Emerging Adult Sons and their Fathers: Race and the Construction of Masculinity

By Michael Enku Ide

Is the United States facing a crisis of fatherlessness, or are men increasingly involved with their children?  The “traditional father” – an emotionally distant disciplinarian and sole breadwinner – has been undermined by economic and cultural trends.  Most nuclear families are dual-earner, and roughly 70% of mothers with dependent children are employed (Waldman et al 1979; Department of Labor Women’s Bureau).   Americans also increasingly endorse gender equity in parenting responsibilities, even though women continue to do more.

“New Fatherhood” – In life and on screen

These changes have unfolded among American families- both real and fictional.  Many of our most popular and highly-awarded sitcoms explore cultural change through intergenerational tensions.  In Modern Family (2009 to present), a “tough,” economically successful family patriarch with “trouble expressing his love for his children” (Jay), is often confounded by his son-in-law Phil’s alleged gender transgressions. Phil rejects masculine norms of stoicism (Phil: “Showing emotion is part of being a modern, sexy man.”), which is reflected in his parenting style.  A self-described “cool dad,” and “peerent,” Phil explicitly blends the roles of parent and peer to his children, undermining traditional paternal authority.

While over-the-top, Phil’s approach personifies newly-popular masculine values and a model of fatherhood now widely-endorsed in popular media, by government and nonprofit organizations.  The Manifesto of the New Fatherhood, published in a recent Esquire magazine, advises men to reject “the old patriarchy” of “his grandfather’s way of life,” asking: “who would want to go back…to be financially responsible for a family and then never see them?” Rather, men should “be there, physically and mentally” for their children (Marche 2014).  Similarly, since 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services has reminded fathers, in 30-second clips, to “take time to be a dad today.”  Stereotypically masculine men – including WWE wrestlers – play card games, practice cheerleading, or sing “I’m a little teapot” with their children. To “be a dad” prioritizes active engagement with children over strict adherence to masculinity. This messaging resonates with many young fathers who are questioning traditional gender roles and say they prioritize close and emotionally available relationships with children over breadwinning (Harrington, Van Deusen and Humberd 2011).

The “Crisis of Fatherlessness”

Many calls for newly-engaged fatherhood simultaneously warn of a “crisis” of fatherlessness (Sanders 2013) or “father deficit” (Kruk 2012) responsible for personal, community, and societal ills.  The Manifesto described above decries a “crisis of fatherhood… reshaping contemporary life,” which is “more of a disaster than anybody could have imagined,” especially for sons (2014).   Are we “rapidly becoming…an absentee father society” as suggested in Psychology Today (Williams 2014)?

While yesteryear’s “deadbeat dads” failed economically, today’s devalued “absentee fathers” adhere to traditional breadwinning norms which deprive their children of attention and emotional support.  In this re-framing of fatherhood success, some men blame personal and interpersonal difficulties on their “traditional” fathers’ distance (Kilmartin 2009).

Emerging Adult Men and their Fathers

Although discussions of “the college experience” often center students’ self-development and autonomy, our data show that family relations remain important.  Parents often play crucial yet overlooked roles in emerging adults’ identity explorations, part of which may entail “gender intensification” (Silva 2012; Kimmel and Messner 2010).

Scholars disagree on fathers’ engagement during this stage: Do fathers “fade out of the picture” (Kimmel and Messner 2010, 132), or do paternal relations “reach new levels of responsive interaction” (Roy 2014, 326)?  Further, how do sons understand their fathers, masculinity, and themselves? These questions carry important implications for intergenerational changes within masculinity, as emerging adult men evaluate their fathers as potential role models of fatherhood and masculinity (Steinmetz 2015).

Our study: Race and the Construction of Masculinity

My research team (Blair Harrington, Yolanda Wiggins, Tanya Whitworth, Dr. Naomi Gerstel, and I) addressed these questions in our recent paper, “Emerging Adult Sons and their Fathers: Race and the Construction of Masculinity.”  In interviews with 76 college men (Asian American, Black, and white) and a national survey (n=1,576) from 24 institutions, we found striking racial variation.  Most sons within each racial group used similar language and evaluations of their fathers, illustrating distinct cultural conceptions of fatherhood and masculinity that complicate the dichotomy of “involved” versus “absentee” fathers (Ide et al. 2018).

