Do No Harm: Confining Young People

By Ann-Karina Henriksen

Confinement of children and young people is a contested issue, because confinement can have detrimental effects on their mental and physical development. However, sometimes confinement can be the only way to keep young people from harming themselves or others. Thus, providing for troubled and troublesome young people is a difficult task imbued with dilemmas and contradictions between safeguarding, caring for and disciplining young people placed in state care.

Confinement is punishment

The research I conducted took place in secure institutions in Denmark, where young people are placed on either legal grounds for serious offending, or on social grounds due to serious concerns about their safety or well-being. There are only 10 percent girls and all the units are gender integrated. This made me curious about how girls experienced everyday life in secure institutions and how the staff handled girls in this setting. These institutions are difficult to access for outsiders and I felt grateful for being allowed inside to study how young people experience confinement and how gender comes to matter in these institutional spaces. I wanted to understand the institutional practices in the nexus between criminal justice and child protection, while also giving voice to the experiences of young people embedded in the punitive materiality of secure institutions. I became committed to relay their frustrations about being confined, uncertainties about the length of their stay, and struggles to comply with the rules and minute regulation of everyday life.

Marginalized girls in units “for boys”

The large majority of young people are placed in secure institutions as a form of surrogate imprisonment, to comply with UN Convention of the child, stating that minors should not be imprisoned with adults. However, the girls I interviewed and interacted with during my research were mostly placed in secure institutions on social grounds due to serious concerns about their safety or wellbeing. Their troubles entailed exposure to violence as victims and witnesses, drug abuse, truancy and socio-psychiatric disorders such as personality disorders, anxiety, self-harm or risk of suicide. Most of the girls in my study lived in units where the remaining residents were boys. The discrepancies in gender and grounds for placement were concerning and became a key issue in my research.

The girls become ‘doubly deviant’ in the institutional context, as a gender minority and a minority being placed on social grounds rather than legal grounds. While the staff were committed to providing gender-neutral treatment, I found that everyday activities largely served the needs and interests of the boys placed on grounds of serious offending. This was evident in sports activities such as soccer, basketball or lifting weights, the priority given to the wood and metal workshops, the selection of films and games in the units. Changes in everyday practices to include the girls or protect the girls from sexualized interaction with the boys often resulted in the marginalization of the girls in the units. The girls were always observed by staff and could not be alone with the boys. Thus, living in a unit with boys effectively denied the girls a space for unsupervised peer interaction, and girls were marginalized because the boys often chose to interact with other boys to avoid adult supervision.

Misplaced in institutions for offenders

My research published in Gender & Society demonstrates how institutional practices produce a range of gendered vulnerabilities that potentially harm girls placed in secure institutions. A secure institution is not a treatment facility and not all the staff are trained to deal with trauma, anxiety or self-harm. The young people placed on social grounds, and the girls in particular, were referred to by staff as a demanding task, requiring not only more but also different skills and resources in the staff, such as relational and communicative skills and insights into psychiatric treatment. I found that a range of gendered needs were omitted, such as those caused by gender based violence, that the voices of girls were obscured by viewing them though a lens of pathology, and that providing special treatment often resulted in peer group marginalization. While secure care may be a lenient measure, compared to prison, for young people with records of offending, it is a punitive form of treatment and protection for the young people placed on social grounds.

Ann-Karina Henriksen is a postdoctoral researcher in criminology and social work at Aalborg University, Denmark. Her research focuses on gender, youth and crime using qualitative methods. She has previously published particularly on issues related to girls’ violent conflicts and currently explores gendered practices and experiences of young people in secure institutions. Her research has been funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research.

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“The Gray Divorce Penalty: Why Divorcing Over Age 50 Shortchanges Women”

 By Jocelyn Elise Crowley

The “gray divorce” rate, or the marital dissolution rate among Americans age 50 and older, has recently skyrocketed.  Now, 1 out of every 4 divorces is “gray.”  While liberating for many mid-life women as a chance to start over, such new beginnings also come with a substantial financial price tag that should cause us all to worry.

Several years ago, researchers Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin at Bowling Green State University were the first to document the rising gray divorce rate.  One direct cause has been the aging of the Baby Boomer generation.  The Census Bureau reports that while in 2010, there were over 99 million Americans age 50 and older, by 2050, there will be over 161 million.

