G&S in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender & Children and Youth

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.

Dow, Dawn. (2016). The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys: Navigating the Controlling Image of the ‘Thug.’ Gender & Society, 30 (2): pp. 161-188.

Through 60 in-depth interviews with African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this article examines how the controlling image of the “thug” influences the concerns these mothers have for their sons and how they parent their sons in light of those concerns. Participants were principally concerned with preventing their sons from being perceived as criminals, protecting their sons’ physical safety, and ensuring they did not enact the “thug,” a form of subordinate masculinity. Although this image is associated with strength and toughness, participants believed it made their sons vulnerable in various social contexts. They used four strategies to navigate the challenges they and their sons confronted related to the thug image. Two of these strategies—experience and environment management—were directed at managing characteristics of their sons’ regular social interactions—and two—image and emotion management—were directed at managing their sons’ appearance. By examining parenting practices, this research illuminates the strategies mothers use to prepare their sons to address gendered racism through managing the expression of their masculinity, racial identity, and class status.

Fjær, Eivind Grip, Willy Pedersen, and Sveinung Sandberg. (2015). “I’m Not One of Those Girls”: Boundary-Work and the Sexual Double Standard in a Liberal Hookup Context”. Gender & Society, 29 (6): pp. 960-981.

Sexual morality is not keeping up with the new sexual practices of young people, even in cultures oriented toward gender equality. The Norwegian high school graduation celebration constitutes an exceptionally liberal context for sexual practices. Many of the 18-year-old participants in this three-week-long celebration engage in “hookup” activities, involving kissing, fondling, and sexual intercourse. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with 25 women and 16 men, the authors argue that while the young women avoided overt slut-shaming, the morally abject position of the “slut” was still sustained by implication. The young women drew symbolic boundaries against anonymous other women who failed to value safety, hygiene, and self-control. This boundary-work was combined with declarations of tolerance of hookup practices, reflecting a sexually liberal culture geared toward gender equality. That young women who hooked up also drew boundaries against “other” women indicates a lack of alternative gender beliefs that allow young women to positively associate with hooking up. The young men also drew symbolic boundaries in their talk about sex, but enjoyed more freedom in their moral positioning. Although the liberal context was evident, the gendered difference in sexual boundary-work may contribute to the persistence of a sexual double standard among young people.

Coe, Anna-Britt. (2015). “I Am Not Just a Feminist Eight Hours a Day”: Youth Gender Justice Activism in Ecuador and Peru. Gender & Society, 29(6): pp. 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. Coe examines how and why youth gender justice activists understand their political action differently from the professionalized adult feminists who mobilize them. Grounded theory was used to collect and analyze interviews with 21 young women and men activists on gender justice. Youth activists seek cultural changes using social advocacy to target the family, household, and intimate partnerships, what I describe as politicizing the sociocultural. They develop new ways of perceiving political action in response to challenges produced by emergent gender hierarchies, which they understand as blurred gender inequalities or processes that simultaneously enable and constrain gender equality.

Whittier, Nancy. (2016). Where Are the Children?: Theorizing the Missing Piece in Gendered Sexual Violence. Gender & Society. 30(1): pp. 95-108.

One of the symposium pieces in the Theorizing Rape issue of the journal in February 2016. Whittier draws on her research on child’s sexual assault movement, in this think piece to argue that age needs to be a component of how we understand intersectional identities within sexual violence.

Kane, Emily W. (2006) “No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like that!” Parents’ Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity. Gender & Society, 20 (2) pp. 149-176.

Drawing on qualitative interviews with parents of preschool children, the author addresses parental responses to children’s gender nonconformity. The author’s analyses indicate that parents welcome what they perceive as gender nonconformity among their young daughters, while their responses in relation to sons are more complex. Many parents across racial and class backgrounds accept or encourage some tendencies they consider atypical for boys. But this acceptance is balanced by efforts to approximate hegemonic ideals of masculinity. The author considers these patterns in the context of gender as an interactional accomplishment, demonstrating that parents are often consciously aware of their own role in accomplishing gender with and for their sons. Heterosexual fathers are especially likely to be motivated in that accomplishment work by their own personal endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, while heterosexual mothers and gay parents are more likely to be motivated by accountability to others in relation to those ideals.

Martin, Karin A. (2005). “William wants a doll. Can he have one? Feminists, child care advisors, and gender-neutral child rearing.” Gender & Society, 19 (4): 456-479.

