Roma: Domestic Work Researchers Respond to Highly Acclaimed Film, Part I

Winner of a Golden Globe and recipient of several Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture, Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, follows a year in the life of a domestic worker and the Mexico City family that employs her. Although the film has spawned many conversations among critics and audiences, and even domestic worker advocates, the voices of expert researchers of domestic work in Latin America have often been absent. Spoilers abound!

Here is the first part of a blog that will offer critiques of the film by members of RITHAL (a network of researchers who study domestic work in Latin America). If you are interested in learning more about RITHAL, please contact Erynn Masi de Casanova. Casanova also provided the translations from Spanish to English for some of these essays.

“Labor” and Care in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

By Romina Cutuli

“Labor” is, in Hannah Arendt’s terms,[1] that set of activities as trivial as they are necessary for sustaining life. In what seems to be an anthropological constant, we observe the delegation of a particular social group—because of class, race, and gender—to carry out these activities. This intersectionality is crystallized in the character of Cleo. Beyond the praise of film critics and the disappointment of some mainstream audiences, what does Roma tell us about domestic work? Among the critiques I’ve seen online, one is constant: the film’s slow pace. The cadence of Cleo’s labor, its ephemeral and thus repetitive character, is our first impression of the cinematographic experience. The tasks get repeated, as do the reasons for going back and doing them again. These are so many snapshots of the repetition, intensified by an ending that suggests a cycle. Here comes the spoiler alert: the labor will take place day after day, without any of the magic we see in other film genres, in which repetition can be undertaken through supernatural means.

It’s nature that imposes this labor on us, says Hannah Arendt. Nature reminds us of our animal-ness and keeps us from transcending death. As Arendt anticipated and Katrine Marçal gracefully put it, “work” and “action” need this “labor” to happen first.[2] Care implies constant presence, as Gorz notes.[3] Cleo is there to serve breakfast, to pick up clothes, to save a life by risking her own. Unlike the case of a firefighter or a doctor, the economic cost of her permanent presence is amortized over time and the true value of her labor is never calculated. To build a world of things, to leave our mark and make our aspirations reality, we have to avoid domestic work, either by living a simple, childless life, or perhaps, through the commodification of domestic work as gendered and low-cost.

And here emerges another aspect of the intersectional inequalities expressed in Roma. These unequal relationships are necessary so that some people can transcend the everyday. So that Antonio, barely in the film, can run in the rain like a love-drunk teen, Sofía (his wife and Cleo’s employer) has to manage the daily life of the home and four children. So that Sofía can work full-time in publishing, have time let down her hair and time to herself, there must be a Cleo. A young, poor, indigenous woman, the last link in a chain of inequalities. The freedoms of some are possible only through the bondage of others, and material socioeconomic inequalities ensure that these types of social relations reproduce themselves.

Sofía’s freedoms are curtailed so that Antonio can be free. For Sofía to maintain some bit of freedom, there have to be poor, marginalized women whose only means of subsistence is selling their labor power round the clock in other people’s homes. When you put it like that, the injustice is inexcusable. We look for gentler ways to describe how some people are able to rise because of the invisible work of others. So we have the idea of an “ethic of care.” Women’s personal sacrifice becomes recognized and idolized, for example, in Cuarón’s “homage to the women in his life”—as people have described Roma. This recognition is the paltry recompense for women’s low-paid or unpaid work. Morever, this homage does not come from women who dedicate most or all of their lives working for others, with few employment alternatives, but is created and consumed by those who do have a choice. This essentialized view of the cost-free devotion of the poor woman worker, quiet and ever-present, is the sugary coating that helps us swallow the hard pill of inequality: inequality that benefits the subject who does have a voice. Gratitude covers over the inequality that never changes and is never questioned.

Inequality becomes silence. Cleo’s voice is literally absent, but Cuarón’s is not. He speaks to her, about her, and through her. Her silence leaves room for the powerful to speak. In Roma we hear once again the same voice already expressed in legislative debates, newspaper articles, and even academic research. Even in the act of recognition, the worker’s words are absent. The domestic worker is always someone we have, not someone who is, in our class-marked discourse. The romanticized view of this unconditional devotion, which asks little or nothing in return, is the voice of privilege. The end of the film suggests a trace of first-person experience, when Cleo dares to put into words an unconfessable feeling. They go home, the patio is full of excrement. She takes the clothes up to the roof to wash them. She gives up her life so that others can live, love, and suffer. And win Golden Globes. In Roma, once again, the subaltern could not speak. 

