Shattering the Glass Runway in Fashion

By Allyson Stokes

On Tuesday, February 20th, Karl Lagerfeld passed away at the age of 85, after a career spanning six decades in the fashion industry. Lagerfeld was one of the most prolific, influential, and celebrated fashion designers of all time. Most famous for his work as creative director of Chanel and Fendi, Lagerfeld also ran his own eponymous line, and has been credited with several industry innovations, including ushering in an era of high-end designer collaborations with fast-fashion retailers, such as H&M. Although close friends often referred to him as kind and funny, Lagerfeld was a controversial figure to say the least. He was known for public statements that many found offensive, even misogynistic. For instance, critics derided his statement that Adele was “a little too fat” and that Pippa Middleton shouldn’t show her face but “only her back.” Most recently, he came under fire for his comments regarding sexual harassment. In an interview with Numero magazine, Lagerfeld stated a lack of support for Me Too and argued that “If you don’t want your pants pulled down, don’t become a model.”

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As a white man sitting atop an industry populated primarily by women workers, Lagerfeld in many ways was the quintessential example of the glass runway phenomenon, which I wrote about in my 2015 Gender & Society article entitled “The Glass Runway: How Gender and Sexuality Shape the Spotlight in Fashion Design.”  In this article, I examined the following puzzle: In an occupation where women far outnumber men, why is it that men fashion designers tend to receive more symbolic rewards in the form of prestigious industry awards, media attention, and critical acclaim? Using descriptive statistics and a content analysis of 253 fashion media texts, I found that: (1) men receive more awards and are more likely to be canonized than women; and that (2) because the evaluation of culture is fraught with ambiguity and uncertainty, gender essentialism seeps into discourses of art and culture used to represent men and women designers in fashion media, helping construct a masculine image of the ideal fashion designer. These processes push men designers outward into the spotlight as though walking a glass runway.

 

It is, therefore, no small news, that Lagerfeld’s named successor at Chanel is to be a woman – Virginie Viard. Thought certainly not underprivileged or a vulnerable worker herself (she worked closely with Lagerfeld at Chanel for years), Viard’s appointment is an important one for an industry that has only recently begun to deal with its gender inequality problem.

Since The Glass Runway, I have been thrilled to see that my findings have garnered attention within the fashion industry itself. I have been interviewed about gender inequality in fashion for blogs, newsletters, and magazines with both national and international readership, sometime in the millions. In some ways, I was surprised by this uptake, having worried that the industry would instead take a defensive stance to academic critique. On the other hand, since 2015, the topic of gender inequality has “gone mainstream,” largely due to a renewed women’s movement spurred by the current political climate and Me Too.

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Artist: Matt Maitland

Perhaps the best example of fashion’s emerging concern with inequality is that, last year, the Council of Fashion Designers of America partnered with Glamour Magazine on their own study about gender inequality in fashion, which they also called “The Glass Runway.”  Working with consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the CFDA and Glamour conducted a survey of 535 fashion industry professionals about gender and fashion (no details on their sampling, recruitment, or other methodological strategies were reported). They found that while 100% of women surveyed claim gender inequality is a problem in fashion, only half of the men said the same. This is despite the fact that only half of womenswear brands are headed by women designers, and only 14% of major brands have a female executive. And while women are 17% more likely to aspire to top executive positions at the start of their career, by mid-career, men are 20% more likely than women to have these aspirations, suggesting a disillusionment over time on the part of women who face substantial barriers to career advancement. In fact, they found that 25% fewer women get promoted without asking than men, and 72% fewer get promoted without asking at the management level. Their survey respondents cite a lack of clarity in what it takes to be promoted, a lack of mentorship and support for women, and work-family barriers, as key reasons for this inequality.

Based on these results, the CFDA and Glamour recommended a series of “action items” for moving forward. These action items are all worthy and vital components of addressing gender inequality in fashion. However, there are certain concerns that remain unaddressed, which are critical in moving forward.

First, they recommend cultivating greater awareness how of gender diversity offers business advantages. This recommendation is supported by a great deal of empirical research showing that diverse teams and organizations are more productive, creative, innovative, and perform better financially. Yet, there is no concrete strategy outlined for how this recommendation can be rolled out. The industry must now ask itself how to build this understanding and increase buy-in for gender equity strategies. For example, will moving forward entail affirmative action practices? If so, what is the best to gain the support of those who perceive of these initiatives as quota systems not based on merit? There would need to be significant cultural / attitudinal change within and outside the industry to make this happen effectively.

Second, they recommend improved transparency and clarity in evaluations, promotions, and compensation. This recommendation closely aligns with my own findings – that ambitious evaluation criteria make it easier for gender and other biases to creep into evaluation processes. However, as I argue in my article, the key is not merely to better communicate evaluation criteria, but also to unpack how these criteria are themselves built upon gender stereotypes and assumptions. In addition, the rise of precarious and short-term employment may render this recommendation difficult to implement. In fashion, as across the labor market, jobs are becoming more short-term and project-based. Within-organization transparency is vital to achieving better equality, but we must also consider how to achieve this transparency and clarity when people are going from job to job, project to project, team to team.

The third action item is to provide skill-based training and mentorship programs for empowering women. As a key mechanism in the glass escalator, and a key component of the glass runway reported by women in fashion, mentorship and the support of leaders is key. Some important ways to implement this would be to host mentorship matching events at conferences, fashion weeks, and other industry events, and to include both women and men in these initiatives. Research shows that women’s only networks and mentorship programs have benefits but can sometimes further segregate women from powerful networks and are sometimes disregarded as opportunities for women to “bitch” and “complain.” To avoid this, leaders in the industry must: promote the work and accomplishments of women; build diverse and inclusive networks; and facilitate relationships based on support rather than competition.

