Queering Romance

By Ellen Lamont

For the last couple of decades, debates over same-sex marriage dominated the national political conversation on gay rights. Slogans such as “love is love” and other mainstream narratives proclaimed the right to wedded bliss for same-sex couples, and movement leaders worked to normalize certain LGBTQ relationships by emphasizing their similarity to straight couples. Yet not all LGBTQ individuals were on board, and many asserted that liberation was not about gaining access to a government sanctioned institution or mimicking the practices of heterosexual couples. Instead, they argued, the appeal of queer life was in making life choices, and defining relationships, on one’s own terms. Only in doing so could one radically transform the sexist, heteronormative practices that structure romantic relationships.

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/the_justified_sinner/33880564722/in/datetaken-public/

            Normative dating and courtship practices are widely accepted in the U.S. because they reliably communicate interest and facilitate relationship progression. Men are expected to ask for, plan, and pay for dates, progress the relationship, and propose marriage, while women are expected to simply react. Given that these norms are predicated on assumptions of heterosexuality and are deeply gendered, I wondered how queer individuals navigated the early stages of romantic relationships, a time when people are more likely to fall back on well-established practices as a way to deal with uncertainty. In order to explore this question, I interviewed 40 LGBTQ-identified young adults in the San Francisco Bay Area about their dating practices. Given their young ages, geographic location, and extensive contact with queer community organizations and friend networks, my respondents were well-situated to remake romance outside of the standard Hollywood script.

            Contrary to the voices of liberation through assimilation, my findings show that some LGBTQ-identified individuals – particularly those in more radical, politicized queer spaces – reject the presumption that they should mimic heterosexual relationship practices, which they saw as constraining, unimaginative, and heavily gendered. Instead, respondents argued for dating practices built on reciprocity.

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They emphasized how both partners (or more, if in polyamorous relationships) should ask and pay for dates, communicate interest, and facilitate relationship progression. In addition, they aimed to construct relationships free from societal constraints and instead based on the individual needs of each partner. They viewed this approach as more honest than those that draw on cookie cutter assumptions about what people want and need in their relationships.

            This approach spilled over into their committed relationships, as respondents emphasized egalitarian, flexible, and non-gendered care work. They sought to engage in high levels of communication and negotiation so that each person’s individual, and often changing, needs would be consistently honored. Thus, my findings show how a deliberate rethinking of dating and courtship practices may set the stage for people to do the same in their long-term relationships, indicating that changing how people date may be important to building more equal, and less gendered, relationships.

            But while my respondents emphasized their desire to “write the scripts themselves” based on individual needs and wants, they faced emergent community-level norms that restricted the range of “acceptable” relationship practices. Given the queer community’s focus on resisting gendered and heteronormative practices, the people I spoke with discussed anywhere from mild to heavy pressure to avoid these practices in their own relationships. As a result, people worked hard to be appropriately radical and resist falling back on normative conventions. Those who fell back on heteronormative practices were either shamed or compelled to create narratives in which their adherence to such practices was explained away in order to undermine potential critiques. While my findings show the potential embedded in building relationships based on the expressed needs and desires of each partner rather than on default expectations, they also demonstrate that queer people struggle with the paradox that liberation can itself become a constraining norm, as the pressure to contest societal level norms translates into a pressure to always be radical.

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Ellen Lamont is an assistant professor  of sociology at the Appalachian State University. Her research examines how gender and sexuality shape young adults’ hookup, dating, and courtship practices.

 

 

 

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Rural Migrant Men in Urban China: Masculinity and Compromise

By Yinni Peng

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting More Men Involved – But Which Men?

By Tal Peretz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] All participant names are pseudonyms

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

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. 

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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

Becoming “War Buddies”: Underestimating Insider Status

By Heather Mooney

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I’ve learned very quickly that it is harder than I thought to be an insider, though in completely unexpected ways. My dissertation explores the social construction of deviance and rehabilitation in total institutions through a case study of a therapeutic boarding school from the “troubled teen” industry. This industry loosely consists of various private facilities for reforming deviant adolescents including boot camps, wilderness therapy programs and last chance ranches. Many scholars warned me that even though I am an insider (I myself was a “troubled teen”), I am likely to be an outlier. Scholars assumed that I was unlike other fellow reform school alum (PhD candidate, single, childfree, Buddhist, activist). I was cautioned many times not to assume my thoughts, feelings, and experiences were similar to those of the participants. Understandably, it took me by surprise to discover during the early phases of data collection that I am very much an insider – almost to the textbook definition.

