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Boys Using Porn to Sexually Harass Boys

26 Feb

800px-Bananas_juicy_sex_series

Porn is normal. Porn is crazy. Porn is something every boy has on his personal cell phone. Everyone except me of course. Because I’m not sick. Though it’s not entirely perverted. Only sort of.

These were some of the contradictions boys were trying to negotiate in the previous post from ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in a Primary School in Ireland’. Today we move on to exploring the competing discourses that pushed and pulled boys in all sorts of contradictory directions.

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Web Series For Teens Debunks Outdated Notions Of Masculinity

11 Dec

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 12.03.34 a.m.

Omega Access (OA) is a Toronto based non-profit media group ‘dedicated to the idea that outstanding, real-world men can inspire a new generation to see masculinity as a spectrum and not a binary’ (O’Brien, 2015). OA are one of Movember Canada’s newest men’s health partners, who seek to engage audiences in debunking outdated notions of masculinity. They endeavor to do achieve this by celebrating men with healthy lifestyles, alternative identities and productive passions.

OA recently launched a collection of cinematic profiles on ‘alternative men’, funded by The Movember Foundation (O’Brien, 2015). These 5-minute artistic shorts tackle topics, such as, mental health, physical health, vulnerability, family, inner-strength, community, sexuality and gender roles. The aim of these short films is to ‘visually demonstrate the broad spectrum of identities men can have and inspire young men to expand their meaning of masculinity’ (O’Brien, 2015).

These short films are powerful portraits of masculinity; real life stories, beautifully illustrating the multiplicity and fluidity of masculinity. The men featured in the films provide honest accounts of their own struggle in constructing masculine identities. These struggles center around their own construct of masculinity not aligning with hegemonic notions of what it means to be a man. Hegemonic masculinity creates problematic stereotypes, expectations and notions of what it is to be a man, whilst subordinating non-hegemonic masculinities. According to the creative director of this series, Marc O’Brien, OA are “showcasing new male role models that will help break stereotypes”.

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Man Hugs – Observing a Serial Hugger!

2 Dec

My best friend in UCD is a serial-hugger. He hugs indiscriminately – men, women, children, dogs,  senior lecturers and even heads of state!  Sometimes there’s a bit of cheek kissing, other times not. With men he meets it’s usually a big strong hug; one arm over your shoulder, the other under the opposite arm pit. It’s diagonal in composition, and allows for good gripping and a deep intimate embrace. Occasionally there is a little bit of backslapping. Sometimes there are two hugs in the space of a short meeting, one as a greeting, one as a farewell. I’ve become accustomed to his embraces, which by Irish standards are pretty lengthy. Recently, I’ve been paying attention to men’s reactions when they receive one of my buddy’s hugs; and I must admit from a masculinities perspective it’s extremely interesting (and at times very amusing).

Hugging Michael D. Higgins the President of Ireland

The serial hugger in question, hugging Michael D. Higgins – President of Ireland

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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.

Hybrid Masculinities and Sexual Aesthetics

1 Sep

Sociology professor Tristan Bridges was interviewed earlier this summer as part of The Society Pages Office Hours podcast:

Tristan is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at The College at Brockport, State University of New York. Tristan researches and blogs on issues related to gender, sexuality, inequality, and space at Inequality by (Interior) Design and Feminist Reflections, the newest Community Page at The Society Pages. We discuss Tristan’s recently published article “A Very ”Gay” Straight?: Hybrid Masculinities, Sexual Aesthetics, and the Changing Relationship between Masculinity and Homophobia,” that is part of his larger book project tentatively entitled “Othering Other Men: Transformations in Gender and Politics among Men.”

You can list to the podcast on the Office Hours website.

Masculinity Without Men: The Sontarans and Relational Gender in “Doctor Who”

30 Apr

[F]or male-dominated society, man is the founding principle and woman the excluded opposite of this; and as long as such a distinction is tightly held in place the whole system can function effectively. […] Woman is not just an other in the sense of something beyond his ken, but an other intimately related to him as the image of what he is not, and therefore as an essential reminder of what he is. Man therefore needs this other even as he spurns it, is constrained to give a positive identity to what he regards as a no-thing. Not only is his own being parasitically dependent upon the woman, and upon the act of excluding and subordinating her, but one reason why such exclusion is necessary is because she may not be quite so other after all. Perhaps she stands as a sign of something in man himself which he needs to repress, expel beyond his own being, relegate a securely alien region beyond his own definitive limits. Perhaps what is outside is also somehow inside, what is alien also intimate–so that man needs to police the absolute frontier between the two realms as vigilantly as he does just because it may always be transgressed, has always been transgressed already, and is much less absolute than it appears.

– Terry Eagleton on deconstruction, in Literary Theory: An Introduction

Traditionally, one of the functions of the science-fiction/fantasy genre (or genres, if you prefer) has been to make the familiar strange: to give readers a new perspective on our own world by reconfiguring it. To that end, this post concerns the Sontarans, an alien species from the long-running British sci-fi television series Doctor Who. If you’re not familiar with Doctor Who, allow me to be the first to say: hello, and welcome to the internet. Doctor Who chronicles the episodic journeys of a time-traveling alien named The Doctor. Being  a sci-fi show with a very loose sense of continuity, it depicts a wide variety of fantastical planets and cultures, usually to allegorical effect. Case in point, the Sontarans, an aggressive, militaristic species of vaguely potato-shaped humanoids.

The Doctor refers to the Sontarans as “the greatest soldiers in the galaxy,” and he ought to know, having seen most of it. Having engaged in a war with another alien race known as the Rutan for some fifty-thousand years, theirs is an unsurprisingly martial culture that valorizes duty above all else. To some degree, we’ve seen their like in our own history. The Sontarans glorify not only killing, but dying in violence; they find acts of pity or compassion to be shameful; they fear being out-bred by their enemies and place great emphasis on controlling the technologies of reproduction; they consistently find foreign cultures to be contemptible and incomprehensible. In short, they seem to embody a weaponized, hierarchical form of masculinity often associated with warlords, military dictatorships, and totalitarian states.

What problematizes the perceived masculinity of the Sontarans, or any gender distinctions we might care to make, is that their species lacks the sexual dimorphism we’ve come to expect from intelligent species. They simply do not have sex, either as category or activity. Lacking the time or inclination for any kind of civilian life, and constantly in need of new cannon fodder, the Sontarans reproduce via cloning, in specialized hatcheries aboard warships or on suitable planets. On that basis, to what extent does it still make sense to refer to their culture as masculine? Can masculinity exist independently of the binary Eagleton detailed above, with neither the feminine (as attribute) or women (as entity)?

Perhaps a better question would be whether the binary is flexible enough to accommodate gendering an asexual species. While Eagleton describes this application of masculinity as being believed to have objective existence and absolute value, in practice, the only truly necessary quality it possesses is that of not being feminine (or, perhaps more accurately, being not-feminine). A man becomes masculine, so to speak, by standing next to someone more feminine than himself.

Joanna Bourke, writing in Rape: sex, violence, history, describes a number of scenarios in which this relational masculinity is asserted through violence, most commonly sexual in nature. This violence is highly contextual, and always bound up with identity. Among the more prominent of those identities is that of the soldier. Historically, the association is warfare with rape is so strong that it’s become conventional wisdom: “Women are set outside of culture, becoming merely the ‘bounty’ of war.” Gang rape, in particular, is uniquely common on the battlefield, in rituals of bonding and desensitization. Even the dead are frequent targets of sexual degradation.

The targets vary considerably–female and male, adult and child, living and dead–but they share an assertion of dominance through violence and humiliation that is specifically sexual in nature. What Bourke implies but never actually argues is that the assertion that gender precedes sex, that being a woman is one element, but by no means a deterministic one, of femininity. In the act of rape, the gender binary defines the rapist as masculine and the victim as feminine not because the former is a man and the latter a woman, but because that’s simply what “masculine” and “feminine” ultimately mean.

What, praytell, does this have to do with the Sontarans?