Using an analysis of child care books and parenting Web sites, Martin asks if second-wave feminism’s vision of gender-neutral child rearing has been incorporated into contemporary advice on child rearing. The data suggest that while feminist understandings of gender have made significant inroads into popular advice, especially with regard to the social construction of gender, something akin to “a stalled revolution” has taken place. Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.

Organizer: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. Updated by: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York and  Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University.

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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

Does motherhood make women more traditional?

By Muzhi Zhou  

As a PhD scholar working on gender and family issues, and as a woman of childbearing age, I spend a lot of time thinking about the balance between work and family. I have witnessed many of my female friends move away from their promising careers to be a dedicated caregiver and educator for their young children. They shared with me their struggles and conflicting feelings in the change of roles. Those who did go back to work after maternity leave told me their lives had changed irrevocably, and they now felt that, despite what they had previously been led to believe, you could not have it all. If motherhood changes women’s lives so much, does it change their views about the roles of women and men as well? I ask this question in my Gender & Society article.

The conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

I have always been interested in the impact of motherhood on women’s lives and identity. The most striking fact is that in many developed countries, women are outperforming men in education and participating in the labour market at a similar level as men are. However, women’s labour market activity declines substantially once they become mothers. Many leave the labour market, at least temporarily, to fulfill their child-rearing responsibilities. Others are struggling to achieve a balance between work and family.

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In the United Kingdom, where I now live and study, employed mothers can have a maximum 52 weeks (up to 39 weeks are paid) of maternity leave. Formal childcare is extremely costly. The cost for a nursery school is high, starting at £30 (about $39) per day. For many women, it is unrealistic, uneconomic, or not ideal to work and spend most of the earnings on day care. National statistics show that in 2014, 61 percent of women with dependent children aged under five were working, of whom 58 percent were working part time. For many mothers, leaving the labour market to care for children seems to be the only choice, despite their earlier needs, efforts, and desires in career development. Those who maintain a full-time job as mothers are subject to great tension between work and family, especially when women are still expected to prioritize the need of children. In other words, the career of a mother, who has to care one or more young children, is likely to be at stake.

Women’s gender attitudes are related to how they settle the conflict

The substantial conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities can be powerful enough to provoke a change in women’s gender attitudes, especially their views about the gendered division of labour. Using a sample of women aged 21 to 45 who were followed up over time in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, I discovered that simply the birth of a child, or the shift from full-time employment to a non-working status is not the direct reason for changes in women’s gender attitudes. Women adjust their attitudes when their motherhood and employment statuses intersect. That is, only mothers become more traditional if they withdraw from the labour market. Among childless women, their gender attitudes remain largely stable regardless of whether they change their employment status. If we compare women’s attitudes before and after the birth of a child, those who remain in the labour market, and keep a full-time job, actually become slightly less traditional in their attitudes after becoming mothers, whereas those who withdraw from the labour market as mothers turn to more traditional attitudes. Therefore, adult women adjust their views about the gendered division of labour in family only when they are trying to settle the conflict between their employment and child-rearing responsibilities.

A call for policies targeting the conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

Gender attitudes are usually assumed to be stable during adulthood and work as an important predictor of women’s labour market performance and fertility behaviour. However, I discovered that women’s lived experience can also influence gender attitudes, which can subsequently affect future decisions to balance work and family. A critical step to further improve gender equality is to have more people practicing and supporting a symmetrical family model with dual earners and caregivers. Better work-care policies and cost-effective childcare services would enable more mothers with young children to maintain employed so that fewer women need to compromise their original gender attitudes to conform the reality of staying at home and caring for children.

Muzhi Zhou is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. She is also affiliated with St Antony’s College. Her areas of interest include gender, family and marriage, and quantitative methodology. Her recent research examines the gendered effect of parenthood and the relationship between gender equality and fertility.

Gender & Society in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender and Sports

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.

 

Musto, Michela, Cheryl Cooky and Michael A. Messner. (2017). “From Fizzle to Sizzle!” Televised Sports News and the Production of Gender-Bland Sexism. Gender & Society 31: (5): pp. 573-596.