Rising life expectancy has also driven this trend.  Men now live to 76.1 years and women to 81.1 years, an increase over time which has exposed both sexes to a greater chance of becoming divorced.

The problem for women facing a gray divorce is that it hits them extremely hard in the pocketbook.  During their prime earning years of their 20s and 30s, many women take time off from the workforce to raise their children.  When they return to work, they immediately find themselves earning less than the men who remained steadily employed in the same jobs.

Wage discrimination and occupational segregation into low paying “pink collar” jobs also depress women’s earnings.  All of these factors mean that women deposit fewer dollars into their savings accounts, put less money into their retirement plans, and make smaller contributions into the Social Security system.

The cumulative effects of these disadvantages are backed up by the stories of the 40 women I interviewed about their own gray divorces in 2014 and 2015 in my recently published book, Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain From Mid-life Splits (2018; Oakland: The University of California Press).  The 40 men I also spoke to—who were unrelated to the women—had very few concerns about their own financial health after their gray divorces.  The women, in contrast, were facing much more difficult circumstances.

Some of these mid-life women, like Theresa, relied on their parents to help them pay their bills after their gray divorces.  At 51-years-old and previously married for 21 years, Theresa recently returned to work as an administrative assistant after years of raising the couple’s daughter.  As she thought about going into her retirement years, she worried, “There’s probably no possible way that I could keep a roof over my head with just Social Security.”

More disturbing were the women with no family safety nets in place.  Janice, 61-years-old, divorced her husband after 36 years.  She had stayed at home many years to take care of their two daughters, and when she returned to work, she made very little money and had no long-term health care insurance policy in place.  She agonized about her health and this made her “panic because I don’t have the money now to get insurance.”

Connie, also 61-years-old, was married to her husband for nine years.  Throughout her career, she had worked as a Head Start teacher and then as a home health aide, both of which were low-paying.  After her gray divorce, she had no savings and qualified for Medicaid.  Connie noted that if she took her “retirement this summer at 62, I get a whopping $695 a month [in Social Security], which means that I will have to continue to work until I can’t, obviously.”

A gray divorce should not spell financial ruin for American women.  Stabilizing women’s economic futures involves a series of protections that should immediately be put into place by policymakers.  First, instructing girls in high school about financial planning for all of life’s contingencies should be a mandatory part of public education.

Second, implementing paid maternity leave, paid sick leave, and increased funding for child care would help ensure that women do not fall far behind men in the workforce due to their disproportionate caregiving responsibilities.

Third, Social Security reform desperately needs our attention.  Overall benefits remain too low, and women do not receive any Social Security credits for the years when they take time off from employment to care for their children.  Raising benefit levels and providing caregiver credits for those “time off” years into the Social Security benefit formula would help raise their standard of living once they retire.  These changes would help guarantee that mid-life women not only survive, but also thrive in the new, post-gray divorce chapter of their lives.

Jocelyn Elise Crowley, Ph.D., is a Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.  She is the author of Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain From Mid-life Splits. (2018; University of California Press).

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.

Millennials, Gender, and a More Open Society

By Barbara J. Risman

Cross-posted with permission from Families as they Really Are on The Society Pages

We know quite a lot, statistically, about Millennials, the up and coming young adult generation. Those who are employed are more likely than any previous generation to have a college degree. And yet, they are also more likely to live with their parents for longer stretches as adults.  The Pew Research Center Fact Tank  shows that 15 percent of Millennials live at home between the ages of 25 and 35, far more than generations before them. Their moving home continued even as the unemployment rate decreased, although those without a college degree are far more likely to boomerang home to their parents than are their college educated peers. Millennials appear to be less likely to move around the country to follow job opportunities, perhaps because so many jobs no longer carry the wages and benefits that would justify relocation. One trend very clear is that Millennials are far more likely to lean Democratic than any other generation. These left-leaning college educated young adults, some slow to fly away from the nest, are now the largest generation in America. And among women, Millennials are most likely to see the advantages men have over women, over half of them think men have it easier, far more than any previous generation. And twice as many women than men report having been sexually harassed at work, making this younger generation as aware of women’s victimization as any other.   Their mothers’ feminism hardly ended women’s problems in the workforce.