Fourth, the CFDA and Glamour suggest offering unconscious bias training for those occupying leadership positions. They argue that one likely reason why all women surveyed, but only half the men, felt gender inequality was a problem in fashion, was due to the numerical over-representation of women in the field, making it seem like fashion is dominated by women. Unconscious bias training can go a long way toward improving day to day interactions and practices within organizations, and to improving hiring and review practices. It may also help with the buy-in issue noted above.

Finally, they recommend establishing work-flexibility policies and programs that will help workers balance work and family responsibilities. Again, this is a vitally important component of equitable working conditions. To implement these effectively, at least three things must be considered: 1) work-flexibility policies without cultural organizational change will not be effective; 2) policies must not become “women’s policies” either in name or practice, and must be inclusive; and 3) attention must be focused on how to achieve work-life integration for those workers without long-term stable jobs, since, as noted above, standard work forms are becoming less normative.

I am heartened by the emerging commitment to equality within the fashion industry. Moving forward, there are five main ingredients that I would recommend as vital in developing a recipe for effective and sustainable change.

1.) There should be more collaboration between scholars and industry members when it comes to developing knowledge and strategies for action.

2.) We must pay more attention to deconstructing the gender binary in relation to these issues so as not to leave trans and gender fluid fashion workers out of research, policy, and discourse.

3.) Attention must paid to the important relationship between policy and culture in order to ensure support for any recommended changes.

4.) Consideration of diverse work forms, including short-term and precarious jobs, is necessary in order to fully understand and address the processes through which inequality manifests in fashion.

5.) Finally, and perhaps most important, the report made no mention of how women’s experiences are not homogenous, or how an intersectional approach may be of benefit. My article engaged the intersection of gender and sexuality, but unfortunately did not considered race, class, disability, or age. I am now in the process of planning a new collaborative study about Indigenous fashion designers, which will examine the intersections of gender and race in shaping the glass runway. This research will be conducted with two other scholars and an Indigenous fashion designer. My hope is that this research will receive as much uptake from the fashion industry as my earlier research, and will promote a more intersectional approach to within-industry efforts toward change.

Allyson Stokes is an assistant professor of Sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland. Her research interests include gender, inequality, work, and culture, with a particular focus on intersecting inequalities in creative industries and cultural production. Her work has appeared in publications such as Gender & Society, Social Currents, Canadian Review of Sociology, and the Oxford Handbook of Pierre Bourdieu. 

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Roma: Domestic Work Researchers Respond to Highly Acclaimed Film, Part I

Winner of a Golden Globe and recipient of several Academy Award nominations, including for Best Picture, Roma, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, follows a year in the life of a domestic worker and the Mexico City family that employs her. Although the film has spawned many conversations among critics and audiences, and even domestic worker advocates, the voices of expert researchers of domestic work in Latin America have often been absent. Spoilers abound!

Here is the first part of a blog that will offer critiques of the film by members of RITHAL (a network of researchers who study domestic work in Latin America). If you are interested in learning more about RITHAL, please contact Erynn Masi de Casanova. Casanova also provided the translations from Spanish to English for some of these essays.

“Labor” and Care in Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma

By Romina Cutuli

“Labor” is, in Hannah Arendt’s terms,[1] that set of activities as trivial as they are necessary for sustaining life. In what seems to be an anthropological constant, we observe the delegation of a particular social group—because of class, race, and gender—to carry out these activities. This intersectionality is crystallized in the character of Cleo. Beyond the praise of film critics and the disappointment of some mainstream audiences, what does Roma tell us about domestic work? Among the critiques I’ve seen online, one is constant: the film’s slow pace. The cadence of Cleo’s labor, its ephemeral and thus repetitive character, is our first impression of the cinematographic experience. The tasks get repeated, as do the reasons for going back and doing them again. These are so many snapshots of the repetition, intensified by an ending that suggests a cycle. Here comes the spoiler alert: the labor will take place day after day, without any of the magic we see in other film genres, in which repetition can be undertaken through supernatural means.

It’s nature that imposes this labor on us, says Hannah Arendt. Nature reminds us of our animal-ness and keeps us from transcending death. As Arendt anticipated and Katrine Marçal gracefully put it, “work” and “action” need this “labor” to happen first.[2] Care implies constant presence, as Gorz notes.[3] Cleo is there to serve breakfast, to pick up clothes, to save a life by risking her own. Unlike the case of a firefighter or a doctor, the economic cost of her permanent presence is amortized over time and the true value of her labor is never calculated. To build a world of things, to leave our mark and make our aspirations reality, we have to avoid domestic work, either by living a simple, childless life, or perhaps, through the commodification of domestic work as gendered and low-cost.

And here emerges another aspect of the intersectional inequalities expressed in Roma. These unequal relationships are necessary so that some people can transcend the everyday. So that Antonio, barely in the film, can run in the rain like a love-drunk teen, Sofía (his wife and Cleo’s employer) has to manage the daily life of the home and four children. So that Sofía can work full-time in publishing, have time let down her hair and time to herself, there must be a Cleo. A young, poor, indigenous woman, the last link in a chain of inequalities. The freedoms of some are possible only through the bondage of others, and material socioeconomic inequalities ensure that these types of social relations reproduce themselves.

