Dismantling Victim Credibility in the Child Sexual Assault Trial

By Amber Joy Powell, Heather R. Hlavka, and Sameena Mulla

Two male attorneys cross-examined 12-year-old Jacob for several hours. They repeatedly questioned him about the lack of visible bruises on his body from the two male defendants Jacob testified sexually assaulted him. While 7-year-old Jessica was accused of “poor hygiene” and 15-year-old Sofia appeared puzzled on the stand as a male attorney accused her of fabricating sexual assault by a family friend because she wanted to rebel against her strict parents. Another male defense attorney told a jury that 15-year-old Tasha “[didn’t] look like a common sexual assault child victim” because she did not cry on the witness stand, nor exhibit the visible signs of distress expected of a teenage victim following sexual assault.

The criminal justice system’s suspicion of sexual assault victims is not new. Decades of feminist scholarship and activism have disputed cultural rape myths that suggest “real” victims are attacked by strangers, do not engage in alcohol use, do not dress in ‘promiscuous’ ways, display intense emotional and physical trauma, and immediately report the assault to law enforcement officials. These myths not only contradict many victims’ experiences, but they also subject them to “revictimization” by police, forensic nurses, attorneys, judges, and jurors. And while feminist exploration of these cultural rape myths has provided critical insight to our understanding of the gendered dimensions of sexual violence, we know little about children’s experiences of revictimization in the criminal justice system. Children are uniquely situated within the context of the courtroom because their claims are made further suspicious due to their age. Our ethnographic work employed an intersectional analysis to show how attorneys invoked common cultural narratives about gender, race, class, and sexuality to construct legal narratives about the credibility of black and latinx children and youth during the sexual assault trial. 

Jurors Only 2013- Hlavka
Photo taken by Heather Hlavka in 2013 from the fieldsite upon which the article is based. 

From May 2013 to April 2015, we observed several child sexual assault jury trials. Using our observations, transcripts, and court records, we noted how defense attorneys and prosecution utilized rape myths to either dismantle or establish children as credible witnesses. Our findings illustrate three key, often overlapping themes in attorneys’ narratives of credibility: invisible wounds, rebellious adolescents, and dysfunctional families. Attorneys used these themes to argue that the lack of physical and emotional wounds were evidence that sexual assault could not have occurred. Physical bruises and visible emotional responses, such as the ones that Jacob and Tasha failed to produce, were described by defense attorneys as “common sense” and “human nature.” Despite their legal status as minors, attorneys accused teenagers of rebellious, often sexualized behavior in order to distance them from common notions of childhood innocence and depict them as “more adult.” It was not uncommon to hear stereotypes like “teenagers lie” and are “not so innocent.” Defense attorneys argued that teenagers were driven to fabricate allegations of assault by their sexual fantasies, crushes, or personal vendettas against defendants. Black and latinx victims encountered additional vulnerabilities, as they were more susceptible to common racialized tropes of “bad girls”  and “jezebels.”

And yet, children were not alone in their scrutiny on the witness stand. Attorneys also discredited their families, and their mothers in particular. Attorneys often emphasized intrafamilial strife, working and living conditions, unwed and “unfit” mothers, and substance abuse to portray the family as dysfunctional. Children’s mothers were especially vulnerable to accusations of lying, in part because of their often complicated sexual history with the defendant. And youth were implicated and embedded within these familial stories.

Our work applies an intersectional analysis in order to center the process of courtroom testimonial violence and inequalities rather than to focus on the trial outcome alone. It is clear that non-normative images of victims and disadvantaged social status create vulnerabilities in the court and sustain particular cultural stories of doubt that burden youth of color as they are uniquely subjected to assumptions about sexual deviance and lack of innocence. These narratives situate structural inequalities in ways that coalesce to justify the dismissal of black and latinx youth claims of victimization.

Amber Joy Powell is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Minnesota. Her current research interests include crime, punishment, law, and the intersections of race and gender. Her work focuses on institutional responses to sexual violence.

 

Heather R. Hlavka is associate professor of Criminology and Law Studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research joins socio-legal studies and social control to focus on sexual violence.

 

Sameena Mulla is associate professor of Anthropology in the Department of Social and Cultural Sciences at Marquette University. Her research is at the intersection of legal and medical anthropology, and focuses

The Beauty and Strength of Wonder Woman

By Francesca Tripodi

I recently took in a poignant guest lecture on hook-up culture by Lisa Wade. During the talk, Wade detailed the link between rape culture and hook-up culture. While hooking up encourages women to behave “like men,” it simultaneously creates an environment that rejects feminine traits (kindness, care, empathy). Since then I’ve continuously noticed how we celebrate women who display traditionally masculine characteristics (be aggressive! lean in!). But, we often do so in ways that devalue feminine attributes. It is with this framework in mind that I went to see Wonder Woman.

