Upstream vs. Downstream

By Martha McCaughey *

It’s amazing what we learn when we read outside our field.  A 2015 article by William Scott (here), reveals that those engaged with sustainable development efforts face many of the challenges those of us doing sexual assault prevention face.

Specifically, Scott and his colleagues feel that they’ve done too much “downstream remedial” work (measures that deal with the consequences of harm) and not enough “upstream prevention” work (interventions to address the underlying causes of problems).  Sound familiar?

Scott describes an N.E.F. report, which “argues for prevention, and says that bottom-up prevention is best, with people and organisations becoming more resilient: building up their own immune systems, both literally and metaphorically, so that they become less susceptible to harm, changing attitudes and capabilities so that they are better able to take positive actions themselves.”

This is very much our approach with empowerment-based self-defense training. But just as with the other SD (sustainable development), with SD (self-defense) we find rather dramatic disagreement over whether it’s downstream remedial or upstream prevention. In fact, many feminists who are strongly interested in dismantling our rape culture do not emphasize SD on the grounds that it’s downstream remedial. We have long argued that SD can best be understood as upstream preventative.

According to Scott, that logic of prevention in sustainability education contradicts the “rescue principle” of so much philanthropy, charity, and health care.  Rescuing people downstream can feel good but does not do the upstream prevention we need done.  In that same way, bystander intervention programs, counseling services for victims, and training people to emphasize reporting on campus or in the workplace embody the rescue principle in rape prevention and education work.

Interestingly, Scott points out that many individuals and families are making efforts for sustainability, for instance by setting up a solar PV system.  At the same time, only government can bring about macro-level change through “policy shifts, regulatory change, economic levers, and investment activity, for example.”

We, too, want macro-level change to the rape culture, and yet we also think individuals and groups practicing empowerment-based self-defense move us beyond the rescue principle and serves the effort of upstream prevention.  Training women in self-defense may not be like taking the carbon out of electricity production, but it is at least as compelling as setting up your own solar PV system.  We must do both for true prevention and social change.  Self-defense training builds women up so that they are less susceptible to harm.  Surely there’s no harm in that, other than to the rape culture.

* Cross-posted with permission from See Jane Fight Back!

Martha McCaughey is Professor of Sociology at Appalachian State University. She is the author of several books and articles concerning the intersections between gender, sexuality, science, technology, social movements, and the media. Martha is currently writing a book called Sexy Knowledge, an autobiographical account of the tensions in women’s studies. She is also writing, with Neva Specht, Greater Expectations, a study of women’s changing expectations and experiences of male co-parents. 

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This Is What Women Are Forced To Do To Avoid Street Harassment

By: Tara Culp-Ressler

Cross-posted with permission from ThinkProgress here.

The street harassment that plagues U.S. women in public spaces has far-reaching consequences for those women’s personal lives, according to new survey data released by the international nonprofit Hollaback!.

The survey, which polled more than 4,800 people living in the United States, found that the threat of street harassment results in a heightened level of fear and anxiety that can end up distracting women when they’re at work or school. It also leads many people to change their behavior in ways they otherwise wouldn’t have. Continue reading

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Anti-LGBT Activism: Same As It Ever Was

By Tina Fetner

Mary Bernstein’s 2015 address in the June 29 (3) issue of Gender & Society asks “what is next?” for the LGBT movement, now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage throughout the United States. As someone who has studied the anti-LGBT activism of the religious right (Fetner, 2008), I would put Bernstein’s question to this movement as well: what will the religious right do now that they have lost their 20-year battle against same-sex marriage in the United States? Indeed, they have already begun a new wave of activism to marginalize LGBT people and deny these groups equal rights, and it looks very similar to their activism of the past.

Anita BryantIn 1977, Anita Bryant formed the first anti-gay organization to fight against equal rights for lesbians and gay men. She named her organization “Save Our Children,” and she claimed that gay men were sexual predators. The goal of gay activists, she argued, was to have access to children so that they could sexually abuse them and “recruit” them into the gay “lifestyle.” According to Bryant and other anti-gay activists of her era, LGBT anti-discrimination bills guaranteed access to children, mostly because they prevented schools from firing gay teachers. Bryant’s organization was on the forefront of anti-gay activism of the religious right, and from the start, this activism cultivated fear out of lies about sexual violence. Continue reading

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Gender & Society podcasts: iTunes

Gender & Society podcasts can now be found on iTunes here. Free.