Sofía’s freedoms are curtailed so that Antonio can be free. For Sofía to maintain some bit of freedom, there have to be poor, marginalized women whose only means of subsistence is selling their labor power round the clock in other people’s homes. When you put it like that, the injustice is inexcusable. We look for gentler ways to describe how some people are able to rise because of the invisible work of others. So we have the idea of an “ethic of care.” Women’s personal sacrifice becomes recognized and idolized, for example, in Cuarón’s “homage to the women in his life”—as people have described Roma. This recognition is the paltry recompense for women’s low-paid or unpaid work. Morever, this homage does not come from women who dedicate most or all of their lives working for others, with few employment alternatives, but is created and consumed by those who do have a choice. This essentialized view of the cost-free devotion of the poor woman worker, quiet and ever-present, is the sugary coating that helps us swallow the hard pill of inequality: inequality that benefits the subject who does have a voice. Gratitude covers over the inequality that never changes and is never questioned.

Inequality becomes silence. Cleo’s voice is literally absent, but Cuarón’s is not. He speaks to her, about her, and through her. Her silence leaves room for the powerful to speak. In Roma we hear once again the same voice already expressed in legislative debates, newspaper articles, and even academic research. Even in the act of recognition, the worker’s words are absent. The domestic worker is always someone we have, not someone who is, in our class-marked discourse. The romanticized view of this unconditional devotion, which asks little or nothing in return, is the voice of privilege. The end of the film suggests a trace of first-person experience, when Cleo dares to put into words an unconfessable feeling. They go home, the patio is full of excrement. She takes the clothes up to the roof to wash them. She gives up her life so that others can live, love, and suffer. And win Golden Globes. In Roma, once again, the subaltern could not speak. 

Romina Cutuli, Assistant Investigator, CONICET, Work Studies Group, Center of Social and Economic and Social Research, Universidad Nacional de Mar del Plata (Argentina). Romina’s research focuses on labor markets and public policy in relation to domestic work in Argentina.

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The Troubling of “We”: An Intersectional Perspective on Roma

 

By: Jaira J. Harrington

In one memorable scene from Roma, Sofía proclaims, “We are alone. No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.” Yet this “we” is only conveniently explored by Sofía when she can sense herself losing the legitimacy, power, and stability that she has enjoyed as the woman of the house. The parallel lives that Sofía (employer) and Cleo (domestic worker) lead only intersect when Sofía brings up salient questions of women’s solidarity across difference. Using an intersectional lens to examine this gendered “we” can reveal both convergences and how race and class create distance.

Cleo is of indigenous descent. Despite the internal dramas of her work life in an affluent neighborhood of Mexico City, she is not immune to the larger political conflicts of the time. The land rights of her people and family are under constant threat, and at one point she hears her mother’s property has been seized. With little room to process her personal and communal grief, she is expected to quietly manage these issues and emotions along with her employer’s personal difficulties. She absorbs misdirected aggressions from Sofía as they both work through their problems.

I don’t mean to downplay the pain and trauma both women experience. They’re both emotionally, economically, and physically abandoned by their male partners whose personal visions for their futures did not include the women who were mothers to their children, born and unborn. Yet, the differences in their lived experience of pain and desertion are striking.

When Sofía accepts that her husband has moved on and will no longer financially support her and her children, she chooses to work at a publishing company. Cleo could not even conceive of such an option in her position of relative economic dependence.[4] While Sofía has the support of her mother, Cleo relies on her fellow in-house domestic worker friend, Adela, but mainly takes this journey alone. Cleo’s closest kinships are in the remote rural towns from which she has been isolated due to her work. The family she works for becomes her own, but this intimacy has boundaries. These boundaries are most evident during a difficult childbirth, where Cleo is shown without the support of her employer-family and is truly left alone.

With an intersectional analysis that fully acknowledges the multiple identities that constitute the lived experience of both women, the gulf between them becomes clear. Though we have two narratives of enduring struggle, the options for a young, poor, rural, indigenous, unmarried domestic with an unplanned pregnancy are completely different than those of a financially established, educated, married, and wealthy elite white woman. The universal experience of “we” that Sofía invokes between herself and Cleo is a rhetorical lacuna that women of color experience with remarkable regularity.

Roma brings to light a broader feminist issue of solidarity across difference. The silencing of distinct oppressions among and between women is worth a critical re-imagining. An unexamined “we” undermines feminist politics when it ignores the power dynamics within the category “women.” An intersectional perspective can give us the tools to see the multiplicity of oppressions and the potential spaces for liberation for all women.

Jaira J. Harrington, Assistant Professor of Global Interdisciplinary Studies, Villanova University. Jaira’s research focuses on domestic workers’ movements in Brazil.

 

[1] Arendt, Hannah. 1998. The Human Condition. University of Chicago Press.

[2] Marçal, Katrine. 2017. Who cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? A story of women and economics. Pegasus Books.

[3] Gorz, Andre. 1995. Metamorfosis del trabajo. Editorial Sistema.