Donning my “feminist mama” sweatshirt, I expected to be underwhelmed given the mediocre reviews describing the film as just another boilerplate superhero movie. With my critical 3D glasses on, I understood why many were frustrated. Steven Trevor always has a protecting arm over Diana, even after she demonstrates that she’s indestructible. The persistence of the male gaze was also disappointing. I recognize the need to reflect Marston’s 1940’s creation, but expecting Diana to run through forests, scale mountains, and beat down villains in a sensible wedge was as laughable as Steven Trevor’s ridiculous assurance to the audience that his genitalia was “above average.” It is no coincidence that Wonder Woman’s strong but “sexy” image was the one chosen by Douglas to represent her concept of enlightened sexism nearly a decade ago.

At the same time, I think it is important to recognize the film’s strengths. The women cast as Amazonians are athletes in real life with muscular bodies that challenge anglocentric beauty ideals. Diana is a unique combination of sex appeal, acumen, and wit. She is fierce but nurturing, emboldened to take down Ares but driven by her desire to protect children. Her outfit choices are elegant but practical and she even managed to stash a sword in her stolen evening gown. Diana asserted confidence and ability while her male sidekicks over-promised and under-delivered. In short, Wonder Woman seems to encapsulate the kind of feminism Wade described as lost: embracing aggression and kindness, strength and beauty.

Given Diana’s character complexity, I find language lauding the film for its ability to break the curse of Catwoman” particularly offensive. Perhaps if Hollywood had chosen to produce Joss Whedon’s version of Wonder Woman, where Diana’s uses a “sexy dance” to thwart the villain, it might warrant a film comparison. After all, the Catwoman “plot” was a lurid focus on Halle Berry in a tight-fitting costume, a hypersexualized (de)evolution of a female protagonist. It tanked in the box office because, like most female characters in superhero films, Patience Phillips was a two-dimensional stereotype of femininity – meek, fickle, a tease. She had to “overcome” her feminine traits to succeed and used sex appeal as a weapon. Comparing the films conflates the presence of a female lead with the notion that both films were made for women. It’s like those who questioned if Clinton supporters might vote for McCain in 2008 because he put Palin on the ticket. Having a woman lead doesn’t mean women’s interests are being considered.

Despite these attempts at male wish fulfillment, Wonder Woman’s success was not due to men aged 15-25. Unlike other superhero flicks, Wonder Woman’s audience was roughly 52 percent women, and women and older audience viewers continue to build its momentum. When the Alamo Drafthouse risked litigation to host an all-female screening it sold out so quickly it added more women-only events to respond to the demand. Nevertheless, the comparison to Catwoman persists as does the dominant narrative that films outside of the Captain America framework are a “gamble.”  Ignoring the success of films like Wonder Woman (Arrival or Get Out or Moonlight) allows executives to deflect the fact that most “flops” were made with an exclusively white, heterosexual, male audience in mind (I’m looking at you Cowboys & Aliens).  Yet celebrating Wonder Woman as a “triumph,” allows us to pretend that similar female protagonists dominate the screen instead of calling more attention to the fact that women still only accounted for 32 percent of all speaking roles in 2015 or that non-white actors are continuously overlooked at the Oscars.

wonder-woman

Diana showcases a physical resilience seldom credited to women – let’s celebrate that. She encapsulates a kind of feminism that Wade rightfully notes is nearly nonexistent. Diana is a warrior who is agentic, driven, nurturing, protective, and merciful. She exhibits masculine strength without having to cast aside her feminine traits.  She voices concern for those who cannot protect themselves but she is a trained killer. By labeling Wonder Woman not feminist enough we overlook the crux of the problem: Wonder Woman’s empowerment narrative was likely tempered because Hollywood doesn’t really care about appealing to women. Highlighting the importance of Diana’s feminist dichotomy challenges Hollywood to build on that momentum and make a sequel without pandering to young, heterosexual, male audiences. In doing so, my hope is that in the future we have so many superheroes like Diana (strong because of their femininity, not strong despite it) that critics will have ample—and equivalent—characters for comparison.

Francesca Tripodi is a sociologist who studies how participatory media perpetuates systems of inequality. This year she is researching how partisan groups interact with media and the role community plays in legitimating what constitutes news and information as a postdoctoral scholar at Data & Society. Francesca would like to thank Caroline Jack and Tristan Bridges for their helpful feedback on this piece.

MAKING A CAREER: Reproducing Gender within a Predominately Female Profession

By LaTonya J. Trotter

Stephanie had always planned to be a physician. She never wavered as she marched through the premed curriculum at college. But in the years after graduation, she began to have doubts. While applying to medical schools, Stephanie was working at a clinical research center. She had shadowed physicians before, but working alongside them made her notice the mundane rather than the esoteric: physicians worked very long hours. “Oh my God,” she thought, “I’m a woman! I want to have children!” How would she manage motherhood with such high demands? She began to reconsider medicine. And to consider nursing.

