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.

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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).

Redoing Gender, Redoing Religion

By: Helana Darwin

One night while I was watching Transparent, a particular scene caught my attention. The young female rabbi is explaining how difficult it is to be in a masculinized profession without losing her sense of femininity and sexiness. To demonstrate her point, she takes off her kippah (a small skullcap that is traditionally worn by Jewish men, otherwise known as a yarmulke) and proclaims “Sexy!” Then she places the garment back on her head and makes a face, announcing “Not sexy.” The other character smilingly assents to her point.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this scene. My thoughts drifted to all of the women pursuing rabbinic ordination at the seminary where I had just earned my Master’s degree in Jewish Studies. Most of them wore kippot (plural of kippah), like the rabbi in Transparent. Did they similarly struggle with feeling like their kippah cancelled out their femininity or sexiness? Could this possibly explain why more women do not wear kippot , despite the transnational Jewish feminist push to embrace masculinized Jewish practices? Since the 1970s, Jewish women have boldly fought for their right to full inclusion within Judaism, and yet the sight of a woman in a kippah remains rare. Why?

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I couldn’t find an answer within academic databases. The vast majority of feminist head-covering research focuses on whether or not the hijab is oppressive or empowering to Muslim women who wear it. The general consensus among feminist scholars today seems to be that this is a false dichotomy; in reality, the hijab has different meanings to different women, depending on a number of factors including their nationality, parentage, local culture, and age. While this academic debate has been fruitful, it has rarely extended beyond the gender-normative case study of the hijab. This trend within the literature struck me as regrettably limited.

How, I wondered, do women who wear kippot reconcile their seemingly contradictory religious and gender scripts? Given my connections within the Jewish community, I realized that I was well-positioned to conduct this research. Indeed, within 24 hours of sending out my survey link, I had already received more than 400 responses. Additionally, I was also flooded by effusive emails, from respondents who wished to thank me for giving them a chance to clarify the meanings of their practice. In total, I collected responses from 576 Jewish women across the globe who wear kippot. I have derived two articles from this data so far. The first article focuses on the religious meanings of women’s kippah practice. It is called “Jewish Women’s Kippot: Meanings and Motives” and it is published in the journal Contemporary Jewry. The second article is significantly more theoretical and focuses on the extra-religious meanings associated with the practice. It is called “Redoing Gender, Redoing Religion,” and is in the current issue of Gender & Society.

“Redoing Gender, Redoing Religion” illuminates a new angle of the gender/religion nexus through this open-ended survey data, demonstrating how these two axes of accountability are intertwined. Jewish women have historically been exempt from the majority of Jewish ritual practices due to an anachronistic assumption that they are too busy with child-rearing and other domestic tasks. As a result, practices and customs such as wearing the kippah have become masculinized. When women assume such a historically masculinized practice, they render themselves vulnerable to gender-policing and a parallel process that I call “Jewish-policing.” According to those who hold themselves (and others) accountable to the patriarchal tradition, these women are neither “doing femininity” properly, “doing Jewish properly,” nor “doing Jewish womanhood” properly. Although some Jewish cultural fields embrace a shift towards egalitarianism, the women remain accountable to their more traditional coreligionists beyond the confines of these progressive spaces.

            The women in this study utilize a range of strategies to internally reconcile the tensions between the traditional script of gendered Judaism and their egalitarian values: some feminize the kippah so as to affirm their gender-normativity while doing Judaism differently; others utilize the kippah’s masculine-encoding to do Jewish womanhood differently. However, regardless of the women’s efforts to internally legitimize their practice, they remain externally accountable to their traditional coreligionists, who perceive their practice as a politically motivated statement. In response, some women go to great lengths to discursively distance themselves from feminism, insisting that they desire inclusion within tradition rather than an end to Jewish tradition itself. Others embrace their association with feminism, using their hypervisibility to begin conversations with coreligionists about gender equality within Judaism.