Most Asian American sons criticized their dads as distant, authoritarian breadwinners.  These sons, many of whose fathers were born in Asia, attributed distance to cultural divides, fathers’ long work hours, or geographic distance.  In contrast, Black sons valorized their dads, describing them as “cool” and “laid-back.” For these sons, fathers’ distance fostered positive masculine values of self-reliance and independence.   White sons similarly said their fathers fostered independence, but paradoxically, this came through close relationships based in frequent interactions and shared hobbies, interests, and activities – at least in college. Unlike others, for many white sons, paternal relationships vastly improved in college, and described adolescent father/son relationships as strained.  Both Black and white sons, but not Asian Americans, identified with their fathers, often highlighting traits they shared with them.

Sons frame their personal experiences with racialized accounts; these inform strategies for responding to dominant cultural ideals – ideals we found most closely associated with whites’ experiences. This caused or exacerbated strain in father son relationships, especially among Asian Americans who saw few pathways to empathize or identify with their fathers.  Among Black sons, distance sometimes was framed as a benefit and political strategy which they used to contradict or rebut the “father as friend” model.

Judgments of fathers’ involvement, or lack of involvement, are often blind to the values and cultural frames both fathers and their sons bring to their relationship. Dominant narratives may alienate men whose cultural experiences and values diverge from these ideals. Fatherhood initiatives and popular portrayals of engaged fatherhood, then, can be more powerful and avoid negative unintended consequences by valuing the kinds of differences our research uncovered.

Author: Michael Enku Ide is a PhD Student in the University of Massachusetts-Amherst Department of Sociology. He received a sociology MA (2012) from the University of Kentucky, where he studied graduate student-employee unionization. His research focuses on class, gender, sexuality, family, social identity and social movements. Published work has appeared in Labor Notes and Against the Current Magazine. 

Blair Harrington is a PhD student in the University of Massachusetts– Amherst Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on educational and racial inequality, especially among Asian Americans. Her published work includes a teaching activity for the ASA TRAILS.

Yolanda Wiggins is a PhD student in the University of Massachusetts– Amherst Department of Sociology. Her research focuses on inequalities among college students, particularly how financially disadvantaged Black students balance academics with family obligations. Her published work includes an article in the Journal of Black Studies investigating Black students’ experiences at a predominantly white institution.

Tanya Rouleau Whitworth is a PhD student in the University of Massachusetts–Amherst Department of Sociology. Her research explores mental health, well-being, sexuality, gender, family, and education among adolescents and emerging adults. Her published work includes an article in the Journal of Marriage and Family evaluating the link between teen childbearing and depression.

Naomi Gerstel is a Distinguished University Professor and professor of sociology at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Her recent papers and coauthored book Unequal Time (2014, Russell Sage Foundation) explore how gender and class shape control over work schedules. Additional current research focuses on extended families and organizational compliance with family policies.

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G&S in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender and Reproductive Practice & Technology

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.

Myers, Kit (2017). “If I’m Going to Do It, I’m Going to Do It Right”: Intensive Mothering Ideologies among Childless Women Who Elect Egg Freezing. Gender & Society 31: (6): pp. 777-803.

Researchers have documented the dominance of intensive mothering ideologies and their impact on mothers and their families. However, the effect of these ideologies on childless women has received little attention. I draw on interview data to examine the parenting ideologies of childless women with electively frozen eggs. I demonstrate that incorporation of and commitment to intensive mothering ideologies affect fertility decision making among these childless women. I find that concerns about the heavy burdens of intensive motherhood, coupled with unsupportive partners and workplaces, produce ambivalence toward childbearing and a strategy of fertility postponement. I extend the literatures on intensive mothering, reproductive decision making, assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs), and elective egg freezing by identifying egg freezing as an expression of the gendering of fertility risk and as a means of “doing security.” Participants view egg freezing as a means of managing risk in two primary ways: as a means of securing access to biogenetic motherhood by managing biological risks of infertility and fetal genetic abnormality, and as a means of enabling intensive parenting by managing temporal risks inherent in coordinating careers, relationships, and childbearing.

