Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?

By Lauren Alfrey  and France Winddance Twine

How do women negotiate male-dominated workplaces of the tech industry? In the February 2017 issue of Gender & Society, we address this question by building upon foundational work on occupational inequality. Inspired by Joan Acker’s concept of inequality regimes, we offer the first qualitative study and intersectional analysis of women tech workers from a wide range of backgrounds. We show how race, class privilege and gender expression shapes the occupational experiences of “geek girls.”alfrey_video_game

In our interviews with 50 men and women employed in a variety of positions in the San Francisco tech industry, we discovered that the gender-fluid, LGBTQ, White and Asian female workers reported a greater sense of belonging among male co-workers when compared to heterosexual women. In contrast to the gender conventional women in our sample, they were perceived as “one of the guys.” However, the gender-fluid Black LGBTQ women we interviewed did not experience the same inclusion or degree of belonging. Neither did conventionally heterosexual White and Asian women, who, like the Black women, also described routine micro-aggressions and sexist interactions that undermined their ability to be seen as competent equals in their workplace.

We argue that this represents a racialized and gendered spectrum of belonging—the dynamic forms of inclusion and exclusion that women experience according to their race, sexuality, and gender presentation. In occupational cultures where masculinity and hetero-normativity are the norm, fluid gender expression provides some women with conditional acceptance. Continue reading “Thinking beyond gender: Why does sexuality and race matter in the tech industry?”

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Blinded by Love

By Cristen Dalessandro and Amy C. Wilkins

Amber, a 26-year-old woman living and working in the Western U.S., recalls a romantic relationship she had with a man named Matt, which did not pan out the way that she hoped. Though the relationship has been long over, early on when things were going well Amber decided to tell Matt that she believed they had the potential for a “healthy” relationship, and she could see them making a long-term commitment. Amber’s words, however, did not go over well with Matt. She said, “…that was a lot of pressure for him. I shouldn’t have, you know, told him that was what my expectations were.”

From then on, their relationship was never quite what Amber had hoped for. Although they had moved across the country together, Amber said Matt grew increasingly emotionally distant and critical of her, and she suspected he was cheating. Despite Matt’s poor treatment of her, Amber blamed herself for almost everything that went wrong in the relationship: “I did make a big sacrifice to be with him, but I don’t want to resent him…It was my choice [and] I depended on him too much.” Even in retrospect, Amber thinks about what she could have done to make the relationship better and to take the “pressure” off Matt. Though Amber was hurt by Matt, she believes the relationship was worthwhile because it helped her realize that she “wanted to be treated right” and it was only through making past mistakes with partners  that she could come to understand what she wanted for herself and her relationships. Continue reading “Blinded by Love”

Bud-sex: Sex between rural straight men

By Tony Silva

Scholarly interest in straight men that have sex with men has increased in recent years, and for good reason: the narratives of men in this population highlight the social construction of sexualities and masculinities. How individuals identify, understand, and express their sexuality and gender reflects culture, time period, social structures, and personal interpretations. My ongoing interview research project explores how rural straight men that have sex with men understand their gender, sexual practices, and sexual identity. While there is a framework to describe women’s sexual flexibility—“including straight women kissing each other (Hamilton 2007; Rupp and Taylor 2010) or having sex with other women (Budnick 2016)—there is no such framework for men. As my Gender & Society paper details, the narratives of my participants demonstrate the flexibility of male heterosexuality, the centrality of straightness to rural masculinity, the importance of geographic location for how individuals identify and express their sexuality and gender, and how similar sexual practices carry different meanings across contexts and populations.

