Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Immigration

This collection of articles provides analyses of how gender informs the migration process, produces new gendered outcomes and relationships, and how men and women navigate their lives as (im)migrants. Gender is central to all the research here, but gendered processes, outcomes, and experiences are shaped by the state, work, and family, as well as the intersectional identities of (im)migrants. Spanning research from several countries, these articles will prompt students to question conventional notions on how, for instance, migration leads to gendered empowerment or how human rights-based measures are automatically beneficial for immigrant women. This research also provides insights on how the consequences of migration also provide new gendered opportunities for experiencing masculinity, re-arranging care work, and creating more sustainable and supportive communities. Despite these opportunities, migration and immigration (enforcement) policies also have its costs; the article on immigrant organizing against deportation and research on migrant domestic workers underscore the enduring struggle for legibility and mobility.

Andrews, Abigail. 2014. Women’s political engagement in a Mexican sending community: Migration as crisis and the struggle to sustain an alternative. Gender & Society 28 (4): 583-608.

This article demonstrates how Mexican women’s migration to the U.S., and subsequent return migration creates new gendered opportunities for women to become politically engaged in sustaining their communities of origin. This article includes a wide array of data, including participant observation, 51 life story interviews with Mexican Mixtec men and women in Vista, California and San Miguel, Mexico, and survey data. Faced with the ‘crisis’ of living undocumented lives in the U.S., many migrant women returned back home to help build sustainable communities through civic participation, which was previously limited to men. Women’s increased participation in these spaces were successful, newly acceptable and often, necessary as many migrant men remained in the U.S. to fulfill breadwinning duties. This article lends insights on how hostile contexts of reception and subsequent return migration creates gendered consequences and new opportunities for survival.

Das Gupta, Monisha. 2014. “Don’t deport our daddies”: Gendering state deportation practices and immigrant organizing. Gender & Society 28 (1): 83-109.

This article focuses on Families for Freedom (FFF), a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting families that have deported or deportable immigrant fathers with criminal convictions. Das Gupta expertly outlines how researchers and activists have often relied on the affective pull of heterosexual family ties to challenge deportation. The data for this study includes personal narratives, or testimonios and interviews with members of FFF and the New York chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement. Das Gupta finds that FFF testimonios protest deportation by placing an emphasis on the emotional, care and parenting work that fathers provide for their families. Interviews with FFF leaders also reveal the strategies the organization must use to build solidarity and make criminalized fathers legible. Aside from the research and arguments presented, students will likely benefit from reading Das Gupta’s useful background on contemporary immigration and deportation policies.

Choo, Hae Yeon. 2013. The cost of rights: Migrant women, feminist advocacy, and gendered morality in South Korea. Gender & Society 27 (4): 445-468.

Focusing on frameworks of citizenship, this paper explores how feminist organizations in South Korea used a discourse of victimization and human trafficking to argue for human rights-based provisions for marriage migrants and migrant women working as hostesses. Choo’s data includes extensive fieldwork with Korean migrant advocacy organizations and Filipino migrant communities. Choo finds that migrant women in her study did not pursue human rights-based provisions because doing so would contradict the moral and stigma-reducing logics they have assigned to their relationships and work. Claiming victimhood to access human-rights provisions, in some cases, also appeared to make less economic sense. Highlighting immigrant women’s agency, this research illustrates how there can be a cost to accessing certain rights.

De Regt, Marina. 2010. Ways to come, ways to leave: Gender, mobility, and il/legality among Ethiopian domestic workers in Yemen. Gender & Society 24 (2): 237-260.

Recognizing the dearth of literature on migrant domestic workers in the Middle East outside of research exclusively on exploitation or violence, this article focuses on how gender shapes the migration trajectory of migrant domestic workers and how (il)legality subsequently impacts their mobility. Spanning more than a ten-year period, the data for this article includes extensive fieldwork and interviews with Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in Yemen. Students may appreciate reading interview narratives that demonstrate how the pre-migration options have important consequences for migration. Migrant women recruited through family members often experience more mobility compared to women who are recruited through agencies as contract workers.

Schmalzbauer, Leah. 2009. Gender on a new frontier: Mexican migration in the rural mountain West. Gender & Society 23 (6): 747-767.

Challenging the notion that migration is always empowering for women, this article provides important insights on how the context of reception matters for how migrants experience their new lives and gendered relationships. Pulled from ethnographic data gathered in rural Montana, Schmalzbauer demonstrates that the process of migration and settlement in Montana reproduces gendered relationships between partners that typically impacts women in a negative way. The lack of available jobs for women means migrant Mexican women are relegated to the home, even when they may have had previous work experience. Women are further socially confined because of the geography of the area and limited public transportation. As a destination with few migrants, Mexican women also feel their presence is especially highlighted in public places which is an especially dangerous problem for undocumented women. Despite these issues, for those with children and experience living in high-crime urban areas, the area represents a safer place to raise their children.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Cassaundra Rodriguez, University of Massachusetts. Comments or suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu

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Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Bodies and Embodiment

 

These articles are offered as resources for courses that address gender, the body and embodiment. They approach the topic from a variety of perspectives and identity and are useful in disrupting assumptions about sex, gender and the body.