Note, in particular, author interviews from the “Theorizing Rape through Time, Place and Relations” February 2016 30 (1)  issue:

  • Nicola Henry
  • C.J. Pascoe and Jocelyn Hollander
  • Patricia Yancey Martin
  • Nancy Whittier

Book review podcasts are also now available through iTunes.

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Raising the Ceiling and the Floor: the fight for fair pay in women’s soccer

By Rachel Allison * 

As a new season opens for the National Women’s Soccer League, five of its star players, who are also members of the national team, are in the news after filing a federal wage discrimination complaint against U.S. Soccer. The five players – Carli Lloyd of the Houston Dash, Becky Sauerbrunn of Kansas City FC, Alex Morgan of the Orlando Pride, and Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe of Seattle Reign – contend that they are paid a fraction of what players on the men’s team earn, even though they have had greater on-field success and drawn larger television audiences for their big matches. As a scholar of women’s soccer, Rachel Allison applauds these players’ campaign for greater pay equity. But she also notes that the fight for fair pay has to include their teammates in the NWSL, who take the field for poverty-level wages. 


Alyssa Naeher takes a goal kick for the Boston Breakers in the 2015 NWSL season (Victor Araiza/Flickr)

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) begins its fourth season this coming weekend. With a new team, the Orlando Pride, starting this season, the expanded league will open play with ten clubs. Seattle Reign FC enters the season defending the NWSL Shield, having finished last year at the top of the league standings, while Kansas City FC looks to win the league playoffs for the third year in a row.

Though still a fledgling association, the NWSL will hit a longevity benchmark not enjoyed by either of its two predecessor leagues in women’s professional soccer. Both the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA, 2001-2003) and Women’s Professional Soccer (WPS, 2009-2012) each folded after three seasons. What has distinguished the NWSL’s operations is the involvement of soccer federations in the US, Canada, and Mexico, as well as Major League Soccer (MLS).

The season kicks off amid conflict between U.S. Soccer and the league’s star players who are members of the national team. National team players brought attention last year to unequal, unsafe field conditions, calling for elimination of the “grass ceiling.” More recently, players have turned to the issue of compensation. Within an ongoing legal dispute between U.S. Soccer and the player’s union, five well-known members of the national team filed a complaint of wage discrimination on March 31 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The hashtag #FairPlayFairPay summarizes their argument: women’s players on the national team are required to perform the same job, but for far less than their counterparts on the men’s side. The debate currently unfolding is whether U.S. Soccer, as a nonprofit organization, can take revenue into account in determining compensation for players on the men’s and women’s teams, and if so, how it does this. The likely outcome is a substantially improved compensation package for the women. Continue reading

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Even the Thought of Earning Less than Their Wives Changes How Men Behave

By Dan Cassino * 

Masculinity is a fragile thing. Volumes of research in sociology and political science over the past 20 years have shown that men often react in surprisingly strong ways to what they see as threats to their masculine identities. These reactions are most visible in the political world, but they can take place at home and in the office as well, and can potentially contribute to a toxic work environment.

A notable recent example of how men react to a threat to their masculinity comes from a survey experiment that I carried out with my colleagues at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind poll. The experiment was embedded in a standard political survey with one unusual question, which asked married or cohabitating respondents if they earned more, less, or about the same as their spouses. Half of the respondents were randomly assigned to get this question early on in the survey, and half were assigned to get it only at the end of the survey.

Now, this question wasn’t there because we cared about the actual answers. We know that about 15% of U.S. men make less than their spouses do — a figure that’s highly dependent on age, with younger men being much more likely than older men to earn the same or less than their spouses. The reason we asked the question was to push men to think about potential threats to their gender roles. Being the breadwinner has been a linchpin of U.S. men’s masculinity for decades, so even the potential of making less than one’s spouse threatens accepted gender roles. Continue reading

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“Cloudy Visibility”: Men’s inner emotional lives are more complicated than you might think

By Joseph R. Schwab, Michael E. Addis, Christopher S. Reigeluth, and Joshua L. Berger

Stereotypes of men tell us that they are stoic, unemotional, and in general not very interested in talking about their feelings. This is what women do, so the stereotype goes, and men are often assumed to be uninterested in engaging with the “feminine” side of life. And as stereotypes go, many of us are guilty of perpetuating this assumption about men’s inner emotional lives. We may not ask men about difficulties they may have recently experienced, or about “softer” emotions like sadness, grief, loneliness, or anxiety. Men themselves also perpetuate this stereotype by not talking to other people about the struggles they may be experiencing in order to appear strong and appropriately masculine.