This is what we know from nationally representative statistics. But I wanted to know more, particularly about how college educated Millennials, our future leaders, felt about gender politics, not only in the workforce but how they experienced sex-based opportunities and constraints in their own lives. My colleagues and students and I interviewed 116 Millennials. Our sample was minority majority, with most of the respondents having been raised in working class, many in immigrant households. Most were now in college or recent college graduates.  In addition to recruiting a sample with much race and ethnic diversity, we also recruited a gender diverse sample, including those who rejected the gender binary entirely (some of whom identify as genderqueer) and some transgender young people. We asked these people to tell us their life history, with a specific focus on their experiences where gender was particularly salient. In the process, we sought to explore whether this new generation will change the face of gender politics at home or at work.

The answer is both yes, and no.  We could identify no one-size-fits-all generational experience.  What we did find was a complicated gender structure that some Millennials endorsed, some resisted, others rebelled against, and that left many simply confused. America continues to be a society with incredible religious diversity, and in my interviews, I quickly noticed that the men and women who were proud of their being girly girls and tough guys, wanted others in their social networks to follow sex-based traditions, and endorsed world views where men and women should have different opportunities and constraints were often raised in literalist faiths where the religious text was taken as gospel, and not metaphorical.  These true believers in a traditional gender structure came from many faiths, Evangelical Christian, orthodox Jew, Greek Orthodox, and Muslim. What they shared was a belief that god intended men and women to be complementary, not with equal opportunities to all social roles. These were young adults following in their parents’ footsteps, conserving the past for the future. In our sample, we talked to many of these young traditionalists, but in a national sample, they would be a small minority.  Still, they exist and complicate any picture of Millennials as movers and shakers of tradition.

But then, of course, many Millennials are also critical of sexual inequality. In our research, we identified two different patterns among young people with these attitudes. Some are innovators who simply ignore and reject any rules that apply only to women or men. They are proud to integrate aspects of masculinity and femininity, toughness and caring, into their own identities, reject expectations that force them into sex-specific roles, and want women and men’s lives converge so that everyone has the rights and opportunity to share the work of caring for others, and earning a living. What seems new in this generation is that this feminism isn’t a women’s only movement. These innovators are men as well as women. But some of those we interviewed went far beyond simply rejecting sexism, they rejected gender categories themselves, particularly the way social norms require us to present our bodies. These rebels reject the need for the category of woman or man. Some use the language of genderqueer, others simply say they are between the binary. A few are comfortable with remaining women but present themselves so androgynously as to be commonly presumed to be male. All reject the notion that women and men need to carry their bodies differently, or dress distinctly. These rebels have a tough time in everyday life. If you do not fit easily into a gender binary, you find yourself an outsider everywhere you turn, with no obvious restroom, no clothing designed for your anatomy, and no box to check on many surveys. While people with these problems are no doubt a very small proportion of American Millennials, they are having a tremendous cultural and political impact, with both California and Oregon now allowing people to choose a gender category other than woman or man.  These new laws provide more accurate identifications for genderqueer Millennials, as well as for intersex people. Rebels may be small in number but are clearly re-shaping cultural ideas about gender identity.

Of course, many of the young adults we interviewed were not so easily categorized. I call them straddlers because they have one foot in traditionalism and one in gender criticism.  It’s hard to know if this inconsistency is a moment in the lifecycle or will characterize their adult lives. After all, being a young adult today is confusing, and psychologists have labeled this stage of life emerging adulthood.  It is indeed a long and winding road, according to Jeffrey Arnett, from the late teens through the twenties to arrive at an adult identity and lifestyle. Many of the young people we interviewed held inconsistent  their ideas about themselves, their expectations for others, and how society should operate. They are as confused, and as in transition, as is the gender structure itself.

Millennials are a diverse group. When it comes to the gender structure, I identified four categories, traditionals, innovators, rebels, and straddlers, of Millennials with very different orientations. Does nothing, then, make this generation distinctive? Yes, some patterns do indeed provide a generational marker that transcends their differences. All these Millennials talked of women as employed workers whether they were mothers or not. The belief that the world of work and politics is for men, and the hearth and home the sole province of women is a 20th Century memory that now sits in the dustbin of history. Even women that endorse more freedom for men than women expect and desire to spend most of their adult lives in the labor force. But beyond the changing expectations for women’s lives, my research suggests the most defining feature of Millennials is their gender and sexual libertarianism.  Whatever they choose for themselves, they have no desire to impose their choices on anyone else.  What this means for America is that as the Millennials become the largest voting block, they are unlikely to cast their ballots for laws that require anyone to become just like them when it comes to gender or sexuality. And in that way, the Millennials may just take us to a more open and society.