Mora, Richard. 2012. “Do it for your pubic hairs!”: Latino boys, masculinity and puberty. Gender & Society 26 (3): 433-460.

This article highlights the embodied experiences of Puerto Rican and Dominican adolescences. Through ethnographic research, the body becomes the central way boys in puberty understand their masculinity and social world. The author examines how the boys construct masculinity through social practices and interactions that directly reference their changing bodies. Due to the research subjects’ positionality as second generation immigrants, they construct a masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength.

Hammer, Gili. 2012. Blind women’s appearance management: Negotiating normalcy between discipline and pleasure. Gender & Society 26 (3): 406-432.

This article discusses how blind women use appearance management and use their body as a tool to disrupt or reject stigmatizing beliefs about themselves made by society. The author confronts how most literature about women’s appearance focuses on visual interactions where women “see and are seen” with them taking an active role in using sight with these interactions, which ultimately leaves out how disabled blind women negotiate these interactions. What she found were women taking on a visibility politic that challenged normative beliefs about how blind women perform or embody femininity to actively challenge how others view them.

Schrock, Douglas, Lori Reid, and Emily M. Boyd. 2005. Transsexuals’ embodiment of womanhood. Gender & Society 19 (3): 317-355.

This article draws on in-depth interviews with nine white, middle-class, male-to-female transsexuals to examine how they produce and experience bodily transformation. Interviewees’ bodywork entailed retraining, redecorating, and reshaping the physical body, which shaped their feelings, role taking, and self-monitoring. These analyses make three contributions: They offer support for a perspective that embodies gender, further transsexual scholarship, and contribute to feminist debate over the sex/gender distinction. The authors conclude by exploring how viewing gender as embodied could influence medical discourse on transsexualism and have personal and political consequences for transsexuals.

Hennen, Peter. 2005. Bear bodies, bear masculinity: Recuperation, resistance, or retreat? Gender & Society 19 (1): 25-41.

Looking into the subculture of Bear communities, this article takes a look at how gay men embody Bear culture through resistance against stereotypical association of homosexuality with effeminacy by embracing larger, fleshy hairy bodies. This article also discusses how Bears look, act and perform masculinity within the subculture. By looking at how Bear embodiment is performed, Hennen shows that while Bears can be subversive in challenging normative forms of masculinity they still repurpose it as an attempt to form normalization.

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. 2003. Strong and large black women?: Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender & Society 17 (1): 111-121.

This article questions the societal and cultural image of Black women as strong and suggests that this seemingly affirming portrayal is derived from a discourse of enslaved women’s deviance. In highlighting connections between perceived strength and physical size among Black women, the analysis extends current feminist theory by considering the ways in which the weight many strong African American women carry is reflective of the deviant and devalued womanhood that they are expected to embody both within and outside their culture. This article also provides a stark contrast to the many of the themes found within literature about the body, eating disorders and body image that focuses on white women by taking into account the how the intersections of race and gender impact how black women’s bodies are framed in society.

Williams, Susan. 2002. Trying on gender, gender regimes, and the process of becoming a woman. Gender & Society 16 (1): 29-52.

In this article it discusses how adolescent girls “try on” or experiment with gender as a means to fully create sense of womanhood. Based on a 4 year study of 26 adolescent girls this article is a good reference to understanding how femininity or sense of gender is created not only through experimentation but also how communities have differing forms of femininity due to class, due to class, race and gender differences.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by: Amanda Levitt, Wayne State University.  Comments or suggestions please e-mail gendsoc@oaklnad.edu.

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

The following Gender & Society articles 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.

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.

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.

Averett, K. H. 2015. The gender buffet LGBTQ parents resisting heteronormativity. Gender & Society 30 (2): 189-212.

Many parents and child-rearing experts prefer that children exhibit gender-normative behavior, a preference that is linked to the belief that children are, or should be, heterosexual. But how do LGBTQ parents—who may not hold these preferences—approach the gender socialization of their children? Drawing on in-depth interviews with both members in 18 LGBTQ couples, I find that these parents attempt to provide their children with a variety of gendered options for clothing, toys, and activities—a strategy that I call the “gender buffet.” However, the social location of the parents influences the degree to which they feel they can pursue this strategy of resistance. Factors such as race, social class, gender of parents and children, and level of support of family and community members contribute to the degree to which LGBTQ parents feel they can allow or encourage their children to disrupt gender norms.

Rahilly, E. P. 2015. The gender binary meets the gender-variant child: Parents’ negotiations with childhood gender variance. Gender & Society 29 (3): 338-361.