Despite their lack of concern about their own gender (or lack thereof), the Sontarans do find time to engage in old-fashioned misogyny. “Words are the weapon of womenfolk,” says one in response to the mocking of a doomed, disposable redshirt. “I must find you unfit.” Elsewhere, they express disgust with sexual reproduction itself. To a Sontaran, any sexually reproducing species is embarrassingly feminine; even their soldiers literally come out of women. In the absence of such women, the Sontarans have displaced the antipathy they might have shown towards women with an antipathy toward every other civilization they encounter: for all things not-Sontaran. As a result, this violent conquest is itself constitutive of existence and value as a Sontaran. Other species exist to be crushed; the Sontarans exist to crush them.

The kind of systemic, imperialist violence embraced by the militarized masculinity we see in the Sontarans is inherently gendered, even when you take sex out of the equation. When we learn from the Sontarans is that our ideas about sex, violence, power, and gender are so deeply intertwined that we can’t even fully imagine them being separate. In fantasy, we have an opportunity reality does not offer: to see the various elements of the social imaginary out of context, to understand the part by obscuring the whole.

Peter Rauch is an ex-academic looking for his next thing. He writes about media, philosophy, and gender issues at Undisciplined, and writes shorter things as @Wordbeast.

Shifting Hegemonic Masculinity? Gay Male Athletes and Discourses of Masculinity

5 Mar

By mariselise derivative work: Steffaville [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

The NBA has its first openly gay player in Jason Collins, and the NFL will follow soon, as former college player Michael Sam is expected to join a team this summer.  This might indicate that we are seeing a radical shift in society’s stereotypes about gay men. At the same time, it remains to be seen, as Dave Zirin asks at The Nation whether gay male athletes like Sam can help shift our definitions of masculinity more broadly or whether they might paradoxically reinforce gender norms and notions of hyper-masculinity at the same time.

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The elusive gay male soccer player in Germany – Homophobia and Solidarity

5 Feb

“Fans against Homophobia” display in the stadium of German soccer club Mainz 05, celebrating the 5 year anniversary of their LG(BT?)-fan club. [Source: http://www.meenzelmaenner.de/resources/_wsb_500x276_Choreo5.jpg%5D

In 2013, NBA player Jason Collins made headlines when he became the first active openly gay male* athlete in one of the major 4 men’s team sports in the US. A similar story made headlines this winter in Germany, when recently retired soccer player Thomas Hitzlsperger – who formerly played in the German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and English Premier League as well as for the German national team – came out as gay in an interview with the newspaper Die Zeit, becoming the first openly gay male soccer player in Germany. Similar to Collins, Hitzlsperger tied his outing to the political project of starting a discussion about homophobia and notions of masculinity in soccer. And paralleling Collins’ story, Hitzlsperger’s outing raises the question of whether we will witness a transformation of the gender politics in big-time German professional sports.

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Athletics and Masculinity: Allegations of Harassment in My Own Backyard

9 Dec

Several weeks ago, the editors of Masculinities 101, all graduate students at Stony Brook University, raised an eyebrow when we received a mass email from our university president, informing us that the director of the athletics department, Jim Fiore, was leaving his post and an interim director was taking his place. Within a few days, we became even more suspicious when a fellow graduate student sent around an article from the local newspaper, Newsday, stating that Fiore was not only leaving, but would be paid out his $800,000 contract. Later that week, no one was surprised when allegations of sexual harassment emerged as the primary reason for Fiore’s departure from Stony Brook University.

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Bro-Porn: Heterosexualizing Straight Men’s Anti-Homophobia

15 Nov

Originally posted at Girl W/Pen by Tristan Bridges and C.J. Pascoe.

Warwick Boys

Every year, since 2009, the men of England’s  Warwick University’s Rowing Team pose nude together in a series of photos that can be purchased individually or collectively as a calendar. The sales from this calendar go toward supporting their team and to raise awareness about bullying and homophobia among youth. This year, however, the team received international attention (prompting the development of a twitter account, awebsite, and a store to sell the photos and other team paraphernalia—like their 2013 film, “Brokeback Boathouse”). At first glance it may seem surprising that (presumably) straight men would pose naked with one another to raise money. But, when looking at other straight, young, white men’s stances on homophobia it becomes clear that, ironically, part of what is happening here is a shoring up of a particular form of heterosexual masculinity. Indeed the Warwick Women’s Rowing Team produced a similar calendar without the same amount of media attention (significantly, however, the attention they did receive was more often condemnatory). Continue reading

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