            These results lend new insight into how gender and religion function as mutually constitutive categories: while men can simply “do Jewish” by wearing the kippah, women are not afforded such a gender-blind privilege. Rather, coreligionists perceive women who wear kippot as automatically doing something other than Judaism, something that is inherently gendered and political—such as “doing religious feminism.” It appears that these two systems of accountability (gender ideology and religious ideology) remain inextricably linked to one another, despite evidence of an egalitarian shift within certain Jewish fields. Future research about gender norms/ideologies should consider religious background along with the more commonly included variables, given this evidence.

Helana Darwin Sociology doctoral candidate at Stony Brook University who is on the market. Her research highlights the regulatory impact of the gender binary system through a wide range of case studies. Recent publications include “Doing Gender Beyond the Binary: a virtual ethnography,” published by Symbolic Interaction and “Omnivorous Masculinity: gender capital and cultural legitimacy in craft beer culture,” published by Social Currents. Learn more about Helana’s research at helanadarwin.com.

 

Young Men’s Involvement in Hormonal Contraception: Paradox or Possibility?

By Ann M. Fefferman and Ushma D. Upadhyay

It may seem like a no-brainer that women tend to take care of hormonal contraception.  They should have the right to choose a method, use that method, and manage side effects in a way that works best for them. Women have a wide range of methods to choose from, including the pill, patch, vaginal ring, implant, and intrauterine device. These methods allow people to ditch the condom and enjoy increased sexual pleasure and spontaneity with lower chances of having an unintended pregnancy.

But does the fact that these contraceptive methods affect women’s bodies mean that men don’t see a role for themselves in pregnancy prevention?   No. Some men do see themselves as partners in contraceptive use and management. Our research identifies how young men are involved in contraceptive management in helpful and supportive ways. Our research focuses on young low-income men and women of color and the ways they work together to manage contraception without restricting women’s choices. We show examples of men helping with contraception, such as coming to appointments with their partners, discussing risk of pregnancy with partners, helping to choose a method, and reminding partners to take pills or to remove the vaginal ring. We also note how men and women work together to prevent pregnancy despite the different circumstances constraining their choices, such as immigration laws, gang membership, neighborhood violence, and poverty. In this way, our research works against the stereotypes often applied to young low-income men of color when people talk about unintended pregnancy.

While our research shows these positive examples of how young men can work within or against difficult circumstances to support women with contraception, we also show how they aren’t as “feminist”, or “egalitarian”, as they might think. Even though the men in our study were really involved in choosing and using contraception, they still thought women were the ones responsible for contraception and its effective use. Men were just helpers, much like many men “help” in the kitchen or “help” with taking care of the kids. Men used language that seemed equitable, saying that they were not responsible for contraception because they did not want to undermine women’s ability to make choices about their own bodies. Even women we interviewed agreed with these ideas.

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The assumption here is that men cannot respect women’s bodies and choices while still taking responsibility for the possibility of an unintended pregnancy.  Following this logic, men then can use their secondary place in contraception as a justification for assigning blame or shame to women when contraception fails. We aim to show in our research that m en’s involvement in contraception and men’s accountability for unintended pregnancy are not mutually exclusive. Men can help with contraception and also share in contraceptive responsibly (including when contraception fails). Men and women can work together to change these norms and help sustain a positive, respectful place for men in contraceptive management.

Ann M. Fefferman, MA is a PhD candidate in Sociology at University of California, Irvine. Her research interest focus broadly on gender, masculinities, reproductive health, the family and inequalities.  Currently, she is working on her dissertation, which investigates and compares masculinities in different stages of reproduction, with a focus on contraceptive management, pregnancy intentions, and abortion decision-making. In particular she intends to further her studies in medical sociology.

Ushma D. Upadhyay, PhD, MPH is an Associate Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco and Director of Research for the University of California Global Health Institute’s Center of Expertise in Women’s Health, Gender, and Empowerment. She holds a National Institutes of Health Career Development Award to study gender-based power among young men and women and its effect on contraceptive use. Her current research focuses on the development and validation of the Sexual Health and Reproductive Empowerment for Young Adults (SHREYA) Scale.

