What I Wore to Interview Men about Fashion

By Ben Barry

This article will be available for free access through SAGE until November 1, 2018.

I have always loved fashion. In high school, I spent hours in second-hand clothing stores searching the racks for velvet shirts, sequined pants and colorful scarves. I mixed my new finds with old ones to create unexpected outfits. This continued during my undergraduate degree in women’s studies and when I worked in the fashion industry. When I started my PhD, my fashion experiments were abruptly crushed. On the first day of classes, I was pulled aside and told that my colorful, textured outfit was inappropriate for the business department: a collared shirt and chinos were the “professional” choice. I have since been mindful when I open my wardrobe and decide what to wear for the day ahead. As I look at the clothes, I often think back to my first day as a PhD student. I consider what I plan to do, where I will go, and whom I expect to see.

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Author (with his cousin) in his favorite sequined bomber jacket and pants

Men follow this same routine each day. In my Gender & Society article, I discuss results from my research project on men and fashion. I interviewed 35 men of diverse ages, races, sexualities, social classes and occupations to understand what motivates their everyday clothing choices and how their choices influence larger structures of gender. These interviews took place in men’s wardrobes: they showed me their clothing and described the uses and memories that they attached to each piece. My interviews revealed that men’s clothing choices are based on the relationship between their personal and professional identities in conjunction with the contexts in which they find or situate themselves. As I prepared for these interviews, I foreshadowed this finding in my own decision-making process about what to wear.

Dressing for the Interview

Researchers are encouraged to be self-reflexive about their influence on interviews. They often focus on their social identities in relation to participants and their lived experiences in relation to the research topic. However, the clothing that researchers wear to interviews also influences the process because clothing is one of the most visible ways in which we socially construct and express our identities. With this in mind, I carefully considered how I should dress and how my clothes might impact my conversations with my participants. My intention was to make them feel comfortable and create space for an open dialogue. I thought that my clothing would in particular garner attention because I was researching fashion and I was a professor in a fashion department. I also thought that speaking with me would be difficult for many men because they had been taught that, to prove their masculinity, they shouldn’t be interested in fashion.

As I placed different outfit options on my bed before the first interview, I wondered whether I should tailor my clothing to what I knew about each participant from our initial exchanges. If I knew that he was a conservative dresser, should I wear a solid-colored, button-down shirt? If I knew that he was a fabulous dresser, should I wear bold patterns? It was a good thing that my first interview was in the afternoon because I spent three hours assembling and re-assembling different outfits beforehand. I decided to wear dark blue, straight-fit jeans and a black, loose-fit, long-sleeved t-shirt. I wore this outfit not only to the first interview but also to most of the subsequent ones. I thought this look was plain and simple, and so it would go unnoticed. For most interviews, this was the case. The few times that participants did say something about what I had on, it was often to breathe a sigh of relief that I was not a “fashion plate.” As one man said to me, “I’m so glad you don’t look these guys in fashion. I wouldn’t want to offend you.”

Towards My (Critical) Clothing Choices

As a researcher who studies gender inequalities, I recognized these comments as indicative of my own practice of complicity reinforcing dominant masculine ideologies. By wearing dark, loose-fitting clothes, I was rejecting men’s femininity and also devaluing my own love of sequins and colors to appease my participants and obtain the best data. My practice reinforced the idea that men should make dress decisions to “fit in” based on what styles to avoid (i.e., anything deemed feminine). Even knowing that I had the ability to shift what I wore to meet the conditions—to swap sequined jackets for solid-colored ones depending on who I was interviewing—fortified my own privilege. In fact, I did exactly what I argue men do in my article: men strategically shift their clothing based on their identities and contexts to garner opportunities and shore up masculinity.

Bringing my complicit masculinity to the surface has helped me make more critical clothing choices. As part of my research on men and fashion, I co-created a fashion show to share the research with the public. Participants were invited to model their own clothing, and quotations from their interviews were mixed with music to provide context on their outfits and reflect on the complex relationship between fashion and masculinity. I also took part in the show to demonstrate that I was also connected to my research topic. In front an audience of 300 people, including colleagues and senior university officials, I wore a skirt as well as futuristic vest. While the fashion show offered a safe space to play with fashion, I have begun to wear my flamboyant and fabulous pieces to everyday activities in which these outfits are uncommon, such as meetings at the university or walking my dog in the park.