Romina Cutuli, Assistant Investigator, CONICET, Work Studies Group, Center of Social and Economic and Social Research, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (Argentina). Romina’s research focuses on labor markets and public policy in relation to domestic work in Argentina.

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The Troubling of “We”: An Intersectional Perspective on Roma

 

By: Jaira J. Harrington

In one memorable scene from Roma, Sofía proclaims, “We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” Yet this “we” is only conveniently explored by Sofía when she can sense herself losing the legitimacy, power, and stability that she has enjoyed as the woman of the house. The parallel lives that Sofía (employer) and Cleo (domestic worker) lead only intersect when Sofía brings up salient questions of women’s solidarity across difference. Using an intersectional lens to examine this gendered “we” can reveal both convergences and how race and class create distance.

Cleo is of indigenous descent. Despite the internal dramas of her work life in an affluent neighborhood of Mexico City, she is not immune to the larger political conflicts of the time. The land rights of her people and family are under constant threat, and at one point she hears her mother’s property has been seized. With little room to process her personal and communal grief, she is expected to quietly manage these issues and emotions along with her employer’s personal difficulties. She absorbs misdirected aggressions from Sofía as they both work through their problems.

I don’t mean to downplay the pain and trauma both women experience. They’re both emotionally, economically, and physically abandoned by their male partners whose personal visions for their futures did not include the women who were mothers to their children, born and unborn. Yet, the differences in their lived experience of pain and desertion are striking.

When Sofía accepts that her husband has moved on and will no longer financially support her and her children, she chooses to work at a publishing company. Cleo could not even conceive of such an option in her position of relative economic dependence.[4] While Sofía has the support of her mother, Cleo relies on her fellow in-house domestic worker friend, Adela, but mainly takes this journey alone. Cleo’s closest kinships are in the remote rural towns from which she has been isolated due to her work. The family she works for becomes her own, but this intimacy has boundaries. These boundaries are most evident during a difficult childbirth, where Cleo is shown without the support of her employer-family and is truly left alone.

With an intersectional analysis that fully acknowledges the multiple identities that constitute the lived experience of both women, the gulf between them becomes clear. Though we have two narratives of enduring struggle, the options for a young, poor, rural, indigenous, unmarried domestic with an unplanned pregnancy are completely different than those of a financially established, educated, married, and wealthy elite white woman. The universal experience of “we” that Sofía invokes between herself and Cleo is a rhetorical lacuna that women of color experience with remarkable regularity.

Roma brings to light a broader feminist issue of solidarity across difference. The silencing of distinct oppressions among and between women is worth a critical re-imagining. An unexamined “we” undermines feminist politics when it ignores the power dynamics within the category “women.” An intersectional perspective can give us the tools to see the multiplicity of oppressions and the potential spaces for liberation for all women.

Jaira J. Harrington, Assistant Professor of Global Interdisciplinary Studies, Villanova University. Jaira’s research focuses on domestic workers’ movements in Brazil.

 

[1] Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press.

[2] Marçal, Katrine. 2017. Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? A story of women and economics. Pegasus Books.

[3] Gorz, Andre. 1995. Metamorfosis del trabajo. Editorial Sistema.

[4] Domestic workers’ social, economic and political precarity is well-documented by the International Labour Organization: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/lang–en/index.htm

[5] Cleo’s harrowing experience with childbirth is common for indigenous women around the world. For more information on global research on indigenous women, childbirth complications and infant mortality, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has the following study: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/factsheet_digital_Mar27.pdf

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Accumulating Disadvantage and Its Consequences

 

By Michelle Maroto and David Pettinicchio

People with disabilities face deeply entrenched normative and attitudinal barriers in the labor market, despite protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Yet, they remain a comparatively overlooked minority group in sociological studies, even those employing intersectional analyses of inequality. This has left empirical and theoretical gaps in our understanding of how race, gender, and class intersect with disability in shaping economic outcomes and perpetuating cumulative disadvantage. It has also inspired us to address these gaps with an intersectional perspective in our recent research.

Intersectionality has since become a buzzword both in academia and in popular culture. This should not lessen its importance as a mechanism revealing the multiple and layered aspects of social stratification. Intersectionality shows us how overlapping systems of oppression structure social interactions across organizations and institutions. When socially constructed statuses interact, they can contribute to the accumulation of disadvantage where certain minority groups continually experience the worst outcomes and the greatest levels of disadvantage. Viewing unequal labor market outcomes through an intersectional lens, for example, highlights how women with different types of disabilities distinctly experience economic disadvantage evident in their much lower employment rates and earnings.