Barbara J. Risman is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Currently she is a Fellow at the Institute of Advanced Study at Durham University in the UK.   She is also a Senior Scholar at the Council on Contemporary Families.

(UN)BECOMING A MAN: LEGAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE THIRD GENDER CATEGORY IN PAKISTAN

 

By Muhammad Azfar Nisar

Legal recognition of gender non-conforming individuals remains an important unresolved policy issue of our times as no singular approach exists to legally accommodate the unique identity of such individuals. While some countries allow change in legal gender, generally contingent on proving surgical modification of the body through medical procedures, such policies have been criticized for trying to subsume the unique identities of gender non-conforming individuals within the binary gender system. In the last decade, some countries (like Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) have opted to create a third legal gender category to recognize the unique identity of gender non-conforming and/or intersex individuals. This recent trend represents a marked policy shift towards the legal recognition of gender non-conforming individuals. While this seems a positive step on paper, we still know relatively little how gender non-conforming individuals respond to the legal third gender category.

Research Context

In an attempt to expand our knowledge about legal identity and consciousness of gender non-conforming individuals, I carried out ethnographic fieldwork with the Khawaja Sira community in Pakistan for about 9 months in 2015-16. The Khawaja Sira community of Pakistan is a heterogenous group largely consisting of gender non-conforming individuals. While most members of the Khawaja Sira community are biological males with a preference for the feminine gender, many male-to-female transsexual, intersex, impotent individuals and victims of childhood sexual abuse also self-identify as Khawaja Sira. However, almost all members, regardless of their reasons for joining, adopt the feminine gender after joining the Khawaja Sira community. Most members of the Khawaja Sira community are expelled from their homes in adolescence generally after repeated verbal and physical abuse. Living in extreme poverty, most members of the Khawaja Sira community resort to begging, dancing at private parties, and sex work to make their ends meet. Overall, the Khawaja Sira community has a pariah status in Pakistani society and until recently had no formal protection of their legal rights.

However, during the proceedings of a landmark case from 2009 to 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the creation of a third gender category to legally recognize the unique identity of the Khawaja Sira community. While the decision to create the legal third gender was accompanied with much fanfare, the response of the Khawaja Sira community to this new gender category has been underwhelming. A large majority of the Khawaja Sira community continues to legally register as men. This seemingly paradoxical choice problematizes the instrumental and symbolic value of the legal third gender.

Research Findings

My research indicates that this paradoxical choice of the Khawaja Sira community about their legal gender is primarily motivated by practical concerns. A Khawaja Sira registering as a third gendered individual faces family pressure, religious stigma and high administrative burden. On the other hand, there are hardly any material benefits associated with the legal third gender category to offset these significant personal and social costs. Hence, for the Khawaja Sira community—most of whom live in extreme poverty—their practical (material and religious) interests are served better by choosing the masculine gender legally.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee—at least in the short-term—that their strategic gender interests (like social acceptance and material inclusion) will be served by choosing the legal third gender. Importantly, the Khawaja Sira do not see law as the ultimate arbiter of their identity even though most outsiders consider this choice of the Khawaja Sira as an indication that most of them are in fact men pretending to be men.  The Khawaja Sira community, therefore, make a purposeful patriarchal bargain by choosing the masculine legal gender to take advantage of the privileges associated with the masculine identity in a patriarchal socio-legal order while foregoing the symbolic benefits associated with the legal third gender.

My findings, therefore, point to the limitations of a legal third gender category within a patriarchal socio-legal order where important benefits associated with the masculine identity are forfeited by registering. In doing so, my research cautions against over emphasizing the symbolic value of legal recognition for gender non-conforming groups. Moreover, my results suggest that unless accompanied by tangible benefits to offset the institutional biases against it, the legal third gender is not likely to be a viable strategy for social inclusion of gender non-conforming individuals, at least in regions like South Asia where such individuals often live in extreme poverty.

Muhammad Azfar Nisar is assistant professor at the Suleman Dawood School of Business at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. He is interested in understanding the dynamics of the citizen–state relationship with a particular focus on legal categorization, identity formation, social marginalization and policy implementation.

What Can Baby Names Tell us about #MeToo?