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Author in the Refashioning Masculinity fashion show on May 5, 2016

The significant privilege that I have to wear these outfits is not lost on me. I am also protected by my career in fashion because these looks are not only expected of me but enhance my status in the field—within the industry and at events in my department these outfits legitimate my creativity and knowledge. But I hope that dressing my body in clothes associated with women and femininity within spaces in which these outfits are not the norm helps unsettle assumptions and inspire unspoken conversations about masculinity. Transforming gender inequalities is messy, but it requires men like me to be mindful of the multiple, conflicting consequences of our actions and to use our privilege to change inequalities rather than fortify them. For me and other men, that process starts when we open our wardrobes.

Ben Barry is an Associate Professor of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and incoming Chair in the School of Fashion at Ryerson University.

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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).

The Unfinished Gender Revolution: Lessons from Russia

By Sarah Ashwin

Revolutions tend to stop at the threshold of the private household, doing little to liberate women from domestic inequality. Even the “gender revolution” of women’s increased access to employment, education and birth control in countries such as the US since the 1960s is generally viewed by scholars as “stalled” (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0891243210361475). Along with continued inequality in employment, a key item of unfinished business is domestic inequity, with women continuing to perform the lion’s share of domestic and caring labor despite their mass entry into paid work (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/000312240406900601). How does such stalling occur? Here I examine the iconic case of the Russian revolution of 1917 and its aftermath.

Women’s liberation from what the Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin, called their “state of household slavery” (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm) was a declared aim of the new Soviet state. But women’s emancipation was not viewed as a goal in itself. It had an economic and political purpose – to draw women into the labor force so they could contribute to the industrialization drive, and to induct them into Soviet public life, turning them from “kitchen slaves” into Soviet citizens.  What Lenin called “exceptionally petty” domestic labor such as cooking was to be socialized in public institutions (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm). This ambition is perfectly illustrated by the 1931 Soviet poster “Down with Kitchen Slavery!  Yes to a new way of life!”

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The “enslaved” woman of the past is pictured in a cramped, dark private kitchen, forced to wash clothes by hand and use a tiny stove. A woman worker opens a door to a vision of the socialist future featuring a bright, airy factory, canteen, nursery and club. In the “new way of life” women would be able to participate in employment and public life, with domestic and caring labor performed by state institutions. Women did indeed join the labor force in successive waves so that by 1970 nearly 90 per cent of working age Soviet women were in full-time work or study.  But the ideal of socialized household labor never became a reality except in the sphere of childcare. Since the state made no effort to encourage men to perform “exceptionally petty” labor in the household – men were expected to devote themselves to what was perceived as more productive, industrial labor – women were left with a notorious “double burden” of full-time work and domestic labor which persisted until the end of the Soviet era and beyond.

My article with Olga Isupova focuses on how this legacy has impacted gender ideology; that is, women and men’s beliefs about how domestic and paid work should be configured. Despite high women’s employment during the Soviet era, three years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in 1994, an international survey found nearly two thirds of Russian women and 70 per cent of men supported the statement “a man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family” (International Social Survey Programme http://w.issp.org/menu-top/home/). We use data from 115 interviews with 23 young women who we followed between 1999 and 2010 to understand how such beliefs are sustained and how and when they are challenged.

