G&S in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender & Children and Youth

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

Dow, Dawn. (2016). The Deadly Challenges of Raising African American Boys: Navigating the Controlling Image of the ‘Thug.’ Gender & Society, 30 (2): pp. 161-188.

Through 60 in-depth interviews with African American middle- and upper-middle-class mothers, this article examines how the controlling image of the “thug” influences the concerns these mothers have for their sons and how they parent their sons in light of those concerns. Participants were principally concerned with preventing their sons from being perceived as criminals, protecting their sons’ physical safety, and ensuring they did not enact the “thug,” a form of subordinate masculinity. Although this image is associated with strength and toughness, participants believed it made their sons vulnerable in various social contexts. They used four strategies to navigate the challenges they and their sons confronted related to the thug image. Two of these strategies—experience and environment management—were directed at managing characteristics of their sons’ regular social interactions—and two—image and emotion management—were directed at managing their sons’ appearance. By examining parenting practices, this research illuminates the strategies mothers use to prepare their sons to address gendered racism through managing the expression of their masculinity, racial identity, and class status.

Fjær, Eivind Grip, Willy Pedersen, and Sveinung Sandberg. (2015). “I’m Not One of Those Girls”: Boundary-Work and the Sexual Double Standard in a Liberal Hookup Context”. Gender & Society, 29 (6): pp. 960-981.

Sexual morality is not keeping up with the new sexual practices of young people, even in cultures oriented toward gender equality. The Norwegian high school graduation celebration constitutes an exceptionally liberal context for sexual practices. Many of the 18-year-old participants in this three-week-long celebration engage in “hookup” activities, involving kissing, fondling, and sexual intercourse. Through an analysis of qualitative interviews with 25 women and 16 men, the authors argue that while the young women avoided overt slut-shaming, the morally abject position of the “slut” was still sustained by implication. The young women drew symbolic boundaries against anonymous other women who failed to value safety, hygiene, and self-control. This boundary-work was combined with declarations of tolerance of hookup practices, reflecting a sexually liberal culture geared toward gender equality. That young women who hooked up also drew boundaries against “other” women indicates a lack of alternative gender beliefs that allow young women to positively associate with hooking up. The young men also drew symbolic boundaries in their talk about sex, but enjoyed more freedom in their moral positioning. Although the liberal context was evident, the gendered difference in sexual boundary-work may contribute to the persistence of a sexual double standard among young people.

Coe, Anna-Britt. (2015). “I Am Not Just a Feminist Eight Hours a Day”: Youth Gender Justice Activism in Ecuador and Peru. Gender & Society, 29(6): pp. 888-913.

This article focuses on youth feminist political action in Ecuador and Peru and its relationship to contemporary gender hierarchies. Coe examines how and why youth gender justice activists understand their political action differently from the professionalized adult feminists who mobilize them. Grounded theory was used to collect and analyze interviews with 21 young women and men activists on gender justice. Youth activists seek cultural changes using social advocacy to target the family, household, and intimate partnerships, what I describe as politicizing the sociocultural. They develop new ways of perceiving political action in response to challenges produced by emergent gender hierarchies, which they understand as blurred gender inequalities or processes that simultaneously enable and constrain gender equality.

Whittier, Nancy. (2016). Where Are the Children?: Theorizing the Missing Piece in Gendered Sexual Violence. Gender & Society. 30(1): pp. 95-108.

One of the symposium pieces in the Theorizing Rape issue of the journal in February 2016. Whittier draws on her research on child’s sexual assault movement, in this think piece to argue that age needs to be a component of how we understand intersectional identities within sexual violence.

Kane, Emily W. (2006) “No Way My Boys Are Going to Be Like that!” Parents’ Responses to Children’s Gender Nonconformity. Gender & Society, 20 (2) pp. 149-176.

Drawing on qualitative interviews with parents of preschool children, the author addresses parental responses to children’s gender nonconformity. The author’s analyses indicate that parents welcome what they perceive as gender nonconformity among their young daughters, while their responses in relation to sons are more complex. Many parents across racial and class backgrounds accept or encourage some tendencies they consider atypical for boys. But this acceptance is balanced by efforts to approximate hegemonic ideals of masculinity. The author considers these patterns in the context of gender as an interactional accomplishment, demonstrating that parents are often consciously aware of their own role in accomplishing gender with and for their sons. Heterosexual fathers are especially likely to be motivated in that accomplishment work by their own personal endorsement of hegemonic masculinity, while heterosexual mothers and gay parents are more likely to be motivated by accountability to others in relation to those ideals.