[4] Domestic workers’ social, economic and political precarity is well-documented by the International Labour Organization: https://www.ilo.org/global/topics/domestic-workers/lang–en/index.htm

[5] Cleo’s harrowing experience with childbirth is common for indigenous women around the world. For more information on global research on indigenous women, childbirth complications and infant mortality, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has the following study: https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/factsheet_digital_Mar27.pdf

Teaching about Gender-Based Violence in Schools

 

By Garnett Russell, Julia C. Lerch,  and Chirstine Min Wotipka

According to United Nations estimates, more than a third of women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lives (UN Women 2015). In some countries, more than three quarters of women have experienced sexual or gender-based violence (GBV). Long before the #MeToo movement, feminist scholars and activists focused on gender-based violence as a core feature of gender inequality. As more young people and students get involved in the movement around the world, to what extent are students taught about GBV in schools?

We view schools as important sites of socialization for future generations and to address gender inequalities. However, at the same time, schools are inherently gendered institutions reinforcing a patriarchal notion of the state and unequal power relations. Given that discussing sex or related topics such as GBV was and continues to be taboo across many cultures, we aim to examine whether and how discussions of GBV are incorporated into school curricula and textbooks. In our research, we investigate the extent to which textbooks from countries around the world incorporate mentions of GBV. We quantitatively analyze data coded from more than 500 textbooks from 76 countries to understand what factors explain discussions of GBV in textbooks.

We see textbooks as artifacts of the state and indicative of the civic values and cultural norms around gender equality that the state endorses. Consequently, what is included in textbooks is important in changing or reinforcing patriarchal norms and practices in society more broadly.

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In our research we argue that GBV is incorporated into textbooks due to the influence of the women’s human rights movement and the radical feminist reframing of GBV as a human rights violation, as well as the incorporation of taboo topics around sex into school curricula. We argue that the growing attention to GBV in the 1990s was linked to broader concerns around human rights and development. In particular, the framing of women’s rights as human rights in the Declaration against Violence against Women (DEWAV), but also the growing attention to the HIV/AIDS crisis allowed for GBV to be brought to the forefront as a human rights issue. GBV is now framed as a human rights violation and a global social problem.

We find that discussions of GBV are more common after 1993, when DEWAV was issued. While textbooks hardly mentioned GBV in the 1950s and 60s, by the 1990s, 20 percent of countries in our sample mentioned GBV in their textbooks; this number was close to 30% of countries in the last period of analysis (2005-2011).

Surprisingly, incorporation of GBV as a topic in textbooks is evident across books from both Western and Non-Western countries, and is actually more common in books from Non-Western countries. This may be due to the relevance of GBV in recent years in countries affected by violent conflict and mass rape, such as in Rwanda, or domestic violence in the Latin American context and the urgency to address these topics.

Despite the rising trends of including GBV, our analysis also shows that many countries still do not discuss GBV in their textbooks. Thus, more attention should be given to the importance of schools, curricula, and textbooks in teaching youth about GBV.

In addition, we find that GBV is more common in textbooks that also discuss women’s rights and is thus clearly framed as a human rights issue. We also find that GBV is more visible in textbooks from countries linked to the global women’s movement through non-governmental organizations and conferences. Contrary to what one might expect, countries with more violence against women (measured by female homicide rates) or stronger civil liberties for women are not necessarily more likely to discuss GBV in their texts.

Our research demonstrates the importance not only of highlighting the prevalence of GBV and sharing stories of sexual assault and harassment but also the need to address the social structure, norms, and beliefs that sustain GBV. Education has a potentially critical role to play not only in raising awareness but in shifting attitudes around gender-based violence across diverse contexts.

Garnett Russell is an Assistant Professor of International and Comparative Education at Teachers College, Columbia University and the Director of the George Clement Bond Center for African Education. Her research focuses on human rights, gender, and citizenship in conflict-affected and post-conflict contexts. Recent publications appear in Social Forces, Comparative Education Review, International Sociology, and International Studies Quarterly. Her book on how education is used for peacebuilding and reconciliation in Rwanda is forthcoming with Rutgers University Press.

Julia C. Lerch is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research focuses on the sociology of education and comparative sociology. Current projects examine the provision of education in humanitarian emergencies and the influence of the global institutional environment on school curricula worldwide. Recent publications appear in Social ForcesInternational SociologyGlobalisation, Societies, and Education, and the European Journal of Education.

Christine Min Wotipka is Associate Professor (Teaching) of Education and (by courtesy) Sociology at Stanford University. Her research centers around two main themes examined from cross-national and longitudinal approaches. The first relates to gender and higher education, namely women in faculty positions. The second explores the incorporation of women, children, and human rights issues in school textbooks. Her articles have appeared in Social ForcesSociology of EducationFeminist Formations, and Comparative Education Review.

What I Wore to Interview Men about Fashion

By Ben Barry

This article will be available for free access through SAGE until November 1, 2018.

I have always loved fashion. In high school, I spent hours in second-hand clothing stores searching the racks for velvet shirts, sequined pants and colorful scarves. I mixed my new finds with old ones to create unexpected outfits. This continued during my undergraduate degree in women’s studies and when I worked in the fashion industry. When I started my PhD, my fashion experiments were abruptly crushed. On the first day of classes, I was pulled aside and told that my colorful, textured outfit was inappropriate for the business department: a collared shirt and chinos were the “professional” choice. I have since been mindful when I open my wardrobe and decide what to wear for the day ahead. As I look at the clothes, I often think back to my first day as a PhD student. I consider what I plan to do, where I will go, and whom I expect to see.