And, while intersectional studies of employment outcomes have revealed much about how disability and gender interact to keep women with disabilities at the bottom of a hierarchy of disadvantage, economic inequality expands far beyond the labor market. Thus, a key objective of our work has been to widen our gaze upon the effects of intersecting statuses on economic insecurity. We do this by taking into consideration the consequences of risks and shocks within stratification systems, which often depend on the amount and nature of economic resources — beyond employment wages and earnings — available to weather financial hardship.

Applying a feminist disability perspective, our recent study uncovered hierarchies of disadvantage present across three measures of economic insecurity — poverty levels, total income, and income sources. We analyzed 2015 American Community Survey data and found that less-educated minority women with disabilities had the highest rates of poverty, earned the least income, and relied more on government sources, as opposed to savings or wages, for most of their already limited income. Disadvantage was particularly apparent among persons identifying as non-Hispanic American Indians or Alaska Natives. We see that disadvantage, therefore, accumulates across social categories, which further demonstrates a need account for the particular experiences of individuals with overlapping group memberships.

Our findings also reveal important dimensions of inequality that can only be adequately explained through an intersectional framework. As the figure shows, the relative effects of disability on poverty were strongest for women, racial minorities, and individuals with less education. Disability’s effects on poverty were 40 percent larger for non-Hispanic white women than for non-Hispanic white men across education categories, and disability’s effects on poverty were approximately 55 percent larger for non-Hispanic black women than for non-Hispanic white men.

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These findings, although depressing, were largely expected. We were, however, more surprised when it came to explaining total income, which includes income from employment, savings, social assistance, and other sources. In the case of total income, disability presented some of the strongest effects on total income among more advantaged, not disadvantaged groups. This was especially true for non-Hispanic white men with higher levels of education who experienced large disability-related income losses of 20-26 percent. We believe that this in part can be explained by how dominant notions of masculinity can make disability more limiting for men who are seen as less able to inhabit masculine roles in economic and financial arenas. It may very well be that white highly educated men have more to lose by being disabled.

By examining income sources in addition to total income, we also show how privilege works to maintain inequalities between groups. We found that more advantaged groups primarily relied on wages for their income and livelihood. But when wages were low, women and men with higher levels of education, regardless of disability status, were better able to take advantage of savings to make up for limited income. Less advantaged groups, however, needed much more help from the government in order to survive. This was especially true for people with disabilities.

Taken together, these results point to important class distinctions that compound inequality by race, gender, and disability. Employment is the primary way for individuals to earn income, but savings are critical when weathering economic downturns, especially in a context of declining social safety net. Pushed out of the labor market and with limited wealth, people with disabilities had few options, making public assistance a valuable source of income. Without assistance, poverty rates would be much higher for people with disabilities. Cutbacks to social assistance at the federal and state levels will only exacerbate the problem.

Bringing a feminist disability perspective to bare on our analyses helped us underscore the ways in which disadvantage is reproduced in all social organizations within a “disability/ability system” that associates disabled bodies, much like female bodies, with inadequacy and weakness. An explicitly gendered analysis of disability sheds light on how categorical disadvantage contributes to inequality’s durability in linked areas such as income, health, wealth, and education, where members of already historically marginalized groups continue to face economic insecurity. It also reminds us of the importance of the particular experiences of individuals with overlapping group memberships in understanding cumulative (dis)advantage.

Michelle Maroto is an associate professor of Sociology at the University of Alberta. Her research focuses on inequality and economic insecurity across credit and labor markets with an emphasis on the accumulation of disadvantage across households and time.

David Pettinicchio is assistant professor of Sociology and affiliated faculty in the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto. His forthcoming book Politics of Empowerment: Disability Rights and the Cycle of American Policy Reform (Stanford University Press, 2019) investigates how and why seemingly entrenched policies like the ADA succumb to retrenchment efforts and the important role of both political elites and everyday citizens in mobilizing against these political threats.

Announcing the next editor of Gender & Society

Risman

Barbara J. Risman, a College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, will become the next Editor of Gender & Society, the official journal of Sociologists for Women in Society, in August 2019. Risman will follow the journal’s Current Editor, Jo Reger, Professor and Chair of Sociology at Oakland University. Risman says this editorship feels as if she is coming full circle, back to her original intellectual home. Her first article in a sociology journal was the first article in the first issue of Gender & Society, under the editorship of Judith Lorber.

Risman is very excited to become the next Editor of Gender & Society and to be working with an amazing team of Deputy Editors that includes Silke Aisenbrey, Mignon Moore, Kristen Myers, Smitha Radhakrishnan and Sheryl Skaggs. The Editorial Team’s composition insures broad coverage both substantively (e.g. from family to sexuality to workplaces and from culture to economic inequality) and methodologically (including expertise in both quantitative and qualitative techniques).

