Calibrating Extremes: The Balancing Act of Maternal Foodwork

By Kate Cairns, Josée Johnston and Merin Oleschuk

 

When it comes to feeding children, mothers today must avoid the appearance of caring too little, or too much. Either extreme garners social stigma, although the penalties are far from equal.

Theresa describes how becoming a mother brought heightened significance to her food decisions. “I really tried to avoid the junk,” she says, hosting a focus group of friends in her Toronto apartment. A mixed-race single mother raising three kids on social assistance, Theresa says the scarcity of time and money makes putting regular healthy meals on the table difficult. But occasionally her efforts pay off. She recalls with pride the time her five-year-old son “went to a birthday party at McDonald’s, came home and threw up because he just wasn’t used to that food.” For Theresa, her son’s intolerance for fast food was evidence of her devoted feeding work.

The specter of the “McDonalds Mom”

When we conducted interviews and focus groups with Toronto women, many mothers described ongoing efforts to feed their kids nutritious meals, while avoiding processed “junk.” In doing so, these women distanced their own feeding practices from an imagined “bad” mother who makes “bad” food choices. Carol (white, producer) admits that she sometimes scrutinizes other grocery carts with a “judgmental eye” when she sees “really awful stuff going down the conveyer belt with kids there.” Tara (a white single-mother who was unable to work due to chronic pain) expressed frustration that her son’s healthy lunches would inevitably be traded for junk because his friends were sent to school with “all this crap.”

As mothers in our study distanced themselves from an unhealthy “Other” who made poor food choices, we were surprised how frequently McDonald’s entered the conversation. McDonald’s seemed to function as a trope symbolizing “easy” meals, “unhealthy” choices, and “bad” mothering more generally. Gail (white, acupuncturist) contrasted her vision of healthy home cooking with a “stereotypical image of someone stopping at McDonald’s to get food for their kids.” Marissa (Black, project manager) confessed that as “busy people we do need to do fast food,” but clarified that “my kids will tell you that does not mean McDonald’s.” Lucia (Latina, social worker) said she and her son “talk about what’s junk and you know, McDonald’s and all that kind of food” in an effort to teach him “what’s healthy, what’s not healthy.”

Again and again, mothers distanced themselves from the figure of the “McDonald’s Mom,” a stigmatized “Other” they used to defend their own feeding practices. While this defense may seem judgmental, we suggest mothers’ efforts to establish this distance reflect the intense pressures they experience feeding their children. These pressures are especially penalizing for poor women who struggle to feed kids on a limited budget and racialized women who face enduring racist stereotypes about parenting and food choices. Indeed, the assumption that poor mothers make inferior food choices is evident in recent calls to restrict what can be purchased on SNAP benefits, undermining the essential role of government assistance in mitigating the effects of poverty.

Going organic… but not too organic

When distancing their own feeding practices from “bad” ones, some mothers described feeding their children an organic diet – a resource-intensive practice that has become a gold standard of middle-class motherhood. Mothers today face considerable pressure to purchase ‘pure’ foods that are free of harmful chemical additives; this “intensive feeding ideology” involves the added work of researching products, reading labels, and making baby food from scratch.

Bananas

Some more privileged mothers in our study expressed preference for these standards, but insisted they weren’t dogmatic in their commitment. Tammy (white, daycare worker) explained that while she and her husband provide their son healthy foods, they “try very hard also not to get into that urban, crunchy granola mafia kind of mindset.” Elaine (Asian, research analyst) described how she “goes with the flow” when feeding her infant daughter, and contrasted this approach with friends who are “very militant about it… almost as if it’s a religion.”

Thus, when feeding children an organic diet, mothers risk resembling another stigmatized figure: the overbearing “Organic Mom” whose feeding practices venture into excess. Implicitly coded white and affluent, this pathologized figure obsesses over what her kids are eating, denying them the tasty treats associated with childhood. Like the McDonald’s Mom, the Organic Mom is not a real person, embodied in a singular mother; she is an imagined figure used to police the boundaries of maternal foodwork.