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Author (with his cousin) in his favorite sequined bomber jacket and pants

Men follow this same routine each day. In my Gender & Society article, I discuss results from my research project on men and fashion. I interviewed 35 men of diverse ages, races, sexualities, social classes and occupations to understand what motivates their everyday clothing choices and how their choices influence larger structures of gender. These interviews took place in men’s wardrobes: they showed me their clothing and described the uses and memories that they attached to each piece. My interviews revealed that men’s clothing choices are based on the relationship between their personal and professional identities in conjunction with the contexts in which they find or situate themselves. As I prepared for these interviews, I foreshadowed this finding in my own decision-making process about what to wear.

Dressing for the Interview

Researchers are encouraged to be self-reflexive about their influence on interviews. They often focus on their social identities in relation to participants and their lived experiences in relation to the research topic. However, the clothing that researchers wear to interviews also influences the process because clothing is one of the most visible ways in which we socially construct and express our identities. With this in mind, I carefully considered how I should dress and how my clothes might impact my conversations with my participants. My intention was to make them feel comfortable and create space for an open dialogue. I thought that my clothing would in particular garner attention because I was researching fashion and I was a professor in a fashion department. I also thought that speaking with me would be difficult for many men because they had been taught that, to prove their masculinity, they shouldn’t be interested in fashion.

As I placed different outfit options on my bed before the first interview, I wondered whether I should tailor my clothing to what I knew about each participant from our initial exchanges. If I knew that he was a conservative dresser, should I wear a solid-colored, button-down shirt? If I knew that he was a fabulous dresser, should I wear bold patterns? It was a good thing that my first interview was in the afternoon because I spent three hours assembling and re-assembling different outfits beforehand. I decided to wear dark blue, straight-fit jeans and a black, loose-fit, long-sleeved t-shirt. I wore this outfit not only to the first interview but also to most of the subsequent ones. I thought this look was plain and simple, and so it would go unnoticed. For most interviews, this was the case. The few times that participants did say something about what I had on, it was often to breathe a sigh of relief that I was not a “fashion plate.” As one man said to me, “I’m so glad you don’t look these guys in fashion. I wouldn’t want to offend you.”

Towards My (Critical) Clothing Choices

As a researcher who studies gender inequalities, I recognized these comments as indicative of my own practice of complicity reinforcing dominant masculine ideologies. By wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes, I was rejecting men’s femininity and also devaluing my own love of sequins and colors to appease my participants and obtain the best data. My practice reinforced the idea that men should make dress decisions to “fit in” based on what styles to avoid (i.e., anything deemed feminine). Even knowing that I had the ability to shift what I wore to meet the conditions—to swap sequined jackets for solid-colored ones depending on who I was interviewing—fortified my own privilege. In fact, I did exactly what I argue men do in my article: men strategically shift their clothing based on their identities and contexts to garner opportunities and shore up masculinity.

Bringing my complicit masculinity to the surface has helped me make more critical clothing choices. As part of my research on men and fashion, I co-created a fashion show to share the research with the public. Participants were invited to model their own clothing, and quotations from their interviews were mixed with music to provide context on their outfits and reflect on the complex relationship between fashion and masculinity. I also took part in the show to demonstrate that I was also connected to my research topic. In front an audience of 300 people, including colleagues and senior university officials, I wore a skirt as well as futuristic vest. While the fashion show offered a safe space to play with fashion, I have begun to wear my flamboyant and fabulous pieces to everyday activities in which these outfits are uncommon, such as meetings at the university or walking my dog in the park.

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Author in the Refashioning Masculinity fashion show on May 5, 2016

The significant privilege that I have to wear these outfits is not lost on me. I am also protected by my career in fashion because these looks are not only expected of me but enhance my status in the field—within the industry and at events in my department these outfits legitimate my creativity and knowledge. But I hope that dressing my body in clothes associated with women and femininity within spaces in which these outfits are not the norm helps unsettle assumptions and inspire unspoken conversations about masculinity. Transforming gender inequalities is messy, but it requires men like me to be mindful of the multiple, conflicting consequences of our actions and to use our privilege to change inequalities rather than fortify them. For me and other men, that process starts when we open our wardrobes.

Ben Barry is an Associate Professor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and incoming Chair in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University.

The Perils and the Possibilities of All-Black Male Schools

 

By Keisha Lindsay PhD

Cross-posted with permission from The Society Pages 

What do Louis Farrakhan, George H. W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They are examples of the strange political bedfellows who support separate, publicly funded schools for black boys.

As a public school graduate and one of the few black women faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know what discrimination in the classroom looks like. So, when I first heard about the effort to establish all-black male schools (ABMSs), I was relieved that school districts were finally listening to anti-racist activists’ assertion that structural racism in schools is unacceptable. In other words, I situated the push to open ABMSs within black people’s well-established understanding of the classroom as a place for resisting racism. To this end, proponents of the forty-plus ABMSs established since 1991 rightly argue that: black urban schools are under-resourced relative to white suburban ones; traditional public schools utilize racist curriculablack students are disciplined more harshly than white students, and black teachers are under-representedin the nation’s schools.

At the same time, the anti-feminist ethos sometimes present in #Black Lives Matter and other expressions of black politics is also evident in conversations about ABMSs. It is unsurprising then that my initial optimism about ABMSs soon turned to concern. I recognized that despite their best intentions, some advocates of ABMSs minimize the degree of black girls’ own oppression in school. Equally disturbing is many ABMS supporters’ assumption that black schoolboys underperform because they are distracted by black girls. This claim reproduces harmful images of black women as “jezebels” who sexually corrupt the men in their midst.