Nursing had never had much appeal for Stephanie. But at the research center, she had an up-close view of a different kind of nursing work: that of nurse practitioners (NP). Becoming an NP seemed to offer the possibility of independently caring for patients without fighting her way through medicine. It was a professional choice. It was a respectable choice. And it seemed to promise a better balance between work and family. “I wanted to be able to have a flexible timeline and a flexible career,” she explained. “And that’s what nursing is. Flexible.”

Trotter_blog
Google Images

Women have made great strides in terms of workplace equality. Yet there remain clear obstacles regarding career advancement. While some women encounter glass ceilings, the maternal wall is a more pervasive stumbling block. Employers expect and reward workers unfettered by family responsibilities. Faced with these expectations, men and women often find themselves making gender specific choices: men invest in work and women invest in family. For women wanting to invest in both, workplace flexibility has become the policy equivalent of the Holy Grail: highly sought after but difficult to find. Inflexible workplace policies dead-end some women’s careers while pushing others out of paid employment altogether. The observation that women continue to crowd into female professions like nursing is usually attributed to women’s preference for caring labor. What if these choices were as much about opportunity as gendered predispositions? Is this a win for gender equity? Or gender inequality by another name?

In my Gender & Society article, I explore the career biographies of NPs and NP students in order to understand the role of nursing’s institutional arrangements in women’s labor market decisions. I focus on NPs because they are a highly educated subgroup of nurses that have cleared a series of credentialing hurdles to order to make careers. In some ways, nursing is a shining example of how flexible arrangements not only help workers manage family commitments but actively encourage career aspirations. Nursing’s flexibility begins with education. Nursing is one of the few professions that make it possible to accrue educational credentials in cohesive fragments. Forty-one-year-old Hana described a fifteen-year trajectory that started with a two-year community college degree. That was enough to begin working as a registered nurse (RN). A few years later, Hana enrolled in a structured bridge program that allowed her to leverage her two-year degree towards completion of a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Moreover, the bridge program enabled her to pursue her bachelor’s part-time while working as a full-time nurse. Ten years later, Hana took advantage of similar accommodations to complete her master’s degree to practice as an NP. “I call myself a kind of Cinderella story,” she told me. “I came up from community college all the way up to the Ivy League.”

Nursing’s flexibility facilitated motherhood as well as social mobility. Women entering high status professions often delay childbearing. The demands of advanced schooling and early career leave little room for parenting. The ability to build a career over a longer time horizon meant that motherhood might change the rhythm of a career, but it did not stop it. A similar level of flexibility was mirrored in nursing work. Hospital nursing’s reliance on 12-hour shifts over 3 days gives full-time workers more days at home to spend with children. For NPs who spend part of their careers as hospital RNs, this allowed them to more effectively juggle work, family, and eventually, graduate education.

For individual women, these institutional arrangements provided a private solution to balancing work with family life. However, these solutions have broader consequences for gender inequality. Because these arrangements were sequestered within a predominately female occupation, they reproduced gendered expectations about women’s investments in family life. Flexible scheduling ensured that women retained primary responsibility for family caregiving. Moreover, nursing’s flexibility reproduced flexible women who could switch specialties, change jobs, or delay graduate education to accommodate the inflexible jobs of partners and spouses. Flexibility became both an opportunity and an obligation. Nursing’s accommodating arrangements are themselves a product of the historical legacy of gender inequality. The continued existence of two-year RN programs is the preference of employers, not the profession. As a female dominated profession, its aspirations remain tempered by hospital demands for an inexpensively trained workforce.

My work suggests an additional explanation for why women continue to crowd into careers like nursing. Women may gravitate toward caring work, but they also care about creating careers. Nursing’s flexibility stands in contrast to the inflexibility women encounter in other parts of the labor market. My work also serves as a caution for relying on workplace policies alone to solve the dilemmas of working women. Without subsidized, national programs for parental leave and child-care, women alone will be pressed to “choose” flexibility. When only women are the beneficiaries of such arrangements, they quickly become segregated into “mommy tracks” or “women’s professions.” The unequal benefits that follow can too easily be attributed to women’s preferences rather than as the product of gender inequality.

LaTonya J. Trotter is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Vanderbilt University. She is an ethnographer and sociologist of medicine whose explores the relationship between the organization of medical work and the reproduction of racial, economic, and gender inequality. The empirical terrain of these explorations ranges from professional negotiations between medicine and nursing to organizational shifts in older adult care.