By: Tristan Bridges and Philip N. Cohen

Cross-posted with permission from Inequality By Interior Design

As the list of “great” men revealed as having committed serial acts of sexual harassment and assault continues to grow, the conversation about the collusion, complicity, and tolerance necessary for each of them to have avoided consequence for so long is important. Many of these men occupied roles as gatekeepers in their various careers—indeed, men are disproportionately in gatekeeping roles. And people in these roles sometimes enjoy power with little oversight. So, institutions are set up in ways that may not feel like they actively promote sexual harassment and assault, but do little to stop it.

Another way of looking at this problem, though, is to consider the role we all play in systems of social inequality that give rise to abuses of power. Like mass shooters and people who commit “stick-ups”, sexual harassers in the workplace are almost all men. But they’re not just any men; these are powerful men, men whose faces we recognize, who we might feel like we “know” because of their popularity, and, importantly, they’re men whose names we all know: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Bill Clinton, Louis C.K., Matt Lauer, George H.W. Bush, Roy Moore…

One way of thinking about how societies feel on a collective level is to look at aggregate behaviors. How do we act collectively and what can we learn about “us” and our society from collective action? Consider baby names. In sociologist Stanley Lieberson’s book, A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change, he was interested in the social forces and factors that help certain names become more or less popular.

Consider the name Harvey. Harvey might strike you as a dated name. And it is. Its popularity as a name for boys in the U.S. peaked in the first half of the 20th century. Then the name fell out of favor. A gradual decline in popularity is typical for names. Over the course of about 50 years, the name stopped being popular. Perhaps as those early Harveys started to grow up, the name acquired the cultural patina of the elderly (like Mildred or Herman today) and felt less like a name people ought to give to babies. Harvey ceased to even be among the top 1,000 names selected for baby boys in the U.S. in the late 1990s and early 2000s. But then, from 2011-2016, “Harvey” enjoyed a second surge in popularity. It jumped from the 857th most popular boys’ name to the 412th in just 6 years. As name popularity goes, this is steep rise.Harvey 1.png

Measured another way, we can look at the number of boys given the name “Harvey” per 1,000 boys born in the U.S., as popular names are a whole lot less popular today than they were a century ago. Still here, however, we see a very recent surge in popularity for Harvey as a name given to boys in the U.S.Harvey2.png

The play Harvey, about a man who claims to have an invisible friend who is an anthropomorphized version of a rabbit more than 6 feet tall (“Harvey” is the invisible rabbit friend) hit Broadway in 1944, written by Mary Chase. This is a plausible partial explanation for the beginning of the decline in popularity for Harvey. Who wants to name their child after a six-foot-tall invisible rabbit, right? The name may have been “contaminated” as a boy’s name. But the second surge in popularity presents us with a sort of natural experiment about the American public. The name Harvey appears to be on the way to becoming more popular. Will the Harvey’s of 2017 contaminate this name for the American public? Between Harvey Weinstein and Hurricane Harvey, the name’s had an awful year. But will people continue to give the name Harvey to their children? (Too bad, from the point of view of a clean experiment, that the scandal and the hurricane happened in the same year.)

This question got us thinking about what happens to the names of people implicated in or associated with high profile sex scandals or cases of sexual harassment and/or assault. It might be a really small indication of how invested we are, as a society, in not holding men accountable for sexual indiscretions, harassment, and assault. It’s one small way that we are all actually invested (and investing) in some of the very same forms of social inequality that helped give rise to the Harvey Weinsteins of the world in the first place.

Philip posted a few years ago on a collection of names that illustrate contamination. He used Ellen (following DeGeneres’s coming out), Forrest (following the release of Forrest Gump in theatres) and Monica (following the sex scandal involving Lewinsky and President Bill Clinton). The name “Monica” was contaminated after her involvement with the president. She didn’t claim to have been sexually assaulted, but her participation in this high-profile scandal appears to have played a role in contaminating the name—people stopped naming their daughters “Monica” in as great of numbers following the event (see below). Bill Clinton had a more popular name (“William”) among boys than Monica did among girls. But, we wondered, was his name contaminated too? Not many parents name their children “Bill” alone. Since 1994, “Bill” hasn’t been among the top 1,000 names given to boys in the U.S. William, however, has been a top 20 name for over 100 years in the U.S.