How Do Race and Gender Show Up In Youth Sexual Health Promotion?

By Chris Barcelos

Elizabeth Randolph, a white woman in her late 50s, manages a sexual and reproductive health clinic in “Millerston,” a small, former manufacturing city in the US northeast that is known for its high rates of teen pregnancy among Puerto Rican youth. “Not to sound racist at all,” she told me, “but teen pregnancy really is a Latino cultural issue. It’s just not a bad thing if a kid gets pregnant. It’s just much more socially acceptable within that community.” Although Elizabeth was clear that she didn’t want to “sound racist,” she did frame Latinx culture as a cause of Millerston’s high teen birth rates, and this no doubt informed her professional work. Like other people involved in the city’s youth sexual health promotion efforts, her understanding of the effect of culture on sexuality and health are part of what I call a “gendered racial project,” meaning the ways in which race and gender interact to create social meanings, experiences, and inequalities. In sexual health promotion, the ingrained ways in which race and gender show up are often unnoticed by the people who design policies and programs; in Millerston, these professionals are usually not members of the communities they serve. Ideas about race and gender affect the kinds of youth sexual health promotion that communities implement and can reinforce, rather than fix, gender, race, and health inequalities.

My article “Culture, Contraception, and Colorblindness: Youth Sexual Health Promotion as a Gendered Racial Project,” explores how sexual health promotion aimed at young, low-income Latinas in Millerston can be understood as a gendered racial project. I spent three years interviewing professional stakeholders like Elizabeth and participating in coalition meetings, teen pregnancy prevention events, and provider trainings. I found that youth sexual health promoters understand “Latino culture” as stable and uniform in its approach to sexuality and reproduction. They assume that Latinas are against contraception and abortion, and that Latinx families are silent about sexuality and promote teen childbearing within the family. This understanding allows health promoters to justify their efforts to regulate the sexuality and childbearing of young Latinas, including whether they should have sex, what kinds of contraception they should use, and whether they should become parents.

In places like Millerston, where there are high rates of teen pregnancy among women of color, health professionals heavily promote LARC, or long-acting reversible contraceptive (methods such as the IUD, shot, or implant), while downplaying their undesirable side effects. For example, a white social worker in her 40s shared a story about a young client who she characterized as irresponsible because she didn’t want an IUD, while minimizing the client’s real concerns: “There’s all these reasons – they don’t want something inserted into their body, they don’t want to gain weight [sarcastically], there’s all these things, but in my head those are just excuses.” It’s also important to note, as sociologist Eduardo Bonilla-Silva explains, that many Americans believe we live in a post-racial, “colorblind” society where race no longer matters. Yet, race very much still matters, and imagining that race and racism don’t affect reproductive health allows health promoters to overlook the long history of how LARC has been used to control the childbearing of women of color, disabled people, and others whose sexuality and reproduction are seen as outside the norm.

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Fortunately, there are seeds of racial and reproductive justice being planted in Millerston and in the field of sexual health promotion more generally – for example, in partnerships between reproductive justice organizations and the Black Lives Matter movement. Health promoters in Millerston and elsewhere could contribute to planting these seeds by participating in organizing efforts among white people committed to dismantling white supremacy, such as Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), or  by seeking technical assistance and training from national reproductive justice organizations such as Forward Together.  Shifting youth sexual health promotion to incorporate gender, racial, and reproductive justice frameworks means moving from a focus on paternalistically trying to modify “culture” and promoting specific contraceptives, to focusing on how to dismantle racism and enable a world where people can create the kinds of families they want.

Chris Barcelos is an Assistant Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Their research uses ethnography, discourse analysis, and visual methods to interrogate how health promotion discourses both reveal and reproduce inequalities along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, nation, and ability.