This article draws upon data collected as part of a 25-year longitudinal analysis of televised coverage of women’s sports to provide a window into how sexism operates during a postfeminist sociohistorical moment. As the gender order has shifted to incorporate girls’ and women’s movement into the masculine realm of sports, coverage of women’s sports has shifted away from overtly denigrating coverage in 1989 to ostensibly respectful but lackluster coverage in 2014. To theorize this shift, we introduce the concept of “gender-bland sexism,” a contemporary gender framework that superficially extends the principles of merit to women in sports. Televised news and highlight shows frame women in uninspired ways, making women’s athletic accomplishments appear lackluster compared to those of men’s. Because this “bland” language normalizes a hierarchy between men’s and women’s sports while simultaneously avoiding charges of overt sexism, this article contributes to gender theory by illuminating how women can be marginalized in male-dominated, male-controlled settings via individualized merit-based assessments of talent.

Kissane Rebecca Joyce and Sarah Winslow. (2016). “You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t” Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports. Gender & Society 30: (5): pp. 819-841.

Using qualitative data, this article investigates women’s experiences in fantasy sports, a context that offers the potential for transformations in the gendered order of traditionally masculinized athletic environments by blurring the distinctions between real and virtual, combining active production and passive consumption, and allowing men and women to play side-by-side. We find, however, women often describe fantasy sports as a male/masculine space in which they are highly visible and have their ability to compete like men questioned, largely because of gendered assumptions regarding sports knowledge. Women’s attitudes and behaviors frequently reproduce traditional gender dynamics, although women also engage in behaviors and assert definitions of themselves that are potentially transformative—implicitly and explicitly pushing the boundaries of what females are expected to be and accomplish in sport. Often, however, they simultaneously reproduce and resist men’s dominance and women’s marginalization, exercising (1) “mediated agency” by using men to improve their fantasy sports experience and play or (2) “conflicted agency” by reinforcing or accepting gender stereotypes about women while using those stereotypes to their advantage or positioning themselves as atypical women to whom the stereotypes do not apply.

Gottzén, Lucas and Tamar Kremer-Sadlik. (2012). Fatherhood and Youth Sports: A Balancing Act between Care and Expectations. Gender & Society 26: (4): pp. 639-664.

Youth sports have been recognized as an arena for men to meet increased cultural expectations of being involved in their children’s lives. Indeed, in contrast to other child care practices, many men are eager to take part in their children’s organized sports. Drawing on an ethnographic study of middle-class families in the United States, this study examines how men juggle two contrasting cultural models of masculinity when fathering through sports—a performance-oriented orthodox masculinity that historically has been associated with sports and a caring, inclusive masculinity that promotes the nurturing of one’s children. Through a detailed analysis of how fathers’ sports involvement unfolds on the ground, we show how men, in order to portray themselves as “good” fathers, attempt to strike a balance between pushing their children to excel and supporting them regardless of their performance. We propose that although men may value inclusive masculinity when fathering through youth sports, at the same time they exercise orthodox masculinity in other domestic domains.

Love, Adam and Kimberly Kelly. (2011) Equity or Essentialism? U.S. Courts and the Legitimation of Girls’ Teams in High School Sport. Gender & Society 25: (2): pp. 227-249.

Feminist scholars have critically analyzed the effects of sex segregation in numerous social institutions, yet sex-segregated sport often remains unchallenged. Even critics of sex-segregated sport have tended to accept the merits of women-only teams at face value. In this article, we revisit this issue by examining the underlying assumptions supporting women’s and girls’ teams and explore how they perpetuate gender inequality. Specifically, we analyze the 14 U.S. court cases wherein adolescent boys have sought to play on girls’ teams in their respective high schools. The courts’ decisions reveal taken-for-granted, essentialist assumptions about girls’ innate fragility and athletic inferiority. While the courts, policy makers, and many feminist scholars see maintaining teams for girls and women as a solution to the problem of boys’ and men’s dominance in sport, the logic supporting this form of segregation further entrenches notions of women’s inferiority.

Organizer: Joanna Neville, University of Florida. Updated by: Lacey Story, Oakland University

The Bureaucratic Harassment of U.S. Servicewomen

By Stephanie Bonnes

Earlier this year, a closed Facebook group called “Marines United” was revealed to be a place where 30,000 military men shared nude photos of servicewomen without their consent. Sound familiar? This incident is only the most recent in a long string of military sexual abuse scandals (the Air Force, Army, and the Navy have also been implicated in the negative treatment of servicewomen). Over the years, many policy recommendations have been developed on how the military as an organization should address these issues. However, my research shows that it is also important to recognize the role of individuals who interpret, carry out, and implement organizational rules, policies, and regulations.

