Wednesday, July 15, 2015
Serena Williams won another Wimbledon title this weekend. She is deservedly the most accomplished athlete--of any gender--for a sport.
Alas, there are discussions regarding her body image and what said discussions say about how we think about gender.
From the NYT:
Despite Williams’s success — a victory Saturday would give her 21 Grand Slam singles titles and her fourth in a row — body-image issues among female tennis players persist, compelling many players to avoid bulking up.
“It’s our decision to keep her as the smallest player in the top 10,” said Tomasz Wiktorowski, the coach of Agnieszka Radwanska, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 123 pounds. “Because, first of all she’s a woman, and she wants to be a woman.”
For many, perceived ideal feminine body type can seem at odds with the best physique for tennis success. Andrea Petkovic, a German ranked 14th, said she particularly loathed seeing pictures of herself hitting two-handed backhands, when her arm muscles appear the most bulging.
“I just feel unfeminine,” she said. “I don’t know — it’s probably that I’m self-conscious about what people might say. It’s stupid, but it’s insecurities that every woman has, I think. I definitely have them and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I would love to be a confident player that is proud of her body. Women, when we grow up we’ve been judged more, our physicality is judged more, and it makes us self-conscious.”
Monday, July 13, 2015
A bit dated by cyberspace terms but still worth reading from the New Republic:
We cannot talk about the violence that Dylann Roof perpetrated at Emanuel AME last Wednesday night without talking about whiteness, and specifically, about white womanhood and its role in racist violence. We have to talk about those things, because Roof himself did. Per a witness account, we know that he said: “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” “Our” women, by whom he meant white women.
There is a centuries-old notion that white men must defend, with lethal violence at times, the sexual purity of white women from allegedly predatory black men. And, as we saw yet again after this shooting, it is not merely a relic of America’s hideous racial past. American racism is always gendered; racism and sexism are mutually dependent, and cannot be unstitched.
Friday, July 10, 2015
South Carolina's decision to take down the Confederate Flag reminded me of the flag's symbolic associations with rural masculinity.
Which got me thinking about country music. Which got me thinking about contemporary country music. Yes, music, and not law, but to the extent popular culture informs and influences law, I wanted to share some excerpts from this essay from the New Republic:
Contemporary country masculinity is all about working hard, drinking harder, and doubling down on the kind of old-fashioned manliness that is now rejected—or that is seen to be rejected—by hipsters, nouveau bros, metrosexuals, and myriad other manifestations of the decline of manhood. It’s a deeply reactionary vision of masculinity, rooted in class, race, and a desire to define oneself as not a woman and as definitely, absolutely, supremely heterosexual.
They hate their jobs, unless they work on a farm, in which case they revere their work—for its symbolism, for its inherent and authentic goodness—even though it’s hard. With the extolling of small-town values and the rhapsodic waxing about dirt roads comes the class-conscious assumption that work is a paycheck, not a path to self-actualization. Men in country work hard, but they’d clock out for good at the end of today’s shift if they could.
And when they clock out, they drink. A lot
The third component of the masculinity espoused by bro country is straightness. Super straightness.
This is what masculinity looks like in country today: work hard in a “real” job, blow off steam drinking and ogling women with your boys, then demonstrate your heterosexuality by picking one of them up. As Noah Berlatsky wrote in this magazine earlier this year, the male gaze has become central to the genre’s authenticity. “To be normal, to be real, to be rural, to be unaffected on country radio … You just have to be a guy who likes staring at women.”
Such impressions, if accurate, would suggest that contemporary country music isn't especially charmed by the picture of masculinity presented, generations earlier, by the likes of Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson: the subtlety, the irony, and the episodes of witty paradox, often mixed with wry home-truths that sounded like nuggets of wisdom about what it meant to be a man.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
White Americans make up 95% of elected prosecutors across the US, according to a study that cites the non-indictments of white police officers in the high-profile deaths of unarmed black men as the “shocking” reality of a disproportionate and non-diverse criminal justice system that relies on prosecutorial power.
The study, from the San Francisco-based Women’s Donor Network, also found that that just 17% of elected prosecutors in the US are women – and just 1% are women of color.
The combination of these racial and gender disparities means that white men, who represent 31% of the population, hold 79% of the 2,437 elected prosecutors in the country at a time when growing attention to issues of misrepresentation in the criminal justice system has led to calls for reform.
A group of psychologists have published a paper about a social axiom whose substance, I suspect, had already been intuitively grasped by every single man without the aid of empirical research: when a man feels that his manliness is threatened, he tends to overcompensate. The paper's abstract:
‘‘It seems I had to fight my whole life through. Some gal would giggle and I’d get red And some guy’d laugh and I’d bust his head, I tell ya, life ain’t easy for a boy named ‘Sue’.’’ Johnny Cash, ‘‘A Boy Named Sue (1969)’’
How do people react when one of their important social identities is threatened? In the song ‘‘A Boy Named Sue,’’ Johnny Cash tells the story of a boy with an emasculating name. Faced with this ever-present threat to his masculinity, Sue overcompensates by becoming ‘‘quick and mean’’ and fighting his ‘‘whole life through.’’ The lyrics attest to the pressure that is placed on males to be masculine and the psychological discomfort felt when masculinity is questioned (e.g., Massad, 1981). The song also suggests that rather than simply living with the threat, men actively respond to recover their masculinity. We tested two basic strategies that men might use to compensate for masculinity threats: (i) exaggerating their masculinity and (ii) avoiding stereotypically feminine preferences. We further examined whether some strategies of reestablishing a threatened identity were favored over others, and if so, why.
Friday, July 3, 2015
Those keeping up with the Women's World Cup know the story. For those who don't, here it is:
It was a soccer player’s worst nightmare. With seconds left in a World Cup semifinal on Wednesday, Laura Bassett of England lunged for the ball and accidentally kicked it into her own net.
Seconds later, the whistle blew. Japan had won, 2-1, and Bassett and many other England players were left in tears. And members of the sometimes vicious British news media sharpened their pens and offered ... sympathy?
The most common word in British newspaper and website headlines on Thursday was “heartbreak,” and photos of the weeping Bassett dominated the coverage.
“England Women Have Done Their Country Proud,” The Times of London wrote. Even the tabloids were gentle, with The Mail grumbling that the better team had lost: “Own Goal Gives Japan Lucky Win Over Lionesses.”
The reaction to Bassett’s error was in sharp contrast to the aftermath of high-profile World Cup failures by the England men’s team over the years. In a 1998 round-of-16 game against Argentina, David Beckham kicked out at Diego Simeone and was given a red card. The ejection seemed a little harsh, but sympathy for the 23-year-old Beckham was not forthcoming after England lost the game on penalties. The Mirror’s headline was typical: “10 Heroic Lions, One Stupid Boy.”
The same thing--the own goal, as it is called in soccer--had befell Andres Escobar of Colombia in the 1994 World Cup. Known as the "Gentleman of the Field," Escobar was publicly ridiculed by his countrymen (and countrywomen) for his mistake. Eventually, someone murdered him.
(photo of Escobar)
This double standard for men versus women for what is acceptable in the realms of the masculine (like World Cup soccer) seems to me one more instance of the unique burdens shouldered by men.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
BabyCenter.com noticed thisemerging trend in its midyear report. Though gendered names like Noah and Emma remain super common, gender-neutral names like Amari, Karter, Phoenix, Quinn and Reese are rising in popularity too.
“As usual, baby names are reflecting a larger cultural shift,”says BabyCenter’s Global Editor in Chief Linda Murray. “Millennials are an open-minded and accepting group, and they don’t want their children to feel pressured to conform to stereotypes that might be restrictive.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Interesting piece from the Boston Globe:
If we accept that gender is fluid — a reflection of some inexplicable spiritual thing inside of us — why not race? Why do we police the boundaries of blackness more rigorously than we police womanhood?
The general consensus seems to be that as much as we want to do away with racial differences and as deeply as we believe in race as a social construct, we can’t accept Dolezal as a black woman trapped in a spray-tanned blonde’s body.
“Rachel Dolezal . . . may be connected to black communities and feel an affinity with the styles and cultural innovations of black people,” Alicia Walters, a black woman from Spokane wrote in The Guardian. “But the black identity cannot be put on like a pair of shoes.”
But wait a minute. I thought we just agreed that the female identity can be put on like a red mini-dress by Donna Karan. What gives? How can blackness — with all its shades and incredible diversity — be more immutable than manhood itself?
Monday, June 15, 2015
From the New Republic:
"Here I am, this little kid, I can't even see over the steering wheel, and I'm parking Cadillacs," Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) says early on in Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas. That's a good thumbnail description of Henry's obsessions, and of the film's as well. Henry wants to be a man—or more, he wants to be the man. He wants to do grown-up stuff, like park Cadillacs, tip big, have Bobby Vinton send his girl champagne, and pistol whip any guy who insults her. He wants to have the biggest balls of them all.
Kyle Smith at the New York Post argued this week that "Women are not capable of understanding GoodFellas" because it's "a story of ball-busting etiquette" where "[t]he rule is: be a man, be tough, and always keep the party going."
But the whole point of Goodfellas is that being a man, as Henry defines it—in terms of power and ball-busting—is poisonous, violent, degrading, and stupid.
Frankly, for me, the uber-violence isn't the problem with Martin Scorsese's movie. It is rather that Goodfellas, unlike the superb "Sopranos," reeks with a loud and tiresome phoniness about what being a man really is. The guys in the movie are always, and without any rest, "on." We never see them when they are unmasculine, when they break down, when they're lost. And all gangsters--like all men--can become like that. That's sort of why the gangsters in Goodfellas--low life criminals with expensive tastes--became the thugs they did: they had nothing else going for them and they knew they never would.
Compare Scorsese's cartoonish caricatures to the gangsters in the "Sopranos": It shows Tony being idiotic, being afraid--hell, being terrified--getting old, getting weak, and being, ultimately, so very, very lonely, as all fake men secretly are.
Sunday, June 14, 2015
The beleaguered British biologist Sir Tim Hunt has revealed that he was forced to resign from his post at University College London (UCL) without being given a chance to explain his controversial remarks about women in science. “I have been hung out to dry,” he told the Observer in an exclusive interview. “I have been stripped of all the things I was doing in science. I have no further influence.”
Hunt, who won the Nobel prize in 2001 for his work on cell biology, was the focus of widespread controversy last week after suggesting at a conference in Seoul that women in science were disruptive and prone to crying. He has since apologised for his remarks, which were supposed to be ironic and jocular, he said.
However, as a result of the furore, Hunt was told by UCL that he would have to resign his honorary post at the college. “At no point did they ask me for an explanation for what I said or to put it in context,” he told the Observer. “They just said I had to go. There has been an enormous rush to judgment in dealing with me.”
And for the discussion at the NYT, see here.
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Badly educated men in rich countries have not adapted well to trade, technology or feminism.
KIMBERLEY, a receptionist in Tallulah, thinks the local men are lazy. “They don’t do nothin’,” she complains. This is not strictly true. Until recently, some of them organised dog fights in a disused school building.
Tallulah, in the Mississippi Delta, is picturesque but not prosperous. Many of the jobs it used to have are gone. Two prisons and a county jail provide work for a few guards but the men behind bars, obviously, do not have jobs. Nor do many of the young men who hang around on street corners, shooting dice and shooting the breeze. In Madison Parish, the local county, only 47% of men of prime working age (25-54) are working.
The men in Tallulah are typically not well educated: the local high school’s results are poor even by Louisiana’s standards. That would have mattered less, in the old days. A man without much book-learning could find steady work at the mill or in the fields. But the lumber mill has closed, and on nearby farms “jobs that used to take 100 men now take ten,” observes Jason McGuffie, a pastor. A strong pair of hands is no longer enough.
Tallulah may be an extreme example, but it is part of a story playing out across America and much of the rest of the rich world. In almost all societies a lot of men enjoy unwarranted advantages simply because of their sex. Much has been done over the past 50 years to put this injustice right; quite a bit still remains to be done.
The dead hand of male domination is a problem for women, for society as a whole—and for men like those of Tallulah. Their ideas of the world and their place in it are shaped by old assumptions about the special role and status due to men in the workplace and in the family, but they live in circumstances where those assumptions no longer apply. And they lack the resources of training, of imagination and of opportunity to adapt to the new demands. As a result, they miss out on a lot, both in economic terms and in personal ones.
Manliness is generally a term connoting virtue, as in, "the police officer displayed great manliness when he rescued the child." Of late, we have stories of masculinity out of control.
There is the story of officer Eric Casebolt, whose angry and terrified demeanor found expression through assaults against teeangers in McKinney, Texas.
Then there is the heartbreaking story of Kalief Browder, a young black teenager who committed suicide this week after having been brutalized in Rikers Island Prison. He had spent three years there--without ever being convicted of a crime. While at Rikers, Kalief was assaulted by guards, kept in solitary confinement, and beaten by gangs. After being released from Rikers, he could no longer endure the traumatic memories.
Monday, June 8, 2015
A growing number of children’s app makers are upping their efforts to ensure their products do a better job of reflecting the diversity of their young audiences.
And (regarding the picture above, of the robot):
As an example, he gave Toca Robot Lab, a robot-building app that was released in 2011: a “classically boy-skewing theme of building robots” that the auditor suggested played to those stereotypes with its colour scheme and art-style of “rusty old things that you might find in a garage, as opposed to everyday things you might find at home”.
Toca Boca redesigned the game’s visuals and added in more of the latter kind of objects. “It opened it up and made it much more inclusive than it was from the beginning,” said Jeffery, who cited his company’s Toca Hair Salon range of apps as much more successful in bucking gender stereotypes.
Do women and men have different brains?
Back when Lawrence H. Summers was president of Harvard and suggested that they did, the reaction was swift and merciless. Pundits branded him sexist. Faculty members deemed him a troglodyte. Alumni withheld donations.
But when Bruce Jenner said much the same thing in an April interview with Diane Sawyer, he was lionized for his bravery, even for his progressivism.
“My brain is much more female than it is male,” he told her, explaining how he knew that he was transgender.
Friday, June 5, 2015
The tech world deservedly catches some flack for its lack of gender diversity.
As lopsided as those numbers are, they pale in comparison to the gender breakdown at the finals of this year’s DARPA Robotics Challenge, which takes place Friday and Saturday in Pomona, Calif. Eleven of the 24 teams competing are made up completely of men. Of the 444 individuals on the teams, only 23 are women. An alarming 94.8 percent of the participants are men.
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Celebrities, along with President Obama, are praising Caitlin Jenner for coming out as transgender person. But not everyone in the transgender community is praising her.
“Jenner’s a rich white bitch – she can pay for everything she needs. But I think she now needs to put some of that money back into the transgender community as she has taken a lot. All these years we have been abused and battered, yet she has used none of her power to help the community and bring about change.”
Thus spoke Janetta Johnson. She continued:
Janetta Johnson, a black trans woman who works with TGI Justice, an advocacy group for transgender prisoners and their families, said that the lack of recognition on Jenner’s part of the hard work that had gone into trying to end confusion over gender pronouns was regrettable. “For her to come out as a trans woman and say ‘Oh, please keep calling me “he”’ – I think she may have set us back.”
Johnson said she now wanted to see Jenner give back to the trans community some of what she had taken.
Monday, June 1, 2015
Keith Cunningham-Parmeter has published "(Un)Equal Protection: Why Gender Equality Depends on Discrimination." It's available for download here and its abstract reads as follows:
Most accounts of the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence describe the Court’s firm opposition to sex discrimination. But while the Court famously invalidated several sex-based laws at the end of the twentieth century, it also issued many other, less-celebrated decisions that sanctioned sex-specific classifications in some circumstances. Examining these long-ignored cases that approved of sex discrimination, this Article explains how the Court’s rulings in this area have often rejected the principle of formal equality in favor of broader antisubordination concerns. Outlining a new model of equal protection that authorizes certain forms of sex discrimination, (Un)Equal Protection advocates for one particular discriminatory policy that could dramatically promote gender equality in the decades to come. Fatherhood bonuses— laws that give families additional parental leave when fathers stay at home with their newborns—have the potential to drastically reorder gendered divisions of labor and expand women’s workplace opportunities. Countries that have experimented with fatherhood bonuses have seen women with children spend more time in paid work, advance in their careers, and earn higher wages. Applying these international models to the American context, this Article explains why fatherhood bonuses would fit comfortably within our constitutional framework, which authorizes discriminatory policies when such policies support women’s public participation. (Un)Equal Protection concludes by proposing a model for fatherhood bonuses in the United States that would encourage more men to perform care work, thereby advancing the goal of gender equality for both sexes.
Saturday, May 30, 2015
Zhang Wei, a 29-year-old male resident of Beijing, is at first glance an unlikely exemplar for the power of women in modern China. But hear him out. A junior executive at a state-owned energy company, Zhang has not yet been able to save enough money to afford a decent apartment in Beijing, where prices have pretty much gone straight up since he entered the workforce seven years ago. So Zhang says he saves nearly 30 percent of his salary every month and is hoping prices decline a bit so he can buy in the next year or two. “I am,” he concedes, “a little bit crazed by the idea.”
Why would a young professional male be obsessed with buying an apartment in a market a lot of people think is already overpriced? “Because,” he says, “I’d like to get married and start a family. My parents are really pressuring me. And if I don’t own an apartment, that’s really hard.’’
Monday, May 25, 2015
On this Memorial Day, I wanted to commend the best book I have read about manhood,--in all its ambivalence, ambiguousness, and ambitiousness--and war: Tim O'Brien's matchless The Things They Carried. And for some commentary on the novel, see my far less impressive "The Burdens of Manliness."
Friday, May 22, 2015
A Boy Scout wears an Eagle Scot neckerchief during a 2013 parade in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay)
“We must deal with the world as it is, not as we might wish it would be,” Boy Scouts of America President Robert Gates announced to an auditorium full of scouting officials and volunteers Thursday. “The status quo in our movement’s membership standards cannot be sustained.”
The announcement — that the Boy Scouts should change its policy to admit gay leaders — was radical, but you wouldn’t know it from listening to Gates’s speech. His tone was measured and matter-of-fact. His audience: totally silent.
It was an astute capitulation from the former secretary of defense, but it might not be enough to save one of America’s most iconic youth organizations.