White Terrorism in Black Communities: What masculinity studies can offer to the conversation

19 Jun Dylann Storm Roof, wearing racist patches on a military style jacket. Photo from Roof's facebook page (source: New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/on-facebook-dylann-roof-charleston-suspect-wears-symbols-of-white-supremacy.html)

The nation is reeling in the wake of this most recent mass shooting, a racially-motivated terrorist attack on the black community of Charleston, SC. Nine lives taken, among them an elected political official, and countless others left devastated by the actions of a young, white man named Dylann Roof. They were family members, community members—four ministers, a librarian, a recent graduate, a grandmother, a bible study teacher, a retiree. And they are gone because of racism. Before I say more, here are their names, because in our rage against a killer, we are too often forgetful of those he has taken: Clementa Pinckney, Daniel Simmons Sr., Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Susie Jackson, and Ethel Lance. Their lives add to a growing list of black lives taken and black bodies assaulted this year. Dylann Roof is yet another white man engaging in the kind of racist violence made possible (even permissible) in a system that devalues and denigrates blackness.

Dylann Storm Roof, wearing racist patches on a military style jacket. Photo from Roof's facebook page (source: New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/on-facebook-dylann-roof-charleston-suspect-wears-symbols-of-white-supremacy.html)

Dylann Storm Roof, wearing racist patches on a military style jacket. Photo from Roof’s facebook page (source: New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/19/us/on-facebook-dylann-roof-charleston-suspect-wears-symbols-of-white-supremacy.html)

While there are a few out there trying to distract from Roof’s obvious racial motives (like pundits at Fox News who are scrambling to describe this as a hate crime against Christians), most of us recognize that this was indeed a hate crime. Roof himself made it clear, both in word and action. He targeted a church that has suffered racist attacks throughout its nearly 200 year history in Charleston. He targeted a sacred space, a supposedly safe space, for Charleston’s African-American community. He was known for making racist jokes, hoping for a race war, and wearing racist garb. And, as if that wasn’t proof enough, he admitted to his victims that he was there to kill them because of their skin color, because blacks “rape our women and you’re taking over our country.”
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Men In Skirts – A Pub Full Of Them …

17 Jun

I had a surreal experience recently.  Imagine if you will a stereotypical Irish pub in the centre of Dublin dominated by men; one that is normally full of crusty old regulars propped at the bar watching football and giving out about the weather, politicians and the price of water.  Now imagine the same pub swarmed by men in skirts … big hurley burley beer drinking macho men all wearing skirts … well that is exactly the scene I witnessed!  And it got me thinking, thinking about masculinities (yeah, yeah I know I am always thinking about masculinities!).

Football fans might guess the context for this story.  I was out for a social pint with colleagues and as it happened the Irish football team was playing in a European qualifier with Scotland, in Dublin.  Scottish football fans had come over to the Irish capital in their droves for the match, and in traditional Scottish style many of our Celtic brothers donned kilts.  After the match, Scottish fans flooded the pub my colleagues and I were socialising in.  The atmosphere was rowdy but jovial.  The Guinness was flowing like the Liffey, and the Irish and Scottish football fans exchanged witty jibes and taunts followed by loud bursts of laughter.  I was too preoccupied talking sociology with my colleagues to have noticed the extent of this flood of men in skirts, until I turned around and went to the little boys room.

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Debunking the Myth of Childhood Sexual Innocence

8 Jun

Hello again and welcome to the second post from ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’. For those of you unfamiliar with the first post in the series, over the coming months I will be sharing research findings about boys’ sexualities. Last month I mentioned that adults are deeply concerned about the effects of our sexualized culture on children, often claiming that today’s children are being prematurely sexualized. That children can be sexualized before it is developmentally appropriate relies on the idea that childhood is naturally a period of sexual innocence. This month’s post therefore unpacks the very notion that children are naturally innocent.

The fear of premature sexualization is premised on several misguided assumptions. The one we will be debunking today is that children are only pre-sexual (not fully sexual) since sexuality can only ever be triggered by puberty, and children are pre-pubertal.

We see evidence for this in the culture when, for example, textbooks for courses in developmental psychology fail to include sexual development in chapters on childhood. Instead, the topic of sexuality appears only when adolescence comes into focus. Developmental psychology in turn guides everyday popular understandings of children among those involved in teaching or caring for them in Western culture. As such it is shot through with power, in this case the power to discursively normalize the absence of sexuality for children but also to pathologize its presence.