Risman intends to continue many of the current practices of Gender & Society, which has a history of strong and effective editorial teams. They will continue to strive for a short turnaround time for submissions, only awarding a revise and resubmit to manuscripts that have a strong possibility of publication after revision, continuing the work to create a high digital visibility, and the production of high quality teaching related materials. As has been the case with their predecessors, the editorial team is committed to providing reviews that provide feminist mentorship for manuscripts whether or not they are accepted for publication. They also remain strongly committed to intersectional feminist scholarship and intend to continue the tradition of welcoming integrative “thought” pieces in the journal.

The Editorial Team will emphasize the inclusion of multi-methodological research, as well as research from every methodological tradition, qualitative, quantitative, experimental, and social historical. They will further build on the internationalization efforts of the journal. One of their ideas for doing this is to create a space on the website for international colleagues to give a “state of feminist sociology” in their countries, to be published on the website concurrently in their own language and English. This should encourage more international conversations, and hopefully eventually submissions.

The team has two plans for increasing the use of research published by Gender & Society for feminist social change. First, they will actively seek scholarship that highlights how scholarship can support the creation and implementation of effective feminist social policy and inform movement efforts, as well as to study such things. The team hopes this will inspire and inform intersectional feminist policy conversations.

Second, the editorial team will build on the current editor’s work to translate appropriate articles for a public audience. Such dissemination will include press releases, online symposia on topics of interest to the public, blog posts, and the development of relationships with key journalists. Risman will work closely with graduate students to help them develop these skills.

Professor Risman is a public intellectual whose editorials have appeared in the Chicago TribuneThe Seattle TimesCNN.com, and the Huffington Post. She is frequently quoted in the press including in the EconomistLA TimesNew York Times, and the Atlantic. Risman has been awarded the SWS Mentorship Award and the SWS Distinguished Lecturer Award, and has served as President of Sociologists for Women in Society. She is a former President of the Southern Sociological Society and former Vice-President of the American Sociological Association. Awardsinclude the 2011 American Sociological Association’s Award for the Public Understanding of Sociology and the 2005 Katherine Jocher Belle Boone Award from the Southern Sociological Society for lifetime contributions to the study of gender. In her new book, Where The Millennials Will Take us: A New Generation Wrestles with the Gender Structure? (Oxford University Press, 2018), Risman revises her theory of gender as a social structure explicitly addressing how cultural meanings can be differentiated from the material dimension at each level of the gender structure.

Finding Yourself: Drag Kinging as a Resource

 

By Baker A. Rogers

            It’s drag king night at the queer bar in Columbia, SC. This is primarily a gay men’s bar, but since the lesbian bars closed it is the only queer bar left in the city. The bar is long and narrow and you have to climb up 35 steps to reach the door, it is hidden away in the back of a tall brick building. Locals refer to it as the “trailer in the sky.” There is a wooden bar down the left side stocked with cheap liquor, dancing blocks (for scantily clad men) on the right, and a small stage directly in front. The atmosphere is dark; everything is black with red accent lights. To lighten the cave-like space, there are strobe lights, a disco ball, a rainbow painted on the wall, and lots of mirrors.

            Drag kings—who perform masculinity in the context of a show or contest—dress in masculine attire and attempt to hide any aspects of femininity that may disrupt their performance. For some this means, binding or taping down breasts, applying facial hair, and maybe wearing a packer to give the appearance of having a penis. The drag king show is scheduled to start at 10:30pm and there are about 25 people in the bar. They signal the start of the show with the song “Drag King Bar” by Bitch and Animal. I recommend listening to it online, it’s pretty funny!

image 1_rogers
Lady Gaga in Drag – Google Free Use Photo

  This is a typical scene for drag king shows in the South. A small, dark bar tucked away from major areas. Contrary to what many believe, there is a thriving, though mostly underground, queer culture in the South. I have been a part of this culture in various locations around the region and even performed drag in South Carolina and Mississippi. By performing drag, I was able to try on a different gender identity than I was allowed in my everyday life. At this time, I had already starting wearing mostly men’s clothing, but I still had long hair and appeared fairly feminine. Being able to experience what it felt like to be a man, even if just for a couple hours really opened my eyes more to my own gender identity and how gender is largely a performance. With these new experiences and my own changing identity, I began graduate school at Mississippi State University eager to explore gender and sexuality in the South. This is when I began my examination of drag.