Martin, Karin A. (2005). “William wants a doll. Can he have one? Feminists, child care advisors, and gender-neutral child rearing.” Gender & Society, 19 (4): 456-479.

Using an analysis of child care books and parenting Web sites, Martin asks if second-wave feminism’s vision of gender-neutral child rearing has been incorporated into contemporary advice on child rearing. The data suggest that while feminist understandings of gender have made significant inroads into popular advice, especially with regard to the social construction of gender, something akin to “a stalled revolution” has taken place. Children’s gender nonconformity is still viewed as problematic because it is linked implicitly and explicitly to homosexuality.

Organizer: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York. Updated by: Hara Bastas, LaGuardia Community College, City University of New York and  Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University.


Does motherhood make women more traditional?

By Muzhi Zhou  

As a PhD scholar working on gender and family issues, and as a woman of childbearing age, I spend a lot of time thinking about the balance between work and family. I have witnessed many of my female friends move away from their promising careers to be a dedicated caregiver and educator for their young children. They shared with me their struggles and conflicting feelings in the change of roles. Those who did go back to work after maternity leave told me their lives had changed irrevocably, and they now felt that, despite what they had previously been led to believe, you could not have it all. If motherhood changes women’s lives so much, does it change their views about the roles of women and men as well? I ask this question in my Gender & Society article.

The conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

I have always been interested in the impact of motherhood on women’s lives and identity. The most striking fact is that in many developed countries, women are outperforming men in education and participating in the labour market at a similar level as men are. However, women’s labour market activity declines substantially once they become mothers. Many leave the labour market, at least temporarily, to fulfill their child-rearing responsibilities. Others are struggling to achieve a balance between work and family.


In the United Kingdom, where I now live and study, employed mothers can have a maximum 52 weeks (up to 39 weeks are paid) of maternity leave. Formal childcare is extremely costly. The cost for a nursery school is high, starting at £30 (about $39) per day. For many women, it is unrealistic, uneconomic, or not ideal to work and spend most of the earnings on day care. National statistics show that in 2014, 61 percent of women with dependent children aged under five were working, of whom 58 percent were working part time. For many mothers, leaving the labour market to care for children seems to be the only choice, despite their earlier needs, efforts, and desires in career development. Those who maintain a full-time job as mothers are subject to great tension between work and family, especially when women are still expected to prioritize the need of children. In other words, the career of a mother, who has to care one or more young children, is likely to be at stake.

Women’s gender attitudes are related to how they settle the conflict

The substantial conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities can be powerful enough to provoke a change in women’s gender attitudes, especially their views about the gendered division of labour. Using a sample of women aged 21 to 45 who were followed up over time in the United Kingdom from 1991 to 2013, I discovered that simply the birth of a child, or the shift from full-time employment to a non-working status is not the direct reason for changes in women’s gender attitudes. Women adjust their attitudes when their motherhood and employment statuses intersect. That is, only mothers become more traditional if they withdraw from the labour market. Among childless women, their gender attitudes remain largely stable regardless of whether they change their employment status. If we compare women’s attitudes before and after the birth of a child, those who remain in the labour market, and keep a full-time job, actually become slightly less traditional in their attitudes after becoming mothers, whereas those who withdraw from the labour market as mothers turn to more traditional attitudes. Therefore, adult women adjust their views about the gendered division of labour in family only when they are trying to settle the conflict between their employment and child-rearing responsibilities.

A call for policies targeting the conflict between women’s employment and child-rearing responsibilities

Gender attitudes are usually assumed to be stable during adulthood and work as an important predictor of women’s labour market performance and fertility behaviour. However, I discovered that women’s lived experience can also influence gender attitudes, which can subsequently affect future decisions to balance work and family. A critical step to further improve gender equality is to have more people practicing and supporting a symmetrical family model with dual earners and caregivers. Better work-care policies and cost-effective childcare services would enable more mothers with young children to maintain employed so that fewer women need to compromise their original gender attitudes to conform the reality of staying at home and caring for children.

Muzhi Zhou is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oxford. She is also affiliated with St Antony’s College. Her areas of interest include gender, family and marriage, and quantitative methodology. Her recent research examines the gendered effect of parenthood and the relationship between gender equality and fertility.

