Relational masculinities: The fragility of modern gender categories

29 Jun

Relational MasculinitiesWhat does it mean to be a man? Is masculinity purely biological or is it shaped by social and relational factors? Can a man’s relationship with a romantic partner have the power to legitimize or conceivably challenge his gender identity?
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Vegan Bros: The Way to a Meat-Eater’s Heart is Through His Vagina

22 Jun

The following is cross-posted from the Vegan Feminist Network. You can find the original post here: http://veganfeministnetwork.com/vegan-bros-the-way-to-a-meat-eaters-heart-is-through-his-vagina/

Content Warning: Sexism and trans-antagonismMeme produced by Vegan Bros which reads: "The Way to a Man's Heart is Through His Stomach: Unless He Eats Meat, Then It's Through His Vagina!"

There are a number of things wrong with Vegan Bros (a weight-loss business that banks on sizeism, thin-privilege, and fat-shaming to sell products and programs), but their recently published vagina burger meme really takes the cake.

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Posted on the Vegan Bros Facebook page on November 22nd, 2015, the meme reads:

THE WAY TO A MAN’S HEART IS THROUGH HIS STOMACH…UNLESS HE EATS MEAT, THEN IT’S THROUGH HIS VAGINA!

In addition to being extremely misogynistic, the meme is also trans-antagonistic. According to Vegan Bros, to have a vagina is to be lesser and/or to be a man with a vagina is to be lesser.1

The Abolitionist Vegan Society agrees, strongly condemning the message. Vegan Bros responded with pleasure at the offense it caused, citing it as “validation” for their cause:

When the Abolitionist Vegan Society hates on your post you know you’re doing something right.

Recent essays posted on the Vegan Bros website mirror this violent rhetoric. For instance, one post that declares animal ingredients in man-friendly products like beer are actually vegan (as though thousands of vegan-friendly beers were not readily available). Those who disagree with their patriarchal entitlements are referred to as a “piece of shit.”2

Vegan Bros sitting in a bar

As Cheryl Abbate has discussed in an earlier essay with Vegan Feminist Network, the promotion of masculinity and “real manhood” in vegan spaces inevitably upholds violent gender norms and attitudes associated with masculinity and patriarchal rule:

Let us recall what the message of animal liberation entails: one of the goals of the animal liberation movement involves challenging the model of dominance by rethinking why we give privilege to and admire “dominant” or “stronger” beings. Yet, when organizations use bodybuilders to sell the vegan message, they send the opposite, dangerous message: masculinity is preferable to the feminine and there is a hierarchy where the masculine reign and dominate at the top.

Not only does this idea endanger women, but the idea that there is a dichotomy between the masculine and feminine disadvantages animals, since animals are identified as part of “nature”- and nature is in turn identified with the feminine.

Indeed, Vegan Bros bills itself as “[ . . . ] a movement dedicated to raising up an army of fit, sexy vegan soldiers [ . . .], making the language of domination, force, and anti-femininity part of its brand.

I am skeptical that there is room for masculinity in the vegan world we seek. Masculinity relies on hierarchy and violence, and is thus deeply counter-intuitive to our goals.3

In the comments following the publication of the meme, Vegan Bros sought to clarify their intentions and wrote: “Most feminist vegans understand what we are doing with this post.”  Yes. I understand very well. I know bigotry when I see it.

 

Notes:
1. Women and female body parts are regularly used throughout the website to degrade and humiliate a presumably male audience. For example, in a post about Thanksgiving, Vegan Bros infers that being vegan is “badass”: “Extending your circle of empathy and compassion is [not] for pussies.”

2. Ableism is also regularly utilized, with detractors labeled “fucking stupid.

3. Male-identified Professor Gary Francione has chimed in to position my feminist “complaining” as “idiotic”:

"I certainly do not agree with people who complain that anyone who does not think they're just 'awesome" are sexist/racist/evil, etc.; indeed, I think that is very harmful in various ways. And I agree that it is beyond idiotic to claim that the use of "Bros" per se is inherently sexist."

 


Corey Lee WrennMs. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network and also operates The Academic Abolitionist Vegan. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, a part-time Instructor of Sociology and Ph.D. candidate with Colorado State University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded the 2016 Exemplary Diversity Scholar by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory (2015, Palgrave Macmillan).

Nine months of #MasculinitySoFragile

20 Jun

masc so fragile

from hashtag to product, #MasculinitySoFragile can now be worn.

 

Whether you’ve heard of it or not, the hashtag #MasculinitySoFragile is a personal case study in bringing public sociology, activism and twitter together.

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Reflections

17 Jun

by Kyle Ashby

With multiple sources reporting that Omar Mateen frequented Pulse nightclub and suffered from mental illness and internalized homophobia leading up to the shooting, I feel obligated to write a concise history of my queer life so you can understand two things: why I didn’t become Omar and why this shooting has affected me so greatly. Keep in mind so many circumstances and events contributed to me being alive and grieving today as an out queer man that the following can only be presented as a glimpse of the truth, a myopic description of self-determination. I present a monochromatic thread so that you can follow the unraveling edge to its black terminus: today, my third night of almost no sleep and emotional unease. I lay awake knowing that I hate Omar Mateen for the choices he made, for the pain he caused, for the lives he ruined, but learning that he may be part of my queer family means that compassion is redirecting my hate to the conglomerate of American culture that made both of our lives so different.
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Dilemma of a Spartan Survivor: War, Disability and Masculinity

13 Jun

As in ancient Sparta, modern American military training emphasizes physical fitness. Pictured here, two Marines wrestle to demonstrate strength (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

As in ancient Sparta, modern American military training emphasizes physical fitness. Pictured here, two Marines wrestle to demonstrate strength (Source: Wikimedia Commons)


The widespread purge of modern artistic expression that occurred upon Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933 was motivated by fear. The Nazi regime was determined to use culture to control the people and they chose to promote a conservative, unadulterated classical Greek and Roman aesthetic within the Reich. Avant garde artistic movements such as impressionism, surrealism and cubism were rejected, and art inspired by these movements was deemed degenerate and was to be purged by the Reich Culture Chamber. For example, Otto Dix was labeled a degenerate artist and had his position at the Kunstakademie in Dresden terminated because of his anti-war advocacy. Perhaps his most famous painting, War Cripples, depicting German World War One veteran amputees, was displayed by the regime at the Degenerate Art Museum in Dresden and was later destroyed by the Nazis. The irony is that Dix actually volunteered for and fought for Germany in the war, and was himself almost fatally wounded in combat. Dix drew deep inspiration from war and the trauma inflicted by war on men’s bodies and minds.
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What is Heganism?

8 Jun

The following is crossposted from the Vegan Feminist Network. The original can be found here: http://veganfeministnetwork.com/what-is-heganism/

 

Actor Joaquin Phoenix poses for a portrait in Beverly Hills. He has a huge beard and is looking very scruffy.

(Photo: Vegan Actor, Joaquin Phoenix)

Heganism. Yes, it’s a thing. It’s veganism…for men. “Heganism” generally refers to the rebranding of traditional vegan concepts or products to be suitable for male consumption.

But why?

The vegan movement is crowded with 101 different variations of veganism, all with one intention: sales and fundraising. It’s non-profit marketers asking the team, “How can we make our own stamp on this trend? How can we stand out against the rest? How do we make them buy here and not somewhere else?”

Gender distinction generally serves capitalist interests, and it does so by maintaining difference and inequality. Gendering products mean that households need to buy more than one product that might otherwise be shared (and women’s products often cost more). The blue, industrial one for him; the pink, flowery (and more expensive) one for her.

Gendering can also open up products to a larger market. The feminine stigma must be removed so that men can feel comfortable consuming them; but the stigma doesn’t disappear, it’s only reinforced. Like the guy-etDr. Pepper 10, and lotion “for men,” gendering veganism works to protect masculinity by otherizing that which is feminine.