Bill and Monica1.png

The popularity of the name “Monica” among girls dropped immediately following the news of the scandal in January of 1998. While only subtly, the name William moved up the rankings of names given to boys. Many president’s first names influence the popularity of a name. In fact, it’s arguably a small measure of what the public thinks of the president. Was he a man worthy of emulating with a name? Bill Clinton appears to have passed the test. So, the sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton contaminated her name, but not his. This is an important way we (at least collectively) are all implicated here. Below, you can see a more fine-grained way to measure shifts in name popularity. Rather than visualizing names by rank, this measure attaches names to population denominators so that name popularity is expressed in births per thousand boys and girls and scaled such that 100=the scandal year (of comparison). Again, the name “Monica” appears seriously contaminated following the scandal, while William does not.

Bill and Monica2.png

Consider another example from a bit earlier—Anita Hill’s testimony against Clarence Thomas during his confirmation hearings for The Supreme Court. Hill described being consistently subjected to sexual harassment by Thomas in a supervisory role over her at both the Department of Education and the EEOC. Hill testified in 1991. At that time, the baby names “Anita” and “Clarence” were both declining in popularity (so, the names present a different scenario). But right around 1991, Anita started to drop in the rankings faster than Clarence. It appears that having been sexually harassed may have contaminated the name “Anita” among parents, but sexually harassing did not have the same contaminating effect on “Clarence.”

Anita and Clarence1.png

Once again, women’s involvement in a high-profile heterosexual sex scandal may have contaminated her name, but seems to have failed to meaningfully impact his. Yet, when we measure name popularity by births per thousand boys and girls, scaling them to the year Hill testified against Thomas, the allegations don’t appear to have a noticeable impact on either “Anita” (for girls) or “Clarence” (for boys). So this case is not as clear.

Anita and Clarence2.png

What we can look at is the effect of high-profile sex scandals and cases of sexual harassment and assault to see if they ever affect name popularity for boys’ names. Stanley Lieberson, Susan Dumais, and Shyon Baumann looked at something similar in their article on the “instability of androgynous names.” They were interested in what happens to androgynous names (names given to roughly equal numbers of boys and girls—like Taylor, Jesse, Hayden, Charlie, or Emerson) over time. Androgynous names are, they discovered, unstable. They rarely persist and remain androgynous and they follow a social pattern. Androgynous names that become popular become girl names—we stop giving the names to boys when they become popular. The association with femininity (for boys) is more stigmatizing (or “contaminating” in name lingo) than the association with masculinity (for girls). We’re all implicated in that finding in one way or another.

The two scandals discussed above, though, are distinct in that they have one man and one woman associated with them. So, we can look at how the same event shaped subsequent fashions in baby names for boys and girls in different ways. In both scandals, the effect was the same. But many of the sex scandals in the news today have large collections of women harassed and abused by one man (like Harvey Weinstein). So, for many of these cases, we lack the gendered comparison visible on the previous two figures. What we can look at is the effect of high-profile sex scandals to see if they ever effect name popularity for boys’ names. Clearly, they do sometimes for girls’ names. In this way, what happens to the popularity of the name “Harvey” might tell us something important about us.

 

Activism against Sexual Violence is Central to a New Women’s Movement: Resistance to Trump, Campus Sexual Assault, and #metoo

By Nancy Whittier

Cross-posted with permission from Mobilizing Ideas

Sexual violence and harassment have been central issues in almost every era of women’s organizing and they are central to a contemporary women’s movement that both builds on and differs from earlier activism. Since 2010, a new generation of activists has targeted sexual violence in new ways. Slutwalks, a theatrical form of protest against the idea that women provoke rape by their dress, brought a new spin to long-standing “Take Back the Night” marches against violence against women. The wave of activism grew as college students began speaking out about assault on campus and gained a broad platform through social media. Students protested institutional failures to follow procedures for addressing sexual assault and used symbolic tactics to highlight the issue. For example, in 2014/15, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz carried her dorm room mattress everywhere as a protest against Columbia’s inaction after she reported sexual assault. “Carry That Weight,” her project title, became the name for an emerging activist group. Another, “No Red Tape,” led to a cross-campus day of action in which activists attached pieces of red tape to clothes or campus statues.

Activism against sexual assault on campus found an opportunity for influence in stepped-up enforcement of Title IX (the federal law barring sex discrimination in educational institutions) under the Obama administration). The federal Department of Education under Obama interpreted Title IX as requiring colleges to adjudicate complaints of sexual assault promptly and effectively and address the risk of sexual assault as a violation of women’s right to educational access. Students used this opportunity to pressure institutions, organizing across campuses to teach each other how to file Title IX complaints through organizations like “Know your IX.”