Gender & Society in the Classroom Guide for Syllabi on Gender and Sports

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


Musto, Michela, Cheryl Cooky and Michael A. Messner. (2017). “From Fizzle to Sizzle!” Televised Sports News and the Production of Gender-Bland Sexism. Gender & Society 31: (5): pp. 573-596.

This article draws upon data collected as part of a 25-year longitudinal analysis of televised coverage of women’s sports to provide a window into how sexism operates during a postfeminist sociohistorical moment. As the gender order has shifted to incorporate girls’ and women’s movement into the masculine realm of sports, coverage of women’s sports has shifted away from overtly denigrating coverage in 1989 to ostensibly respectful but lackluster coverage in 2014. To theorize this shift, we introduce the concept of “gender-bland sexism,” a contemporary gender framework that superficially extends the principles of merit to women in sports. Televised news and highlight shows frame women in uninspired ways, making women’s athletic accomplishments appear lackluster compared to those of men’s. Because this “bland” language normalizes a hierarchy between men’s and women’s sports while simultaneously avoiding charges of overt sexism, this article contributes to gender theory by illuminating how women can be marginalized in male-dominated, male-controlled settings via individualized merit-based assessments of talent.

Kissane Rebecca Joyce and Sarah Winslow. (2016). “You’re Underestimating Me and You Shouldn’t” Women’s Agency in Fantasy Sports. Gender & Society 30: (5): pp. 819-841.

Using qualitative data, this article investigates women’s experiences in fantasy sports, a context that offers the potential for transformations in the gendered order of traditionally masculinized athletic environments by blurring the distinctions between real and virtual, combining active production and passive consumption, and allowing men and women to play side-by-side. We find, however, women often describe fantasy sports as a male/masculine space in which they are highly visible and have their ability to compete like men questioned, largely because of gendered assumptions regarding sports knowledge. Women’s attitudes and behaviors frequently reproduce traditional gender dynamics, although women also engage in behaviors and assert definitions of themselves that are potentially transformative—implicitly and explicitly pushing the boundaries of what females are expected to be and accomplish in sport. Often, however, they simultaneously reproduce and resist men’s dominance and women’s marginalization, exercising (1) “mediated agency” by using men to improve their fantasy sports experience and play or (2) “conflicted agency” by reinforcing or accepting gender stereotypes about women while using those stereotypes to their advantage or positioning themselves as atypical women to whom the stereotypes do not apply.

Gottzén, Lucas and Tamar Kremer-Sadlik. (2012). Fatherhood and Youth Sports: A Balancing Act between Care and Expectations. Gender & Society 26: (4): pp. 639-664.

Youth sports have been recognized as an arena for men to meet increased cultural expectations of being involved in their children’s lives. Indeed, in contrast to other child care practices, many men are eager to take part in their children’s organized sports. Drawing on an ethnographic study of middle-class families in the United States, this study examines how men juggle two contrasting cultural models of masculinity when fathering through sports—a performance-oriented orthodox masculinity that historically has been associated with sports and a caring, inclusive masculinity that promotes the nurturing of one’s children. Through a detailed analysis of how fathers’ sports involvement unfolds on the ground, we show how men, in order to portray themselves as “good” fathers, attempt to strike a balance between pushing their children to excel and supporting them regardless of their performance. We propose that although men may value inclusive masculinity when fathering through youth sports, at the same time they exercise orthodox masculinity in other domestic domains.

Love, Adam and Kimberly Kelly. (2011) Equity or Essentialism? U.S. Courts and the Legitimation of Girls’ Teams in High School Sport. Gender & Society 25: (2): pp. 227-249.

Feminist scholars have critically analyzed the effects of sex segregation in numerous social institutions, yet sex-segregated sport often remains unchallenged. Even critics of sex-segregated sport have tended to accept the merits of women-only teams at face value. In this article, we revisit this issue by examining the underlying assumptions supporting women’s and girls’ teams and explore how they perpetuate gender inequality. Specifically, we analyze the 14 U.S. court cases wherein adolescent boys have sought to play on girls’ teams in their respective high schools. The courts’ decisions reveal taken-for-granted, essentialist assumptions about girls’ innate fragility and athletic inferiority. While the courts, policy makers, and many feminist scholars see maintaining teams for girls and women as a solution to the problem of boys’ and men’s dominance in sport, the logic supporting this form of segregation further entrenches notions of women’s inferiority.