We know that sexual experience among children is commonplace. For example, in the Kinsey studies of the 1940s and 1950s parents reported seeing children aged 2-5 self-manipulating and exhibiting their genitalia, in addition to exploring other children’s. We have also known since the 1960s that it is normative for 10-13 year-olds to engage in heterosexual kissing. Childhood sexual innocence, then, is an adult fabrication more than a natural feature of childhood.

Some psychologists do argue that ‘light’ sexual activities such as those above mark normal stages along the developmental trajectory but are a far cry from the sort of sexuality that is prescribed by children’s cultural milieu. That is, the extent to which our culture is sexualized is ‘too much too soon’ for children. Recognition of children’s sexual behaviors, not to mention the power of consumer capitalism, is preferable over the downright denial of childhood sexuality.

Nevertheless, what constitutes ‘too much too soon’ is in fact contestable when compared across time and space. During the 17th century, for example, the children of the French aristocracy were not shielded from sex but rather regularly encountered references to it in songs, stories and games. Fast forward to the 20th century and the following extract, taken from fieldwork with the !Kung San of the Dobe area of Botswana, further troubles the notion of precocious sexuality:

Like her counterparts in other foraging societies, the !Kung child becomes familiar with sexuality in early life. The youngest children sleep under the same blankets with their parents and are under the blankets during their parents’ lovemaking. From the age of eight or ten, children engage in sex play, which may include intercourse (…). The !Kung have no notion of virginity. I have never been able to come up with a concept or sense of a word that would correspond to our word virgin. Given the early sex play, I will hazard a guess that there are few !Kung virgins, male or female, at puberty.

(Lee, 1985: 39)

In summary, what we deem appropriate or inappropriate for children is historically and culturally contingent with the result that we cannot take it for granted that children are prematurely sexualized by the sexualization of culture.

Another way to see how sexuality is normative for children is to step back from the view of it as an essential, biological force that gives rise to bodily activities. When we see sexuality as a set of social practices, it is easier to recognize it as integral to children’s and adults’ everyday subjectivities and identities. Allow me to explain …

Foucault argued that sexuality induces specific gender effects and we see this eloquently elaborated upon by Judith Butler (1993). Individuals are assigned one of two sexes at birth. They are then expected and encouraged to do a gender in accordance with that sex. But the way to do that gender is guided by the belief that it should be done in opposition to the other sex/gender and that it should ultimately give rise to sexual desire for that opposite sex/gender. Put simply, we are getting our gender right when we are getting heterosexuality right, and vice versa.

People tend to heterosexualize their gender in many arenas and not just when being physically sexual. The same is true for children. In past research (Renold, 2005) primary school boys could successfully heterosexualize their masculinities by being a boyfriend though they could also opt out of the boyfriend/girlfriend culture without penalty by heterosexualizing their future masculinities. This was achieved by making reference to the skills that would one day be needed when the time came to have sex with women, thus consolidating a hegemonic heterosexual masculine identity in the present.

Boys could also heterosexualize their masculinity in the present by merely playing the right sport – soccer – or by fighting with other boys, or even just engaging in fight talk. Indeed those boys failing to display similar interests were marginalized as sissies or, you guessed it, gay.

Clearly then, childhood sexuality is much more than ‘light’ practice for the future but is also experienced seriously in many painful and pleasurable ways in the present.

The sooner we allow the full range of sexuality practices come into view, the sooner we can understand children’s experiences more fully and provide appropriate support. Might the panic over the premature sexualization of childhood be interfering with this goal? This is one question we will be returning to over the course of Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School.

Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School

13 Apr

Welcome to the first post in a series of monthly posts on masculinities in an Irish primary school. Over the coming months I will be sharing research findings on boys’ experiences of porn and hookup culture. There has been growing concern in recent years over the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that is claimed to be caused by the ‘sexualization of culture’. So before actually detailing the aforementioned findings, some of the initial posts will lay out the socio-cultural context in which they were produced.

As mentioned, the research in question took place in Ireland. The data were co-produced with eleven- and twelve-year-old girls and boys during their final year of primary school. I spent the academic year of 2009/2010 hanging out with the children a couple of days a week and interviewing them in pairs and groups about my observations. Furthermore, interviewees were invited to introduce topics of their own choice for discussion.

Overall, the themes that emerged ranged from academic performance to religion, from sports, dance and athletics to friendships and family relationships. Clearly, then, the more overtly sexualized themes chosen for analysis were not necessarily central to the children’s lives. Rather I played an active role in determining what to focus on. Nevertheless, porn and hookup culture did emerge and as such warranted exploration.