            My research about drag kings, trans* men, and non-binary people has led me to some interesting findings about gender and sexuality in the South. In my article, “Drag as a Resource: Trans* and Non-Binary Individuals in the Southeastern United States,” published in Gender & Society’s December 2018 edition, I discuss some of my findings about how drag can be a beneficial resource in the South for trans* and non-binary people. For this study, I interviewed 32 trans* and non-binary drag kings in the South to examine how they use drag as a resource to explore gender identity and find resources for gender transition. I highlight the importance of geographic location on attitudes about gender and resources available to trans* men and non-binary people. In contrast to other areas of the country, trans* and non-binary drag kings in the Southeast use drag as a place to explore a “felt” identity that is stifled in the broader culture.

            While other areas of the country, such as the Northeast and Pacific Northwest in particular, are expanding rights and resources for trans* and non-binary people, the Southeast continues to be an often-hostile environment for anyone who is gender non-conforming. The increased transphobia and homophobia in the South mean that there are less rights and resources for trans* and non-binary people. To make matters even worse, some Southern states are actively trying to reverse the rights provided to trans* and non-binary people.

            Drag is a safe haven for many trans* and non-binary people trying to navigate the Southeast. By playing with gender, drag kings are able to explore an identity that is often silenced by their families, schools, churches, and communities. Most of the drag kings in this study felt they were always a gender other than what they were assigned at birth, but they were able to discover that identity through drag. Additionally, through networking with other drag kings, trans* and non-binary individuals are able to locate appropriate resources to meet their needs. Drag kings act as mentors to one another, recommend healthcare providers who are knowledgeable about trans* issues, and provide much needed support. As one drag king, Skyler D. Light, a 29-year-old trans male, put it, “I knew I wanted to transition before I even started drag, but I needed guidance and a slow/steady path to explore my identity.” While drag is an excellent resource and a fun way to play with gender, it should not be the only place to explore gender and find resources for gender transition in the South.

            If you live in the South and identify as transgender or non-binary, or are just in need of more information about gender, here are a few places you can start if you’re not into drag:

Baker A. Rogers (formerly Ashley A. Baker) is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Georgia Southern University. Their research and teaching focuses on inequality, specifically examining the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion. Their work is published in Sexualities, Review of Religious Research, and Feminist Teacher.

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Transgender and Non-Binary Gender Identities

UPDATED Dec. 2018

The following Gender & Society articles are the journal’s most recently published pieces that focus on the growing scholarship on transgender and non-binary gender identities.  As this body of scholarly literature continues to grow, as will this list of articles that may be used as supplements to other readings in the classroom.

Garrison, Spencer. 2018. On the Limits of “Trans Enough”: Authenticating Trans Identity Narratives. Gender & Society. 32 (5): 613-637.

Existing (binary) understandings of gender affirm some types of gendered accounts as “authentic,” while others are discredited or obscured. As a consequence, many transgender people express anxiety about whether their experience of gender can be distilled into a narrative that is intelligible to others and appears consistent over time. In this article, I assess the identity narratives produced by two cohorts of trans respondents—binary-identified respondents, and non-binary respondents—as a means of understanding the narrative strategies that respondents employ to establish themselves as “authentically” trans. To affirm themselves as trans, I find that non-binary participants tended to elide or to minimize potential inconsistencies in their stories, producing narratives that reflect dominant cultural accounts of trans experience—accounts that center an early-childhood affiliation with the “opposite” sex, endorsing and affirming binary gender distinctions. In turn, binary-identified participants often produced accounts that complicated or questioned these tropes. While non-binary individuals have been hailed as the primary arbiters of gender’s undoing, the social and institutional constraints that inform how we account for gender—which shape both our production of those accounts and others’ interpretations of them—suggest that binary-identified respondents may be better positioned to work towards this “undoing” than their non-binary counterparts.

Rogers, Baker A. 2018. Drag as a Resource: Trans* and Nonbinary Individuals in the Southeastern United States. Gender & Society. 32 (6): 889-910.

Through 32 in-depth surveys with drag kings, I ask how do trans*/nonbinary individuals find a way to make a home in the Southeastern United States? I answer this by examining the use of drag kinging as a resource to explore gender identity and find resources for gender transition. This study adds to previous research on drag kinging by expanding beyond large cities and college towns to include a broader look at the Southeast, where queer lives have often been rendered invisible. I highlight the importance of geographic location on attitudes about gender and resources available to trans*/nonbinary people. In contrast to other areas of the country, trans*/nonbinary drag kings in the Southeast use drag as a place to explore a “felt” identity that is stifled in the broader culture.