Until recently, raising a young child as transgender was culturally unintelligible. Most scholarship on transgender identity refers to adults’ experiences and perspectives. Now, the increasing visibility of gender-variant children, as they are identified by the parents who raise them, presents new opportunities to examine how individuals confront the gender binary and imagine more gender-inclusive possibilities. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of “truth regime” to conceptualize the regulatory forces of the gender binary in everyday life, this work examines the strategies of 24 such parents, who represent 16 cases of childhood gender variance. Specifically, I analyze three practices—“gender hedging,” “gender literacy,” and “playing along”—through which these parents develop a critical consciousness about gender binary ideology and work to accommodate their children’s nonconformity in diverse discursive interactions. Taken together, their newfound strategies and perspectives subvert traditional conceptions of “gender-neutral” or “feminist” parenting, and reveal new modes of resistance to the normative transmission and regulation of gender practices.

David, E. 2015. Purple-collar labor transgender workers and queer value at global call centers in the Philippines. Gender & Society 29 (2): 169-194.

This article examines new patterns of workplace inequality that emerge as transgender people are incorporated into the global labor market. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 41 transgender call center employees in the Philippines, I develop the concept “purple-collar labor” to describe how transgender workers—specifically trans women—are clustered, dispersed, and segregated in the workplace and how their patterned locations in social organizational structures serve a particular value-producing function. These patterned inclusions, I argue, come with explicit and implicit interactional expectations about how “trans” should be put to work in the expansion and accumulation of global capital. In this way, the study examines the production and extraction of queer value and the folding of trans women’s gendered performances into commercial exchange. Data show how the affective labor of transgender employees is used to help foster productivity, ease workplace tensions, and boost employee morale. This study of transgender employment experiences opens new lines of inquiry for understanding gender inequalities at work, and it builds on scholarship that combines political economy approaches with transgender studies.

Jenness, V., & S. Fenstermaker. 2014. Agnes goes to prison: Gender authenticity, transgender inmates in prisons for men, and pursuit of “The real deal”. Gender & Society 28 (1): pp. 5-31.

Historically developed along gender lines and arguably the most sex segregated of institutions, U.S. prisons are organized around the assumption of a gender binary. In this context, the existence and increasing visibility of transgender prisoners raise questions about how gender is accomplished by transgender prisoners in prisons for men. This analysis draws on official data and original interview data from 315 transgender inmates in 27 California prisons for men to focus analytic attention on the pursuit of “the real deal”—a concept we develop to reference a dynamic related to how gender is accomplished by transgender inmates. Specifically, among transgender inmates in prisons for men, there is competition for the attention and affection of “real men” in prisons: the demonstrable and well-articulated desire to secure standing as “the best girl” in sex segregated institutional environments. Our empirical examination sheds light on the gender order that underpins prison life, the lived experience of gender and sexuality for transgender inmates in prisons for men, and how that experience reveals new aspects of the workings of gender accountability.

Westbrook, L., & K. Schilt. 2013. Doing gender, determining gender: Transgender people, gender panics, and the maintenance of the sex/gender/sexuality system. Gender & Society 28(1): 32-57.

This article explores “determining gender,” the umbrella term for social practices of placing others in gender categories. We draw on three case studies showcasing moments of conflict over who counts as a man and who counts as a woman: public debates over the expansion of transgender employment rights, policies determining eligibility of transgender people for competitive sports, and proposals to remove the genital surgery requirement for a change of sex marker on birth certificates. We show that criteria for determining gender differ across social spaces. Gender-integrated spaces are more likely to use identity-based criteria, while gender-segregated spaces, like the sexual spaces we have previously examined (Schilt and Westbrook 2009), are more likely to use biology-based criteria. In addition, because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable and men are dangerous, “men’s” and “women’s” spaces are not policed equally—making access to women’s spaces central to debates over transgender rights.

Pfeffer, C. A. 2012. Normative resistance and inventive pragmatism: Negotiating structure and agency in transgender families. Gender & Society 26 (4): 574-602.

Transgender individuals and families throw existing taxonomic classification systems of identity into perplexing disarray, illuminating sociolegal dilemmas long overdue for critical sociological inquiry. Using interview data collected from 50 cisgender women from across (primarily) the United States and Canada, who detail 61 unique partnerships with transgender and transsexual men, this work considers the pragmatic choices and choice-making capacities (or “agency”) of this social group as embedded within social systems, structures, and institutions. Proposing the analytic constructs of “normative resistance” and “inventive pragmatism” to situate the interactional processes between agency and structure in the everyday lives of this understudied group of cisgender women, this work theorizes the liminal sociolegal status of an understudied family form. In so doing, it exposes the increasingly paradoxical consolidation and destabilization of sociolegal notions of identity, marriage, normativity, and parenthood—challenging, contributing to, and extending current theoretical and empirical understandings of agency and structure in twenty-first-century families.

Meyer, D. 2012. An intersectional analysis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people’s evaluations of anti-queer violence. Gender & Society 26 (6): 849-873.

The author uses an intersectionality framework to examine how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people evaluate the severity of their violent experiences. Previous research focusing on the severity of anti-LGBT violence has given relatively little attention to race, class, and gender as systems of power. In contrast, results from this study, based on 47 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, reveal that Black and Latino/Latina respondents often perceived anti-queer violence as implying that they had negatively represented their racial communities, whereas white respondents typically overlooked the racialized implications of their violent experiences. Furthermore, while lesbians of color emphasized their autonomy and self-sufficiency to challenge this discourse, Black and Latino gay men underscored their emotional and physical strength to undermine perceptions that they were weak for identifying as gay. Results also indicate that LGBT people experience forms of anti-queer violence in different ways depending on their social position, as Black lesbians faced discourse that neither white lesbians nor Black gay men were likely to confront. Thus, these findings suggest that topics primarily associated with homophobia should be examined through an intersectional lens.

Connell, C. 2010. Doing, undoing, or redoing gender? Learning from the workplace experiences of transpeople. Gender & Society 24 (1): 31-55.

Drawing from the perspectives of transgender individuals, this article offers an empirical investigation of recent critiques of West and Zimmerman’s “doing gender” theory. This analysis uses 19 in-depth interviews with transpeople about their negotiation and management of gendered interactions at work to explore how their experiences potentially contribute to the doing, undoing, or redoing of gender in the workplace. I find that transpeople face unique challenges in making interactional sense of their sex, gender, and sex category and simultaneously engage in doing, undoing, and redoing gender in the process of managing these challenges. Consequently, I argue that their interactional gender accomplishments are not adequately captured under the rubric of “doing gender” and suggest instead that they be understood as “doing transgender.” This article outlines the process of and consequences of “doing transgender” and its potential implications for the experience of and transformation of gender inequality at work.

Dozier, R. 2005. Beards, breasts, and bodies doing sex in a gendered world. Gender & Society 19 (3): 297-316.

Gender is commonly thought of as dependent on sex even though there are occasional aberrations. Interviews with female-to-male transgender people, however, suggest that sex and sex characteristics can be understood as expressions of gender. The expression of gender relies on both behavior and the appearance of the performer as male or female. When sex characteristics do not align with gender, behavior becomes more important to gender expression and interpretation. When sex characteristics become more congruent with gender, behavior becomes more fluid and less important in asserting gender. Respondents also challenge traditional notions of sexual orientation by focusing less on the sex of the partner and more on the gender organization of the relationship. The relationship’s ability to validate the interviewee’s masculinity or maleness often takes precedence over the sex of the partner, helping to explain changing sexual orientation as female-to-male transsexual and transgendered people transition into men.

Gender & Society in the Classroom is curated by scholars in the field and is a listing of articles that would be relevant in certain classrooms. These lists are not exhaustive but contain a small section of important articles that can begin to start classroom discussion on a variety of topics.

Organized by Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University. Comments and suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu.

Intersectional Capitalism and the Calculations of Human Life

By Susila Gurusami

Throughout our global history, we see evidence of social institutions shaping the systemic devaluation of people’s lives. This isn’t new, and people have been talking about it for a really long time as part of capitalism. Scholars and activists raise how practices of racism, sexism, transphobia, and other –isms shape inequality. Traditionally, scholars talk about how these isms come from capitalism. But scholar Cedric Robinson argued that racism came before capitalism, and therefore shaped its emergence, while Marxist feminists make a parallel argument about patriarchy. In my article, I argue that it’s both (and more) by developing a theory of what I call intersectional capitalism: the systemic process of demoralizing and dehumanizing racialized and gendered bodies for their exploitation and punishment through market logics.

I came to this theory after conducting 18 months of ethnographic research at a reentry home in South Los Angeles that primarily serves women of color. In my view, there is no greater or more terrible project of human (de)valuation than the United States’ crisis of mass incarceration; it requires calculating the value of human life against time and past crimes against future potential, all while violently displacing people from their families and communities. This year the price tag of locking a single person up in California is expected to exceed $75,000 annually.

But the human cost of incarceration—specifically for Black populations—is far greater, and it doesn’t end when someone is released from prison or jail. In my research, I found that after Black women were released from prison or jail, they continued to be punished by the system of mass incarceration. In my article, I identify what I call “rehabilitation labor” as the government’s effort to transform formerly incarcerated Black women from “criminals” to “workers” by using particular employment parameters as a requirement of parole and probation. I situate rehabilitation labor within the context of intersectional capitalism because it requires that these women prove their worth to the market as a proxy for their value as human beings.

For instance, let’s follow the reentry journey of one of the women—Kendra—I met during the course of my fieldwork. On a hot summer day, I drove her to the doctor while she relayed her struggle to find work. After months of trying to find a steady job, Kendra told me that she couldn’t find a job because maybe she didn’t deserve to—she still felt the pull of her drug addiction, talked about her failure to make enough money to house and feed her children, and even insinuated that she had “earned” the sexual violence she experienced in her lifetime. Kendra struggled with mental illness, disability, a shocking history of abuse, and elementary literacy skills, but still tried to find work and field seemingly-endless rejections for months. She told me that if she could just find full-time employment, maybe she could finally prove to herself she was a good person. But the collective impact of her health, education, and felony record posed significant barriers to finding stable work. Still, in the months following her release from prison, she came to understand her lack of success in finding steady work as a moral failure and talked about employment as her pathway to moral redemption.

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Kendra’s story shows how we often come to understand what we do to earn money as a proxy for moral worth. This process of equating morality to employment has enormous consequences for formerly incarcerated people, because their need to find a job isn’t just about building the financial resources to reintegrate into society; employment is also an important part of staying out of prison and jail. A recent report found that about 9,000 people are incarcerated every day in the United States for violating parole and probation employment mandates, even though two thirds of the people incarcerated under employment violations make less than $1000 per month and work full time. Black people are 40 percent of those incarcerated for post-release supervision violations, but they are 70 percent of unemployment incarceration violations. These findings tell us that it’s not just finding work that matters; it’s also about finding particular kinds of work, and Black and African American people are much more likely to be judged as failing in this respect.

In my article, I demonstrate that rehabilitation labor presupposes that employment produces a moral transformation that can lead to legal transformation, in that successful performance of rehabilitation labor can allow formerly incarcerated people to shed their criminal histories and state surveillance. But I also find that the conditions of rehabilitation labor—employment that I characterize as reliable, recognizable, and redemptive—are nearly impossible for formerly incarcerated Black women to reach because of the structure of the labor market, stereotypes that parole and probation agents have about Black women, and because the three conditions of rehabilitation labor contradict one another. These conflicts are not just ideological. By introducing a range of consequences that can include reincarceration, these conflicts amplify the precarity that formerly incarcerated Black women face in their everyday lives.

These contradictions also recall and reproduce the long-standing U.S. tradition of disciplining Black women through their relationship to the labor market, from enslavement, the construction of the Welfare Queen, to the current moment. I argue that intersectional capitalism makes this relationship possible—it provides the ideological and historical tools to subjugate Black women in service of white patriarchal capital. But in a country that manages to spend more than 182 billion dollars a year on mass incarceration, it seems possible that we can put that money to better use.

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 As part of the participatory-action method “Photovoice,” study participants graciously provided these photos as partial representations of their everyday lives.

So what is the value of a human life?

Whether or not we can answer that question, we live—and die—in a world in which those calculations are made everyday. Consider the following recent events:

In each of these cases, government officials implicitly and explicitly calculate the value of human life using metrics of race, gender, class, and sexuality. And though individual decision makers are responsible, these decision makers represent social institutions that shape the lives of entire populations. For instance, in Flint, city officials and implicated corporations decided over many years that profit and cost-saving measures were more important than the health and well-being of the city’s residents. The consequences include poisoning the children of Flint—who are disproportionately Black and African American—with lead. Trump’s edict claims that the medical costs of transgender people are too exorbitant for taxpayers to support in the military, despite a recent study that estimates the costs of these expenses are between .004 to .017 percent of the military’s total healthcare spending. Judge Sam Benningfield’s offer for incarcerated people to trade 30 days of sentence time for temporary or permanent sterilization revitalizes eugenicists’ historical (and contemporary) projects of trying to curb the reproduction of criminalized populations of color by citing their children as taxpayer and social burdens.

My hope is that we can understand all these issues—the subjugation of formerly incarcerated Black women in the labor market, the water crisis in Flint, Trump’s transphobic agenda, and the proposed sterilization of incarcerated people—as connected by intersectional capitalism. By naming it as such, hopefully we can find a uniting intersectional thread in our common pursuits for justice without overlooking the inequalities between us.

 

Susila Gurusami is a Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow at UC Riverside. She will be an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto beginning July 2018. She is a scholar of race, gender, and carceral politics.

The Beauty and Strength of Wonder Woman

By Francesca Tripodi

I recently took in a poignant guest lecture on hook-up culture by Lisa Wade. During the talk, Wade detailed the link between rape culture and hook-up culture. While hooking up encourages women to behave “like men,” it simultaneously creates an environment that rejects feminine traits (kindness, care, empathy). Since then I’ve continuously noticed how we celebrate women who display traditionally masculine characteristics (be aggressive! lean in!). But, we often do so in ways that devalue feminine attributes. It is with this framework in mind that I went to see Wonder Woman.