There is much to learn from the movement to open ABMSs. One lesson is that intersectionality – the analytical framework pioneered by black feminists to illuminate how racial, gendered, and other systems of power are mutually reinforcing – can be used to advance multiple political agendas, including anti-feminist ones.  On the one hand, advocates of AMBSs embrace intersectionality when they assume that black boys underachieve not only because they are black in racist schools but also because they are black boys in white, female-dominated classrooms. This intersectional logic highlights black boys’ experience of gender-specific racism or the fact that the nation’s teachers, most of whom are white women, suspend black boys at higher rates than other students, including black girls. On the other hand, numerous advocates of ABMSs assume that black boys underachieve because white women teachers create racist, “feminized” classrooms at odds with these boys’ “naturally” aggressive learning style. This latter intersectional approach obscures research which indicates that biology does not automatically make boys tactile learners and girls oral learners. Most significantly, ignoring these data leads far too many supporters of ABMSs to overlook the needs and aptitudes of black children, like highly verbal black boys, who defy stereotypical gender roles.

So where does the reality that the push for ABMSs resists racial inequality but sometimes relies on gender inequality leave those of us committed to challenging intersecting inequalities in our personal, activist, and/or professional lives? I believe that supporters and critics of AMBSs can form politically progressive coalitions. This might seem like an unrealistic goal given that advocates of ABMSs sometimes reject black feminist criticism of their efforts. Indeed, black feminists who express concerns about these schools have heard that we are “colluding with the enemy” or giving racist whites the opportunity to condemn ABMSs and, in turn, stifle black boys’ academic prospects. It is also true, however, that while many proponents of ABMSs conceptualize black children’s oppression in ways that threaten bridge-building, other advocates recognize that the sometimes sexist and heterosexist rhetoric in favor of these schools harms both black boys and black girls.

Building on this finding requires all participants in the debate about ABMSs to embrace a particular type of educational advocacy – one which recognizes that public schools are key to addressing oppression and that black children are forced to learn in some of the worst public schools. Putting this kind of nuanced advocacy into practice means using accessible, community-based spaces to challenge our assumptions about how and why black children are oppressed in school. It also means defining “good” public schools as those which foster all black children’s capacity for self-determination and self-actualization in the classroom, and beyond.

As a public school graduate and one of the few black women faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I know what discrimination in the classroom looks like. So, when I first heard about the effort to establish all-black male schools (ABMSs), I was relieved that school districts were finally listening to anti-racist activists’ assertion that structural racism in schools is unacceptable. In other words, I situated the push to open ABMSs within black people’s well-established understanding of the classroom as a place for resisting racism. To this end, proponents of the forty-plus ABMSs established since 1991 rightly argue that: black urban schools are under-resourced relative to white suburban ones; traditional public schools utilize racist curriculablack students are disciplined more harshly than white students, and black teachers are under-representedin the nation’s schools.

At the same time, the anti-feminist ethos sometimes present in #Black Lives Matter and other expressions of black politics is also evident in conversations about ABMSs. It is unsurprising then that my initial optimism about ABMSs soon turned to concern. I recognized that despite their best intentions, some advocates of ABMSs minimize the degree of black girls’ own oppression in school. Equally disturbing is many ABMS supporters’ assumption that black schoolboys underperform because they are distracted by black girls. This claim reproduces harmful images of black women as “jezebels” who sexually corrupt the men in their midst.

There is much to learn from the movement to open ABMSs. One lesson is that intersectionality – the analytical framework pioneered by black feminists to illuminate how racial, gendered, and other systems of power are mutually reinforcing – can be used to advance multiple political agendas, including anti-feminist ones.  On the one hand, advocates of AMBSs embrace intersectionality when they assume that black boys underachieve not only because they are black in racist schools but also because they are black boys in white, female-dominated classrooms. This intersectional logic highlights black boys’ experience of gender-specific racism or the fact that the nation’s teachers, most of whom are white women, suspend black boys at higher rates than other students, including black girls. On the other hand, numerous advocates of ABMSs assume that black boys underachieve because white women teachers create racist, “feminized” classrooms at odds with these boys’ “naturally” aggressive learning style. This latter intersectional approach obscures research which indicates that biology does not automatically make boys tactile learners and girls oral learners. Most significantly, ignoring these data leads far too many supporters of ABMSs to overlook the needs and aptitudes of black children, like highly verbal black boys, who defy stereotypical gender roles.

So where does the reality that the push for ABMSs resists racial inequality but sometimes relies on gender inequality leave those of us committed to challenging intersecting inequalities in our personal, activist, and/or professional lives? I believe that supporters and critics of AMBSs can form politically progressive coalitions. This might seem like an unrealistic goal given that advocates of ABMSs sometimes reject black feminist criticism of their efforts. Indeed, black feminists who express concerns about these schools have heard that we are “colluding with the enemy” or giving racist whites the opportunity to condemn ABMSs and, in turn, stifle black boys’ academic prospects. It is also true, however, that while many proponents of ABMSs conceptualize black children’s oppression in ways that threaten bridge-building, other advocates recognize that the sometimes sexist and heterosexist rhetoric in favor of these schools harms both black boys and black girls.

Building on this finding requires all participants in the debate about ABMSs to embrace a particular type of educational advocacy – one which recognizes that public schools are key to addressing oppression and that black children are forced to learn in some of the worst public schools. Putting this kind of nuanced advocacy into practice means using accessible, community-based spaces to challenge our assumptions about how and why black children are oppressed in school. It also means defining “good” public schools as those which foster all black children’s capacity for self-determination and self-actualization in the classroom, and beyond.