Organizer: Joanna Neville, University of Florida. Updated by: Lacey Story, Oakland University

“If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right”: How intensive mothering ideologies motivate women to freeze their eggs

By Kit Myers

Elective egg freezing first caught the public eye in 2002 when a fertility center in Los Angeles began offering “commercial” egg freezing to healthy women who were delaying motherhood into their 30s. Predictions of gender-liberated utopias and eugenicist dystopias abounded in the following years and interest in elective egg freezing hit a fevered pitch in the fall of 2014 when Silicone Valley giants Facebook and Apple announced the addition of egg freezing to their benefits packages in an attempt to attract more women. Hailed by some as a move to give women in tech more control over their fertility, many commentators worried that egg freezing was, at best, a stopgap solution that failed to address systemic issues of work-family conflict in the tech industry and beyond. In lifestyle pieces and opinion columns, women who froze their eggs were alternately depicted as hard charging career women putting motherhood on the back burner or as baby-starved women desperate for a shot at motherhood.

When I began interviewing women who had chosen to freeze their eggs in the summer of 2014, I found neither of these stock characters. Instead I found a cohort of women in their mid-30s to 40s who were deeply ambivalent about motherhood. They were high achieving in education and work, but none of them felt they had made a conscious choice to prioritize their careers over motherhood. Most had expected to pursue the standard script of love, marriage, and baby carriage by their early 30s, but setbacks in their love lives —including broken engagements and divorce—had knocked them off track. They generally felt that these romantic challenges were the primary reason why they froze their eggs, but as I spoke to more and more of these women it became clear that their beliefs about the best way to raise children was a major factor as well.

In my Gender & Society article, I explore the life histories of these women in order to understand the role parenting ideologies play in choices that childless women make about their fertility. Women with electively frozen eggs provide a particularly interesting perspective on fertility decision-making because the technology of egg freezing allows women to prolong indecision. Many of these women explain that—before they froze their eggs—the ticking of the biological clock made them feel as though they had to rush to make up their minds about motherhood. Should they:

A) Settle for the next half-way decent guy to come along?

B) Give up on love and pursue single-motherhood-by-choice?

C) Give up on having kids altogether and cultivate a childfree lifestyle?

For women with frozen eggs the answer was: D) None of the above. They weren’t ready to give up on motherhood but they also weren’t ready to settle or go it alone. What they really wanted was a way to keep their options open until marriage, financial security, and career advancement allowed them to pursue motherhood on their own terms. For the women in this study, egg freezing enabled that option. But how did these women arrive at the point of needing to freeze their eggs in the first place? Demanding careers and complicated love lives played a role, but beliefs about appropriate parenting styles also contributed to their ambivalence.


Although parenting styles abound—attachment parenting, child-centered parenting, positive parenting, slow parenting, etc.—most current mainstream parenting styles fall under the rubric of intensive motherhood, which is child-centered, labor-intensive, and financially expensive. While we often presume that new mothers get drawn into particular parenting camps during pregnancy or early motherhood, messages about appropriate middle-class parenting are so deeply embedded in mainstream culture that most women already have a sense of how they should parent, long before they ever have children.

As the name implies, intensive motherhood is intense. It demands a lot of mothers and all of the women in my study were aware of those demands. Despite being fully committed to intensive mothering, Angela worried about the toll it would take on her, explaining, “You have to sacrifice your needs for [your kids’] needs. I think if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. I’m going to put their needs in front of mine … You have to hand your life over to them. It’s hard… It’s emotionally draining. It’s financially draining.” Most of the women I interviewed didn’t feel that they were up to meeting those challenges without first finding supportive partners and workplaces. Yet most of the women had already encountered inflexible workplaces and unsupportive partners and worried that they might never achieve their ideal scenario for raising children. Freezing their eggs gave these women some peace of mind that motherhood would still be an option for them when (and if) they felt ready to pursue it.

My work suggests that growth of elective egg freezing among professional-class women exposes the gaps between these women’s hopes and aspirations and the realities they encounter in their workplaces and love lives. Insecurity at home and at work leaves these women worried that they won’t be able to live up to their own expectations of good motherhood. Faced with the overwhelming demands of intensive motherhood, these women freeze their eggs in the hope of buying themselves time to find the perfect combination of factors that will allow them to be the mothers they want to be. Yet egg freezing is an imperfect fix that places the burden of resolving work-family conflict on individual women, rather than addressing the cultural and structural factors that make motherhood so difficult for these women to accomplish in the first place.