We link gender ideology to the macro-environment of a society in relation to gender – what researchers call its “gender order” – and to the micro-level of interaction between men and women in which gender researchers argue individuals are constrained to “do gender” – that is, to demonstrate their masculinity or femininity through their behaviour (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0891243287001002002). The Soviet gender order influenced gender ideologies in two important ways.  First, although the state promoted women’s employment it did not challenge traditional conceptions regarding gender and domestic labor. For example, a modified version of the male breadwinner norm persisted, with Soviet economic writings taking it for granted that wives should earn two-thirds of their husband’s wages (https://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Women_in_Soviet_Society.html?id=rtWfengNqQ8C&redir_esc=y). This reinforced the idea that domestic labor was women’s responsibility (even when Lenin was agitating for the socialization of domestic labor, he assumed women would staff the new institutions (https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1919/sep/23a.htm). Second, the Soviet Union had comprehensive censorship and all forms of independent organization, including feminism, were banned. This made it hard for women to analyze their situation and question men’s domestic privilege. The difficulty is brilliantly captured in Natalya Baranskaya’s 1969 novella A Week Like Any Other (https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=JXZvMAEACAAJ&dq=Baranskaya+a+week+like+any+other&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwitm4vk8pzbAhXjCcAKHQyyBfsQ6AEIJzAA), which depicted the struggles of a full-time Soviet working mother who performed all the housework even though she and her husband were both scientists. The heroine is portrayed as exhausted, unhappy and perplexed, but rather than critiquing the gender inequity that leaves her so burdened, she blames herself asking, “What is the matter with me?” Attempts to live up to the ideal of the Soviet superwoman perfectly balancing work, motherhood and household management left many women asking the same question.

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Artist: Mariya Samokhina 

In the post-Soviet era, the relaxation of censorship and increased freedom to organize has made it easier for women to access alternative ideas and question traditional gender relations. Nevertheless, nearly a decade after the Soviet collapse, some young women in our study were unable to imagine egalitarian gender relations despite being fiercely critical of the “kitchen slavery” faced by their mothers. It should also be noted that freedom of association and information are again under threat in Russia today under Vladimir Putin, though the impact of this on the gender division of domestic labor is still unclear.

As well as being institutionalized within the gender order, traditional or egalitarian ideas are enforced (or not) in the everyday interactions of men and women. Women themselves can reinforce traditionalism when they expect men to perform as breadwinners. We found that the ideal of the male breadwinner was an important prop to traditionalism, with traditional women using men’s superior wages to explain why housework was a woman’s responsibility even when both partners worked full time. But some women in our study also became more egalitarian, and we found that this was easier after they met supportive men with whom they could imagine an egalitarian relationship. Individuals’ gender ideologies are therefore shaped both by dominant ideas within the gender order and by interaction, with the two influencing each other.

We saw quite significant change during the 10 years of our study, with some women moving towards egalitarianism and others, though self-identified as heterosexual, giving up on men and embracing what we called an “ideology of independence”. Although the second position gave women facing difficult challenges a sense of agency and dignity, it left men unchanged and free from domestic and caring responsibilities, a dynamic which is sensitively analyzed in Jennifer Utrata’s book on Russia’s lone mothers (http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/book/?GCOI=80140100573890). The ideology of independence is the necessary shadow of male breadwinner ideal, and has provided a safety valve for gender traditionalism.

The struggle between gender traditionalism and egalitarianism continues globally. We think situating gender ideology in the context of particular gender orders and relating this to the everyday micro-interactions of men and women aids our understanding of how this dynamic unfolds in different contexts.

Sarah Ashwin is a professor of industrial relations in the Department of Management at the London School of Economics. Her recent publications develop different aspects of gender theory by interrogating Russia’s stalled gender revolution.

Entrepreneurialism or exploitation? Home-based workers in India.

By Natascia Boeri

In 2006, Muhammad Yunus and his organization the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for pioneering microcredit programs to the poor in Bangladesh. This was the culmination of nearly two decades of the international development field’s confidence in microfinance to bring social and economic development. The rise of the microfinance movement reflects what the former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stiglitz calls the social turn in international development, characterized by the inclusion of social dimensions, such as gender and inequality, in development practices.

Critical social science scholars offer different interpretations of this social turn, including the appropriation of gender equality for neoliberal goals, the reliance on private solutions to poverty, and the mischaracterization of precarious and exploitative work as entrepreneurialism.

Home-based workers repurposed as entrepreneurs

Considering the hype around microfinance, entrepreneurialism, and the belief in the empowering potential of work, I was interested in comparing these ideas to the lives of women actually working in the informal economy. I spent a year in Ahmedabad, a large city in northwest India, conducting research with women home-based garment workers. Because of the work setting and an ambiguous employee-employer relationship, home-based workers are often mistakenly refashioned as self-employed micro-entrepreneurs.

