Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Immigration

This collection of articles provides analyses of how gender informs the migration process, produces new gendered outcomes and relationships, and how men and women navigate their lives as (im)migrants. Gender is central to all the research here, but gendered processes, outcomes, and experiences are shaped by the state, work, and family, as well as the intersectional identities of (im)migrants. Spanning research from several countries, these articles will prompt students to question conventional notions on how, for instance, migration leads to gendered empowerment or how human rights-based measures are automatically beneficial for immigrant women. This research also provides insights on how the consequences of migration also provide new gendered opportunities for experiencing masculinity, re-arranging care work, and creating more sustainable and supportive communities. Despite these opportunities, migration and immigration (enforcement) policies also have its costs; the article on immigrant organizing against deportation and research on migrant domestic workers underscore the enduring struggle for legibility and mobility.

Andrews, Abigail. 2014. Women’s political engagement in a Mexican sending community: Migration as crisis and the struggle to sustain an alternative. Gender & Society 28 (4): 583-608.

This article demonstrates how Mexican women’s migration to the U.S., and subsequent return migration creates new gendered opportunities for women to become politically engaged in sustaining their communities of origin. This article includes a wide array of data, including participant observation, 51 life story interviews with Mexican Mixtec men and women in Vista, California and San Miguel, Mexico, and survey data. Faced with the ‘crisis’ of living undocumented lives in the U.S., many migrant women returned back home to help build sustainable communities through civic participation, which was previously limited to men. Women’s increased participation in these spaces were successful, newly acceptable and often, necessary as many migrant men remained in the U.S. to fulfill breadwinning duties. This article lends insights on how hostile contexts of reception and subsequent return migration creates gendered consequences and new opportunities for survival.

Das Gupta, Monisha. 2014. “Don’t deport our daddies”: Gendering state deportation practices and immigrant organizing. Gender & Society 28 (1): 83-109.

This article focuses on Families for Freedom (FFF), a grassroots organization dedicated to assisting families that have deported or deportable immigrant fathers with criminal convictions. Das Gupta expertly outlines how researchers and activists have often relied on the affective pull of heterosexual family ties to challenge deportation. The data for this study includes personal narratives, or testimonios and interviews with members of FFF and the New York chapter of the New Sanctuary Movement. Das Gupta finds that FFF testimonios protest deportation by placing an emphasis on the emotional, care and parenting work that fathers provide for their families. Interviews with FFF leaders also reveal the strategies the organization must use to build solidarity and make criminalized fathers legible. Aside from the research and arguments presented, students will likely benefit from reading Das Gupta’s useful background on contemporary immigration and deportation policies.

Choo, Hae Yeon. 2013. The cost of rights: Migrant women, feminist advocacy, and gendered morality in South Korea. Gender & Society 27 (4): 445-468.

Focusing on frameworks of citizenship, this paper explores how feminist organizations in South Korea used a discourse of victimization and human trafficking to argue for human rights-based provisions for marriage migrants and migrant women working as hostesses. Choo’s data includes extensive fieldwork with Korean migrant advocacy organizations and Filipino migrant communities. Choo finds that migrant women in her study did not pursue human rights-based provisions because doing so would contradict the moral and stigma-reducing logics they have assigned to their relationships and work. Claiming victimhood to access human-rights provisions, in some cases, also appeared to make less economic sense. Highlighting immigrant women’s agency, this research illustrates how there can be a cost to accessing certain rights.

De Regt, Marina. 2010. Ways to come, ways to leave: Gender, mobility, and il/legality among Ethiopian domestic workers in Yemen. Gender & Society 24 (2): 237-260.

Recognizing the dearth of literature on migrant domestic workers in the Middle East outside of research exclusively on exploitation or violence, this article focuses on how gender shapes the migration trajectory of migrant domestic workers and how (il)legality subsequently impacts their mobility. Spanning more than a ten-year period, the data for this article includes extensive fieldwork and interviews with Ethiopian migrant domestic workers working in Yemen. Students may appreciate reading interview narratives that demonstrate how the pre-migration options have important consequences for migration. Migrant women recruited through family members often experience more mobility compared to women who are recruited through agencies as contract workers.