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International Conference on Masculinities: Themes and Thoughts

13 Mar

I’m writing this on the flight back from the International Conference on Masculinities in New York, which was an inspiring and energizing experience. It’s been a while since I wrote for Masculinities101, and having a chance to really engage with other people who are deeply involved in engaging men to reduce gendered inequalities got me motivated to write more. At the same time, the conference was definitely geared towards people who are connected to major organizations or institutions, so I wanted to take the opportunity to bring some of the themes from the conference out to folks who were not able to attend or might do their work in a different way. These are, of course, just the themes that stuck out to me, and some of them interact and overlap in complex ways that I won’t detail, but I wanted to provide a space where folks who were not at the conference could think about and discuss them as well.

Accountability – The conference was opened with a panel discussion entitled “Accountability in Activism and Research,” and the theme came up in nearly every conversation I heard thereafterfire. Continue reading

International Conference on Masculinities: Post-Conference Press Roundup

9 Mar

CSMM_ICM2015We hope that you all enjoyed the International Conference on Masculinities, that you learned new and exciting things and that you made connections with researcher and activists that will move the field forward!

Here is a collection of articles from around the web reporting on the Conference:

Washington Post: “Michael Kimmel is out to show why feminism is good for men.”

Huffington Post: “Gloria Steinem On What Men Have To Gain From Feminism.”

CNN: “Sheryl Sandberg teams up with LeBron James to get men to #LeanIn”

Daily Mail: “‘We still have far to go!’ Jane Fonda addresses women’s rights as she attends International Conference On Masculinities.”

New York Magazine: “Jane Fonda Battles the Friend Zone and Toxic Masculinity in One Speech.”

New York Magazine: “Gloria Steinem Explains the Perks of Feminism for Men.”

Stony Brook Statesman: “Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities hosts inaugural conference.”

The Guardian: “What a masculinity conference taught me about the state of men.”

 

Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women.

2 Mar

The International Conference on Masculinities is only a few days away! Today, we are excited to provide an excerpt from a new book by three featured speakers: You can hear Michael Messner, Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz on a featured panel on ‘Ally Tensions’ on Saturday March 7th, 11.15am in the Grand Ballroom. The following is an excerpt from their new book “Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women”. The excerpt will also appear in the spring issue of VoiceMaleMagazine

Some Men

What does it mean for men to ally with women to stop gender-based violence?  This is the central question we tackle in our new book Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women.  Based on life history interviews with 52 men anti-violence activists aged 22-70, and twelve women who work with these men, we explore the opportunities as well as the strains and tensions in men’s work to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence.

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International Conference on Masculinities: The Program

24 Feb

CSMM_ICM2015

It’s finally here: The program for the International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality. NYC, March 5th – 8th 2015.

Please download the program here.

And if you have not done so, register here for the conference.

We are looking forward to seeing you all in NYC.

#BlackGirlsMatter

16 Feb

We have reported previously on the specific challenges faced by male students of color in the education system and have pointed out some of the flaws in programs designed to help Black boys.

To add another dimension to this debate, we would like to point to a new report released by The African American Policy Forum. In this report the authors show that “girls of color face much harsher school discipline than their white peers but are excluded from current efforts to address the school-to-prison pipeline.”

To read the report, go to AAPF’s website and download it here.

You can also listen to an interview with one of the report’s authors, Prof. Kimberlé Crenshaw, director of the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies at Columbia Law School and co-founder of the African-American Policy Forum, who was recently interviewed on FAIR‘s radio program Counterspin.

A Morning with the Men’s Group

9 Feb

I recently attended a meeting of a men’s group; in part to be a participant in a training session they were having, but also to meet some men that would hopefully be taking part in focus groups for my research.  The idea was to meet the men in an informal session and build rapport, so that they would feel more comfortable during the focus groups at a later date.

I didn’t really know what to expect of the men’s group meeting.  I knew one or two of the organisers of the event and I chatted with them as the men began to arrive, bustling about pouring coffee and tea while chewing on biscuits.  Although I shared the same hair colour as most of the men (well at least those that had it) I was significantly younger in years.  Worry crept into my head.  These men wouldn’t want to take part in my research I thought.  They wouldn’t understand what I was trying to achieve, or so my worries led me to believe.

[Please continue reading at the IrishSociologyBlog]

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