Consider the narratives of a few of these straight men, who interpret their sex with men as compatible with straightness and rural masculinity. Jon describes himself as “pretty much masculine” because “I’m a… straight guy that likes to hunt, fish, camp, and I raise cattle for a living.” He loves his wife, raises several children with her, and occasionally meets men on Grindr and has sex with them in his barn. Marcus is not sexually attracted to men, but has oral sex with them to satisfy a specific “craving.” He seeks particular male sexual partners on Craigslist: “A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me… they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while.” David is retired and describes himself as a respected and visible figure in his community, and has sex with his male “friend with benefits” to maintain his sex life as he and his wife grow older: “I’m not getting sex at home, and I want sex… older men are a lot more receptive to sex, they’re more enthusiastic,” because “senior women have kinda lost their desire to do much of anything.” While their reasons for having sex with men are diverse, the participants share an identification with straightness and masculinity, as well as interpretations to reinforce both.

silvaThe men in this study engaged in what I call bud-sex to reinforce their straightness and rural masculinity, which distinguishes them from other groups of straight men who have sex with men. They reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions (see also my forthcoming paper in Sexualities). They reaffirmed their sense of themselves as “normal,” masculine rural men through their choice of male sexual partners on the axes of masculinity, race, and sexual identity, as well as through the type of sex they prefer. By having sex mostly with other men like themselves—conventionally masculine, white, and straight or secretly bisexual—and by enjoying secretive and romance-free same-sex sex, the participants framed their encounters as straight and masculine. “Bud-sex” captures the participants’ unique interpretations of their sexual practices, as well as how they had sex and with whom they partnered. Through complex interpretations, the participants reframed sex with men, usually not compatible with heterosexuality or rural masculinity, to reinforce both.

The implications of straight, masculine men open to sex with other men are complex. On one hand, unconventional expressions of heterosexuality and masculinity demonstrate that normativity can be challenged, though unintentionally, from within dominant identities. Relatedly, it is encouraging that some straight men are willing to enjoy sex with men despite the “one-act rule of homosexuality,” the widespread perception that any man who has sex with men is gay. On the other hand, the participants’ masculinity reinforces inequality. All nineteen maintain straight privilege by publicly identifying as straight and keeping secret their same-sex sexual encounters. All of the straight men avoid effeminate men, and several insulted male effeminacy, contributing to the widespread devaluation of femininity. Moreover, thirteen were married and had extramarital sex without their wife’s knowledge, underscoring their male entitlement and unwillingness to consider ethical non-monogamy. The participants enjoy marginalized sexual practices, but they are unwilling to challenge heterosexism or other forms of domination, maintaining numerous systems of inequality.

Tony Silva is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Oregon. His primary research interests include sexualities, gender, rurality, and qualitative and quantitative methods. His dissertation includes interviews with rural straight men that have sex with men to explore how they understand their identity, practices, and gender. His article,”Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men,” can be found in the February 31 (1) issue of Gender & Society here.

“How You Bully a Girl”

By Sarah A. Miller

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Photo: Twentyfour Students

Helen was fourteen when she lost her virginity. Afterwards, she texted a girl friend about the mixed feelings she had about the experience. By the time her suburban high school started the next morning, her friend had already spread a rumor that Helen was a “slut,” forwarding screenshots of their conversation to the freshman class via Facebook. For the next few years, Helen endured a “slutty” reputation, which isolated her from girls, subjected her to harassment from boys, and contributed to her disengagement from school activities. Toni had a different, yet related experience. Long before she came out as a lesbian, Toni had multiple rumors spread by girls about her sexual orientation. By junior year, fed up with girls’ homophobic gossip and harassment, Toni opted to leave her rural high school and pursue a GED instead. Gaby tells me she also was the subject of a sexual rumor, spread by a girl at her urban high school: “That’s how you bully a girl, that’s how you just get her. You get her by spreading a rumor about her…trying to stop bullying is like trying to catch smoke with your bare hands.”

In recent years, we’ve seen far too many tragic reports of girls who have taken their lives in the wake of similar experiences. Yet, we don’t see much coverage of why slut-shaming, homophobic labeling, and sexual rumors spread in the first place, or why young women so frequently take part. Though rumor spreading is the most common form of bullying between girls, scholars empirically know little about the content of girls’ rumors or why they’re invested in sharing them. Continue reading ““How You Bully a Girl””