The Potency of Discursive Aggression in Trans Peoples’ Lives.

By stef shuster

Walking into a restaurant in downtown Metromidwest, Charlie orders a half sandwich/half soup to go. Upon placing their order, the person working the cash register looks up, smiles, and says, “Thank you Ma’am. Have a good day. Your order will be ready shortly.” Charlie levels their gaze, mumbles that they are not a lady, and continues to the waiting area for their lunch order to be called. Returning to work, Charlie sees several co-workers congregated around the conference room. One calls out, “Hey man. We were just talking about going out after work. Do you want to join in?” Charlie quietly sighs, and agrees to go out with their co-workers after work. They continue reflecting on the everyday challenges experienced in social life as a 25-year-old White genderqueer person, “I just don’t know what to say. They are my co-workers. Good people. And this is the first job that I have really liked, I don’t want to offend anyone or risk getting fired. I’ve tried before to correct them when they mis-gender me, but they just don’t get it.” Charlie shares that while these moments in interaction are common, they are difficult to negotiate, “I just expect it at this point. You know? Like – strangers don’t know that there people like me who do not identify as women or men. And my co-workers are trying to do the best they can.”

             These moments described by Charlie show us how many trans-identified people confront the limitations of language in everyday life. In my recently published piece in the August issue of Gender & Society, I examine the narratives of 40 trans people and focus on how language and talk uphold social order and regulate gender in interaction. I introduce “discursive aggression” as a term to describe how communicative acts are used in interaction to hold people accountable to social and cultural-based expectations (i.e., other-enforcement), and how individuals hold themselves accountable in anticipating the unfolding of interactions (i.e., self-enforcement). Through talk, discursive aggression regulates trans people in everyday social settings (like when Charlie is referred to as “ma’am”) and produces for them the feeling that they are not received in the ways they wish to be known, that they are made invisible, and that their self-authorship in naming and claiming a gender identity is questioned (such as when Charlie’s co-workers refer to them as “man”). Because language and talk are pervasive features of everyday life, indeed the building blocks for how individuals make sense of our selves and each other, there are limited options to respond to discursive aggression in the day-to-day interactions we have with strangers, co-workers, friends, and family.

Casual team meeting in open office discussing business
Person stands discussing business with team sitting holding documents & mugs in casual meeting in open office

  My work shows how trans people anticipate negative consequences for responding to discursive aggression. In being aware of others’ expectations for how interactions should unfold, trans people may engage in self-silencing to uphold the social order. That moment described by Charlie in seeing their co-workers and not wanting to risk correcting them out of fears of being fired, demonstrates how potent discursive aggression can be and translates to Charlie engaging in self-silencing out of fears of negative consequences they may experience by even the most well-meaning people. This particular dimension of accountability processes further shows us how power inequities play out in interaction, and how subordinated groups put in significant work to help others “save face” by not correcting mistakes, prioritize the needs of family members and friends over their own needs, and are boxed in by restrictive cultural expectations. Moving forward, scholars might consider other intersecting identities, and interactional dynamics to sort through the contexts that set the stage for people using discursive aggression–intentionally or unintentionally–to maintain their privilege in ways previously overlooked in existing scholarship and to document how power is inflected through talk and used to uphold cultural expectations and norms in interaction.

stef shuster is an assistant professor of sociology at Appalachian State University. Their research examines the social construction of “evidence” in three domains including medicine, social movements, and in the construction of knowledge. Their work has recently appeared in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior and Social Psychology Quarterly.

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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 Cost of Sexual Harassment

By Heather McLaughlin, Christopher Uggen, Amy Blackstone

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Image courtesy flickr Creative Commons

Last summer, Donald Trump shared how he hoped his daughter Ivanka might respond should she be sexually harassed at work. He said, “I would like to think she would find another career or find another company if that was the case.” President Trump’s advice reflects what many American women feel forced to do when they’re harassed at work: quit their jobs. In our recent Gender & Society article, we examine how sexual harassment, and the job disruption that often accompanies it, affects women’s careers.