Feeding children: A struggle shaped by social inequality

Importantly, the McDonald’s Mom and the Organic Mom do not entail equal social sanction. The stigma of being perceived as a “bad” feeder is much more socially discrediting, and engenders significantly greater penalty – including surveillance from state institutions like schools, doctors, and child welfare agencies. What’s more, an individual woman’s relationship to these figures is shaped by her social location. Given the challenge of feeding children on a limited income, along with racist ideologies linking “healthy eating” to whiteness, the threat of being categorized as a McDonald’s Mom is clearly greater for poor women and women of color than for affluent white women. And the risk of being perceived as controlling or uptight is incomparable with the stress of food insecurity. Shannon, a white single-mother living on social assistance, said she wished she could buy organic food, but has to ration her own fruit and vegetable intake so her daughter can eat them. She explained that when there’s not enough for both of them, “I will say I don’t feel like eating.”

Our point is not to equate these uneven penalties, but to draw attention to the multiple ways mothers are harshly judged for their foodwork. Notably, comparable figures of the “McDonald’s” or “Organic Dad” did not emerge in our broader study (which included men), revealing the continued gendered burden of feeding children and the more flexible standards fathers face when doing this work.

What became clear throughout our research is that mothers from diverse backgrounds face pressure to continually monitor their children’s eating in ways that are careful and responsible, yet don’t appear obsessive or controlling. We call this process calibration – the constant balancing act of striving for an elusive maternal ideal. Calibration is labor-intensive and emotionally taxing, part of the seemingly impossible task of performing the “good” mother. If you opt for affordability or convenience, you risk being seen as a McDonald’s Mom. If you take your job as health-protector too seriously, you may be deemed an obsessive Organic Mom who deprives her kids of childhood joys like hotdogs. These gendered pressures not only contribute to mother-blame, but distract us from the larger harms perpetuated by an unhealthy, unsustainable, and unjust food system. Instead of trading in individualized blame, let’s work to build an equitable food system that promotes the health of all children, not simply those whose mothers appear to care (and spend) just the right amount.

Kate Cairns is an Assistant Professor of Childhood Studies at Rutgers University-Camden. She is coauthor of Food and Femininity (Bloomsbury 2015) with Josée Johnston, Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Merin Oleschuk is a PhD Candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto studying home cooking and family health.

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Rural Migrant Men in Urban China: Masculinity and Compromise

By Yinni Peng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Potency of Discursive Aggression in Trans Peoples’ Lives.

By stef shuster

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

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

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

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

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

Getting More Men Involved – But Which Men?

By Tal Peretz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] All participant names are pseudonyms

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The following Gender & Society articles focus on the growing scholarship on transgender and non-binary gender identities.  As this body of scholarly literature continues to grow, as will this list of articles that may be used as supplements to other readings in the classroom.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 2016. Forty Years after Brownmiller prisons for men, transgender inmates, and the rape of the feminine. Gender & Society 30 (1): 14-29.

In this essay, we draw on a growing body of research, including our own work recently published in this journal, to consider the social organization of prison rape as it relates to transgender women. Just as Brownmiller (1975) focused attention on rape as a male prerogative, a weapon of force against women, and an agent of fear, our central focus is on “the rape of the feminine” in the context of prisons for men and with an eye toward the intersection of the state and violence. In the next section, we inventory some alarming facts about the rape of transgender women in carceral environments built for men (and only men). Thereafter, we describe and theorize the unique space and social relations in which this type of rape emerges in relation to the social organization of gender in prison. We conclude with comments about the relationship between embodiment, gender, and the rape of the feminine in a carceral context.

Davis, Georgiann, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy. 2016. Giving sex: Deconstructing intersex and trans medicalization practices. Gender & Society 30 (3): 490-514.

Although medical providers rely on similar tools to “treat” intersex and trans individuals, their enactment of medicalization practices varies. To deconstruct these complexities, we employ a comparative analysis of providers who specialize in intersex and trans medicine. While both sets of providers tend to hold essentialist ideologies about sex, gender, and sexuality, we argue they medicalize intersex and trans embodiments in different ways. Providers for intersex people are inclined to approach intersex as an emergency that necessitates medical attention, whereas providers for trans people attempt to slow down their patients’ urgent requests for transitioning services. Building on conceptualizations of “giving gender,” we contend both sets of providers “give gender” by “giving sex.” In both cases too, providers shift their own responsibility for their medicalization practices onto others: parents in the case of intersex, or adult recipients of care in the case of trans. According to the accounts of most providers, successful medical interventions are achieved when a person adheres to heteronormative gender practices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Women, Activism and Social Movements