Trump and the Politics of Fluid Masculinities

By James W. Messerschmidt and Tristan Bridges

In the 1950s, a collection of sociologists and psychologists (which included, among others, Theodor Adorno) wrote The Authoritarian Personality. They were attempting to theorize the type of personality — a particular psychology — that gave rise to fascism in the 1930s. Among other things, they suggested that the “authoritarian personality” was characterized by a normative belief in absolute obedience to their authority in addition to the practical enactment of that belief through direct and indirect marginalization and suppression of “subordinates.” While Adorno and his colleagues did not consider the gender of this personality, today gender scholars recognize authoritarianism as a particular form of masculinity, and current U.S. president Donald Trump might appear to be a prime illustration of a rigid and inflexible “authoritarian personality.”

Yet Trump’s masculinity avoids a direct comparison to this label precisely because of the fluidity he projects. Indeed, the “authoritarian personality” is overly fixed, immutable, and one dimensional as a psychoanalytical personality type. Sociologists understand identities as more flexible than this. Certain practices of Trump exemplify the fluctuations of masculinity that illustrate this distinction, and the transformations in his masculinity are highly contingent upon context. While this is a common political strategy, Trump’s shifts are important as they enable him to construct a “dominating masculinity” that perpetuates diverse forms of social inequality. Dominating masculinities are those that involve commanding and controlling interactions to exercise power and control over people and events.  These masculinities are most problematic when they also are hegemonic and work to legitimize unequal relations between women and men. Here are a few examples:

First, in his speeches and public statements prior to being elected, Trump bullied and subordinated “other” men by referring to them as “weak,” “low energy,” or as “losers,” or implying they are “inept” or a “wimp.” (“Othering” is a social process whereby certain people are viewed and/or treated as somehow fundamentally different and unequal.) For example, during several Republican presidential debates, Trump consistently labeled Marco Rubio as “little Marco,” described Jeb Bush as “low energy Jeb,” implied that John McCain was a “wimp” because he was captured and tortured during the Vietnam War, and suggested that contemporary military veterans battling PTSD are “inept” because they “can’t handle” the “horror” they observed in combat. In contrast, Trump consistently referred to himself as, for example, strong, a fighter, and as the embodiment of success. In each case, Trump ascribes culturally-defined “inferior” subordinate gender qualities to his opponents while imbuing himself with culturally defined “superior” masculine qualities. This pairing signifies an unequal relationship between masculinities—one both dominating and hegemonic (Trump) and one subordinate (the “other” men).

A second example of Trump’s fluid masculinity applies to the way he has depicted himself as the heroic masculine protectorof all Americans. This compassion may appear, at first blush, at odds with the hegemonic masculinity just discussed. For example, in his Republican Convention speech Trump argued that he alone can lead the country back to safety by protecting the American people through the deportation of “dangerous” and “illegal” Mexican and Muslim immigrants and by “sealing the border.” In so doing, Trump implied that Americans are unable to defend themselves — a fact he used to justify his need to “join the political arena.” Trump stated: “I will liberate our citizens from crime and terrorism and lawlessness” by “restoring law and order” throughout the country — “I will fight for you, I will win for you.” Here Trump adopts a position as white masculine protector of Americans against men of color, instructing all US citizens to entrust their lives to him; in return, he offers safety. Trump depicts himself as aggressive, invulnerable, and able to protect while all remaining US citizens are depicted as dependent and uniquely vulnerable. Trump situates himself as analogous to the patriarchal masculine protector toward his wife and other members of the patriarchal household. But simultaneously, Trump presents himself as a compassionate, caring, and kind-hearted benevolent protector, and thereby constructs a hybrid hegemonic masculinity consisting of both masculine and feminine qualities.

Third, in the 2005 interaction between Trump and Billy Bush on the now infamous Access Hollywood tour bus, Trump presumes he is entitled to the bodies of women and (not surprisingly) admits committing sexual assault against women because, according to him, he has the right. He depicts women as collections of body parts and disregards their desires, needs, expressed preferences, and their consent. After the video was aired more women have come forward and accused Trump of sexual harassment and assault. Missed in discussions of this interaction is how that dialogue actually contradicts, and thus reveals, the myth of Trump’s protectorhegemonic masculinity. The interaction on the bus demonstrates that Trump is not a “protector” at all; he is a “predator.”

Trump’s many masculinities represent a collection of contradictions. Trump’s heroic protector hegemonic masculinity should have been effectively unmasked, revealing a toxic predatory heteromasculinity. Discussions of this controversy, however, failed to articulate any sign of injury to his campaign because Trump was able to connect with a dominant discourse of masculinity often relied upon to explain all manner of men’s (mis)behavior — it was “locker room talk,” we were told. And the sad fact is, the news cycle moved on.

We argue that Trump has managed such contradictions by mobilizing, in certain contexts, what has elsewhere (and above) been identified as a “dominating masculinity” (seeherehere and here— involving commanding and controlling specific interactions and exercising power and control over people and events. This dominating masculinity has thus far centered on six critical features:

1) Trump operates in ways that cultivate domination over others he works with, in particular rewarding people based on their loyalty to him.