Czarnecki, Danielle. (2015). Moral Women, Immoral Technologies: How Devout Women Negotiate Gender, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies. Gender & Society 29: (5): pp. 716-742.

Catholicism is the most restrictive world religion in its position on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The opposition of the Church, combined with the widespread acceptability of ARTs in the United States, creates a profound moral dilemma for those who adhere to Church doctrine. Drawing on interviews from 33 Catholic women, this study shows that devout women have different understandings of these technologies than women from treatment-based studies. These differences are rooted in devout women’s position of navigating two contradictory cultural schemas—“religious” and “secular”—regarding the meaning of reproductive technologies. Religious schemas provide devout women with different cultural resources that help them to avoid using ARTs while still reckoning with the ideal of biological parenthood. I show how devout women draw on religion to find value and meaning in their suffering, move beyond biological motherhood, and achieve a moral femininity. While religion increases the burden of reproduction for devout women, it also provides the cultural resources to resist the financial, emotional, and physical difficulties experienced by women who use ARTs.

Deomampo, Daisy. (2013). Gendered Geographies of Reproductive Tourism. Gender & Society 27: (4): pp. 514-537.

This article explores the intersections of power within transnational surrogacy in India, using the lens of geography to examine surrogate women’s and commissioning parents’ experiences and perceptions of space and mobility. The author analyzes ethnographic data within a geographical framework to examine how actors embody and experience power relations through space and movement, revealing how power is not simply about who moves and who doesn’t. Rather, in recognizing the specificity of the Indian context, and how different actors inhabit and move through distinct spaces, a geographical lens reveals the shifting complexity of structures of agency and power. Drawing on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in India, the author traces how both surrogate mothers and commissioning parents experience moments of mobility and movement punctuated by intervals of immobility and stillness, in distinct ways that illuminate the power relations inherent in transnational reproduction.

Almeling, Rene and Miranda R. Waggoner. (2013) More and Less than Equal: How Men Factor in the Reproductive Equation. Gender & Society 27: (6): pp. 821-842.

In both social science and medicine, research on reproduction generally focuses on women. In this article, we examine how men’s reproductive contributions are understood. We develop an analytic framework that brings together Cynthia Daniels’ conceptualization of reproductive masculinity (2006) with a staged view of reproduction, where the stages include the period before conception, conception, gestation, and birth. Drawing on data from two medical sites that are oriented to the period before pregnancy (preconception health care and sperm banks), we examine how gendered knowledge about reproduction produces different reproductive equations in different stages of the reproductive process. We conclude with a new research agenda that emerges from rethinking the role of men and masculinity in reproduction.

Mann, Emily S. (2013). Regulating Latina Youth Sexualities through Community Health Centers. Gender & Society 27: (5): pp. 681-703.

This article examines the regulation of Latina youth sexualities in the context of sexual and reproductive health care provision. In-depth interviews with health care providers working in two Latino-serving community health centers are analyzed for how they interpret and respond to the sexual and reproductive practices of their low-income Latina teen patients. The author finds that providers emphasize teenage pregnancy as a social problem among this population to the exclusion of other dimensions of youth sexualities and encourage Latina girls’ adherence to a life course trajectory that conforms to middle-class, heteronormative ideals as a solution to this problem. By relying on such understandings, providers construct meanings of sexual citizenship that require participation in bourgeois heteronormativity. These findings suggest that Latino-serving community health centers, their providers, and their teen patients could benefit from questioning the assumptions that inform providers’ appraisals of Latina youth and developing a more inclusive approach to Latina youth sexualities beyond a discourse of pregnancy prevention. Such efforts could allow community health centers to actively participate in disrupting the structural inequalities that shape their young patients’ lives.