Nisar, Muhammad Azfar. 2018. (Un)Becoming a Man: Legal Consciousness of the Third Gender Category in Pakistan. Gender & Society 32 (1): 59-81.

In the past decade, a few countries have created a third gender category to legally recognize gender-nonconforming individuals. However, we know relatively little about the response of the gender-nonconforming individuals toward the legal third gender category. To address this gap, this article analyzes the different social, religious, and institutional discourses that have emerged around the recently created third gender category in Pakistan and their influence on the legal consciousness of the Khawaja Sira community, a marginalized gender-nonconforming group. Even though the third gender category was created to address the unique gender identity of the Khawaja Sira community, most continue to legally register as men. My research indicates that the patriarchal stigma, high compliance costs, and limited material benefits associated with the legal third gender category dissuade the Khawaja Sira community from choosing to register. My findings point to the limitations of a legal third gender category within a patriarchal sociolegal order where important benefits associated with the masculine identity are forfeited by registering. In doing so, I caution against over emphasizing the symbolic value of legal recognition for gender-nonconforming groups.

shuster, stef. 2017. Punctuating Accountability: How Discursive Aggression Regulates Transgender People. Gender & Society 31 (4): 481-502. 

Using in-depth interviews with forty transgender people, I explore “discursive aggression,” a term for the communicative acts used in social interaction to hold people accountable to social- and cultural-based expectations, and subsequently to reinforce inequality in everyday life. I show how these interactional affronts restore social order, are based in dominant language systems, and reflect expectations for how interactions should unfold. Gendered expectations—such as the assumption that gender is identifiable based on visual cues alone—come to life through language, are delivered through discursive aggression, and become routinized micro-inequalities that people negotiate in interaction. I present five vignettes to exemplify how discursive aggression typically unfolds in interaction. In so doing, this research demonstrates the value of discursive aggression as a concept to capture a pervasive, yet under-examined, feature of everyday life and a mechanism for how power is reified in interaction.

Nanney, Megan and David L. Brunsma. 2017. Moving Beyond Cis-terhood: Determining Gender through Transgender Admittance Policies at U.S. Women’s Colleges. Gender & Society 31 (1): 145-170.

In 2013, controversy sparked student protests, campus debates, and national attention when Smith College denied admittance to Calliope Wong—a trans woman. Since then, eight women’s colleges have revised their admissions policies to include different gender identities such as trans women and genderqueer people. Given the recency of such policies, we interrogate the ways the category “woman” is determined through certain alignments of biology-, legal-, and identity-based criteria. Through an inductive analysis of administrative scripts appearing both in student newspapers and in trans admittance policies, we highlight two areas U.S. women’s colleges straddle while creating these policies: inclusion/exclusion scripts of self-identification and legal documentation, and tradition-/activism-speak. Through these tensions, women’s college admittance policies not only construct “womanhood” but also serve as regulatory norms that redo gender as a structuring agent within the gendered organization.

Davis, Georgiann, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy. 2016. Giving sex: Deconstructing intersex and trans medicalization practices. Gender & Society 30 (3): 490-514.

Although medical providers rely on similar tools to “treat” intersex and trans individuals, their enactment of medicalization practices varies. To deconstruct these complexities, we employ a comparative analysis of providers who specialize in intersex and trans medicine. While both sets of providers tend to hold essentialist ideologies about sex, gender, and sexuality, we argue they medicalize intersex and trans embodiments in different ways. Providers for intersex people are inclined to approach intersex as an emergency that necessitates medical attention, whereas providers for trans people attempt to slow down their patients’ urgent requests for transitioning services. Building on conceptualizations of “giving gender,” we contend both sets of providers “give gender” by “giving sex.” In both cases too, providers shift their own responsibility for their medicalization practices onto others: parents in the case of intersex, or adult recipients of care in the case of trans. According to the accounts of most providers, successful medical interventions are achieved when a person adheres to heteronormative gender practices.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 2016. Forty Years after Brownmiller prisons for men, transgender inmates, and the rape of the feminine. Gender & Society 30 (1): 14-29.

In this essay, we draw on a growing body of research, including our own work recently published in this journal, to consider the social organization of prison rape as it relates to transgender women. Just as Brownmiller (1975) focused attention on rape as a male prerogative, a weapon of force against women, and an agent of fear, our central focus is on “the rape of the feminine” in the context of prisons for men and with an eye toward the intersection of the state and violence. In the next section, we inventory some alarming facts about the rape of transgender women in carceral environments built for men (and only men). Thereafter, we describe and theorize the unique space and social relations in which this type of rape emerges in relation to the social organization of gender in prison. We conclude with comments about the relationship between embodiment, gender, and the rape of the feminine in a carceral context.