2) Trump’s dominating masculinity serves the interests of corporations by cutting regulations, lowering corporate taxes, increasing military spending, and engaging in other neoliberal practices, such as attempting to strip away healthcare from 24 million people, defunding public schools, and making massive cuts to social programs that serve poor and working-class people, people of color, and the elderly.

3) Trump has relied on his dominating masculinity to serve his particular needs as president, such as refusing to release his tax returns and ruling through a functioning kleptocracy (using the office to serve his family’s economic interests).

4) This masculinity is exemplified through the formulation of a dominating militaristic foreign policy (for example, U.S. airstrikes of civilians in Yemen, Iraq and Syria have increased dramatically under Trump; the MOAB bombing of Afghanistan; threats to North Korea) rather than engaging in serious forms of diplomacy. Trump has formed a global ultraconservative “axis of evil”— whose defining characteristics are kleptocracy and dominating masculinity — with the likes of Putin (Russia), el-Sisi (Egypt), Erdogan (Turkey), Salman (Saudi Arabia), Duterte (Philippines) among others.

5) So too has this dominating masculinity had additional effects “at home” as Trump prioritizes domestically the repressive arm of the state through white supremacist policies such as rounding-up and deporting immigrants and refugees as well as his anti-Muslim rhetoric and attempted Muslim ban.

6) Trump’s dominating masculinity attempts to control public discourse through his constant tweets that are aimed at discrediting and subordinating those who disagree with his policies.

Trump’s masculinity is fluid, contradictory, situational, and it demonstrates the diverse and crisscrossing pillars of support that uphold inequalities worldwide. From different types of hegemonic masculinities, to a toxic predatory heteromasculinity, to his dominating masculinity, Trump’s chameleonic display is part of the contemporary landscape of gender, class, race, age and sexuality relations and inequalities. Trump does not construct a consistent form of masculinity. Rather, he oscillates — at least from the evidence we have available to us. And in each case, his oscillations attempt to overcome the specter of femininity — the fear of being the unmasculine man — through the construction of particularized masculinities.

It is through these varying practices that Trump’s masculinity is effective in bolstering specific forms and systems of inequality that have been targeted and publicly challenged in recent history. Durable forms of social inequality achieve resilience by becoming flexible. By virtue of their fluidity of expression and structure, they work to establish new pillars of ideological support, upholding social inequalities as “others” are challenged. As C. J. Pascoe has argued, a dominating masculinity is not unique to Trump or only his supporters; Trump’s opponents rely on it as well (see also sociologist Kristen Barber’s analysis of anti-Trump masculinity tactics). And it is for these reasons that recognizing Trump’s fluidity of masculinity is more than mere academic observation; it is among the chief mechanisms through which contemporary forms of inequality — from the local to the global — are justified and persist today.

*Originally posted on Democratic Socialists of America.

James W. Messerschmidt is professor of sociology and chair of the Criminology Department at the University of Southern Maine. He has written widely on masculinities, and his most recent book is Masculinities in the Making.

Tristan Bridges is assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. With C. J. Pascoe, he recently co-edited the anthology, Exploring Masculinities.

Two legal sexes aren’t enough: Why governments should recognize non-binary bodies and identities

By Lal Zimman

Virtually every form we fill out that serves to identify us – whether administered by governmental, educational, medical, economic, or social institutions – asks for sex or gender. In most cases, the only recognized options are female and male. Thanks to the work of intersex and transgender activists, there is increasing recognition that individuals may possess bodies and/or identities that fall outside of the normative categories of female and male. However, governmental and legal institutions largely remain resistant to official recognition of non-binary sexes or genders, instead requiring all citizens to be categorized as female or male despite the well-documented diversity of gender and sex. This resistance can be seen in recent cases in which governments have rejected bids to create a third legal sex category, as France did last month and Germany did in 2016.

To many people, the concept of legal sex seems like an intuitively obvious system that reflects information about an individual’s identity. This sense of intuition, however, comes from the naturalization of biological sex as a simple binary, when in fact it is a complex web of characteristics that can be aligned in many different ways. The notion that there are only two sexes relies on the erasure of intersex bodies, i.e. those that show distinctive or ambiguous physiological characteristics that are neither normatively female nor normatively male. Such erasure happens culturally – by pretending intersex bodies don’t exist – and medically – by operating on or removing ambiguous organs so that a child’s body appears more normatively female or male. The insistence that there are only two sexes is simply not supported by the observation of biological diversity among humans.

Christopher Hutton a scholar of language and the law, has argued that legal sex presents itself as a descriptive category, but in practice serves normative functions.1 In other words, we are meant to think of legal sex as simply reflecting a natural, universal reality in which every individual is obviously and unproblematically female or male. Ultimately, however, one’s assignment to a legal sex category creates both restrictions and obligations in terms of access to spaces, activities, and even other forms of recognition – as when states restrict allowable names based on legal sex.2

Gender_neutral_bathroom_sign
By sarahmirk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Someone whose identity documents are seen as being “in conflict” with their sex, gender identity, or gender expression can face numerous, and often quite serious, consequences. They may be unable to travel freely; unable to access safe and appropriate housing, shelters, medical care, or public facilities like bathrooms; unable to access certain spaces where identification is required for entry, like venues where alcohol is served; unable to engage in certain kinds of commercial transactions, such as using a credit or bank card or purchasing goods that require proof of age; and at particular risk during interactions with the state such as being pulled over or detained by police, being jailed or imprisoned, or navigating immigration systems. Someone whose identification outs them as trans, gender non-conforming, or intersex may routinely have to choose between personal safety and taking part in everyday, life-sustaining activities. Some may be unable to publicly articulate that identity at all because of the risks involved.

These points are often used to support the argument that transgender people shifting from one binary gender role to another should be permitted to change their legal sex, ideally without medical requirements such as hormones or surgery. But this logic applies with at least as much force for those living outside of the sex/gender binary all together.

In most cases, legal sex is, indeed, formulated in terms of sex – that is, physiology rather than social identity. In places where legal sex can be changed at all, individuals are generally required to alter their bodies in dramatic ways, including sterilization, in order to gain access to a new legal sex.3 The key assumption here is that biological differentiation is more important than social differentiation, and that the state is in the business of categorizing people on the basis of sexual phenotype rather than social identity.

Given how important the body is for arguments about legal sex, it is particularly striking when states refuse to acknowledge intersex individuals, who are born with bodies that cannot be straight-forwardly categorized as either female or male. If legal sex is supposed to reflect biological difference, and we know that intersex bodies exist, why are the differences between intersex bodies and normatively female or male bodies not worth capturing? What danger is there in recognizing the full range of what nature provides? How can we justify burdening this population – or any population – by denying them identification documents that match their bodies, identities, or presentations?4

Surely the key to answering to this question is the fear that legal recognition might reveal other cultural gaps, creating a demand for greater social, as well as legal, awareness and affirmation. If a state accepts that intersex bodies exist, and that they are not simply malformed versions of female or male bodies, how can it justify the non-consensual modification of those bodies in order to fit the binary system? How can educational institutions insist that only two genders exist, both through the way students are treated and in the material they are taught? How can trans people be denied the right to change their documents or required to achieve a certain degree of physical conformity in order to do so if the law recognizes that gender is more complicated than we’ve been led to believe? And if those with indisputably non-binary bodies can be recognized as legally different from non-intersex people, how can the state refuse to acknowledge those with non-binary identities, who are as deeply affected by lack of proper documentation as any other trans or intersex individuals?

The primary issue here is what role states will take in the transformation the gender binary is undergoing. While purporting to remain neutral in the face of radical social change, governments who perpetuate binary systems for assigning legal sex actively erase intersex bodies and delegitimize trans identities. The creation of more categories is not an instance of governments creating or pushing for social change, but rather reflecting the reality already occupied by many of the people it purports to serve. Legal sex has real consequences for individuals, and reforming it is a matter of safety, of equal participation in public life, and of individuals’ access to legal recognition and dignity. As long as legal sex exists, we need more than two categories.

Lal Zimman is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Affiliated Faculty in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also General Editor of Oxford University Press’s Series in Language, Gender, and Sexuality. His research is broadly focused on the linguistic practices of transgender speakers, in which he employs
a range of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. He has published on the homonormativity of the coming out narrative genre (Gender & Language, 2009), the construction of biological sex in trans men’s use of gendered body part terminology (Queer Excursions, 2014, Oxford; Journal of Homosexuality, 2014), and the complex role of embodiment in the acoustic characteristics of the voice (Journal of Language & Sexuality, 2013; Language and Masculinities, 2015, Routledge). In 2014, he published a co-edited volume, Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality with Oxford University Press.

1 Hutton, Christopher (forthcoming). Transgender jurisprudence, legal sex, and ordinary language.  In Evan Hazenberg & Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.), Representing Trans. Wellington, New Zealand:  Victoria University Press.

2 Several countries limit names for infants so that they are “gender appropriate,” including Denmark [link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/07/03/mf.baby.naming.laws/index.html%5D, Iceland [link: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/01/04/168642200/a-girl-fights-to-be-called-by-her-name-in-iceland-suing-government%5D, and Hungary [link: http://www.nytud.hu/oszt/nyelvmuvelo/utonevek/%5D.

3 See, for instance, Lee, R. (2015). Forced sterilization and mandatory divorce: How a majority of Council of Europe member states’ laws regarding gender identity violate the internationally and regionally established human rights of trans people. Berkeley Journal of International Law 33(1):114-152.