The culture of the U.S military promotes an aggressive, warrior identity and its command structure reflects standards of white, hetero-normative masculinity. White men comprise the vast majority of officer positions. Within the military hierarchy, service-members who are in positions of power are tasked with interpreting and implementing various rules, often based on their own discretion. This power and authority can be manipulated and exploited to cause harm.

While nearly all of the 33 servicewomen I interviewed for my study experienced some form of sexual harassment, many of their accounts focus on the bureaucratic dimension of their harassment: the precise ways that servicemen (commanders or peers) implemented rules and procedures in order to disrupt their ability to engage in the military workforce and damage their military careers.

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            For example, a white enlisted Marine recounted her attempt to report an instance of sexual harassment she experienced. She was told by her commander that, if forced to investigate, they would cancel her Christmas leave. She said, “It was clear that this was a threat. I was asked, ‘Do [you] really want to ruin this man’s career? If we have to go forward, we will have to cancel your leave.’” After suffering sexual harassment, she grew so anxious at the thought of not being able to go home that she dropped the report.

 

In another case, a Latina Captain in the Army recalled how a fellow Captain tried to undermine a decision she made regarding one of her soldiers. She says “So, my senior enlisted guy requested leave, I approve it….so, I forward it to the Captain [who tracks personnel happenings in the unit] and this motherfucker denied it. He has no authority to do that. So, I fight him on it, fight for my enlisted guy’s leave. So, he turns around and gives me a “counseling statement.” It said I was disrespecting a superior officer. He is the same rank as me … And he says my attitude is detrimental to unit morale and he has no other option but to recommend a dishonorable discharge.” This same captain repeatedly issued administrative sanctions for small and non-existent “infractions” to try to portray her as poor service-member to their commander.

These are two examples of “bureaucratic harassment,” a concept I identify as a specific sub-type of workplace harassment where bureaucracy is both the tool that perpetrators use to harass, as well as their source of power over others in the organization. By threatening to take away earned leave, the enlisted Marine’s commander manipulated his power to grant leave in order to restrict her from reporting sexual harassment. By building a paper trail of petty infractions and complaints, the Army officer’s colleague attempted to exploit his social power (as a white male over a Latina) through the bureaucratic system.

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Organizational features such as high levels of discretion in approving leave and promotions, assigning daily work activities, and conducting employee evaluations allow for individuals to cause harm through official administrative channels. Many servicewomen perceive this treatment as legitimate since it occurs through official military organizational channels. They do not report it, they spend a lot of time responding to and fighting infractions levied against them because of it, and often they end up leaving the military as a result of it. Servicewomen who are prevented from reporting experiences with sexual abuse may be forced to stay in a unit with the perpetrator. Having a negative record of service can prevent servicewomen from accessing promotions and opportunities and can result in lost post-service medical and educational benefits. By identifying the unique tactics that servicemen use to harass through bureaucratic systems, the organizational features that facilitate bureaucratic harassment, and the unique forms of harm it causes to servicewomen, my research aims to make these processes visible so that they can be recognized and prevented in the future.

Stephanie Bonnes is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her research broadly focuses on gender and race at the intersections of victimization, inequality, crime, and organizations. Her dissertation explores the experiences of women in the United States Military including, but not limited to, servicewomen’s experiences with sexual abuse.

“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right”: How intensive mothering ideologies motivate women to freeze their eggs

By Kit Myers

Elective egg freezing first caught the public eye in 2002 when a fertility center in Los Angeles began offering “commercial” egg freezing to healthy women who were delaying motherhood into their 30s. Predictions of gender-liberated utopias and eugenicist dystopias abounded in the following years and interest in elective egg freezing hit a fevered pitch in the fall of 2014 when Silicone Valley giants Facebook and Apple announced the addition of egg freezing to their benefits packages in an attempt to attract more women. Hailed by some as a move to give women in tech more control over their fertility, many commentators worried that egg freezing was, at best, a stopgap solution that failed to address systemic issues of work-family conflict in the tech industry and beyond. In lifestyle pieces and opinion columns, women who froze their eggs were alternately depicted as hard charging career women putting motherhood on the back burner or as baby-starved women desperate for a shot at motherhood.