Similar to current debates over the gig economy (such as Airbnb, Uber, and TaskRabbit), there are two interpretations of the informal economy: entrepreneurship or exploitation. In my research I found that women home-based workers reflected both sides but with caveats. Their experience with work was due to labor market forces that create low-wage, irregular work, but also to their social positions as poor women belonging to lower-caste or religious minority groups. Because of social and cultural customs, including household and caregiving responsibilities, these women could not work outside. Yet, they had to work because of their household’s economic position. As one participant, Biliksha, admitted, her family allows her to work because “our household needs money, otherwise, I would only do household work.”

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Home-based work allowed women to be economically active while not conflicting with their gender roles in the family and community. However, home-based work is very irregular, low paid, and highly exploitative. Home-based work offers an opportunity to work, but the industry takes advantage of women’s limited social and spatial mobility to create a cheap and expendable labor force.

Challenging the self-reliant and autonomous worker

According to micro-finance proponents, women invest in their work and so gain confidence as they learn to provide for themselves. Furthermore, the autonomy of entrepreneurialism reflects their independence. Both ideals support the impression that women do not need to rely on others (a veiled neoliberal critique of the welfare state). The home-based workers I spoke with did not frame work in terms of investment, self-reliance, and autonomy, rather they described alternative narratives of work.

Mohsina, for example, protested the conditions of her work that required her to cover production costs, “We have to spend so much and we get nothing! The cost of going and coming [to pick up orders], we have to use our own threads, even the electricity bill. I cannot afford to do that work, so for now, the work has ended.”

Another, Shilpa, previously worked in a factory. While preferring home-based work, she did not gain the independence reflected in the autonomous worker; she still faces restraints from both her work and family roles. Comparing home-based work to working at a factory, she notes, “At five, I am free to [leave work]. But here in the home, we have the constant tension of this paid work and of taking care of the home.” The amount she earns depends on how much she is willing to work, resulting in the “tension” of having to choose between work and her family.

A performance to hide inequalities

Participants did not begin home-based work to achieve independence and empowerment, but because they lacked other options. Rather than gaining confidence from investing in their work or increased independence due to flexible work schedules, women continued to have limited choices on how to provide for their family. In an economic system of low-wage, irregular work and with limited social welfare support, workers face conflicting desires to support their families in economic and noneconomic ways. After speaking with these women, what I found was that the praise over micro-finance and micro-enterprise programs is merely an economic performance that hides inequality in the institutions of the economy and family.

Natascia Boeri is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Bloomfield College in New Jersey. Her research interests include gender, social reproduction, and the political economy.

Do No Harm: Confining Young People

By Ann-Karina Henriksen

Confinement of children and young people is a contested issue, because confinement can have detrimental effects on their mental and physical development. However, sometimes confinement can be the only way to keep young people from harming themselves or others. Thus, providing for troubled and troublesome young people is a difficult task imbued with dilemmas and contradictions between safeguarding, caring for and disciplining young people placed in state care.

Confinement is punishment

The research I conducted took place in secure institutions in Denmark, where young people are placed on either legal grounds for serious offending, or on social grounds due to serious concerns about their safety or well-being. There are only 10 percent girls and all the units are gender integrated. This made me curious about how girls experienced everyday life in secure institutions and how the staff handled girls in this setting. These institutions are difficult to access for outsiders and I felt grateful for being allowed inside to study how young people experience confinement and how gender comes to matter in these institutional spaces. I wanted to understand the institutional practices in the nexus between criminal justice and child protection, while also giving voice to the experiences of young people embedded in the punitive materiality of secure institutions. I became committed to relay their frustrations about being confined, uncertainties about the length of their stay, and struggles to comply with the rules and minute regulation of everyday life.