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.

Organizer: Katrina Kimport, University of California, San Francisco and Colleen C. Ammerman, William T. Grant Foundation. Updated by: Lacey Story, Oakland University

Rural Migrant Men in Urban China: Masculinity and Compromise

By Yinni Peng

Mass rural-urban migration has been sustained in China for over three decades. According to data provided by the National Bureau of Statistics of the People’s Republic of China, the number of rural-urban migrants reached 281.71 million in 2016. Rural-urban migration has not only contributed a vast amount of cheap labor to China’s rapid economic development and urbanization in past decades but has also dramatically shaped the lives of migrants and their left-behind family members in rural China.

In the current discussion of rural-urban migration and families in post-reform China, most of the attention has been paid to left-behind children and migrant women. How migration impacts rural migrant men’s family life and gender identity remains an understudied issue. To enrich the discussion of migration and masculinity, Susanne Choi and I coauthored a book entitled Masculine Compromise: Migration, Family, and Gender in China that explores the reconstruction of masculinity of rural-urban migrant men in South China. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 192 rural migrant men in Shenzhen, Dongguan, and Guangzhou in Guangdong Province, we delineated how these men interpreted and negotiated their gender and family roles as lovers, husbands, fathers, and sons in an intersectional structure of gender, class, and the rural-urban divide in China.

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Despite being internal migrants, these rural-urban migrant men face structural barriers to employment and social welfare in their urban destinations under China’s household registration (hukou) system. Since the 1950s, China has used the household registration system to differentiate, and sometimes even segregate, its rural and urban populations. Inherited from one’s parents, one’s hukou status determines his/her access and entitlement to public resources and social welfare. When millions of rural people migrate to urban China, the majority find it hard to obtain urban hukou in their destination cities, and their rural hukou constrains them from accessing urban public resources and social welfare. As a result, most rural-urban migrants are stuck in the secondary labor market in urban China and must take on dirty, difficult, or dangerous jobs undesirable to urban residents. Long working hours, meager salaries, and limited access to social welfare not only make rural-urban migrants an economically marginalized group in urban China but also force them to leave their dependent family members behind in their rural hometowns. Their rural origin also makes them second-class citizens who are discriminated against by urban residents in their cities.

In rural China, patriarchy grants rural men power and authority in both the public and private spheres. They dominate economic activities, control various resources, and usually hold authority as the head of the household. Although rural-urban migration enables these rural men to earn more economic resources for their families, their socioeconomic inferiority and marginalization in urban destinations puts their masculinity in crisis. Migration exposes these rural men to a hegemonic urban discourse of masculinity that emphasizes men’s economic success and professional knowledge or skills. Compared with their urban counterparts, rural-urban migrant men have limited socioeconomic resources to play the role of a romantic lover via generous consumption or the role of a good husband/father who is able to provide his family with good economic support.

 Meanwhile, the discrepancy between rural patriarchal tradition and modernized urban ideologies of gender and family causes struggles, dilemmas, and tensions in their multiple family relations. In their romantic relationships, young migrant men have to strike a balance between their romantic desire for an urbanized lover with whom they share an emotional intimacy and spiritual communication and their parents’ preference for a filial local wife. In their conjugal relationships, rural migrant men have to negotiate with their wives about post-marital residence, the labor division of housework and childcare, and the allocation of family resources. In their parent-child relationships, they struggle between their paternal breadwinning duty and the emotional turmoil caused by their long-term separation from their left-behind children. They are also caught in the dilemma of being a responsible father/husband who provides for his nuclear family via migration and being a filial son who takes care of his elderly parents in rural China.

Peng_3

Rural-urban migrant men use their masculine promise as a strategy to reconstruct their gender identity and deal with the discrepancy between the cultural ideal of men and their socioeconomic reality in a migratory context. They yield to their parents’ wish for a filial, local daughter-in-law; they participate in housework and childcare, either actively or selectively, and emphasize that they are helping their wives and making the major decisions in their families; they use material compensation and telecommunication to win their left-behind children’s hearts from afar; and they collaborate with their left-behind siblings on elderly care and redefine the meaning of filial piety by emphasizing their obedience to their parents. By making compromises, rural migrant men argue that they are sacrificing for the collective interest of the whole family or to maintain its happiness or harmony. Although they are not as economically successful as urban men, they reconstruct their masculine identity as good, honorable men by emphasizing their efforts to work hard and sacrifice for their families. Their tactical compromises in different family relations make some substantive contributions to the maintenance of their migrant families yet result in no ideological awakening on gender equality. Their masculine compromise is a pragmatic solution to structural constraints or oppression rather than an ideological challenge to or transformation of patriarchy.

Yinni Peng is Assistant Professor in Sociology at Hong Kong Baptist University. Her research interests include gender, family, migration, labor politics, and social media. She is the coauthor of Masculine Compromise: Migration, Family, and Gender in China (2016; University of California Press).

Getting More Men Involved – But Which Men?

By Tal Peretz

Men’s involvement in anti-violence and women’s rights movements has increased in recent decades, and feminist groups and organizations have been increasingly interested in engaging men for gender justice. Emma Watson and The United Nations have #HeForShe, former President Obama and the White House Council on Women and Girls started It’s On Us, and NGOs around the world have recently formed the MenEngage Alliance.

The literature on men’s feminist engagements has a noticeable shortcoming, however: despite decades of feminist scholarship on the importance of intersectionality and early hints of the importance of intersectionality in men’s engagement (like this book), what we know about engaging men is still mostly about engaging white, middle-class, college-age, heterosexual, Christian, cisgender men. In an attempt to expand our knowledge of men’s feminist allyship, I spent a year observing, engaging with, and interviewing the members of two men’s anti-gender-violence groups directed towards marginalized men.

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Muslim Men Against Domestic Violence (MMADV) is a mostly-African-American Muslim group, formed when the director of a Muslim women’s shelter noticed the benefit of male allies. The Sweet Tea Southern Queer Men’s Collective (Sweet Tea) is a group of gay, bisexual, and queer-identified men, mostly of color, who address the ways sexism and male privilege show up in LGBTQ+ communities. Both are small community groups that organize online, by phone, and in members’ homes, occasionally producing public events or documents. Both received some training from an anti-violence organization called Men Stopping Violence (MSV), but found MSV’s programming an ill fit for their communities’ concerns.

When I asked MMADV members how they got involved, all of their stories had a clear pathway-style narrative, beginning with a sensitization experience[1]. Parenting daughters or reading social media accounts of Muslim women experiencing domestic abusive were common. Most of the men were specifically invited to get involved by women in their lives, like Sayeed[2], a man of Desi Indian descent, who got a call from a woman colleague telling him “there’s a group called Men Stopping Violence…, I want you to do the[ir] internship program, because we need more Desi men to speak out against domestic violence.’” When they wanted to deepen their understanding of the issues, MMADV members relied on formalized educational experiences, which caused major shifts in their gendered understandings of the world. Waleed told me MSV “was a big eye-opener for me, it also helped me in dealing with my wife and watching how I spoke to her and how I treated her.”

While these narratives from MMADV members approximated the pathways of men already represented in the literature, an intersectional analysis added detail. The thin dispersion of Muslim men and their disinclination to socialize with unmarried women increases the likelihood that their sensitization and engagement opportunities occur online, for example, and the importance of age and parenting was not captured in the previous studies of younger men.

Unlike the men of MMADV or in the literature, Sweet Tea members tended to explain their engagement through reference to their own intersecting identities and experiences as gay/queer men of color. Because of this, their sensitization experiences began much younger—Mark said “it starts with being a little gay Black boy”–and did not rely on women’s motivation. They told no narratives about how they joined the group, instead tending to just say, like Jeune, “I was just invited to be a part of the collective by [another member].”