When I began interviewing women who had chosen to freeze their eggs in the summer of 2014, I found neither of these stock characters. Instead I found a cohort of women in their mid-30s to 40s who were deeply ambivalent about motherhood. They were high achieving in education and work, but none of them felt they had made a conscious choice to prioritize their careers over motherhood. Most had expected to pursue the standard script of love, marriage, and baby carriage by their early 30s, but setbacks in their love lives —including broken engagements and divorce—had knocked them off track. They generally felt that these romantic challenges were the primary reason why they froze their eggs, but as I spoke to more and more of these women it became clear that their beliefs about the best way to raise children was a major factor as well.

In my Gender & Society article, I explore the life histories of these women in order to understand the role parenting ideologies play in choices that childless women make about their fertility. Women with electively frozen eggs provide a particularly interesting perspective on fertility decision-making because the technology of egg freezing allows women to prolong indecision. Many of these women explain that—before they froze their eggs—the ticking of the biological clock made them feel as though they had to rush to make up their minds about motherhood. Should they:

A) Settle for the next half-way decent guy to come along?

B) Give up on love and pursue single-motherhood-by-choice?

C) Give up on having kids altogether and cultivate a childfree lifestyle?

For women with frozen eggs the answer was: D) None of the above. They weren’t ready to give up on motherhood but they also weren’t ready to settle or go it alone. What they really wanted was a way to keep their options open until marriage, financial security, and career advancement allowed them to pursue motherhood on their own terms. For the women in this study, egg freezing enabled that option. But how did these women arrive at the point of needing to freeze their eggs in the first place? Demanding careers and complicated love lives played a role, but beliefs about appropriate parenting styles also contributed to their ambivalence.

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Although parenting styles abound—attachment parenting, child-centered parenting, positive parenting, slow parenting, etc.—most current mainstream parenting styles fall under the rubric of intensive motherhood, which is child-centered, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. While we often presume that new mothers get drawn into particular parenting camps during pregnancy or early motherhood, messages about appropriate middle-class parenting are so deeply embedded in mainstream culture that most women already have a sense of how they should parent, long before they ever have children.

As the name implies, intensive motherhood is intense. It demands a lot of mothers and all of the women in my study were aware of those demands. Despite being fully committed to intensive mothering, Angela worried about the toll it would take on her, explaining, “You have to sacrifice your needs for [your kids’] needs. I think if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to put their needs in front of mine … You have to hand your life over to them. It’s hard… It’s emotionally draining. It’s financially draining.” Most of the women I interviewed didn’t feel that they were up to meeting those challenges without first finding supportive partners and workplaces. Yet most of the women had already encountered inflexible workplaces and unsupportive partners and worried that they might never achieve their ideal scenario for raising children. Freezing their eggs gave these women some peace of mind that motherhood would still be an option for them when (and if) they felt ready to pursue it.

My work suggests that growth of elective egg freezing among professional-class women exposes the gaps between these women’s hopes and aspirations and the realities they encounter in their workplaces and love lives. Insecurity at home and at work leaves these women worried that they won’t be able to live up to their own expectations of good motherhood. Faced with the overwhelming demands of intensive motherhood, these women freeze their eggs in the hope of buying themselves time to find the perfect combination of factors that will allow them to be the mothers they want to be. Yet egg freezing is an imperfect fix that places the burden of resolving work-family conflict on individual women, rather than addressing the cultural and structural factors that make motherhood so difficult for these women to accomplish in the first place.

Kit Myers is a doctoral candidate in Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Their research focuses on the intersection of gender, sexualities, and families with science, medicine, and technology. They are currently working on their dissertation on professional class women’s fertility decision making.

 

Reorganization of Family in Refugee Integration

 

By: Stephanie J. Nawyn

Refugee resettlement in the US is designed to achieve individual self-sufficiency through employment, with the assumption that those refugees who cannot work (such as children) will be cared for through the employed caretakers. Unlike in other countries where acculturation is the primary goal, US resettlement assistance is directed almost entirely at facilitating refugees’ employment and ending their government cash assistance as quickly as possible (usually within 1-6 months, depending on the state in which refugees are resettled).