Schmalzbauer, Leah. 2009. Gender on a new frontier: Mexican migration in the rural mountain West. Gender & Society 23 (6): 747-767.

Challenging the notion that migration is always empowering for women, this article provides important insights on how the context of reception matters for how migrants experience their new lives and gendered relationships. Pulled from ethnographic data gathered in rural Montana, Schmalzbauer demonstrates that the process of migration and settlement in Montana reproduces gendered relationships between partners that typically impacts women in a negative way. The lack of available jobs for women means migrant Mexican women are relegated to the home, even when they may have had previous work experience. Women are further socially confined because of the geography of the area and limited public transportation. As a destination with few migrants, Mexican women also feel their presence is especially highlighted in public places which is an especially dangerous problem for undocumented women. Despite these issues, for those with children and experience living in high-crime urban areas, the area represents a safer place to raise their children.

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.

Organized by Cassaundra Rodriguez, University of Massachusetts. Comments or suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu

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Getting More Men Involved – But Which Men?

By Tal Peretz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] All participant names are pseudonyms

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

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Bodies and Embodiment

 

These articles are offered as resources for courses that address gender, the body and embodiment. They approach the topic from a variety of perspectives and identity and are useful in disrupting assumptions about sex, gender and the body.

Mora, Richard. 2012. “Do it for your pubic hairs!”: Latino boys, masculinity and puberty. Gender & Society 26 (3): 433-460.

This article highlights the embodied experiences of Puerto Rican and Dominican adolescences. Through ethnographic research, the body becomes the central way boys in puberty understand their masculinity and social world. The author examines how the boys construct masculinity through social practices and interactions that directly reference their changing bodies. Due to the research subjects’ positionality as second generation immigrants, they construct a masculinity that emphasizes toughness and physical strength.

Hammer, Gili. 2012. Blind women’s appearance management: Negotiating normalcy between discipline and pleasure. Gender & Society 26 (3): 406-432.

This article discusses how blind women use appearance management and use their body as a tool to disrupt or reject stigmatizing beliefs about themselves made by society. The author confronts how most literature about women’s appearance focuses on visual interactions where women “see and are seen” with them taking an active role in using sight with these interactions, which ultimately leaves out how disabled blind women negotiate these interactions. What she found were women taking on a visibility politic that challenged normative beliefs about how blind women perform or embody femininity to actively challenge how others view them.

Schrock, Douglas, Lori Reid, and Emily M. Boyd. 2005. Transsexuals’ embodiment of womanhood. Gender & Society 19 (3): 317-355.

This article draws on in-depth interviews with nine white, middle-class, male-to-female transsexuals to examine how they produce and experience bodily transformation. Interviewees’ bodywork entailed retraining, redecorating, and reshaping the physical body, which shaped their feelings, role taking, and self-monitoring. These analyses make three contributions: They offer support for a perspective that embodies gender, further transsexual scholarship, and contribute to feminist debate over the sex/gender distinction. The authors conclude by exploring how viewing gender as embodied could influence medical discourse on transsexualism and have personal and political consequences for transsexuals.

Hennen, Peter. 2005. Bear bodies, bear masculinity: Recuperation, resistance, or retreat? Gender & Society 19 (1): 25-41.

Looking into the subculture of Bear communities, this article takes a look at how gay men embody Bear culture through resistance against stereotypical association of homosexuality with effeminacy by embracing larger, fleshy hairy bodies. This article also discusses how Bears look, act and perform masculinity within the subculture. By looking at how Bear embodiment is performed, Hennen shows that while Bears can be subversive in challenging normative forms of masculinity they still repurpose it as an attempt to form normalization.

Beauboeuf-Lafontant, Tamara. 2003. Strong and large black women?: Exploring relationships between deviant womanhood and weight. Gender & Society 17 (1): 111-121.

This article questions the societal and cultural image of Black women as strong and suggests that this seemingly affirming portrayal is derived from a discourse of enslaved women’s deviance. In highlighting connections between perceived strength and physical size among Black women, the analysis extends current feminist theory by considering the ways in which the weight many strong African American women carry is reflective of the deviant and devalued womanhood that they are expected to embody both within and outside their culture. This article also provides a stark contrast to the many of the themes found within literature about the body, eating disorders and body image that focuses on white women by taking into account the how the intersections of race and gender impact how black women’s bodies are framed in society.

Williams, Susan. 2002. Trying on gender, gender regimes, and the process of becoming a woman. Gender & Society 16 (1): 29-52.

In this article it discusses how adolescent girls “try on” or experiment with gender as a means to fully create sense of womanhood. Based on a 4 year study of 26 adolescent girls this article is a good reference to understanding how femininity or sense of gender is created not only through experimentation but also how communities have differing forms of femininity due to class, due to class, race and gender differences.

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.

Organized by: Amanda Levitt, Wayne State University.  Comments or suggestions please e-mail gendsoc@oaklnad.edu.

Gender & Society in The Classroom’s Guide for Syllabi on Transgender and Non-Binary Gender Identities

The following Gender & Society articles focus on the growing scholarship on transgender and non-binary gender identities.  As this body of scholarly literature continues to grow, as will this list of articles that may be used as supplements to other readings in the classroom.

Jenness, V., & Fenstermaker, S. 2016. Forty Years after Brownmiller prisons for men, transgender inmates, and the rape of the feminine. Gender & Society 30 (1): 14-29.

In this essay, we draw on a growing body of research, including our own work recently published in this journal, to consider the social organization of prison rape as it relates to transgender women. Just as Brownmiller (1975) focused attention on rape as a male prerogative, a weapon of force against women, and an agent of fear, our central focus is on “the rape of the feminine” in the context of prisons for men and with an eye toward the intersection of the state and violence. In the next section, we inventory some alarming facts about the rape of transgender women in carceral environments built for men (and only men). Thereafter, we describe and theorize the unique space and social relations in which this type of rape emerges in relation to the social organization of gender in prison. We conclude with comments about the relationship between embodiment, gender, and the rape of the feminine in a carceral context.

Davis, Georgiann, Jodie M. Dewey, and Erin L. Murphy. 2016. Giving sex: Deconstructing intersex and trans medicalization practices. Gender & Society 30 (3): 490-514.

Although medical providers rely on similar tools to “treat” intersex and trans individuals, their enactment of medicalization practices varies. To deconstruct these complexities, we employ a comparative analysis of providers who specialize in intersex and trans medicine. While both sets of providers tend to hold essentialist ideologies about sex, gender, and sexuality, we argue they medicalize intersex and trans embodiments in different ways. Providers for intersex people are inclined to approach intersex as an emergency that necessitates medical attention, whereas providers for trans people attempt to slow down their patients’ urgent requests for transitioning services. Building on conceptualizations of “giving gender,” we contend both sets of providers “give gender” by “giving sex.” In both cases too, providers shift their own responsibility for their medicalization practices onto others: parents in the case of intersex, or adult recipients of care in the case of trans. According to the accounts of most providers, successful medical interventions are achieved when a person adheres to heteronormative gender practices.

Averett, K. H. 2015. The gender buffet LGBTQ parents resisting heteronormativity. Gender & Society 30 (2): 189-212.

Many parents and child-rearing experts prefer that children exhibit gender-normative behavior, a preference that is linked to the belief that children are, or should be, heterosexual. But how do LGBTQ parents—who may not hold these preferences—approach the gender socialization of their children? Drawing on in-depth interviews with both members in 18 LGBTQ couples, I find that these parents attempt to provide their children with a variety of gendered options for clothing, toys, and activities—a strategy that I call the “gender buffet.” However, the social location of the parents influences the degree to which they feel they can pursue this strategy of resistance. Factors such as race, social class, gender of parents and children, and level of support of family and community members contribute to the degree to which LGBTQ parents feel they can allow or encourage their children to disrupt gender norms.

Rahilly, E. P. 2015. The gender binary meets the gender-variant child: Parents’ negotiations with childhood gender variance. Gender & Society 29 (3): 338-361.

Until recently, raising a young child as transgender was culturally unintelligible. Most scholarship on transgender identity refers to adults’ experiences and perspectives. Now, the increasing visibility of gender-variant children, as they are identified by the parents who raise them, presents new opportunities to examine how individuals confront the gender binary and imagine more gender-inclusive possibilities. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of “truth regime” to conceptualize the regulatory forces of the gender binary in everyday life, this work examines the strategies of 24 such parents, who represent 16 cases of childhood gender variance. Specifically, I analyze three practices—“gender hedging,” “gender literacy,” and “playing along”—through which these parents develop a critical consciousness about gender binary ideology and work to accommodate their children’s nonconformity in diverse discursive interactions. Taken together, their newfound strategies and perspectives subvert traditional conceptions of “gender-neutral” or “feminist” parenting, and reveal new modes of resistance to the normative transmission and regulation of gender practices.

David, E. 2015. Purple-collar labor transgender workers and queer value at global call centers in the Philippines. Gender & Society 29 (2): 169-194.

This article examines new patterns of workplace inequality that emerge as transgender people are incorporated into the global labor market. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 41 transgender call center employees in the Philippines, I develop the concept “purple-collar labor” to describe how transgender workers—specifically trans women—are clustered, dispersed, and segregated in the workplace and how their patterned locations in social organizational structures serve a particular value-producing function. These patterned inclusions, I argue, come with explicit and implicit interactional expectations about how “trans” should be put to work in the expansion and accumulation of global capital. In this way, the study examines the production and extraction of queer value and the folding of trans women’s gendered performances into commercial exchange. Data show how the affective labor of transgender employees is used to help foster productivity, ease workplace tensions, and boost employee morale. This study of transgender employment experiences opens new lines of inquiry for understanding gender inequalities at work, and it builds on scholarship that combines political economy approaches with transgender studies.

Jenness, V., & S. Fenstermaker. 2014. Agnes goes to prison: Gender authenticity, transgender inmates in prisons for men, and pursuit of “The real deal”. Gender & Society 28 (1): pp. 5-31.

Historically developed along gender lines and arguably the most sex segregated of institutions, U.S. prisons are organized around the assumption of a gender binary. In this context, the existence and increasing visibility of transgender prisoners raise questions about how gender is accomplished by transgender prisoners in prisons for men. This analysis draws on official data and original interview data from 315 transgender inmates in 27 California prisons for men to focus analytic attention on the pursuit of “the real deal”—a concept we develop to reference a dynamic related to how gender is accomplished by transgender inmates. Specifically, among transgender inmates in prisons for men, there is competition for the attention and affection of “real men” in prisons: the demonstrable and well-articulated desire to secure standing as “the best girl” in sex segregated institutional environments. Our empirical examination sheds light on the gender order that underpins prison life, the lived experience of gender and sexuality for transgender inmates in prisons for men, and how that experience reveals new aspects of the workings of gender accountability.

Westbrook, L., & K. Schilt. 2013. Doing gender, determining gender: Transgender people, gender panics, and the maintenance of the sex/gender/sexuality system. Gender & Society 28(1): 32-57.

This article explores “determining gender,” the umbrella term for social practices of placing others in gender categories. We draw on three case studies showcasing moments of conflict over who counts as a man and who counts as a woman: public debates over the expansion of transgender employment rights, policies determining eligibility of transgender people for competitive sports, and proposals to remove the genital surgery requirement for a change of sex marker on birth certificates. We show that criteria for determining gender differ across social spaces. Gender-integrated spaces are more likely to use identity-based criteria, while gender-segregated spaces, like the sexual spaces we have previously examined (Schilt and Westbrook 2009), are more likely to use biology-based criteria. In addition, because of beliefs that women are inherently vulnerable and men are dangerous, “men’s” and “women’s” spaces are not policed equally—making access to women’s spaces central to debates over transgender rights.

Pfeffer, C. A. 2012. Normative resistance and inventive pragmatism: Negotiating structure and agency in transgender families. Gender & Society 26 (4): 574-602.

Transgender individuals and families throw existing taxonomic classification systems of identity into perplexing disarray, illuminating sociolegal dilemmas long overdue for critical sociological inquiry. Using interview data collected from 50 cisgender women from across (primarily) the United States and Canada, who detail 61 unique partnerships with transgender and transsexual men, this work considers the pragmatic choices and choice-making capacities (or “agency”) of this social group as embedded within social systems, structures, and institutions. Proposing the analytic constructs of “normative resistance” and “inventive pragmatism” to situate the interactional processes between agency and structure in the everyday lives of this understudied group of cisgender women, this work theorizes the liminal sociolegal status of an understudied family form. In so doing, it exposes the increasingly paradoxical consolidation and destabilization of sociolegal notions of identity, marriage, normativity, and parenthood—challenging, contributing to, and extending current theoretical and empirical understandings of agency and structure in twenty-first-century families.

Meyer, D. 2012. An intersectional analysis of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people’s evaluations of anti-queer violence. Gender & Society 26 (6): 849-873.

The author uses an intersectionality framework to examine how lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people evaluate the severity of their violent experiences. Previous research focusing on the severity of anti-LGBT violence has given relatively little attention to race, class, and gender as systems of power. In contrast, results from this study, based on 47 semi-structured, in-depth interviews, reveal that Black and Latino/Latina respondents often perceived anti-queer violence as implying that they had negatively represented their racial communities, whereas white respondents typically overlooked the racialized implications of their violent experiences. Furthermore, while lesbians of color emphasized their autonomy and self-sufficiency to challenge this discourse, Black and Latino gay men underscored their emotional and physical strength to undermine perceptions that they were weak for identifying as gay. Results also indicate that LGBT people experience forms of anti-queer violence in different ways depending on their social position, as Black lesbians faced discourse that neither white lesbians nor Black gay men were likely to confront. Thus, these findings suggest that topics primarily associated with homophobia should be examined through an intersectional lens.

Connell, C. 2010. Doing, undoing, or redoing gender? Learning from the workplace experiences of transpeople. Gender & Society 24 (1): 31-55.

Drawing from the perspectives of transgender individuals, this article offers an empirical investigation of recent critiques of West and Zimmerman’s “doing gender” theory. This analysis uses 19 in-depth interviews with transpeople about their negotiation and management of gendered interactions at work to explore how their experiences potentially contribute to the doing, undoing, or redoing of gender in the workplace. I find that transpeople face unique challenges in making interactional sense of their sex, gender, and sex category and simultaneously engage in doing, undoing, and redoing gender in the process of managing these challenges. Consequently, I argue that their interactional gender accomplishments are not adequately captured under the rubric of “doing gender” and suggest instead that they be understood as “doing transgender.” This article outlines the process of and consequences of “doing transgender” and its potential implications for the experience of and transformation of gender inequality at work.

Dozier, R. 2005. Beards, breasts, and bodies doing sex in a gendered world. Gender & Society 19 (3): 297-316.

Gender is commonly thought of as dependent on sex even though there are occasional aberrations. Interviews with female-to-male transgender people, however, suggest that sex and sex characteristics can be understood as expressions of gender. The expression of gender relies on both behavior and the appearance of the performer as male or female. When sex characteristics do not align with gender, behavior becomes more important to gender expression and interpretation. When sex characteristics become more congruent with gender, behavior becomes more fluid and less important in asserting gender. Respondents also challenge traditional notions of sexual orientation by focusing less on the sex of the partner and more on the gender organization of the relationship. The relationship’s ability to validate the interviewee’s masculinity or maleness often takes precedence over the sex of the partner, helping to explain changing sexual orientation as female-to-male transsexual and transgendered people transition into men.

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.

Organized by Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University. Comments and suggestions contact gendsoc@oakland.edu.

Becoming “War Buddies”: Underestimating Insider Status

By Heather Mooney

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

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

Advantages of Insider Status

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

The Sway of Insider Status

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

Subverting Research Power Dynamics

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

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

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

Two legal sexes aren’t enough: Why governments should recognize non-binary bodies and identities

By Lal Zimman

Virtually every form we fill out that serves to identify us – whether administered by governmental, educational, medical, economic, or social institutions – asks for sex or gender. In most cases, the only recognized options are female and male. Thanks to the work of intersex and transgender activists, there is increasing recognition that individuals may possess bodies and/or identities that fall outside of the normative categories of female and male. However, governmental and legal institutions largely remain resistant to official recognition of non-binary sexes or genders, instead requiring all citizens to be categorized as female or male despite the well-documented diversity of gender and sex. This resistance can be seen in recent cases in which governments have rejected bids to create a third legal sex category, as France did last month and Germany did in 2016.

To many people, the concept of legal sex seems like an intuitively obvious system that reflects information about an individual’s identity. This sense of intuition, however, comes from the naturalization of biological sex as a simple binary, when in fact it is a complex web of characteristics that can be aligned in many different ways. The notion that there are only two sexes relies on the erasure of intersex bodies, i.e. those that show distinctive or ambiguous physiological characteristics that are neither normatively female nor normatively male. Such erasure happens culturally – by pretending intersex bodies don’t exist – and medically – by operating on or removing ambiguous organs so that a child’s body appears more normatively female or male. The insistence that there are only two sexes is simply not supported by the observation of biological diversity among humans.

Christopher Hutton a scholar of language and the law, has argued that legal sex presents itself as a descriptive category, but in practice serves normative functions.1 In other words, we are meant to think of legal sex as simply reflecting a natural, universal reality in which every individual is obviously and unproblematically female or male. Ultimately, however, one’s assignment to a legal sex category creates both restrictions and obligations in terms of access to spaces, activities, and even other forms of recognition – as when states restrict allowable names based on legal sex.2

Gender_neutral_bathroom_sign
By sarahmirk (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Someone whose identity documents are seen as being “in conflict” with their sex, gender identity, or gender expression can face numerous, and often quite serious, consequences. They may be unable to travel freely; unable to access safe and appropriate housing, shelters, medical care, or public facilities like bathrooms; unable to access certain spaces where identification is required for entry, like venues where alcohol is served; unable to engage in certain kinds of commercial transactions, such as using a credit or bank card or purchasing goods that require proof of age; and at particular risk during interactions with the state such as being pulled over or detained by police, being jailed or imprisoned, or navigating immigration systems. Someone whose identification outs them as trans, gender non-conforming, or intersex may routinely have to choose between personal safety and taking part in everyday, life-sustaining activities. Some may be unable to publicly articulate that identity at all because of the risks involved.

These points are often used to support the argument that transgender people shifting from one binary gender role to another should be permitted to change their legal sex, ideally without medical requirements such as hormones or surgery. But this logic applies with at least as much force for those living outside of the sex/gender binary all together.

In most cases, legal sex is, indeed, formulated in terms of sex – that is, physiology rather than social identity. In places where legal sex can be changed at all, individuals are generally required to alter their bodies in dramatic ways, including sterilization, in order to gain access to a new legal sex.3 The key assumption here is that biological differentiation is more important than social differentiation, and that the state is in the business of categorizing people on the basis of sexual phenotype rather than social identity.

Given how important the body is for arguments about legal sex, it is particularly striking when states refuse to acknowledge intersex individuals, who are born with bodies that cannot be straight-forwardly categorized as either female or male. If legal sex is supposed to reflect biological difference, and we know that intersex bodies exist, why are the differences between intersex bodies and normatively female or male bodies not worth capturing? What danger is there in recognizing the full range of what nature provides? How can we justify burdening this population – or any population – by denying them identification documents that match their bodies, identities, or presentations?4

Surely the key to answering to this question is the fear that legal recognition might reveal other cultural gaps, creating a demand for greater social, as well as legal, awareness and affirmation. If a state accepts that intersex bodies exist, and that they are not simply malformed versions of female or male bodies, how can it justify the non-consensual modification of those bodies in order to fit the binary system? How can educational institutions insist that only two genders exist, both through the way students are treated and in the material they are taught? How can trans people be denied the right to change their documents or required to achieve a certain degree of physical conformity in order to do so if the law recognizes that gender is more complicated than we’ve been led to believe? And if those with indisputably non-binary bodies can be recognized as legally different from non-intersex people, how can the state refuse to acknowledge those with non-binary identities, who are as deeply affected by lack of proper documentation as any other trans or intersex individuals?

The primary issue here is what role states will take in the transformation the gender binary is undergoing. While purporting to remain neutral in the face of radical social change, governments who perpetuate binary systems for assigning legal sex actively erase intersex bodies and delegitimize trans identities. The creation of more categories is not an instance of governments creating or pushing for social change, but rather reflecting the reality already occupied by many of the people it purports to serve. Legal sex has real consequences for individuals, and reforming it is a matter of safety, of equal participation in public life, and of individuals’ access to legal recognition and dignity. As long as legal sex exists, we need more than two categories.

Lal Zimman is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Affiliated Faculty in Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is also General Editor of Oxford University Press’s Series in Language, Gender, and Sexuality. His research is broadly focused on the linguistic practices of transgender speakers, in which he employs
a range of qualitative and quantitative methodologies. He has published on the homonormativity of the coming out narrative genre (Gender & Language, 2009), the construction of biological sex in trans men’s use of gendered body part terminology (Queer Excursions, 2014, Oxford; Journal of Homosexuality, 2014), and the complex role of embodiment in the acoustic characteristics of the voice (Journal of Language & Sexuality, 2013; Language and Masculinities, 2015, Routledge). In 2014, he published a co-edited volume, Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality with Oxford University Press.

1 Hutton, Christopher (forthcoming). Transgender jurisprudence, legal sex, and ordinary language.  In Evan Hazenberg & Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.), Representing Trans. Wellington, New Zealand:  Victoria University Press.

2 Several countries limit names for infants so that they are “gender appropriate,” including Denmark [link: http://www.cnn.com/2010/LIVING/07/03/mf.baby.naming.laws/index.html%5D, Iceland [link: http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2013/01/04/168642200/a-girl-fights-to-be-called-by-her-name-in-iceland-suing-government%5D, and Hungary [link: http://www.nytud.hu/oszt/nyelvmuvelo/utonevek/%5D.

3 See, for instance, Lee, R. (2015). Forced sterilization and mandatory divorce: How a majority of Council of Europe member states’ laws regarding gender identity violate the internationally and regionally established human rights of trans people. Berkeley Journal of International Law 33(1):114-152.

4 I am being intentionally broad here in speaking of bodies, identities, or presentations out of recognition that not all intersex people want their intersex status reflected in their legal sex. Individuals should be able to choose which legal sex category will make them safest, affirm their dignity, and allow them to participate fully and comfortably in social life. For some, that means using a non-binary sex category.

Critiquing and Creating Social Spaces

By Christopher Matthews

I was happy to be asked to write a blog post shortly after publishing this paper in Gender and Society. I remember sitting down at my laptop to start the process of translating my academic arguments into less opaque language. Part way through this process I realized that what I was writing didn’t have the impact that I was hoping for; the post was turning into a simplified summary of my paper. “Surely,” I remember thinking to myself, “a blog post should be more than this?” With some time I realized that my frustration was connected to broader issues related to the translation of research, public engagement and active scholarship.

There have been useful attempts within academia to begin developing impact of scholarship, that is, actually doing something based on research findings. One crucial element of this in the UK has been the significance that is placed on evidencing the impact of research in order to obtain funding in the Research Excellence Framework (REF). Unfortunately, my research in boxing has had almost zero measurable impact when considered in this manner. This is why I struggled to develop what I considered to be an interesting blog post at the time, I wasn’t ready to start telling people beyond academia about my research, as I’d not done anything really significant with it yet!

My paper was based on ethnographic research I undertook in a boxing, martial arts and weight lifting gym in England (see Matthews, 2014, 2015 for more detail). The central critique I made in the paper was that while there’s lots of evidence of broad societal shifting in various ways towards equality there are social-cultural spaces that remain, and perhaps become increasing, resistant to such change. When my analysis is broken down to this level it becomes a simple idea, and it is, so while the paper makes a relatively significant contribution to academic knowledge, the obvious question follow; so what? Or what’s next? And this is why I feel the need to create not only critique.

boxing
Luke Jones at Bexhill Film Company

Boxing, as a cultural phenomenon, has a long history of being a site for difference, inclusion, diversity and challenging social norms. Yet, it is still dominated symbolically and quantitatively by certain men and narratives about manhood. The legacy of boxing’s historical roots in a powerful, aggressive and often violent masculine body culture still shape and frame contemporary experiences inside and around the gym. However, the rise of women’s boxing, perhaps highlighted most significantly at the London 2012 Olympic games, has made stories of female boxing fair easier to tell and live (See Woodward (2012) for a discussion).

 This Girl Can Box

England boxing and many boxing clubs around the country have made significant contributions to continuing this process. And while there is still much work to be done, many boxing clubs have become spaces where powerful, skillful and strong female bodies are presented, expected and respected.

Where boxing clubs in a general sense appear to be more resistant to change is in their ability to attract and cater for LGBTQI+ communities. In many cases this is not through any sort of open or even covert homophobia, but rather a lack of knowledge about how, and in what ways, it might be possible to break the symbolic association between boxing and certain images, ideas and stories of heterosexual men. For example, I spoke recently with a gay man who really wanted to try boxing, but when attending his local gym simply couldn’t walk through the door, as if there was a force field keeping him out.

 The clearest way of tackling this issue, is to create spaces where these ‘social force fields’ can be eroded. Indeed, there are some great examples of how this is already happening (London Gay Boxing Club, Velvet Gloves Boxing NYE). So I began working with my local gym, the Eastbourne Boxing Club (EBC), to explore the potential for starting an LGBTQI+ boxing class.

The first stumbling block is funding. One of the main reasons boxing clubs do not have such sessions already is that they believe, in most cases quite rightly I would suggest, that they simply won’t be popular enough to cover expenses. Most clubs simply don’t have the finances to enable them to take risks on sessions for groups that have not traditionally been associated with boxing. I was able to secure some funding from the University of Brighton’s Community and University Partnership Programme to help in this regard.

The next issue is to find coaches who can deliver boxing in a manner which is inclusive and considered. Fortunately the coaching team EBC is not only well qualified in the sport but they also hold progressive personal political ideals. They have been really interested in the idea of promoting boxing to the local community. I have also taken the England Boxing level one boxing qualification so that I can assist where possible.

As such, we found some free time at the gym organised free boxing classes for the local LGBTQI+ community. We are currently promoting these sessions with flyers and posters both on the internet and in hardcopy. Indeed, England Boxing has helps us with this post about the sessions.

I will conduct some research based on these sessions which will help develop my existing academic explorations of boxing, produce monitoring and evaluation information for the specific sessions while, also highlight best practice and areas for improvement. The goal is to combine this information with research from other similar projects to produce guidelines and suggestions for the national governing body and other clubs who are interested in doing something similar.

This is how I have attempted to create something based on my academic critique, and this is also why I now feel like I can produce this blog post now. Simply put, I have more of a story to tell about how my research is doing something in the world rather than sitting on a shelf in the library.

Christopher R. Matthews is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Brighton, UK. He is a competing amateur boxer who has used his active participation as central aspects of his research. He has published on a variety of topics including men’s power, sports violence, health, gender and sexuality. Alongside Alex Channon he is the co-editor of Global Perspective on Women in Combat Sports: Women Warriors Around the World and the co-founder of the Love Fight Hate Violence campaign.