Tag Archives: bodies

Web Series For Teens Debunks Outdated Notions Of Masculinity

11 Dec

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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 OA are one of Movember Canada’s newest men’s health partners, who seek to engage audiences in debunking outdated notions of masculinity.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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Circumcision is a Feminist Issue… and so is how we talk about.

21 Oct

This article by Masculinities101 co-founder and editor first appeared at Feministing.com:

Circumcision is one of the most common surgical procedures in the United States. It is also among the most hotly debated. Scientists and doctors aren’t settled on the benefits or risk of the surgery and it is so politicized that it’s hard to parse fact from fiction, objective truth from medical mythmaking. Recently, vlogger Justin Dennis, at Everyday Feminism, gave us five reasons why (feminist) parents should consider not circumcising their boys. An important feminist foray into the topic, Dennis points to important issues like consent, bodily integrity, sexual health, and sexual pleasure (1). Those are great entry points for feminists who care about children’s rights and human rights.

But not every anti-circumcision position is a feminist one, and that’s where we need to be careful. In fact, male circumcision has been actively politicized by the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM), a dangerous and reactionary grouping of organizations who seek to undo many of the gains made by feminists (called ‘misandrists’ in the MRM). According to Men’s Rights Activists (MRAs), they fight for gender equality, against a feminist movement that has made men subservient to women. When you hear men (and sometimes women) speak about the danger of false rape accusations, or the myth of the wage gap, or a marriage boycott, chances are you are talking to a Men’s Rights Activist, or at least someone influenced by their ideology. …

Please read the full article at Feministing.com

Irish boys slut-shamed by parents, victimized by sex-starved girls

14 Oct

Hello and welcome back to ‘Porn and Hookup Culture in an Irish Primary School’ – Part 3. Today I’d like to highlight that the fuss over the ‘sexualization of culture’ and the way it purportedly prematurely sexualizes children is often a fuss that emphasizes the interests and concerns of the more privileged of social groups among us.

At the time of doing the research, for example, media coverage of sexualization in Ireland lamented the loss of childhood innocence but only for children who were cisgendered and showed promise to mature into heterosexual adults. That is, at no point did any journalists object to the systematic exclusion of LGBTQ youth from mainstream visual culture. In other words, commentators did not stop to wonder what it must be like to repeatedly find oneself left out of media representations since they were so embroiled in the question of how the media impacts a very narrowly defined social category of children and young people (CYP). The misguided presumption that everyone is heterosexual and that everyone is content with doing gender according to the conventions of heterosexuality is one meaning sociologists give to the term heteronormative.

Interestingly, the very phrase ‘premature sexualization of children’ obscures how it is really girls over whom we are getting our knickers in a twist. Outrage over the marketing of padded bras to seven-year-olds is arguably outrage over the commercialization of sex for girls. Notwithstanding what might actually be objectionable about the commodification of sexuality, why not just call a spade a spade? Why make it seem like we are equally concerned for girls and boys when there is barely a thought spared for boys beyond how they are encouraged to objectify girls? What is invested in the notions that sexual expression by girls ought to be curtailed and that apart from being sexual predators, boys have otherwise got sexuality all sussed? Aren’t these the very factors – slut-shaming and machismo – that eventually lead to danger and unhappiness in interpersonal sex?

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Jumping for Masculinity

3 Jul

Recently my wife and I went for a stroll along a near by harbor and marina. We were enjoying each other’s company, happily taking in the fresh air, views of the yachts and fishing boats, the surrounding hills and mountains, and the deep dark sea. There was a strong breeze but the air was warm. We reached the end of the north pier and were looking down into the mouth of the harbor and over toward the south pier. There across the water on the opposite pier were three topless men. The men were jumping up and down, laughing and shouting; they were shadow boxing and shoving each other around.   My wife and I watched them for a moment, not quite sure what they were up to.

The men began jumping up onto the pier wall, looking over the pier edge to the water in the harbor below and then jumping back down off the wall. They then resumed their messing around, jumping up and down, and beating their chests like hairless apes. It was clearer now they were psyching themselves up to jump off the pier into the harbor, some thirty to forty feet below. Never wanting to miss a photo opportunity and curious of the scene that was unfolding, I turned to my wife and said – “let’s watch for a minute!”

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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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Life Cycles of Inequity: Do Black (Men’s) Lives Matter?

4 Feb

Colorlines has been running the fantastic series ‘Life Cycles of Inequity’, focusing on the life stages of Black men the US. The latest installment, produced by Kai Wright and Erin Zipper, focuses on health and mortality. First published at Colorlines.com on Jan 7 2015:

Inequity shows up in our lives in all kinds of places, but rarely can it been seen as starkly as when it presents itself in our bodies. Public health long ago established the relationship between poverty and illness. Today’s researchers are also closing in on the link between poor health and racism. The accumulated stressors of racial injustice appear to literally wear our bodies down. Perhaps no set of public health data makes this point more plainly than the statistical trends for life expectancy.

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Boys in Chairs – Navigating our Sex, Sexuality and Sex Appeal in Attendant Care Programs

17 Dec

The other day I had a friend over for dinner.  Seeing as my 30th birthday is fast approaching (5 more days, what debauchery can I do while still under the guise of my 20s?) he brought over a cheeky birthday card (quite literally, a guy with nice bum cheeks on the front).  It’s awesome that all my friends are so accepting of my delicious dirtiness – I am honoured to be THAT friend…HAHAHAHAHAHA!   After we had laughed at it, he asked me where he should put it.  He wanted to leave it out, but didn’t want me to ‘get in trouble’ with my attendants.  We both reasoned that I am an adult, and should be able to do what I want.  While this is true, I couldn’t help feeling awkward about it when it came to my attendants.

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