Marginalized girls in units “for boys”

The large majority of young people are placed in secure institutions as a form of surrogate imprisonment, to comply with UN Convention of the child, stating that minors should not be imprisoned with adults. However, the girls I interviewed and interacted with during my research were mostly placed in secure institutions on social grounds due to serious concerns about their safety or wellbeing. Their troubles entailed exposure to violence as victims and witnesses, drug abuse, truancy and socio-psychiatric disorders such as personality disorders, anxiety, self-harm or risk of suicide. Most of the girls in my study lived in units where the remaining residents were boys. The discrepancies in gender and grounds for placement were concerning and became a key issue in my research.

The girls become ‘doubly deviant’ in the institutional context, as a gender minority and a minority being placed on social grounds rather than legal grounds. While the staff were committed to providing gender-neutral treatment, I found that everyday activities largely served the needs and interests of the boys placed on grounds of serious offending. This was evident in sports activities such as soccer, basketball or lifting weights, the priority given to the wood and metal workshops, the selection of films and games in the units. Changes in everyday practices to include the girls or protect the girls from sexualized interaction with the boys often resulted in the marginalization of the girls in the units. The girls were always observed by staff and could not be alone with the boys. Thus, living in a unit with boys effectively denied the girls a space for unsupervised peer interaction, and girls were marginalized because the boys often chose to interact with other boys to avoid adult supervision.

Misplaced in institutions for offenders

My research published in Gender & Society demonstrates how institutional practices produce a range of gendered vulnerabilities that potentially harm girls placed in secure institutions. A secure institution is not a treatment facility and not all the staff are trained to deal with trauma, anxiety or self-harm. The young people placed on social grounds, and the girls in particular, were referred to by staff as a demanding task, requiring not only more but also different skills and resources in the staff, such as relational and communicative skills and insights into psychiatric treatment. I found that a range of gendered needs were omitted, such as those caused by gender based violence, that the voices of girls were obscured by viewing them though a lens of pathology, and that providing special treatment often resulted in peer group marginalization. While secure care may be a lenient measure, compared to prison, for young people with records of offending, it is a punitive form of treatment and protection for the young people placed on social grounds.

Ann-Karina Henriksen is a postdoctoral researcher in criminology and social work at Aalborg University, Denmark. Her research focuses on gender, youth and crime using qualitative methods. She has previously published particularly on issues related to girls’ violent conflicts and currently explores gendered practices and experiences of young people in secure institutions. Her research has been funded by the Danish Council for Independent Research.

(UN)BECOMING A MAN: LEGAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE THIRD GENDER CATEGORY IN PAKISTAN

 

By Muhammad Azfar Nisar

Legal recognition of gender non-conforming individuals remains an important unresolved policy issue of our times as no singular approach exists to legally accommodate the unique identity of such individuals. While some countries allow change in legal gender, generally contingent on proving surgical modification of the body through medical procedures, such policies have been criticized for trying to subsume the unique identities of gender non-conforming individuals within the binary gender system. In the last decade, some countries (like Nepal, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh) have opted to create a third legal gender category to recognize the unique identity of gender non-conforming and/or intersex individuals. This recent trend represents a marked policy shift towards the legal recognition of gender non-conforming individuals. While this seems a positive step on paper, we still know relatively little how gender non-conforming individuals respond to the legal third gender category.

Research Context

In an attempt to expand our knowledge about legal identity and consciousness of gender non-conforming individuals, I carried out ethnographic fieldwork with the Khawaja Sira community in Pakistan for about 9 months in 2015-16. The Khawaja Sira community of Pakistan is a heterogenous group largely consisting of gender non-conforming individuals. While most members of the Khawaja Sira community are biological males with a preference for the feminine gender, many male-to-female transsexual, intersex, impotent individuals and victims of childhood sexual abuse also self-identify as Khawaja Sira. However, almost all members, regardless of their reasons for joining, adopt the feminine gender after joining the Khawaja Sira community. Most members of the Khawaja Sira community are expelled from their homes in adolescence generally after repeated verbal and physical abuse. Living in extreme poverty, most members of the Khawaja Sira community resort to begging, dancing at private parties, and sex work to make their ends meet. Overall, the Khawaja Sira community has a pariah status in Pakistani society and until recently had no formal protection of their legal rights.