4 I am being intentionally broad here in speaking of bodies, identities, or presentations out of recognition that not all intersex people want their intersex status reflected in their legal sex. Individuals should be able to choose which legal sex category will make them safest, affirm their dignity, and allow them to participate fully and comfortably in social life. For some, that means using a non-binary sex category.

Why Women’s Money Means Less

By Nadina L. Anderson

Is men’s money different than women’s money? How can we tell?

While men make more money than women, most scholars assume the physical dollars and cents are interchangeable. A woman’s dollar looks and feels the same as a man’s dollar. However, in practice, people exchange money in particular patterns.

Within families, husbands and wives earmark income to pay for different costs: rent, food, kids, parties, savings, etc. They decide whether to pool their income or leave them separate, when to spend versus when to save, who should manage joint resources, and how joint resources should be used. Together these decisions form a system or strategy of money management that couples use to survive and succeed in daily life. I argue that these strategies tell a revealing story about gender, money, and power.

I study how couples share money in Ukraine. By spending nine months conducting interviews with couples in Kyiv, I uncovered several patterns of exchange in families. In my paper for Gender & Society, I focus on the practices of thirty-four working class couples—describing how they spend, save, and share money. I discover that women’s money is not exchanged the same way as men’s money.

Managing money in Ukrainian families

 For poorer couples, earning money generally does not give Ukrainians a sense of pride or accomplishment. Men in particular feel exploited and betrayed by their employers and the labor market, making 40-50 cents an hour. Even in full-time positions, men cannot pay for their family’s most basic necessities.

Women try to save their husbands from feeling depressed or disheartened. They actively bolster men’s spirits by managing men’s money in ways that position their husbands as providers. However, this does not mean that husbands out-earn their wives. Out of the thirty-four couples in my study, twenty-two wives earn the same or more than their husbands. However, men’s money is spent and saved differently than women’s money, regardless of relative income.

I discover three main ways money becomes “gendered” in the home. These practices make men feel more like breadwinners, even when both partners contribute roughly equal amounts towards family expenses:

Placement and access: Men overwhelmingly bring their money home in cash, making it accessible to other family members. Women often keep their money separate: hidden in a bank account or kept in a secret envelope in a closet. This preserves the idea that women’s money is “private.” Men give money to women and ask them to pay bills, but women rarely give men money to do the same.

Earmarking: Women use men’s money to pay for “important” expenses, like rent, utilities, or car payments. They spend their own money on less visible things like education, food, medicine, train-tickets home to visit family, and other services. Over time, men’s money transforms into durable, tangible items like TVs, phones, cars, furniture, apartments, while women’s money seemingly disappears.

Timing of use: Couples sometimes spend men’s money first every month until it runs out. One third of my sample use this “his-then-hers” system. The couple spends the man’s money throughout the month until his cash disappears or his bank account gets too low, then the woman’s money “kicks in”. Women’s extra earnings are earmarked as shared savings. This helps both partners “feel” like the husband is the breadwinner, even if his wife earns more.

These findings suggest that couples use money to construct a gender boundary in the home: one that casts men as breadwinners and women as domestic managers. However, the gender boundary has some positive effects, like saving men from feeling emasculated in the labor market. Furthermore, when men give money to women, women interpret it as a gesture of deference and a token of gratitude. Men’s money provides a means of signaling respect for women’s unpaid labor. 

When I conducted my fieldwork in 2015, Russia invaded Eastern Ukraine. I talked to many families who were struggling to keep their jobs, pay their rent, and stretch the budget from month to month. They often earned cash, lived with extended family, and managed to survive by working two or four jobs. This changed the priorities of my sample. Couples were not overly concerned with fairness or equality in the home—they were more worried about how to pay rent next month. Because of these constraints, my respondents’ stories are most representative of other poor or financially struggling couples, not wealthy couples. However, my research did lead to some larger take-aways about money, power, and couples.

Generalizing Beyond Ukraine

Anderson_2https://www.flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6848823919

1) Money becomes symbolic through exchange. When money changes hands, it can become symbolic. Money can symbolize care, affection, disdain, condescension, guilt, trust, and much else besides. Whether through communication or through unspoken understanding, couples usually come to agreement about what money means in the relationship. For example, if one partner thinks exchanging money means “care and affection” while the other assumes it means “disdain and disrespect,” conflict can emerge. Money can produce power when it invokes a sense of debt or gratitude in the other. Without feelings of debt, the link between money and power is severed.

2) Money can build trust. Because sharing money can be risky, successfully sharing money helps partners trust each other. Sharing can take on many different forms of exchange—unilateral giving, pooling, tit-for-tat, even dividing up costs in a systematic way. By behaving responsibly, partners prove to one other that they are trustworthy and competent. I found that men gave money to women as a gesture that husbands “trust” their wives, even if wives earned more money than their husbands.

