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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.