down with Kitchen Slavery!  Yes to a new way of life!”

Ashwin_1

The “enslaved” woman of the past is pictured in a cramped, dark private kitchen, forced to wash clothes by hand and use a tiny stove. A woman worker opens a door to a vision of the socialist future featuring a bright, airy factory, canteen, nursery and club. In the “new way of life” women would be able to participate in employment and public life, with domestic and caring labor performed by state institutions. Women did indeed join the labor force in successive waves so that by 1970 nearly 90 per cent of working age Soviet women were in full-time work or study.  But the ideal of socialized household labor never became a reality except in the sphere of childcare. Since the state made no effort to encourage men to perform “exceptionally petty” labor in the household – men were expected to devote themselves to what was perceived as more productive, industrial labor – women were left with a notorious “double burden” of full-time work and domestic labor which persisted until the end of the Soviet era and beyond.

My article with Olga Isupova focuses on how this legacy has impacted gender ideology; that is, women and men’s beliefs about how domestic and paid work should be configured. Despite high women’s employment during the Soviet era, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1994, an international survey found nearly two thirds of Russian women and 70 per cent of men supported the statement “a man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family” (International Social Survey Programme http://w.issp.org/menu-top/home/). We use data from 115 interviews with 23 young women who we followed between 1999 and 2010 to understand how such beliefs are sustained and how and when they are challenged.

We link gender ideology to the macro-environment of a society in relation to gender – what researchers call its “gender order” – and to the micro-level of interaction between men and women in which gender researchers argue individuals are constrained to “do gender” – that is, to demonstrate their masculinity or femininity through their behaviour (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0891243287001002002). The Soviet gender order influenced gender ideologies in two important ways.  First, although the state promoted women’s employment it did not challenge traditional conceptions regarding gender and domestic labor. For example, a modified version of the male breadwinner norm persisted, with Soviet economic writings taking it for granted that wives should earn two-thirds of their husband’s wages (https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Women_in_Soviet_Society.html?id=rtWfengNqQ8C&redir_esc=y). This reinforced the idea that domestic labor was women’s responsibility (even when Lenin was agitating for the socialization of domestic labor, he assumed women would staff the new institutions (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm). Second, the Soviet Union had comprehensive censorship and all forms of independent organization, including feminism, were banned. This made it hard for women to analyze their situation and question men’s domestic privilege. The difficulty is brilliantly captured in Natalya Baranskaya’s 1969 novella A Week Like Any Other (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JXZvMAEACAAJ&dq=Baranskaya+a+week+like+any+other&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwitm4vk8pzbAhXjCcAKHQyyBfsQ6AEIJzAA), which depicted the struggles of a full-time Soviet working mother who performed all the housework even though she and her husband were both scientists. The heroine is portrayed as exhausted, unhappy and perplexed, but rather than critiquing the gender inequity that leaves her so burdened, she blames herself asking, “What is the matter with me?” Attempts to live up to the ideal of the Soviet superwoman perfectly balancing work, motherhood and household management left many women asking the same question.

ashwin_3
Artist: Mariya Samokhina 

In the post-Soviet era, the relaxation of censorship and increased freedom to organize has made it easier for women to access alternative ideas and question traditional gender relations. Nevertheless, nearly a decade after the Soviet collapse, some young women in our study were unable to imagine egalitarian gender relations despite being fiercely critical of the “kitchen slavery” faced by their mothers. It should also be noted that freedom of association and information are again under threat in Russia today under Vladimir Putin, though the impact of this on the gender division of domestic labor is still unclear.

As well as being institutionalized within the gender order, traditional or egalitarian ideas are enforced (or not) in the everyday interactions of men and women. Women themselves can reinforce traditionalism when they expect men to perform as breadwinners. We found that the ideal of the male breadwinner was an important prop to traditionalism, with traditional women using men’s superior wages to explain why housework was a woman’s responsibility even when both partners worked full time. But some women in our study also became more egalitarian, and we found that this was easier after they met supportive men with whom they could imagine an egalitarian relationship. Individuals’ gender ideologies are therefore shaped both by dominant ideas within the gender order and by interaction, with the two influencing each other.

We saw quite significant change during the 10 years of our study, with some women moving towards egalitarianism and others, though self-identified as heterosexual, giving up on men and embracing what we called an “ideology of independence”. Although the second position gave women facing difficult challenges a sense of agency and dignity, it left men unchanged and free from domestic and caring responsibilities, a dynamic which is sensitively analyzed in Jennifer Utrata’s book on Russia’s lone mothers (http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100573890). The ideology of independence is the necessary shadow of male breadwinner ideal, and has provided a safety valve for gender traditionalism.

The struggle between gender traditionalism and egalitarianism continues globally. We think situating gender ideology in the context of particular gender orders and relating this to the everyday micro-interactions of men and women aids our understanding of how this dynamic unfolds in different contexts.

Sarah Ashwin is a professor of industrial relations in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics. Her recent publications develop different aspects of gender theory by interrogating Russia’s stalled gender revolution.