This percolating movement was significant, but limited mainly to college campuses. It took the election of Trump to connect the campus sexual assault campaign to a broader movement. Trump’s attitudes toward women were well known before the campaign but his recorded comments about kissing and grabbing women nevertheless were shocking. When numerous women alleged that Trump had grabbed, fondled, and forcibly kissed them, his opponents framed him as an unrepentant sexual assaulter. The gender politics were enhanced by the fact that Trump’s opponent in the election was a woman.

All this set the stage for activists to frame mass protests against Trump as a women’s march. Despite the name, the marches included people of all genders and a focus on every possible issue within a progressive coalition, including sexism, racism, immigration, homophobia, reproductive rights, sexual assault, environmental protection and climate change, labor, democracy, and more. Dana Fisher has shown the prevalence of intersectional frames at the march, connecting across issues and emphasizing how race, class, and gender work together to shape experiences and needs. Sexual assault was a key issue for protesters and sparked the iconic “pussy hats” and slogans like “pussy grabs back.”

The mass mobilization of the women’s marches, Trump’s sexism, and pre-existing organizing against sexual violence together fueled the #metoo movement. In the wake of Trump’s pre-election comments, women around the country reportedly began speaking with their family and friends about their own experiences of sexual assault. #Metoo as an organizing phrase, coined in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, grew exponentially in 2017. The cultural visibility of sexual assault and harassment that began after Trump’s recorded comments combined with the viral hashtag to produce something unprecedented.

From a social movement theory perspective, #metoo is both a frame and a tactic. As a frame, it suggests the widespread nature of sexual assault and frames all forms of sexual harassment and violence as part of a similar phenomenon of gendered power. As a tactic, it encourages solidarity and visibility as women and people of other genders “come out” about their experience. And, of course, the many men in government and entertainment who have lost their positions suggests a concrete, but individual, outcome. Because sexual harassment and assault are already illegal, activists’ goals center on cultural change, including enforcement of existing law and – equally important – changes in norms of interaction, views of gender, and practices of sexual consent.

In the 1970s, when feminists first focused on sexual violence, they framed it as “violence against women.” Over time, activists began to address violence against men, transgender and gender non-confirming people, and children.Activists grappled with the impact of race and class, both in terms of the greater vulnerability of women of color and low-income women to sexual assault and in terms of the elevation of a raced and classed ideal of sexual purity, and like most movements, they grappled with race and class dynamics within the movement itself. Debates are percolating between younger and older activists, between activists steeped in anti-racist and intersectional organizing and those taking a single-issue approach, and between those who support “pussy hats” as a way of asserting self-determination and those who see them as advancing a biological essentialism that marginalizes transgender women and women of color.

The Women’s Marches were broadly coalitional even as they sparked debate over their gender and racial dynamics. Similarly, the nascent #metoo movement is beginning to form such coalitions and to address sexual violence through an intersectional lens. For example, prominent actresses brought activists from groups like the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance to the Golden Globe awards to bring attention to sexual harassment in less-visible, less-powerful industries. It is too soon to know, however, whether the women’s marches and anti-violence movement will become truly intersectional in their frame, diverse in composition, and coalitional.

At the same time, women of color and queer people have been leading some of the most vibrant protests of the past few years, such as Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock Pipeline protests, and the Dreamers movement. In these movements, gender and sexuality are framed as integral to the issues of racism, immigration, and environmental protection. These movements are an integral part of a “new women’s movement,” and they point out the importance of defining that movement broadly.

Will these various strands gel into a durable and powerful coalition? What will the place of activism against sexual violence be in such a coalition? Paths into the future are not determined, but the decisions that activists make now will progressively constrain them. As scholars, we know that shared enemies can foster coalitions, but that cross-cutting inequalities and difference of collective identity can foreclose them. Sexual violence has been an enduring issue in organizing by women across race and class. As this new movement unfolds, its dynamics of coalition and conflict will shape the degree to which it is a “women’s movement,” narrowly defined, or a broader movement that centers class, race, and a range of genders.

Nancy Whittier is Professor of Sociology at Smith College. She is the author of The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse (Oxford, 2009), Feminist Generations (Temple, 1995), numerous articles and chapters on gender and social movements, and a forthcoming book on how feminists and conservatives influence policy on sexual violence. Her article can be found in the February 2016 30 (1) issue of Gender & Society.