 ILLUSTRATION BY Phoebe Helander

Gender in Cross-Cultural Perspective: From Japan’s Temporary Dispatched Workers to China’s Migrant Domestic Workers

By Huiyan Fu

This article will be available for free access through SAGE until December 15, 2018.

Gender, precarious work and social inequalities are the center of my academic interests. During my doctoral studies, I conducted year-long fieldwork research on agency-mediated temps or ‘dispatched workers’ inside two Japanese business organisations. Dispatched and other insecure and low-paid employment categories in Japan are predominately female; around 70 percent are occupied by women. Despite their enduring and growing work participation, Japanese women are shunted to the labour market periphery. Many face tremendous barriers to full-time career development. This distinct gendered pattern of precarious work in Japan provides me with valuable insights into China’s expanding domestic care industry that relies heavily on migrant women from rural areas, known as ‘floating population’.

My research journey from Japan to China sheds light on both similarities and differences regarding gender and precarious work. In Japan, partly because of the country’s strict immigration policies, women have long been used to fill a large and increasing demand for cheap, disposable labour from the post-war growth decades to the post-bubble era. By contrast, in China, rural migrants have shouldered an excessive burden of precarious, low-paid and low-status jobs since Deng’s open-door reform. Both labour categories serve as a powerful yet hidden engine that has produced extraordinary rates of economic growth. What strikes me as particularly interesting is the crucial, but often overlooked role of culture in legitimizing and maintaining such gendered or citizenship-based employment dualism and social inequalities.

In Japan, Confucianism-informed gender and family values are deeply embedded in the fabric of society. Key to these values are women’s family role as ‘good wife, wise mother’ (ryōsai kenbo) and men’s breadwinner responsibilities as ‘a central supporting pillar’ (daikokubashira) in the traditional household. Despite changing socio-economic conditions, government policies, employment regulations and businesses continue to relegate Japanese women to the margins of political-economic life as part-time wage workers and full-time family care-givers. The pervasiveness and persistence of this male breadwinner, female homemaker model poses serious barriers to everyday negotiations of gender norms. During my fieldwork, I found that dispatched workers had to deal with both gender- and employment-based restrictions; to be sure, being a female and non-regular worker in the Japanese male-dominated workplace subjected many to a web of discrimination, subordination and harassment.

In China, Confucian gender norms are not the most prominent factor in shaping the development of previous work. Rather, it is the country’s hùkŏu (household registration) system that has played a central role in driving rural-to-urban migration processes and worsening existing inequalities. For migrant domestic workers, their second-class hùkŏu status makes them vulnerable to not only employer exploitative and discriminative practices but also hostility and alienation from wider society. Adding to this is long-existing cultural stigma attached to domestic workers such as nannies (āyí or băomŭ) whose subservient ‘servant’ status and undervalued female care hark back to Confucian hierarchical and patriarchal values. It is worth noting that government policies and corporate practices, which place a distinctive emphasis on the professional training of domestic workers, tend to normalize, rather than contest, such values. Similar to Japan, the underlying taken-for-granted assumption is gendered familialism, which assumes that care is primarily a female and familial responsibility. This in turn reinforces women’s inferior positions and self-sacrificing obligations in the Confucian patriarchal family as a devoted mother, a dutiful wife and a filial daughter. Thus, for migrant women, their reproductive labour as domestic care workers is exposed to both hùkŏu– and gender-based prejudice, entrapment and exploitation.

Comparing Japanese temporary dispatched workers and Chinese migrant domestic workers makes me realize the importance of investigating the simultaneous operation of gender and other dimensions of oppression in society, such as employment status, citizenship, marital status, age, ethnicity, race and class. The complex conditions of inequality facing individuals in real life go beyond simple dichotomies involved in traditional gender or class analysis. Another insight gained from the Japan-China comparison is concerned with the role of culture or tradition, which deserves special attention. In both countries, the Confucian doctrine of womanhood and family remains entrenched; it is intricately interconnected with, and often instrumentally used by the ruling elite to legitimize, political and economic processes. As indicated in the conclusion of the article on ‘selling motherhood’, these perspectives are useful for thinking more inclusively about the oppression and resistance that people experience in the workplace, the family and wider society across different national contexts.