Holding individual self-sufficiency as a goal makes the same false assumption about family life that feminists have long criticized, that productive workers have free reproductive labor available at home to free them up for economic activity. This antiquated understanding of family formation is especially damaging for poor and working class families, including most refugee families, whose employment prospects are unlikely to provide wages sufficient to cover quality childcare or care for elderly or disabled relatives. For refugees who already face intense acculturative stress (not to mention any pre-arrival trauma), the need to acquire a job while also having caretaking responsibilities is exhausting and frustrating.

Because most everything that is necessary for survival and what we might call a life of dignity (food, water, safe housing, etc.) must be purchased, having an income is critical for survival in the US. With the decline of the welfare state and increased privatization, things that most Americans would consider rights are in fact not rights per se, but resources only available through purchase. Rights afforded by fair housing laws and rental contracts can only be accessed if people can afford to take property owners to court. The right to clean water can only be accessed if people can afford their water bill or can purchase bottled water. So challenges to earning a living become challenges to accessing the basic rights we associate with living in the US. Janine Brodie called the limiting of rights to those who can afford to purchase those rights “market citizenship”. Market citizenship limits the ability of refugees to access the basic rights they are told will be afforded to them in the US (i.e. things necessary for a safe life), as they often come with little or no financial resources or human capital that is valued by US employers.

But refugees are, by definition, survivors, and they seek out creative ways to access the labor market and their rights as new US residents. Demonstrating that rights are not just things given by the state but sometimes need to be agentively pursued, refugee households reorganize themselves to ensure that as many households as possible have the resources needed to secure their rights. My research with colleague Breanne Grace and Betty Okwako-Riekkola on Burundian families demonstrates how refugees can use creative reorganization of family households to spread out resources that provide access to market citizenship rights.

Nawyes_blog

The most common strategy we found was for refugees to redistribute family members across different households, so that every household had the human resources they needed to engage in paid employment and to access translation necessary to interact with English-only speakers. First, it was common for people to move to households that had too few earners and too many dependents. Teenagers, pre-teens, and older adults who could not easily find employment outside the home would provide childcare to families with younger children so that the adults in the family could be employed. Single adults moved in with siblings who had children in order to maximize the number of earners in a household. While this type of extended family household is common in Burundi and had been more prevalent in the US at different historical periods, it represents a departure from the definition of family propagated by the US Department of State, which would not allow some of these family members to be resettled as the same household (and in fact, many Burundians in our study had adult siblings and elderly parents back in refugee camps who had not been given refugee visas to the US).

Another limit to rights that refugees commonly experience is the inability to exercise rights because they are not English fluent. For example, in our study a Burundian family could not seek help with a basement flooded with sewage because they could not even ask anyone who to contact when the landlord failed to address it. So, Burundians redistributed household members in order to provide sufficient interpretation and translation assistance. Older children (who often learned English much faster than adults) would live with other families who were linguistically isolated (defined as having no one in the household who was English fluent). Without English speakers to interpret for free, these families would need to pay a professional interpreter.

These reformulations of family households changed the ratio of producers to dependents. We call this ratio the “neoliberal citizenship ratio”, as it represents the ratio of people who can access market citizenship under neoliberalism to people who cannot; essentially a “work to need” ratio. For families living on the margins of the economy, a high neoliberal citizenship ratio can determine how well a given household and its members will survive.

The reorganization of households was a strategy used by refugees who had extended family in the area. But for those households without extended family, co-ethnic ties were not sufficiently strong to give them access to free labor from other households. These families still received food and clothing donations from other Burundians that supplemented the meager assistance received from the state. But it did not provide the same access to basic rights that extended kin networks provided.

Our research (available in the Journal of Refugee Studies) highlights the particular ways in which the neoliberal shift from government provision to private provision hurts vulnerable people in the US, and puts additional burdens on already stressed families to make up for shortfalls in state support. It also demonstrates how the metric of success for resettlement – individual employment – erases the reproduction of family poverty inherent in the resettlement system.

Stephanie J. Nawyn is the Co-Director for Academic Programs at the Center for Gender in Global Context (GenCen) and an associate professor in the Department of Sociology with expertise in gender and migration. Her work has primarily focused on refugee resettlement and protection, as well as the economic advancement of African voluntary migrants in the U.S. She was a Fulbright Fellow at Istanbul University for the 2013-14 academic year, studying the treatment of Syrian refugees in Turkey. Her most recent work is forthcoming in Journal of Refugees Studies and Journal of Ethnic and Racial Studies. And she is currently on the editorial board for Gender & Society.