Watch what you say! How the language we speak affects our gender attitudes

By Sarah Shair-Rosenfield & Amy H. Liu

On October 14, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled Harvey Weinstein given the mounting accusations of sexual harassment and assault against him. Yet coverage of this ongoing story has only further highlighted the latent sexism even among those who may not explicitly hold such views. Interestingly, the language we use to describe sexual assault and harassment directly – albeit subconsciously – contributes to a gendered worldview. This perspective places women and men into different categories and subjects them to different expectations. Take, for example, a discussion of “a predator” who harasses or assaults “a victim.” In the English language, neither the word “predator” nor the word “victim” takes a specific gender in linguistic terms. But in Spanish, the words for “predator” and “victim” are gendered: un depredador is masculine, and una victim is feminine. We see the same pattern in French, Italian, and Portuguese. These linguistic structures can perpetuate gender-based distinctions between who does what and to whom.

But these linguistically-driven gender-based power differentials happen not only when we talk about sexual harassment. Instead, everyday language use can easily support how people view gender equality. The word for “worker” – again un-gendered in English – is masculine in Spanish (un trabajador). Admittedly, these references can be modified to reflect women’s occupation of such roles – e.g., una trabajadora in Spanish. However, the reality is that the everyday use of language requires speakers to make such distinctions. Even if individuals choose not to identify female workers as “female workers” but rather as just “workers,” in Spanish women who work are referenced with a masculine term. And this is by no means a Spanish – or any Romance language – phenomenon. We see these distinctions in the Germanic languages (e.g., de arbeider versus de arbeiderin in Dutch; der Arbeiter versus die Arbeiterin in German) and the Slavic languages (e.g., radnik versus radnica in Croatian; pracovník versus pracovnička in Czech).

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This type of constant gender-based distinction implicitly affects how people see the world. When someone’s language is based on a linguistic structure that requires them to always describe the world in a gender-distinct way, it continuously makes them aware of gender differences. This awareness can render it difficult for that that person to think about people in a non-gendered (or un-gendered) way. In our Gender & Society article, we argue that people are less likely to be supportive of gender equality and women’s rights when the language they speak constantly reinforces gender-based differences.

At first glance, our work shows just that. People who speak languages that constantly require them to reference gender – of things, people, etc. – are less supportive of gender equality in political, economic, and social contexts. Perhaps unsurprisingly, countries where the official language (or the most commonly spoken one in the absence of an official language) is one that requires people to speak – and therefore think – in gendered terms are also the countries where women’s rights tend to be lower. In contrast, people who speak languages that rarely or never require them to reference gender tend to be more supportive of gender equality, and countries where such languages are official are inclined to have higher levels of women’s rights.

Yet, we also demonstrate that people can be linguistically primed to deemphasize the salience of gender. We run an experiment on bilingual Romanian (a Romance language with a lot of gender) and Hungarian (a gender-less non-Indo-European language) students. We show that when speakers are asked to engage in a series of questions about gender equality using Hungarian, they are more likely to support gender equality than when the same questions are in Romanian. This tells us that – while the everyday use of a language can reinforce people’s existing gender attitudes – these effects can be muted if the gendered features of the language can be altered to deemphasize gender differences.

Amy H. Liu is an associate professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin. Her first book Standardizing Diversity (2015: Pennsylvania) examines the politics of language regimes in Asia. She is currently working on a second book manuscript focusing on linguistic repertories among Chinese migrants in Central-Eastern Europe.

Sarah Shair-Rosenfield is an assistant professor of political science at Arizona State University. Her current research focuses on representation and elections, decentralization, executive-legislative relations, and gender and conflict studies, with special interest in the politics of Latin America and Southeast Asia.

Lindsey Vance holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Colorado Boulder. She is Director of Data and Strategy at Teach for America and has worked as a consultant for multiple NGOs developing metrics to assess women’s empowerment and social change.

Zsombor Csata is a sociologist at Babeș-Bolyai University and the director of the Research Center on Inter-Ethnic Relations in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. He has conducted several research projects on ethnicity, entrepreneurship and regional development in Central and Eastern Europe. His recent research focuses on the economic aspects of diversity and the economics of language.

Millennials, Gender, and a More Open Society

By Barbara J. Risman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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