What’s wrong with dieting, drinking diet soda, using body lotion, or eating vegan? It’s what women stereotypically do, and women are one of the most detested and devalued groups in society. In order for men to participate, the stigma must be removed by creating a “masculine” alternative.

A father and son in a sea of fruit and vegetables, only their faces are peaking out

(Introducing more men to veganism is important for the health of the vegan movement and for the health of boys and men (most of whom do not consume the recommended amount of fruit and veg). But male inclusivity should not come at the cost of women’s rights. Photo credit: The Advertiser.)

Masculinity is defined largely in what it is not–and it is not feminine.  This works much in the same way as speciesism: we define humanity in being not animal, and therefore humanity is superior by comparison.  This is also thought to be one of the root causes of heterosexism: masculinity is defined by ostracizing that which is feminine. In other words, differentiating persons into groups and then placing them on a hierarchy to support these differentiations feeds structural discrimination.

Distinction greases the wheels of oppression.

PETA ad showing a nude woman laying on a giant bunch of broccoli; reads, "EAT YOUR VEGGIES"

In my book, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights, I explore the theme of feminist repackaging in vegan spaces. Because veganism is so feminized, it is deemed a threat to patriarchy and it is often dismissed. One reaction that organizations take is to actually buy into the language of patriarchy in order to “sell” veganism.

So, instead of remaining firm in radical feminist opposition to patriarchal oppression, vegans sometimes repackage veganism as “sexy” and present women as consumable objects for male consumption. PETA is probably the most notable organization in this regard, but its dominant position in the movement means that is is influencing a norm of pornographic protest. Vegan women are no longer changemakers, they’re just another “exotic” taste served up on the patriarchal platter. Take this Tumbler “heganism” gallery as one very literal example (warning, contains pornography).

There is a real danger in aggravating sexist attitudes about Nonhuman Animal rights activism.  “Heganism” is unnecessary and offensive. Is a feminized vegan space so repugnant, that men need to spin off into a separate space in order to participate? If so, we need to back up and reevaluate our approach. So long as the movement supports the hating of women, it can’t reasonably expect its audience to stop hating other animals.

Heganism is a tactic that undermines itself. If activists inadvertently support the notion that veganism is “just for women” and that men will be stigmatized if they participate in “regular” veganism without the masculinity facade to protect them, this is doing the movement a disservice. Instead of pandering to patriarchy and capitalism to be heard, activists could instead incorporate a feminist approach to anti-speciesism. In this way, all interests are considered, and one group will not be demeaned for the hoped benefit of another.

Capitalists will inevitably argue that gendering veganism is simply catering to the market, but they are actually creating a market with approaches of this kind (LEGO makes the same disingenuous claim about its gendered products). A market built on oppression, one that functions to divide groups along lines of power and powerlessness, will not be a space that is conducive to liberation.

 

A version of this essay was first published on March 5, 2013 on The Academic Activist Vegan.


Corey Lee WrennDr. Wrenn is the founder of Vegan Feminist Network. She is a Lecturer of Sociology with Monmouth University, council member with the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association, and an advisory board member with the International Network for Social Studies on Vegetarianism and Veganism with the University of Vienna. She was awarded Exemplary Diversity Scholar 2016 by the University of Michigan’s National Center for Institutional Diversity. She is the author of A Rational Approach to Animal Rights: Extensions in Abolitionist Theory.

Rugby, Riverdance and Bar Fly Masculinities

25 May

My wife and I recently travelled to Edinburgh to celebrate a Scottish friend’s 40th birthday. The party was held in a local rugby club, and coincidently on the day of the party, Ireland was playing against Scotland in an important rugby match. We arrived in time to watch the rugby and have a pre-party drink with other Irish friends who had also made the journey over. At this point you may notice, I said it was “an important rugby match”, which to the astute observer might reveal my rugby ignorance. I am not a big sports fan, actually I don’t watch any sport and I don’t really know anything about rugby. Even my in-laws, who are staunch rugby fanatics – professional appreciators of the sport some might say, have lost all hope of trying to convert me and fuel my interest in the game.

My rugby ignorance became noticeable to others early into the match, and for the remainder of the game, the other men took the proverbial out of my sporting ineptitude. It was tongue and cheek; the other men roared laughing at their jokes (and at me) and I took it as it was intended, a bit of fun. However, this type of interaction highlights how some men do masculinity.

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Man of the House – a study of masculinity in the mid-20th century home

18 May

By Kevin Guyan, PhD Candidate University College London

 

‘The living room in a family house looking through into the dining room’ by Frank Austin and Neville Ward for the 1949 Ideal Home Exhibition, Design Council Archive, University of Brighton.

‘The living room in a family house looking through into the dining room’ by Frank Austin and Neville Ward for the 1949 Ideal Home Exhibition, Design Council Archive, University of Brighton.

I study housing in the middle decades of twentieth century Britain with an interest in the effects of masculinities on men’s domestic practices. My research focuses on two major influences: the effects of planners’ masculine identities on the housing designs produced; and the types of masculinities encouraged through these designs.

After the environmental devastation of German bombing campaigns, a wave of technical, paternalist and omniscient planners took control of Britain’s postwar urban reconstruction. At the same time, as the war ended, planners worried that men would struggle to readjust to domestic life and face relationship difficulties with wives and children. As a result, the interior activities of the nation’s homes became symptomatic of the country’s recovery, and model housing estates, most notably Lansbury in East London, understood as templates for the country’s future. Using easy-to-read publications and housing exhibitions as platforms to disseminate their ideas, planners encouraged new expressions of family-orientated masculinities for both working and middle class men.

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Risk in fieldwork as a young, female academic interviewing men

11 May

By Dr. Anna Tarrant

scott-jones-gipton-15-9-15My academic thinking is often prompted by very simple questions, from friends, family or colleagues. Last week, when I was talking about the fieldwork I have just started, involving going to men’s homes to interview them about their care responsibilities, my sister asked me; is it safe for you to go to men’s houses on your own?

In asking this question my sister expresses a simple concern for my safety but also highlights my potential vulnerability as a young woman. It is a sensible question and it is also an ethical question that has followed me from the very beginning of my career researching men and masculinities. It is something I have also discussed with other female academics that I have worked with, who have also raised their concerns about the same issue. For me, the dilemma is also intensified, not least because the philosophy underpinning my research is feminist and my approach is framed by a desire to challenge negative stereotypes about people based purely on their gender, or indeed, other social identities such as their age and class.

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Masculinities And The Vulnerability Of Displaying Art

4 May
detail counts castle

Detail of ‘The Count’s Castle’

Cultural ideals of masculinity and how men ought to be often centre round notions of strength and power, stoicism and determination, being the provider and protector.  Hegemonic masculinity is a way of understanding gender and power relations.  It is a cultural ideal of masculinity, which is characterised by toughness, fearlessness, power, control and maintaining the dominant position in society.  Hegemonic ideals of masculinity are often perpetuated through media and film, but they are ideals most men will never attain.  Nor do most men necessarily want to.

Cultural ideas of masculinity, like hegemonic masculinity, tell men they must not display weakness or vulnerability.  To reveal characteristics such as these, men run the risk of having their masculinity called into question.  Men who display emotion, vulnerability or weakness may be chided as being ‘sissy’, ‘soft’ or a ‘woman’.  These are the cultural expectations of men and masculinity that surrounded me as I grew up.  From my primary education through to secondary education, I jostled alongside other boys; surrounded by these notions of what it was to be a man.  Boys pushed and punched, they tested and teased, they sought out weakness and they exploited it.  I learned along side other boys, not to display vulnerability, but vulnerability was something I would experience again and again, as I began to pursue a career in the visual arts.
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