3) Money isn’t everything. To understand power, one also needs to examine other resources, like labor. While money can cause friction between partners, monetary arrangements generally reflect deeper dynamics of the couple’s relationship. Fighting about money often reflects deeper disagreements about whose labor and well-being is more valuable. I discover that for many families, exchanging money is a method of symbolically giving value to labor. Couples in my study positioned the husbands as “givers” in part to symbolically give value to women’s unpaid reproductive and domestic labor.

Nadina L. Anderson is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Arizona. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled “Money Talks: Trust, Power, and Exchange in Ukrainian Households” in which she explores processes of conflict and cooperation in marriage. her other research examines housing, migration, and internally displaced people in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kyrgyzstan.

Gender Differences in Working and Caring? A New Mom’s Perspective

By Mara A. Yerkes

For the past fifteen years, I have studied how men and women combine their paid jobs with care for children. I look at how governments and businesses differ in creating policies that can help people reconcile these responsibilities, and at how men and women differ in the way they work and provide care when they have children. In the past year, research from myself and others took on a new dimension as I experienced the combination of work and care first-hand after becoming a mom in late 2015 and returning to work a few months later.

Flexibility when going back to work

As a new working mom, it became clear to me how flexibility upon returning to work is valued by mothers. In an Australian study about the flexible arrangements mothers enter into when returning to work (e.g. part-time work, reduced hours work or working flexible hours), we found that mothers without university education and/or in female-typed occupations with limited career prospects rarely question the fairness of the arrangements they enter into when returning to work after having a child. But for mothers with university degrees, what is ‘fair’ when returning to work is much less settled. For all mothers, how they are treated at work when negotiating these arrangements matters.  If mothers feel they have been treated fairly and appropriately, they are much more likely to perceive flexible work arrangements as fair despite any long-term disadvantages.

Who works and who cares?

Becoming a working mom also heightened my awareness of gender differences in how men and women share work and childcare tasks after having children. In the US,  nearly two-thirds of mothers with at least one child under the age of 14 work.

Yerks_3In the Netherlands, where I now live, – nearly three-fourths of mothers are employed. But here, women are much more likely to work part-time than US mothers, particularly after having children. Despite these differences, the US and the Netherlands share a similarly unequal division of care tasks between mothers and fathers. In the US, mothers spent more than twice as much time as fathers providing physical care to children on an average day in 2015. The most recent data for the Netherlands (from 2011) tells the same story. In fact, research on the gender division of care tasks confirms that in most western countries, mothers consistently spend more time caring for children than fathers, and which types of care tasks moms and dads do differs as well.

Yerks_2Why do moms and dads differ in how they care?

So why do moms consistently provide more care than dads? And why do they often spend more time doing more tasks than fathers? In another Australian study, my colleagues and I investigated how couples negotiate who does which care tasks after having a baby and how they explain these choices. Even in couples where dads take an active role in caring for their child, key differences exist in the type of care tasks that parents perform. Our study shows that fathers often opt out of care tasks they perceive as difficult, such as comforting a very upset baby or night care. Moms and dads rationalize these differences by talking about mother’s superiority in caring for and nurturing infants, for example. Mothers’ willingness to step in and do care tasks when fathers step back supports and reproduces these gendered differences.

The need for better work-care policies

Such gender inequalities are persistent and difficult to address. On the one hand, such inequalities can reflect personal work and care preferences of mothers and fathers, as well as differing country contexts. For example, I feel lucky to live in a country where it’s possible for my to each spend at least one day a week caring for our son. Living in the Netherlands, our jobs are flexible enough to make this possible. On the other hand, gender inequalities in work and care reflect structural problems, such as unequal access to time off from work to care for children or unequal access to childcare alternatives, such as formal care. Unequal access to paid leave following the birth of a child helps to establish gender unequal divisions of care that persist long-term. If I have learned one thing by becoming a working mom, it’s that fathers can and do play a crucial role in caring for their children. Providing fathers with opportunities to care is not only essential for children’s development, it is key to improving gender inequality in care and paid work. Hence work-care policies that provide fathers with such opportunities are crucial to achieving greater gender equality in work and care.

Mara A. Yerkes is Assistant Professor in Interdisciplinary Social Science at Utrecht University and Honorary Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland. Her research interests include work, care and family, the sociology of gender and sexuality, comparative welfare states, industrial relations, social inequality and women’s employment. She is the author of Transforming the Dutch Welfare State: Social Risks and Corporatist Reform (2011; Policy Press) and co-editor of The Transformation of Solidarity. Changing Risks and the Future of the Welfare State (2011; Amsterdam University Press). Yerkes is also the author of multiple articles, including the recent article on mothers’ perceptions of justice and fairness in paid work ] and an article on attitudes towards the social and civil rights of diverse families.  She is also an editorial board member for Gender & Society.