Man walking

But if you talk to men about their emotional struggles––really sit down with them and ask the tough, introspective questions about what’s going on emotionally for them––you might be surprised by what they say. We recently did this in a study interviewing white adult men in the Northeast United States who were relatively educated and affluent. All of the men we interviewed had recently gone through a difficult life event, such as divorce, job loss, or severe illness, and we asked them questions about what that experience was like and who they talked to about it. What we found was a complicated picture of men both fulfilling the stereotype we have of them by not dealing with and talking about their feelings, while at the same time also counteracting that stereotype by openly expressing emotions about the difficulties they recently faced. What was most interesting about our findings is that every man we spoke with displayed both expression and concealment of emotion within the same interview. Continue reading

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April 19, 2016 · 8:55 am

An Asian American Mother’s Question to Chris Rock and the Academy

By Gender & Society editorial board member, Miliann Kang *

A screengrab via Inside Edition's YouTube page.
A screengrab via Inside Edition’s YouTube page.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences issued a statement two days ago regarding offensive jokes about Asians at the Oscars over two weeks ago. It was a kinda-sorta-apology, although an underwhelming one at best. Actor George Takei referred to it as patronizing.

I’m proud that twenty-five Academy members of Asian descent, including Takei, director Ang Lee, actor Sandra Oh and documentary maker Freida Lee Mock, wrote a joint letter that influenced this apologetic gesture. It takes some of the sting out, but not all of it. I wish for a more full-throated apology from the Academy, and that Chris Rock and Sacha Baron Cohen would apologize too.

Many Asian Americans have already commented incisively about the racist jokes toward Asian Americans at the Oscars—including Asian American bloggers and organizationsTwitter, and public figures such as Jeremy Lin and Constance Wu.

What I offer here is less media analysis, and more mother love, or ache. For my own child, and for all the other Asian American children who watched three children who looked like them being made fun of on a world stage. Continue reading

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Don’t blame it on the family: The myth of family plans and the reproduction of occupational gender segregation

By Erin A. Cech 

Despite growing support for gender parity in the workforce, many occupations still continue to be comprised of mostly men or mostly women. Because women-dominated occupations tend to be accompanied by less pay and prestige, the persistence of occupational gender segregation in the U.S. labor market helps reinforce gender inequality more broadly.

A number of prominent theories in the social sciences have attempted to explain the endurance of this segregation by pointing to the work-family nexus. Many such theories assert that women who plan to have children incorporate anticipated caregiving responsibilities into their initial selection of occupations, tending to choose women-dominated fields assumed to be more flexible than men-dominated fields. Men who anticipate families, on the other hand, choose men-dominated fields assumed to maximize lifetime earnings and be conducive to a provider role.

This “family plans thesis” has traction in public discourse about the “opt-out revolution”, the “planning generation,” and whether women can really “have it all.” Threaded through these arguments are assumptions about men’s and women’s “biological realities” which make such choices appear natural and inevitable. Continue reading

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An “End” to China’s One Child Policy?

By Amy Hanser & Jialin Camille Li

China-one babyIn October 2015, the Chinese government announced new changes to the country’s birth planning policy, now allowing all couples to have two children.  This change, widely characterized outside of China as an “end” to the “one child policy,” was in fact just the most recent loosening of a policy that has historically been far more complex than simply limiting all Chinese families to a single child.  The motive behind the elimination of the single-child limit, as well as many of the earlier alterations to the policy that had already expanded the types of families allowed to have two children, has been concern about China’s rapidly aging population and the demographic imbalance that will result, as an increasingly elderly population must be supported by a (relatively) smaller working-age population.  While this is not a challenge unique to China, the aging population is understood to be a direct consequence of restrictive family planning policies that purportedly produced a rapid decline in fertility and by extension this demographic imbalance. If restricting family size  to a single child is the cause of the problem, then logically the solution lay in the policy change to allow families to have two children (and encouraged to do so with expanded maternity leave). Ironically, this policy change harkens back to the early 1970s, when the country introduced a two-child limit which was considered the appropriate size for urban families. Continue reading

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