Kit Myers is a doctoral candidate in Sociology and Gender Studies at the University of Southern California. Their research focuses on the intersection of gender, sexualities, and families with science, medicine, and technology. They are currently working on their dissertation on professional class women’s fertility decision making.


External Childcare Services & Gendered Perceptions of Time Conflicts

By Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen and Dominique Oehrli

In recent decades, female contributions to paid work have strongly increased. This trend can be observed in most countries, although to different degrees. This, in turn, has nourished public and scientific discussions on whether and how female employment could be promoted. Most prominently, it has been shown that external childcare services play a crucial role: These measures facilitate the reconciliation of family duties and paid work as they provide women with opportunities to become more extensively employed and also promote the preference to do so.

However, quite obviously, the relationship between external childcare provision and female employment does not occur in a vacuum. In other words, and this is the starting point of our article, if external childcare policies lead to a stronger labor market involvement by women, these policies also may have much broader consequences on what women and men (!) do beyond the labor market, that is at home or in society.  In our study we therefore look at the relationship between external childcare policies in Swiss municipalities and gender-specific perceptions of time conflict. Hence, we are interested in whether childcare policies indeed shape the allocation of time to paid work, work at home and social activities and how the potential time conflicts in handling these different activities are perceived by individuals.

The main finding of our study is that the existence of childcare policies in a municipality mainly affects men’s perceived time conflicts. For men, having small children does not induce any time conflicts if they do not live in a municipality that provides Early Childcare and Education (ECEC) services. By contrast, fathers living in a municipality with ECEC services face substantially higher time conflicts regarding both, leisure and housework activities. Conversely, women’s perceived time conflicts are to a much lesser degree related to childcare services in the municipality. Childcare provision is associated with stronger perceptions of time conflicts only when children get older, probably because mothers typically increase their employment level when their children grow older.


Given these results, do we need to question the positive framing of external childcare provision? While our findings may seem to be somewhat disillusioning at first sight, a closer look leads to a more positive conclusion. In fact, our findings clearly support the hypothesis that the provision of childcare services is associated with a more equal division of labor within households; in particular also with a stronger involvement of fathers at home. It is true that this increased equality induces some “costs” (i.e., stronger perceptions of time conflicts) that are mainly reported by fathers. That is, at least in the Swiss context—changing gender norms provoke more negative feelings and stress in men than in women. This gender difference may be explained by the fact that a more equal division of labor for mothers is strongly related to increased opportunities. Put differently, although a stronger labor market involvement may objectively mean more time conflicts for women as well, this situation does not automatically translate into stronger perceptions of time conflict. In contrast, it can be argued that a more egalitarian division of labor makes fathers’ lives more complex. The advantages of more modernized family roles are less obvious for them, but rather they are confronted with new and stronger constraints. Moreover, at the more normative level, these fathers may feel a conflict between their involvement at home and the still persisting traditional image of how a “real man” should behave. This is a conclusion that seems reasonable at least in the Swiss context. Hence, it is the clash between the different normative ideals that makes the situation particularly difficult for fathers.

Against this background, our results eventually point to the need for policy makers to consider and target not only women but increasingly men when crafting childcare (but probably also parental leave) policies. Most importantly, our article implies that childcare services are a relevant, but not a sufficient mean to promote a sound work-life balance for parents. In this vein, it is also important to acknowledge that childcare policies may have different consequences on different groups depending not only on their specific design but also on the cultural context. In a country like Switzerland, for example, in which a (modernized) male-breadwinner model still dominates and in which childcare coverage is far from universal, the changes induced by these policies may create particular conflicts – including normative struggles. However, these policies may at the same time be a trigger for changing traditional gender norms and moreover provide men also with positive experiences in new roles. Whereas these processes will obviously need some time, this might eventually lead to a situation in which policies promoting more equal gender roles will be perceived as opportunity rather than as constraint also by men.

Isabelle Stadelmann-Steffen is professor in comparative politics with the University of Bern. Her main research interests concern comparative welfare state research and political behavior and attitudes. Current research projects aim at linking these two areas by considering potential policy feedback effects, mainly in the field of family and energy policy.

Dominique Oehrli is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Political Science, University of Bern. Her main research interests concern comparative welfare state research and, in particular, gendered policy effects. In her PhD thesis, she investigated the relationship between conditional cash transfers and women’s labor market involvement in Latin America.

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.


            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.


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.


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.




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.

Peng_1 (2)

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.


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).