Keisha Lindsay, PhD is an associate professor of gender and women’s studies and political science at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research and teaching interests include black feminist theories, black masculinities, and gender-based politics in the African diaspora. She is the author of In a Classroom of Their Own: The Intersection of Race and Feminist Politics in All-Black Male Schools (University of Illinois Press 2018).

Mothers and Moneymakers: How Gender Norms Shape U.S. Marriage Migration Politics

By Gina M. Longo

Sarasusan, a white divorcee and single mother of two from Virginia, and Hicham, an Arab factory worker living in the desert town of Tan-Tan, Morocco met on MySpace in December 2009, and immediately hit it off.  In June of 2010, Sarasusan traveled to Morocco to meet Hicham for the first time.  Over the course of three years, Hicham traveled to internet cafés daily to talk to his future wife and stepdaughters. In January 2013, she finally could afford to bring her daughters to Morocco to meet Hicham in person. Upon her return to the U.S., she filed for a K-1 (fiancé) visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

While they began dreaming of the day they could marry, they didn’t realize their nightmare had already begun. After a year and a half, the first petition and subsequent appeal were denied.  At his interview, the U.S. consulate officer in Morocco told Hicham that their relationship appeared fraudulent or strictly for immigration papers. He was given no further explanation.  In July 2015, Sarasusan married Hicham in Morocco, but her daughters, due to high airfare costs were unable to come. Upon returning home, Sarasusan saved money to start a new immigration petition for her husband. Sarasusan began seeking advice from other petitioners online, and crafted her evidence package based on much of this advice.  It was not until September 2016 that Sarasusan and her daughters were able to embrace Hicham on U.S. soil.

Foreign nationals who marry U.S. citizens have an expedited track to naturalization, so immigration officials worry that some will use fake marriages to obtain a green-card.  Early U.S. immigration and citizenship policies addressed these concern by blocking white women in racially mixed relationships. Native-born women citizens lost their citizenship status if they married foreign nationals, and could not initiate immigration petitions for foreign-born husbands. Consequently, this enabled a gendered and racialized citizenship model that defined white, native-born men as full citizens and women as second-class citizens.

Today, these policies have been replaced with preferential processing for immigrants with U.S. family ties.  So, U.S. immigration officials require that “green card” petitioning couples demonstrate that their relationships are “valid and subsisting” (i.e., for love) and not fraudulent (i.e., for immigration papers). Immigration officials warn U.S. citizens in such relationships to beware of red flags, or details about a couple’s relationship that raise suspicions of marriage fraud, such as large age differences, short courtships, or requests for money.  These requirements and red-flag warnings are supposedly gender- and racially-neutral, but migration itself is not.  Thus, like Sarasusan, men and women petitioners with foreign partners from different world regions often seek advice from experts and other petitioners about how to overcome potential obstacles to their petitions’ success.

In my Gender & Society article, “Keeping it in ‘the Family’: How Gender Norms Shape U.S. Marriage Migration Politics,” I used an online ethnography and a text analysis of conversation threads on a large online immigration forum where U.S. petitioners exchange such advice.  I compared two of the sites’ sub-forums, the Middle East/North African forum (MENA), where members are predominately white U.S. women coupled with MENA-region men; and the Belarus/Russia/Ukraine forum (BRU), where white U.S. men pair with BRU-region women, and analyzed how forum-members define red-flag warnings and the requirements for a “valid and subsisting relationship” to label a relationship “real” or “fraudulent.”  These conversations reveal members’ own experiences with immigration officials and their understanding of genuine marriages for immigration purposes.

I found that petitioners connect generic relationship criteria and warnings in U.S. immigration policy with racialized and classed gender ideologies and expectations surrounding an idealized image of the white, Middle-class, “American family.” Women should be mothers and caretakers, and men should be breadwinners.  Both men and women petitioners use sexual and gendered double standards surrounding women’s sexual agency, fertility, and desirability to determine which red flags will concern immigration officials and for whom.  Women’s sexuality and gender differentially structure the process of negotiating red flags for men and women petitioners, and the right to confer citizenship onto a foreign partner. This provides privileges to men citizens, allowing them to pursue of foreign women abroad and to bestow their citizenship status more freely upon their chosen mates. However, women citizens with the same intentions are considered desperate fools, incapable of controlling their emotions or the border. Consequently, citizen-women’s relationships appear more suspect and in need of policing.

Longo

Why is this important? Although media coverage on U.S. immigration often centers on issues surrounding DREAMRs, refugees, and undocumented people, approximately 50 percent of the one million-plus immigrant visas issued in 2015 (i.e. “green-cards”) were for U.S. citizens’ immigrant spouses/fiancés (Department of Homeland Security 2015). These rates have remained consistent since 1908 (Lee 2013), making these beneficiaries the largest groups of visa-holders with a pathway to citizenship. These immigration cases largely shape the nation and conceptions of citizenship.  Through this online forum, members become unofficial border police before cases ever reach an immigration officer.  Although, discriminatory U.S. immigration and citizenship laws of old have been abolished, I find that when citizens use ideological understandings about gender and family themselves to give each other petitioning advice, explicitly discriminatory policies are not necessary to uphold and legitimize racialized and gendered citizenship hierarchies.  My findings highlight how conversational negotiations in virtual spaces are consequential for re-imagining intersectionally gendered citizenship and the policing of national identities and borders.

For an even further in-depth look at this research please also listen to the recent SAGE podcast on this article.