Finally, Sweet Tea members never mentioned a deep shift in gendered understanding, but instead described learning a language for things they already knew. Their own experiences of marginalization along the axes of sexuality, race, and in some cases gender expression intersect with masculine privilege, preempting these transformative gendered learning experiences and sensitizing them to issues of gender justice without recourse to women’s experiences.

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All these men’s pathways relied on intersecting gendered, religious, racial, familial, and sexual identities; their male privilege interacted with racial, sexual, and religious marginalization to create their sensitization and opportunity experiences. While MMADV’s experiences add nuance to previous pathway models, though, Sweet Tea members’ experiences demand a fundamental revision of the models. This suggests that there may be a special salience to sexual and gender-based oppression: a non-normative sexual or gender-identity not only invites investigation and explanation, but encourages these in reference to gender. These findings are not generalizable, but they do powerfully illustrate the importance of intersectionality when considering men as allies.

[1] The terms I use to describe men’s pathways to anti-violence engagement come from Casey & Smith (2010), whose pathway model begins with sensitizing experiences, and moves through engagement opportunities and a shift gendered meaning (in either order) to antiviolence engagement. They recognize that a “glaring gap in both [their model] and research about male antiviolence allies more generally is the experiences of men of color” (Casey and Smith 2010, 970).

[2] All participant names are pseudonyms

Tal Peretz, assistant professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Auburn University, has engaged in and studied men’s anti-sexist and anti-violence activism for over a decade. He is the author of “Some Men: Male Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women”,  co-written with Michael Messner and Max Greenberg. His scholarship on men, masculinities, and feminism has been published in academic journals, edited volumes, popular and activist/professional newsletters, magazines, and blogs. His latest research looks at how intersecting race, class, religious, and sexual identities shape men’s gender justice organizing.

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.

Critiquing and Creating Social Spaces

By Christopher Matthews

I was happy to be asked to write a blog post shortly after publishing this paper in Gender and Society. I remember sitting down at my laptop to start the process of translating my academic arguments into less opaque language. Part way through this process I realized that what I was writing didn’t have the impact that I was hoping for; the post was turning into a simplified summary of my paper. “Surely,” I remember thinking to myself, “a blog post should be more than this?” With some time I realized that my frustration was connected to broader issues related to the translation of research, public engagement and active scholarship.

There have been useful attempts within academia to begin developing impact of scholarship, that is, actually doing something based on research findings. One crucial element of this in the UK has been the significance that is placed on evidencing the impact of research in order to obtain funding in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Unfortunately, my research in boxing has had almost zero measurable impact when considered in this manner. This is why I struggled to develop what I considered to be an interesting blog post at the time, I wasn’t ready to start telling people beyond academia about my research, as I’d not done anything really significant with it yet!

My paper was based on ethnographic research I undertook in a boxing, martial arts and weight lifting gym in England (see Matthews, 2014, 2015 for more detail). The central critique I made in the paper was that while there’s lots of evidence of broad societal shifting in various ways towards equality there are social-cultural spaces that remain, and perhaps become increasing, resistant to such change. When my analysis is broken down to this level it becomes a simple idea, and it is, so while the paper makes a relatively significant contribution to academic knowledge, the obvious question follow; so what? Or what’s next? And this is why I feel the need to create not only critique.

boxing
Luke Jones at Bexhill Film Company

Boxing, as a cultural phenomenon, has a long history of being a site for difference, inclusion, diversity and challenging social norms. Yet, it is still dominated symbolically and quantitatively by certain men and narratives about manhood. The legacy of boxing’s historical roots in a powerful, aggressive and often violent masculine body culture still shape and frame contemporary experiences inside and around the gym. However, the rise of women’s boxing, perhaps highlighted most significantly at the London 2012 Olympic games, has made stories of female boxing fair easier to tell and live (See Woodward (2012) for a discussion).

 This Girl Can Box

England boxing and many boxing clubs around the country have made significant contributions to continuing this process. And while there is still much work to be done, many boxing clubs have become spaces where powerful, skillful and strong female bodies are presented, expected and respected.