Donning my “feminist mama” sweatshirt, I expected to be underwhelmed given the mediocre reviews describing the film as just another boilerplate superhero movie. With my critical 3D glasses on, I understood why many were frustrated. Steven Trevor always has a protecting arm over Diana, even after she demonstrates that she’s indestructible. The persistence of the male gaze was also disappointing. I recognize the need to reflect Marston’s 1940’s creation, but expecting Diana to run through forests, scale mountains, and beat down villains in a sensible wedge was as laughable as Steven Trevor’s ridiculous assurance to the audience that his genitalia was “above average.” It is no coincidence that Wonder Woman’s strong but “sexy” image was the one chosen by Douglas to represent her concept of enlightened sexism nearly a decade ago.

At the same time, I think it is important to recognize the film’s strengths. The women cast as Amazonians are athletes in real life with muscular bodies that challenge anglocentric beauty ideals. Diana is a unique combination of sex appeal, acumen, and wit. She is fierce but nurturing, emboldened to take down Ares but driven by her desire to protect children. Her outfit choices are elegant but practical and she even managed to stash a sword in her stolen evening gown. Diana asserted confidence and ability while her male sidekicks over-promised and under-delivered. In short, Wonder Woman seems to encapsulate the kind of feminism Wade described as lost: embracing aggression and kindness, strength and beauty.

Given Diana’s character complexity, I find language lauding the film for its ability to break the curse of Catwoman” particularly offensive. Perhaps if Hollywood had chosen to produce Joss Whedon’s version of Wonder Woman, where Diana’s uses a “sexy dance” to thwart the villain, it might warrant a film comparison. After all, the Catwoman “plot” was a lurid focus on Halle Berry in a tight-fitting costume, a hypersexualized (de)evolution of a female protagonist. It tanked in the box office because, like most female characters in superhero films, Patience Phillips was a two-dimensional stereotype of femininity – meek, fickle, a tease. She had to “overcome” her feminine traits to succeed and used sex appeal as a weapon. Comparing the films conflates the presence of a female lead with the notion that both films were made for women. It’s like those who questioned if Clinton supporters might vote for McCain in 2008 because he put Palin on the ticket. Having a woman lead doesn’t mean women’s interests are being considered.

Despite these attempts at male wish fulfillment, Wonder Woman’s success was not due to men aged 15-25. Unlike other superhero flicks, Wonder Woman’s audience was roughly 52 percent women, and women and older audience viewers continue to build its momentum. When the Alamo Drafthouse risked litigation to host an all-female screening it sold out so quickly it added more women-only events to respond to the demand. Nevertheless, the comparison to Catwoman persists as does the dominant narrative that films outside of the Captain America framework are a “gamble.”  Ignoring the success of films like Wonder Woman (Arrival or Get Out or Moonlight) allows executives to deflect the fact that most “flops” were made with an exclusively white, heterosexual, male audience in mind (I’m looking at you Cowboys & Aliens).  Yet celebrating Wonder Woman as a “triumph,” allows us to pretend that similar female protagonists dominate the screen instead of calling more attention to the fact that women still only accounted for 32 percent of all speaking roles in 2015 or that non-white actors are continuously overlooked at the Oscars.

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Diana showcases a physical resilience seldom credited to women – let’s celebrate that. She encapsulates a kind of feminism that Wade rightfully notes is nearly nonexistent. Diana is a warrior who is agentic, driven, nurturing, protective, and merciful. She exhibits masculine strength without having to cast aside her feminine traits.  She voices concern for those who cannot protect themselves but she is a trained killer. By labeling Wonder Woman not feminist enough we overlook the crux of the problem: Wonder Woman’s empowerment narrative was likely tempered because Hollywood doesn’t really care about appealing to women. Highlighting the importance of Diana’s feminist dichotomy challenges Hollywood to build on that momentum and make a sequel without pandering to young, heterosexual, male audiences. In doing so, my hope is that in the future we have so many superheroes like Diana (strong because of their femininity, not strong despite it) that critics will have ample—and equivalent—characters for comparison.

Francesca Tripodi is a sociologist who studies how participatory media perpetuates systems of inequality. This year she is researching how partisan groups interact with media and the role community plays in legitimating what constitutes news and information as a postdoctoral scholar at Data & Society. Francesca would like to thank Caroline Jack and Tristan Bridges for their helpful feedback on this piece.

Trump and the Politics of Fluid Masculinities

By James W. Messerschmidt and Tristan Bridges

In the 1950s, a collection of sociologists and psychologists (which included, among others, Theodor Adorno) wrote The Authoritarian Personality. They were attempting to theorize the type of personality — a particular psychology — that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Among other things, they suggested that the “authoritarian personality” was characterized by a normative belief in absolute obedience to their authority in addition to the practical enactment of that belief through direct and indirect marginalization and suppression of “subordinates.” While Adorno and his colleagues did not consider the gender of this personality, today gender scholars recognize authoritarianism as a particular form of masculinity, and current U.S. president Donald Trump might appear to be a prime illustration of a rigid and inflexible “authoritarian personality.”