However, during the proceedings of a landmark case from 2009 to 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered the creation of a third gender category to legally recognize the unique identity of the Khawaja Sira community. While the decision to create the legal third gender was accompanied with much fanfare, the response of the Khawaja Sira community to this new gender category has been underwhelming. A large majority of the Khawaja Sira community continues to legally register as men. This seemingly paradoxical choice problematizes the instrumental and symbolic value of the legal third gender.

Research Findings

My research indicates that this paradoxical choice of the Khawaja Sira community about their legal gender is primarily motivated by practical concerns. A Khawaja Sira registering as a third gendered individual faces family pressure, religious stigma and high administrative burden. On the other hand, there are hardly any material benefits associated with the legal third gender category to offset these significant personal and social costs. Hence, for the Khawaja Sira community—most of whom live in extreme poverty—their practical (material and religious) interests are served better by choosing the masculine gender legally.

On the other hand, there is no guarantee—at least in the short-term—that their strategic gender interests (like social acceptance and material inclusion) will be served by choosing the legal third gender. Importantly, the Khawaja Sira do not see law as the ultimate arbiter of their identity even though most outsiders consider this choice of the Khawaja Sira as an indication that most of them are in fact men pretending to be men.  The Khawaja Sira community, therefore, make a purposeful patriarchal bargain by choosing the masculine legal gender to take advantage of the privileges associated with the masculine identity in a patriarchal socio-legal order while foregoing the symbolic benefits associated with the legal third gender.

My findings, therefore, point to the limitations of a legal third gender category within a patriarchal socio-legal order where important benefits associated with the masculine identity are forfeited by registering. In doing so, my research cautions against over emphasizing the symbolic value of legal recognition for gender non-conforming groups. Moreover, my results suggest that unless accompanied by tangible benefits to offset the institutional biases against it, the legal third gender is not likely to be a viable strategy for social inclusion of gender non-conforming individuals, at least in regions like South Asia where such individuals often live in extreme poverty.

Muhammad Azfar Nisar is assistant professor at the Suleman Dawood School of Business at Lahore University of Management Sciences, Pakistan. He is interested in understanding the dynamics of the citizen–state relationship with a particular focus on legal categorization, identity formation, social marginalization and policy implementation.

Activism against Sexual Violence is Central to a New Women’s Movement: Resistance to Trump, Campus Sexual Assault, and #metoo

By Nancy Whittier

Cross-posted with permission from Mobilizing Ideas

Sexual violence and harassment have been central issues in almost every era of women’s organizing and they are central to a contemporary women’s movement that both builds on and differs from earlier activism. Since 2010, a new generation of activists has targeted sexual violence in new ways. Slutwalks, a theatrical form of protest against the idea that women provoke rape by their dress, brought a new spin to long-standing “Take Back the Night” marches against violence against women. The wave of activism grew as college students began speaking out about assault on campus and gained a broad platform through social media. Students protested institutional failures to follow procedures for addressing sexual assault and used symbolic tactics to highlight the issue. For example, in 2014/15, Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz carried her dorm room mattress everywhere as a protest against Columbia’s inaction after she reported sexual assault. “Carry That Weight,” her project title, became the name for an emerging activist group. Another, “No Red Tape,” led to a cross-campus day of action in which activists attached pieces of red tape to clothes or campus statues.

Activism against sexual assault on campus found an opportunity for influence in stepped-up enforcement of Title IX (the federal law barring sex discrimination in educational institutions) under the Obama administration). The federal Department of Education under Obama interpreted Title IX as requiring colleges to adjudicate complaints of sexual assault promptly and effectively and address the risk of sexual assault as a violation of women’s right to educational access. Students used this opportunity to pressure institutions, organizing across campuses to teach each other how to file Title IX complaints through organizations like “Know your IX.”

This percolating movement was significant, but limited mainly to college campuses. It took the election of Trump to connect the campus sexual assault campaign to a broader movement. Trump’s attitudes toward women were well known before the campaign but his recorded comments about kissing and grabbing women nevertheless were shocking. When numerous women alleged that Trump had grabbed, fondled, and forcibly kissed them, his opponents framed him as an unrepentant sexual assaulter. The gender politics were enhanced by the fact that Trump’s opponent in the election was a woman.