While certain variables make my narrators and me unique, the overarching sentiments echo my personal experience more than I had been advised. From the very start of data collection I connected with my contributors in many ways because sharing the experiences of attending non-traditional school and the therapeutic activities brought a strong sense of solidarity. Despite the similarities, we also identified notable differences: following reform school, pursuits of education, and in family relations. Through shared intense institutional experiences, bonding occurs in ways that outsiders may not fully understand. This has led to the unanticipated challenge of becoming friends with strangers – at a rapid pace.

Advantages of Insider Status

My insider status has been essential to studying this hidden population; however, I miscalculated how integral my position would become. I especially underestimated the value of the shared experience (attending a total institution) that engendered this insider status. I assumed that having attended the program would allow for shared language and an intimate understanding of the institution’s structure. As the interviews quickly progressed, I was not prepared to be treated like a “war buddy”. Nor was I prepared for the emotional affinity with my narrators after having mostly listened and talked for hours. I attribute this rapid rapport building to the deep and long-lasting impact the academy has had on each of us and what a rare opportunity it is to share this with a fellow former student.

The Sway of Insider Status

At the end of my first interview, I stepped back to reflect. I hadn’t laughed so hard in months as I had done while wrapping up that first dialogue. Since then, conducting my interviews has been like the high school reunion I’ve never had – though in slow, detailed motion. By the end of our interviews, I feel like a peer more than a researcher. I’m learning that often my shared understanding has inhibited further probing or explanation that an outsider would have had to question for clarity. Due to this I will likely query narrators again for further details on a few themes and ask even more in depth questions going forward. Some contributors have asked to stay connected via social media and all have expressed appreciation in my investment in documenting these experiences. Most of the narrators expressed heartfelt gratitude as our interview had been the first time in years, for some a decade, that they had been able to openly reflect,  be heard, and understand the impact the therapeutic boarding school has had on their life. In taking this moment to recognize that though the boundary between friends and participants is blurry, I would rather continue to break it down than enforce it.

Subverting Research Power Dynamics

In my dissertation, I “study up”; the narrators are mostly upper middle class whites. The average cost of similar private troubled teen programs is somewhere around $5,000 per month. This is in stark contrast to my previous research in which I “studied down” interviewing recently incarcerated homeless men. In this study, being an insider allows me to get closer to my narrators realities and shift at least some of the inherent research dilemmas that feel too perennial in their nagging truths about exploitation.  With my dissertation I seek a more equitable exchange in my position of power and social status, stemming from a variety of mostly ascribed sources. For instance, I encourage the narrators to select their own pseudonym to frame themselves as they see fit. I will send transcriptions and final drafts to be reviewed and commented on by them prior to publications. This allows narrators the opportunity to participate in and respond to interpretations and analyses.

These steps ensure that my status does not impose a unilateral framework and understanding onto the narrators’ experiences. There can be a false sense of insight provided by the insider status coupled with the powerful role of researcher that must be tempered by continued avenues for the narrator’s engagement and oversight of their truth (data). It is my hope that my position as an insider will foster innovative and inclusive methodological tactics that give inclusive opportunities to narrators throughout the research process in hopes of bringing parity to the generosity entrusted and given by the contributors to share these oft untold tales in ways that ideally benefit us all.

Heather Mooney is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI specializing in inequality studies. She is currently working on her dissertation about adults who were former “troubled teens” discussing their experiences and perceived impact of attending a therapeutic boarding school. In her spare time, she is committed to ending mass incarceration, enjoys exercising, and practices Tibetan Buddhism.

Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research

By Wendi Johnson

One cannot begin to enumerate the number of articles, papers, and book chapters that have addressed the gender symmetry debate within the literature on intimate partner violence (IPV).  Yet the academic sparring between family and feminist scholars has led to a circular argument with no clear winner and has ultimately hindered progress on IPV research.  Thus, this entry will not be another weighing in of the debate, but instead I will focus on providing several suggestions to IPV researchers. While most of my comments are likely to reflect my quantitative orientation, by no means are they meant to exclude qualitative researchers.  I do not claim credit for any of these ideas, as they have been introduced previously in other outlets.  Rather, this is meant to simply serve as a reminder to myself and other IPV researchers of areas that could benefit from scholarly attention. Continue reading “Moving Beyond the Gender Symmetry Debate: Ongoing Opportunities for IPV Research”

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

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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.