Yet Trump’s masculinity avoids a direct comparison to this label precisely because of the fluidity he projects. Indeed, the “authoritarian personality” is overly fixed, immutable, and one dimensional as a psychoanalytical personality type. Sociologists understand identities as more flexible than this. Certain practices of Trump exemplify the fluctuations of masculinity that illustrate this distinction, and the transformations in his masculinity are highly contingent upon context. While this is a common political strategy, Trump’s shifts are important as they enable him to construct a “dominating masculinity” that perpetuates diverse forms of social inequality. Dominating masculinities are those that involve commanding and controlling interactions to exercise power and control over people and events.  These masculinities are most problematic when they also are hegemonic and work to legitimize unequal relations between women and men. Here are a few examples:

First, in his speeches and public statements prior to being elected, Trump bullied and subordinated “other” men by referring to them as “weak,” “low energy,” or as “losers,” or implying they are “inept” or a “wimp.” (“Othering” is a social process whereby certain people are viewed and/or treated as somehow fundamentally different and unequal.) For example, during several Republican presidential debates, Trump consistently labeled Marco Rubio as “little Marco,” described Jeb Bush as “low energy Jeb,” implied that John McCain was a “wimp” because he was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and suggested that contemporary military veterans battling PTSD are “inept” because they “can’t handle” the “horror” they observed in combat. In contrast, Trump consistently referred to himself as, for example, strong, a fighter, and as the embodiment of success. In each case, Trump ascribes culturally-defined “inferior” subordinate gender qualities to his opponents while imbuing himself with culturally defined “superior” masculine qualities. This pairing signifies an unequal relationship between masculinities—one both dominating and hegemonic (Trump) and one subordinate (the “other” men).

A second example of Trump’s fluid masculinity applies to the way he has depicted himself as the heroic masculine protectorof all Americans. This compassion may appear, at first blush, at odds with the hegemonic masculinity just discussed. For example, in his Republican Convention speech Trump argued that he alone can lead the country back to safety by protecting the American people through the deportation of “dangerous” and “illegal” Mexican and Muslim immigrants and by “sealing the border.” In so doing, Trump implied that Americans are unable to defend themselves — a fact he used to justify his need to “join the political arena.” Trump stated: “I will liberate our citizens from crime and terrorism and lawlessness” by “restoring law and order” throughout the country — “I will fight for you, I will win for you.” Here Trump adopts a position as white masculine protector of Americans against men of color, instructing all US citizens to entrust their lives to him; in return, he offers safety. Trump depicts himself as aggressive, invulnerable, and able to protect while all remaining US citizens are depicted as dependent and uniquely vulnerable. Trump situates himself as analogous to the patriarchal masculine protector toward his wife and other members of the patriarchal household. But simultaneously, Trump presents himself as a compassionate, caring, and kind-hearted benevolent protector, and thereby constructs a hybrid hegemonic masculinity consisting of both masculine and feminine qualities.

Third, in the 2005 interaction between Trump and Billy Bush on the now infamous Access Hollywood tour bus, Trump presumes he is entitled to the bodies of women and (not surprisingly) admits committing sexual assault against women because, according to him, he has the right. He depicts women as collections of body parts and disregards their desires, needs, expressed preferences, and their consent. After the video was aired more women have come forward and accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault. Missed in discussions of this interaction is how that dialogue actually contradicts, and thus reveals, the myth of Trump’s protectorhegemonic masculinity. The interaction on the bus demonstrates that Trump is not a “protector” at all; he is a “predator.”

Trump’s many masculinities represent a collection of contradictions. Trump’s heroic protector hegemonic masculinity should have been effectively unmasked, revealing a toxic predatory heteromasculinity. Discussions of this controversy, however, failed to articulate any sign of injury to his campaign because Trump was able to connect with a dominant discourse of masculinity often relied upon to explain all manner of men’s (mis)behavior — it was “locker room talk,” we were told. And the sad fact is, the news cycle moved on.

We argue that Trump has managed such contradictions by mobilizing, in certain contexts, what has elsewhere (and above) been identified as a “dominating masculinity” (seeherehere and here— involving commanding and controlling specific interactions and exercising power and control over people and events. This dominating masculinity has thus far centered on six critical features:

1) Trump operates in ways that cultivate domination over others he works with, in particular rewarding people based on their loyalty to him.

2) Trump’s dominating masculinity serves the interests of corporations by cutting regulations, lowering corporate taxes, increasing military spending, and engaging in other neoliberal practices, such as attempting to strip away healthcare from 24 million people, defunding public schools, and making massive cuts to social programs that serve poor and working-class people, people of color, and the elderly.