Gina Marie Longo is a PhD Candidate of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She specializes in the sociology of gender, race and ethnicity, immigration, and digital sociology.  Her current research focuses on how the U.S. spousal reunification system (re)constructs and polices citizenship and nation.

Sex and Gender Diversity is Growing Across the US

By Georgiann Davis

Cross-posted with Permission from The Conversation 

Across the United States, more people of all ages are identifying as something other than male or female.

According to the Williams Institute at UCLA, which studies sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy, the percentage of trans adults — an umbrella term used to describe those whose gender does not match with the sex they were assigned at birth — has doubled in the last 10 years from 0.3 percent to 0.6 percent.

In 2006, a survey discovered that 1.2 percent of Boston high school students identified as trans.

And in a recent issue of the journal Pediatrics, researchers showed that 2.7 percent of Minnesota’s youth identify as trans and gender-nonconforming. Similar to trans, gender-nonconforming describes those who reject gender expectations that assume only females can do femininity while only males can do masculinity.

I’m a sociologist and for more than 10 years, I have been studying sex- and gender-diverse people in the United States. I’ve witnessed researchers analyze everything from brain differences to the hormones a fetus is exposed to during gestation to explain the growth of sex and gender diversity.

Looking to human anatomy and physiology alone is inadequate in explaining the demographic sex and gender changes that are rapidly occurring throughout our society. Does culture also play a role?

Evolution? Not so fast

Historical accounts of sex- and gender-diverse people date as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But why is it that we are now witnessing a growth in the percentage of people publicly identifying as sex- and gender-diverse? Did human anatomy and physiology change overnight? Or is it that people are now more comfortable rejecting the simplicity of “We’re all just male or female”?

What the rising statistics likely reveal is that thanks to activists and their allies across various movements, more people, especially millennials, are now aware that people are more complex than male or female. And they are embracing this complexity by not only choosing sex- and gender-diversity for themselves, but by also sharing their life experiences in stories across print media and on television.

New York’s annual gay and lesbian pride parade, 1989. AP/Sergio Florez

Activists are organizing in the streets and fighting in the courtroom for rights. This is not recent news: For example, earlier generations of activists demonstrated against police brutality in the 1960s in what is now known as the Stonewall Riots. But the activism has accelerated and spread.

Pride celebrations seem to be everywhere these days. And in the courtroom, transgender teenager Gavin Grimm is currently in the middle of a lawsuit against his Virginia high school that wouldn’t allow him to use the boy’s bathroom. That suit has raised Grimm’s profile and put him at the “center of the national debate,” according to The Washington Post.

This activism lets the public know there is life beyond male or female.

People now have customizable sex and genders to choose from on everything from Facebook to the dating site OkCupid. On OkCupid, one can identify as male, female, transgender, nonbinary, genderfluid or genderqueer, or choose up to five categories from many other options.

Which gender best describes you?

It is not a coincidence that sex and gender diversity is also flourishing in the media. There is “Transparent,” the popular award-winning dramedy series about a family patriarch who gender transitions from man to woman. And then there is the critically acclaimed film “Tangerine,”where we see a transgender woman navigate relationship turmoil.

Trans issues are at the center of these scripts, but the filmmakers also skillfully give us more. The main characters are trans, but the trans aspect of the characters are only one part of the storyline. This is a shift in popular culture.

There is no question that the internet’s expansion has also fueled the transgender movement and other similar sex- and gender-diverse movements.

The internet makes it easier for people to identify as something other than what they were assigned at birth. A teenager in the rural Midwest can use the internet to connect with similar people around the world. And they can learn strategies about how to navigate medical care, school, and even disclosing to their family if they choose to change their sex and/or gender identity.

The parents of sex- and gender-diverse youth who support their child are also able to find community and resources on the internet from home. New sociological research published by Ann Travers with New York University Press as well as by Tey Meadow with the University of California Press shows supportive parents do exist. They affirm their child’s gender identity by, for example, using their child’s chosen pronouns and new name if applicable, enlisting gender-affirming medical care and more.

This is not to say that those who identify as something other than a typical male or female person will have an easy road ahead of them.

Navigating oppression

It is possible the number of sex- and gender-diverse people in the population is underestimated. Not all will feel it is safe to identify as something other than male or female. Many sex- and gender-diverse people are emotionally harmed by societal rejection. And, as sociologists Lisa R. Miller and Eric Anthony Grollman documented, there are “social costs of gender nonconformity.”

One study specifically reported that 41 percent of sex and gender diverse adults have attempted suicide compared to 1.6 percent of the general population. Similarly, a 2016 study published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, found that 30.3 percent of transgender youth between the ages of 12 and 22 years had attempted suicide, with nearly 42 percent reporting they had tried hurting themselves, such as deliberately cutting their skin.

Sex- and gender-diverse people are at the battleground of political and legal debates across the country. Their access to public bathrooms has been challenged from North Carolina to Texas. It is not easy, or in many cases even legally possible, for sex- and gender-diverse people to obtain driver’s licenses, birth certificates or passports that match their sex and gender identities.

Despite the challenges sex- and gender-diverse people face navigating their lives, I believe their numbers will keep growing.

This will happen as sex- and gender-diverse movements get stronger. More people will gain access to the internet and connect with other marginalized sex- and gender-diverse people. And with such demographic shifts, there will likely continue to be a growing representation of sex and gender diversity in popular culture.

There is no way to predict how large the sex- and gender-diverse population will get. But there is evidence that society is changing from the simplicity of male or female.