How many women quit and why?  Combining survey and interview data, our study shows how sexual harassment affects women at the early stages of their careers. Eighty percent of the women in our sample who reported either unwanted touching or a combination of other forms of harassment changed jobs within two years. Among women who were not harassed, only about half changed jobs over the same period. In our statistical models, women who were harassed were 6.5 times more likely than those who were not to change jobs. This was true after accounting for other factors – such as the birth of a child – that sometimes lead to job change. In addition to job change, industry change and reduced work hours were common after harassing experiences. Continue reading “The Cost of Sexual Harassment”

Gender and the MBA: Differences in Career Trajectories, Institutional Support, and Outcomes

By Sarah E. Patterson & Sarah Damaske

In 2013, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg directed women to “lean in” at work by taking individual initiative to move into leadership positions. While Sandberg acknowledges that women are behind men in terms of promotion and pay, she suggested these gender differences could be explained primarily by the choices women were making at work. Sociologists have long been skeptical of such an individual framing, as we were. In the study described here, we seek to understand the primary factors driving gender differences among MBA graduates, asking: do women’s and men’s pathways diverge following completion of the MBA program? If so, how and why do they diverge? Using 10 to 12 years of life history information from 74 MBA graduates of an elite University, we traced men’s and women’s work patterns after they graduated with their MBA, seeking to identify places of similarity and difference across gender. Continue reading “Gender and the MBA: Differences in Career Trajectories, Institutional Support, and Outcomes”

The woman behind the man: unemployed men, their wives, and the emotional labor of job-searching

 

ByAliya Hamid Rao

“How’re you going to find a job when you have no confidence and are very emotional?”

Emily Bader, an office administrator asked me this rhetorical question when I interviewed her about her husband’s unemployment. Emily was worried about her husband, Brian, currently unemployed, who used to work as a project manager. She was concerned about the personality he projected when he went on job interviews. She thought he needed to be confident and upbeat. In his interview with me, Brian agreed with this.

But, after half a year of being unemployed and job-searching, Brian was down in the dumps. Projecting cheer was difficult for him. Emily worried about Brian, but she also worried about when and whether he would find a job. She worried for their future.unemployment

Being unemployed is difficult. There is a lot on the line: money, your relationship with your spouse (especially if you’re a man), and feelings of shame and stigma are just some of the negative impacts of unemployment.

But if you’re a white-collar worker, job-searching means showing your best side even you feel your worst. It means convincing potential employers that you not only have the right skills, but, as on a date, you also have “chemistry” with the employers. As sociological research has shown, job-searching and going on job interviews requires tremendous amounts of what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called emotional labor – “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display.” Continue reading “The woman behind the man: unemployed men, their wives, and the emotional labor of job-searching”

Is there a chilly climate for women faculty?

By Dana M. Britton

chilly-climatePicture a professor.  Who comes to mind?  These are the pictures I found in a Google Search for public domain images of a “Professor.”  The first 22 above are a diverse group, at least in terms of their eyewear, neckwear, and hair (facial and otherwise).  They are real and fictional, live and animated.  And they are all white men.

This group of images captures an enduring cultural stereotype about who discovers and possesses scientific knowledge.  It also captures an aspect of reality.  Women are more likely to hold university faculty positions than ever before, yet they remain underrepresented in the highest prestige institutions, the highest paying disciplines and at the highest ranks.  As of the academic year 2013-2014, men were about three times as likely as women to be full professors at degree-granting postsecondary institutions.  As this image suggests, most of these men were white.  Of all full professors, 57% were white men, while men of all other racial and ethnic groups made up 13%.  White women were 25% of all full professors, women of all other racial/ethnic groups, 5%. Continue reading “Is there a chilly climate for women faculty?”

Does it Cost Men to Care?

By Janette Dill, Kim Price-Glynn, and Carter Rakovski *

Occupations that have a large percentage of female workers – what we call feminized occupations – typically pay less than occupations with a predominately male workforce, even when the jobs require similar skill sets or education. And feminized occupations that require providing care for other people, called care work, are even more devalued. On the other hand, when men enter feminized occupations, past research has shown that they often experience a “glass escalator” effect, which raises their wages and opportunities for promotion as compared to their female counterparts. We were curious about what happens when men enter a feminized care work occupation. We know that care work occupations are devalued, which would lead us to expect that men working in care work occupations would make lower wages as compared to men in other occupations. However, men may enjoy the benefits of the “glass escalator” in feminized care work occupations, which may help to compensate for the devaluation of care work and boost their wages. Continue reading “Does it Cost Men to Care?”