All this set the stage for activists to frame mass protests against Trump as a women’s march. Despite the name, the marches included people of all genders and a focus on every possible issue within a progressive coalition, including sexism, racism, immigration, homophobia, reproductive rights, sexual assault, environmental protection and climate change, labor, democracy, and more. Dana Fisher has shown the prevalence of intersectional frames at the march, connecting across issues and emphasizing how race, class, and gender work together to shape experiences and needs. Sexual assault was a key issue for protesters and sparked the iconic “pussy hats” and slogans like “pussy grabs back.”

The mass mobilization of the women’s marches, Trump’s sexism, and pre-existing organizing against sexual violence together fueled the #metoo movement. In the wake of Trump’s pre-election comments, women around the country reportedly began speaking with their family and friends about their own experiences of sexual assault. #Metoo as an organizing phrase, coined in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke, grew exponentially in 2017. The cultural visibility of sexual assault and harassment that began after Trump’s recorded comments combined with the viral hashtag to produce something unprecedented.

From a social movement theory perspective, #metoo is both a frame and a tactic. As a frame, it suggests the widespread nature of sexual assault and frames all forms of sexual harassment and violence as part of a similar phenomenon of gendered power. As a tactic, it encourages solidarity and visibility as women and people of other genders “come out” about their experience. And, of course, the many men in government and entertainment who have lost their positions suggests a concrete, but individual, outcome. Because sexual harassment and assault are already illegal, activists’ goals center on cultural change, including enforcement of existing law and – equally important – changes in norms of interaction, views of gender, and practices of sexual consent.

In the 1970s, when feminists first focused on sexual violence, they framed it as “violence against women.” Over time, activists began to address violence against men, transgender and gender non-confirming people, and children.Activists grappled with the impact of race and class, both in terms of the greater vulnerability of women of color and low-income women to sexual assault and in terms of the elevation of a raced and classed ideal of sexual purity, and like most movements, they grappled with race and class dynamics within the movement itself. Debates are percolating between younger and older activists, between activists steeped in anti-racist and intersectional organizing and those taking a single-issue approach, and between those who support “pussy hats” as a way of asserting self-determination and those who see them as advancing a biological essentialism that marginalizes transgender women and women of color.

The Women’s Marches were broadly coalitional even as they sparked debate over their gender and racial dynamics. Similarly, the nascent #metoo movement is beginning to form such coalitions and to address sexual violence through an intersectional lens. For example, prominent actresses brought activists from groups like the National Domestic Workers’ Alliance to the Golden Globe awards to bring attention to sexual harassment in less-visible, less-powerful industries. It is too soon to know, however, whether the women’s marches and anti-violence movement will become truly intersectional in their frame, diverse in composition, and coalitional.

At the same time, women of color and queer people have been leading some of the most vibrant protests of the past few years, such as Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock Pipeline protests, and the Dreamers movement. In these movements, gender and sexuality are framed as integral to the issues of racism, immigration, and environmental protection. These movements are an integral part of a “new women’s movement,” and they point out the importance of defining that movement broadly.

Will these various strands gel into a durable and powerful coalition? What will the place of activism against sexual violence be in such a coalition? Paths into the future are not determined, but the decisions that activists make now will progressively constrain them. As scholars, we know that shared enemies can foster coalitions, but that cross-cutting inequalities and difference of collective identity can foreclose them. Sexual violence has been an enduring issue in organizing by women across race and class. As this new movement unfolds, its dynamics of coalition and conflict will shape the degree to which it is a “women’s movement,” narrowly defined, or a broader movement that centers class, race, and a range of genders.

Nancy Whittier is Professor of Sociology at Smith College. She is the author of The Politics of Child Sexual Abuse (Oxford, 2009), Feminist Generations (Temple, 1995), numerous articles and chapters on gender and social movements, and a forthcoming book on how feminists and conservatives influence policy on sexual violence. Her article can be found in the February 2016 30 (1) issue of Gender & Society.