3) Trump has relied on his dominating masculinity to serve his particular needs as president, such as refusing to release his tax returns and ruling through a functioning kleptocracy (using the office to serve his family’s economic interests).

4) This masculinity is exemplified through the formulation of a dominating militaristic foreign policy (for example, U.S. airstrikes of civilians in Yemen, Iraq and Syria have increased dramatically under Trump; the MOAB bombing of Afghanistan; threats to North Korea) rather than engaging in serious forms of diplomacy. Trump has formed a global ultraconservative “axis of evil”— whose defining characteristics are kleptocracy and dominating masculinity — with the likes of Putin (Russia), el-Sisi (Egypt), Erdogan (Turkey), Salman (Saudi Arabia), Duterte (Philippines) among others.

5) So too has this dominating masculinity had additional effects “at home” as Trump prioritizes domestically the repressive arm of the state through white supremacist policies such as rounding-up and deporting immigrants and refugees as well as his anti-Muslim rhetoric and attempted Muslim ban.

6) Trump’s dominating masculinity attempts to control public discourse through his constant tweets that are aimed at discrediting and subordinating those who disagree with his policies.

Trump’s masculinity is fluid, contradictory, situational, and it demonstrates the diverse and crisscrossing pillars of support that uphold inequalities worldwide. From different types of hegemonic masculinities, to a toxic predatory heteromasculinity, to his dominating masculinity, Trump’s chameleonic display is part of the contemporary landscape of gender, class, race, age and sexuality relations and inequalities. Trump does not construct a consistent form of masculinity. Rather, he oscillates — at least from the evidence we have available to us. And in each case, his oscillations attempt to overcome the specter of femininity — the fear of being the unmasculine man — through the construction of particularized masculinities.

It is through these varying practices that Trump’s masculinity is effective in bolstering specific forms and systems of inequality that have been targeted and publicly challenged in recent history. Durable forms of social inequality achieve resilience by becoming flexible. By virtue of their fluidity of expression and structure, they work to establish new pillars of ideological support, upholding social inequalities as “others” are challenged. As C. J. Pascoe has argued, a dominating masculinity is not unique to Trump or only his supporters; Trump’s opponents rely on it as well (see also sociologist Kristen Barber’s analysis of anti-Trump masculinity tactics). And it is for these reasons that recognizing Trump’s fluidity of masculinity is more than mere academic observation; it is among the chief mechanisms through which contemporary forms of inequality — from the local to the global — are justified and persist today.

*Originally posted on Democratic Socialists of America.

James W. Messerschmidt is professor of sociology and chair of the Criminology Department at the University of Southern Maine. He has written widely on masculinities, and his most recent book is Masculinities in the Making.

Tristan Bridges is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. With C. J. Pascoe, he recently co-edited the anthology, Exploring Masculinities.

Masculinity and Fidelity in Pop Music

By Tristan Bridges

Two songs that seemed like they were on the radio every time I tuned into a pop station last summer were Omi’s single, “Cheerleader” (originally released in 2015) and Andy Grammar’s song, “Honey, I’m good” (originally released in 2014). They’re both songs written for mass consumption. Between 2014 and 2015, “Cheerleader” topped the charts in over 20 countries around the world. And, while “Honey, I’m Good” had less mass appeal, it similarly found its way onto top hit lists around the world.

They’re different genres of music. But they both fall under the increasingly meaningless category of “pop.”  Pop musicAnd, because they both gained popularity around the same time, it was possible to hear them back to back on radio stations across the U.S.  Both songs are about the same issue: each are ballads sung by men celebrating themselves for being faithful in their heterosexual relationships.  Below is Omi’s “Cheerleader.” The video is here. Here is the chorus:

“All these other girls are tempting / But I’m empty when you’re gone / And they say / Do you need me? / Do you think I’m pretty? / Do I make you feel like cheating? / And I’m like no, not really cause / Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her / Oh I think that I found myself a cheerleader / She is always right there when I need her”

In Omi’s song, he situates himself as uninterested in cheating because he’s found a woman who believes in him more than he does. And this, he suggests, is worth his fidelity. Though, he does admit to being tempted, which also works to situate him as laudable because he “has options.”

Andy Grammar’s song is a different genre. And like Omi’s song, it’s catchy (though, apparently less catchy if pop charts are a good measure). Grammar’s video is dramatically different as well. It’s full of couples lip syncing his song while claiming amounts of time they’ve been faithful to one another. Again, and for comparison, the video is here; below is the chorus:

“Nah nah, honey I’m good / I could have another but I probably should not / I’ve got somebody at home, and if I stay I might not leave alone / No, honey I’m good, I could have another but I probably should not / I’ve gotta bid you adieu and to another I will stay true” Continue reading “Masculinity and Fidelity in Pop Music”