Where boxing clubs in a general sense appear to be more resistant to change is in their ability to attract and cater for LGBTQI+ communities. In many cases this is not through any sort of open or even covert homophobia, but rather a lack of knowledge about how, and in what ways, it might be possible to break the symbolic association between boxing and certain images, ideas and stories of heterosexual men. For example, I spoke recently with a gay man who really wanted to try boxing, but when attending his local gym simply couldn’t walk through the door, as if there was a force field keeping him out.

 The clearest way of tackling this issue, is to create spaces where these ‘social force fields’ can be eroded. Indeed, there are some great examples of how this is already happening (London Gay Boxing Club, Velvet Gloves Boxing NYE). So I began working with my local gym, the Eastbourne Boxing Club (EBC), to explore the potential for starting an LGBTQI+ boxing class.

The first stumbling block is funding. One of the main reasons boxing clubs do not have such sessions already is that they believe, in most cases quite rightly I would suggest, that they simply won’t be popular enough to cover expenses. Most clubs simply don’t have the finances to enable them to take risks on sessions for groups that have not traditionally been associated with boxing. I was able to secure some funding from the University of Brighton’s Community and University Partnership Programme to help in this regard.

The next issue is to find coaches who can deliver boxing in a manner which is inclusive and considered. Fortunately the coaching team EBC is not only well qualified in the sport but they also hold progressive personal political ideals. They have been really interested in the idea of promoting boxing to the local community. I have also taken the England Boxing level one boxing qualification so that I can assist where possible.

As such, we found some free time at the gym organised free boxing classes for the local LGBTQI+ community. We are currently promoting these sessions with flyers and posters both on the internet and in hardcopy. Indeed, England Boxing has helps us with this post about the sessions.

I will conduct some research based on these sessions which will help develop my existing academic explorations of boxing, produce monitoring and evaluation information for the specific sessions while, also highlight best practice and areas for improvement. The goal is to combine this information with research from other similar projects to produce guidelines and suggestions for the national governing body and other clubs who are interested in doing something similar.

This is how I have attempted to create something based on my academic critique, and this is also why I now feel like I can produce this blog post now. Simply put, I have more of a story to tell about how my research is doing something in the world rather than sitting on a shelf in the library.

Christopher R. Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. He is a competing amateur boxer who has used his active participation as central aspects of his research. He has published on a variety of topics including men’s power, sports violence, health, gender and sexuality. Alongside Alex Channon he is the co-editor of Global Perspective on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World and the co-founder of the Love Fight Hate Violence campaign.

Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk

By Amy D. McDowell

McDowell_pic
Christian Hardcore band, photograph by Amy McDowell

During the 2017 presidential campaign, James Dobson, the evangelist and founder of Focus on the Family, urged Christians to vote for Donald Trump because the leadership of Hillary Rodham Clinton scared him “to death.” After writing that Hillary “haunts” his nights and days, Dobson asked other Christians to “pray for our nation in this time of crisis” (emphasis added). In conservative white evangelical communities, a nation in “crisis” is one in which men and women are confused about gender and sexuality and do not fulfill Biblically defined gender roles.  This fixation on a crisis in gender relations has far-reaching effects; it shapes evangelical anti-LGBTQ politics, anti-abortion campaigns, and the very practice of evangelism.

In my Gender & Society article, I use ethnographic observation and interview data to show how young white evangelical Christian Hardcore men respond to a perceived crisis in gender relations as they attempt to minister to secular men in hardcore punk, a male dominated music scene rooted in anti-establishment attitudes and rituals. Christian Hardcore men, like other conservative Protestant evangelical leaders and practitioners, want the U.S. to be a Christian nation. They reason that God calls them to hardcore music, as one interviewee put it, because “He” wants them “to save the nation from the underground up.” From their perspective, the underground is full of young men who have lost sight of God, church, and family. In an attempt to pull these “lost” men into evangelical Christianity, they create Christian infused hardcore music that they can use to make contact with secular men at live shows. Continue reading “Aggressive and Loving Men: Gender Hegemony in Christian Hardcore Punk”