Huiyan Fu (PhD, Social Anthropology, University of Oxford) is Senior Lecture at the University of Essex. She is the author of An Emerging Non-Regular Labour Force in Japan: The Dignity of Dispatched Workers (Routledge, 2011) and the editor of Temporary Agency Work and Globalisation: Beyond Flexibility and Inequality (Routledge, 2015). She is currently working on a new book entitled Temps and Giggers: The Changing World of Work in China and Japan.

Teaching about Gender-Based Violence in Schools

 

By Garnett Russell, Julia C. Lerch,  and Chirstine Min Wotipka

According to United Nations estimates, more than a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives (UN Women 2015). In some countries, more than three quarters of women have experienced sexual or gender-based violence (GBV). Long before the #MeToo movement, feminist scholars and activists focused on gender-based violence as a core feature of gender inequality. As more young people and students get involved in the movement around the world, to what extent are students taught about GBV in schools?

We view schools as important sites of socialization for future generations and to address gender inequalities. However, at the same time, schools are inherently gendered institutions reinforcing a patriarchal notion of the state and unequal power relations. Given that discussing sex or related topics such as GBV was and continues to be taboo across many cultures, we aim to examine whether and how discussions of GBV are incorporated into school curricula and textbooks. In our research, we investigate the extent to which textbooks from countries around the world incorporate mentions of GBV. We quantitatively analyze data coded from more than 500 textbooks from 76 countries to understand what factors explain discussions of GBV in textbooks.

We see textbooks as artifacts of the state and indicative of the civic values and cultural norms around gender equality that the state endorses. Consequently, what is included in textbooks is important in changing or reinforcing patriarchal norms and practices in society more broadly.

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In our research we argue that GBV is incorporated into textbooks due to the influence of the women’s human rights movement and the radical feminist reframing of GBV as a human rights violation, as well as the incorporation of taboo topics around sex into school curricula. We argue that the growing attention to GBV in the 1990s was linked to broader concerns around human rights and development. In particular, the framing of women’s rights as human rights in the Declaration against Violence against Women (DEWAV), but also the growing attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis allowed for GBV to be brought to the forefront as a human rights issue. GBV is now framed as a human rights violation and a global social problem.

We find that discussions of GBV are more common after 1993, when DEWAV was issued. While textbooks hardly mentioned GBV in the 1950s and 60s, by the 1990s, 20 percent of countries in our sample mentioned GBV in their textbooks; this number was close to 30% of countries in the last period of analysis (2005-2011).

Surprisingly, incorporation of GBV as a topic in textbooks is evident across books from both Western and Non-Western countries, and is actually more common in books from Non-Western countries. This may be due to the relevance of GBV in recent years in countries affected by violent conflict and mass rape, such as in Rwanda, or domestic violence in the Latin American context and the urgency to address these topics.

Despite the rising trends of including GBV, our analysis also shows that many countries still do not discuss GBV in their textbooks. Thus, more attention should be given to the importance of schools, curricula, and textbooks in teaching youth about GBV.

In addition, we find that GBV is more common in textbooks that also discuss women’s rights and is thus clearly framed as a human rights issue. We also find that GBV is more visible in textbooks from countries linked to the global women’s movement through non-governmental organizations and conferences. Contrary to what one might expect, countries with more violence against women (measured by female homicide rates) or stronger civil liberties for women are not necessarily more likely to discuss GBV in their texts.

Our research demonstrates the importance not only of highlighting the prevalence of GBV and sharing stories of sexual assault and harassment but also the need to address the social structure, norms, and beliefs that sustain GBV. Education has a potentially critical role to play not only in raising awareness but in shifting attitudes around gender-based violence across diverse contexts.

Garnett Russell is an Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Director of the George Clement Bond Center for African Education. Her research focuses on human rights, gender, and citizenship in conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts. Recent publications appear in Social Forces, Comparative Education Review, International Sociology, and International Studies Quarterly. Her book on how education is used for peacebuilding and reconciliation in Rwanda is forthcoming with Rutgers University Press.

Julia C. Lerch is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on the sociology of education and comparative sociology. Current projects examine the provision of education in humanitarian emergencies and the influence of the global institutional environment on school curricula worldwide. Recent publications appear in Social ForcesInternational SociologyGlobalisation, Societies, and Education, and the European Journal of Education.

Christine Min Wotipka is Associate Professor (Teaching) of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology at Stanford University. Her research centers around two main themes examined from cross-national and longitudinal approaches. The first relates to gender and higher education, namely women in faculty positions. The second explores the incorporation of women, children, and human rights issues in school textbooks. Her articles have appeared in Social ForcesSociology of EducationFeminist Formations, and Comparative Education Review.