Women have been important advocates for social justice; however, much of the research on social movements focuses on male experiences or does not use a gendered approach in its analysis. The experiences of women activists, their motivations, and reasons for becoming involved in political action often differ from men and these differences are important to understand for future movement building. This collection of articles discusses women activists and women’s social movements from around the world. Together, they illustrate the wide variety of injustices women are working to rectify as well as the challenges and successes. Many of these research articles discuss the importance of understanding the role played by individual and collective identity in motivating political action. This is particularly vital when an individual holds multiple minority statuses (e.g. the intersection of race, class, gender, and sexuality). Students will be inspired not only by the contributions of women to social change, but to also explore how their own social identity shapes their involvement in social justice work.

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): 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. I examine 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.

Bell, Shannon Elizabeth and Yvonne Braun. 2010. Coal, identity, and the gendering of environmental justice activism in Central Appalachia. Gender & Society 24 (6): 794-813.

Environmental justice movements differ from environment activism in that the focus is on justice for the people who live, work and play near polluted or toxic areas.  Women are typically at the forefront of environmental justice movements, often spurred by their identities as mothers. Bell and Braun explore this trend by analyzing how women and men’s identities shape environmental justice activism in Central Appalachia coalfields. They conducted 20 interviews with men and women involved in environmental justice movements. They found that in Central Appalachia, masculinity is closely linked with employment in coal mining as well as a “code of silence” that prevents many men from speaking out about injustices. However, some men in the study feel that these issues can be overcome. Other findings support the literature that suggests that it is women’s identities as mothers which prompts their environmental justice activism.

Gordon, Hava Rachel. 2008. Gendered paths to teenage political participation: Parental power, civic mobility, and youth activism. Gender & Society 22 (1): 31-55.

This article proposes that gender shapes “the development, involvement, and visibility” of teenagers as activists. The focus is on understanding the forces that contribute to a teenage girl’s involvement in activism and social movement. A key factor in a youth’s likelihood of engaging in political activity is the role of the parent. While a parent’s ideologies can motivate a young person to become involved in activism, parental concern for the safety of their child may present a barrier.  Findings suggest that girls are more likely than boys to exhibit a disconnect between their political consciousness and degree of action due to parental power. This can have ramifications for future political participation.

Culley, Marci R., and Holly L. Angelique. 2003. Women’s gendered experiences as long-term Three Mile Island activists. Gender & Society 17 (3): 445-461.

This article examines women who have been antinuclear activists at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant for two decades. Qualitative interviews focus on their perceived transformations over time that are based on gender and everyday experiences. They perceive gender as both a barrier and a facilitator to activism, even after 20 years. Women describe their technological education as one strategy to overcome the barrier of gender. On the other hand, they consider the gendered role of motherhood as a primary catalyst for action. In addition, they discuss individual everyday experiences focused on the health concerns for family members that influenced their political activity. Over time, women linked personal transformations with increased political understanding and involvement.

Einwohner, Rachel L., Jocelyn A. Hollander, Toska Olson. 2000. Engendering social movements: Cultural images and movement dynamics. Gender & Society 14 (5): 679-699.

This article discusses the role of gender in social movements. First, the authors create a typology of the ways in which social movements are gendered – gendered composition, gendered goals, gendered tactics, gendered identities, and gendered attributions. Second, they explore the processes by which movements are or become gendered. Finally, the implications for social movement outcomes are discussed with a focus on the “double bind” faced by movements attached to femininity. The authors write that gender in a social movement may be beneficial or detrimental to its goals and legitimacy. Social movements from the United States, Europe and Latin America are used for illustration. They conclude by calling for more gendered analyses of social movements.

Also see: Verta Taylor and Nancy Whittier edited two special issues on Gender and Social Movements. Part 1: Vol. 12, No. 6 (Dec., 1998), pp. 622-625. Part 2: Vol. 13, No. 1 (February 1999).

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

Organized by Jennifer L. Bronson, Howard University, Department of Sociology. Updated by Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University. Comments and suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu.