Tuesday, August 22, 2017
Many thanks to guest blogger Prof. Jamie Abrams for blogging with us this summer.
As immigration reform debates heat up, I am reminded of a project I undertook several years ago to examine how U.S. immigration laws and policies reflect governing dominant masculinities. In Enforcing Masculinities at the Borders, I noted how sparse historical work had considered the masculinities dimensions of immigration law. I argued that unpacking the masculinities dimensions of our paradigmatic shifts in immigration policy might offer an additional—even unifying—dimension to previously disparate and divergent immigration laws worthy of further research. This thesis feels more worrisome and relevant than ever.
Masculinities, the study of how men relate to each other and construct their identities, can be used as a powerful sociological and legal tool to understand institutions, power structures, and human relations. Recent events underscore that it is critical to make masculinities visible in immigration law to understand how dominant masculine imperatives shape citizenship itself. Immigration laws and policies reinforce dominant masculinities at the border by excluding marginalized masculinities and admitting those who comport with dominant masculinity norms. The state is not just enforcing immigration laws at its borders but it also enforces masculinity norms. For that reason, we should approach immigration reform with great caution and concern within the women’s movement, more vigilant to immigration reform than preciously understood.
Examining the masculinity underpinnings of historical immigration trends sets up the importance of a modern inquiry to understand how current dominant masculinities shape and drive immigration law and policy. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, dramatically catalyzed sweeping changes in immigration law and policy. While September 11, 2001, offered a message of national security imperatives, critically the seeds of today’s anti-immigration activism and rhetoric began earlier with shifting masculinities and escalating nativism. Indeed one of the key defining characteristic of this generation of masculinities in crisis is its resorting to anger, even violence, in response to threatened masculinities. This can be viewed as an expression of hyper-masculinity or an “explosive rage of the twenty-first century” as masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel calls it. The idea that some subsection of white men perceive themselves as the “real victims in America” is heavily influencing modern immigration policy and political rhetoric.
The dominant masculinity imperative displayed by some political groups is not just “anti-immigrant” for security reasons or to shore up our nation’s borders. These reform efforts are driven – at bottom – by a toxic masculinity, which seeks to “other” women, the LGBTQ community, and immigrants by pushing a toxic masculinity into the political foreground. This masculinities lens reveals that the feminist community should watch and engage in the immigration debate carefully, recognizing that immigration law reflects the dominant masculinities of our time.
Guest blogger Professor Jamie Abrams is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Legislation, and Women and the Law. Her research focuses on reproductive and birthing decision-making, gendered citizenship, legal protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and legal education pedagogy. Professor Abrams' most recent work includes Debunking the Myth of Universal Male Privilege, in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, and The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism.