Tag Archives: boys

“No one else has porn on the phone. It’s pretty sick”: Stigmatizing porn, shaming and silencing boys?

24 Nov

Adapted from Afra, A. & Quigley, J. (2013). ‘Children’s constructions of ‘porn’ in an Irish primary school: Implications for boys. In M. Leane & E. Kiely (eds.). Sexualities and Irish Society. A Reader. Dublin: Orpen, 321-346.

Today I’d like to get started with presenting some of the findings relating to the porn aspect of ‘porn and hookup culture in an Irish primary school’. Beforehand though I will introduce the participants and then set the context in which ‘porn’ emerged.

Participants

There were twenty-four participants in total, eleven boys and thirteen girls, aged eleven and twelve and all forming one group of sixth class. Two of the boys identified as British and the rest as settled Irish. All eleven boys were white. Of the thirteen girls one was South-East- Asian-Irish, a second was white continental-European-Irish and a third girl was black African-Irish. The remaining ten girls were white and settled Irish. All participants were physically and intellectually normatively abled. The large primary school where fieldwork took place was located in a high-economic-status suburb of Dublin and was under the patronage of the Catholic Church. All names used throughout the presentation of findings are pseudonyms.

Contextualization of Findings

“Porn” had been discovered by school staff as a result of a violent fight between two boys (David and Anthony) that involved an escalation of one boy taunting the other with “gay porn” (Anthony’s words) from a mobile phone to imply that he was “gay” (participants’ word).

It was hoped that raising the topic of an anti-bullying programme during focus group discussions would encourage the children to talk about porn. The decision not to confront participants more directly about the topic was based on previous discussions during the year about kissing (called “meeting”) and the Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum that had led some children to feel “awkward”. This short extract exemplifies the necessity to have allowed individual children to take control over whether to talk about porn or not:

AA             What was the talk about?

Ava            About the word in, I don’t like saying it. The word in em

Lily             [laughs]

Ava            [laughs] It’s a bit weird.

Lily             [laughs]

AA             What was the word? ‘Sex’?

Lily            Yeah

Lily            Remember, we’re twelve.

Evidently, sex-related topics could be terribly difficult to discuss for some. Below, I move on to some of the ways that those children who did dare to transgress the norm of ‘childhood innocence’ constructed ‘porn’ with their talk.

Porn as something that shouldn’t be spoken about:

Discussing the recently delivered anti-bullying programme during interviews had prompted some children to talk about the ‘porn fight’ thus leading to an extended discussion of porn. However, one of the ways to construct ‘porn’ was as ‘unspeakable’:

AA            What was the fight about? … Or how did it get started?

Mikey       David just kept on like- like it wasn’t the first time David had ever

Mikey       like annoyed Anthony.

Graham    He just [kept on doing it

Mikey                      [annoying him and annoying him [and annoying him

Graham                                                                                 [and then Anthony just

Graham      acted out. He acted and then just…

Alison        And what exactly was David doing to annoy Anthony do you know? …

Mikey        Calling him names and just … just calling him gay and like all that

Mikey        I think he was texting him stuff, was he?

Graham     Yeah I don’t know

The specific details about how David was “annoying” Anthony, i.e. by watching porn in the classroom and by taunting him with “gay porn”, were omitted from Graham and Mikey’s accounts. When probed, Mikey diverted attention away from porn by emphasising the purpose to which David had been using it as a means, namely to ridicule Anthony as “gay”. The “just” of “just calling him gay” functioned to reassure the researcher, an adult woman, that there was nothing more to know about. Shortly after, Mikey conspires to share the ‘secret’ of porn, “I think he was texting him stuff, was he?” but Graham refuses to take the discussion in this direction by explicitly though ambivalently claiming ignorance, “Yeah I don’t know.”

Five boys in total spoke about porn and even then two out of the five subsequently withdrew the relevant sections from their transcripts. Evidently, it was extremely challenging to try to co-produce verbal data with the boys about it. The extracts below shed some light on the stigma preventing frank discussion.

Porn as “sick” and “sort of perverted”

Alison       Ok. So how do kids your age manage to get pornography?

Brian         Emmm…

Rory         That’s David

Brian        That’s David

Anthony     It’s called-

Brian         No one else has porn on the phone

Alison       Ok

Anthony     It’s pretty sick like literally this is all you have to do [takes his

Anthony     phone out of his pocket]

Alison        Don’t get it now

Rory         [laughs]

Anthony   I’m not. Oh yeah like I’d do that.

Above we witness the marginalization of David as strange at best and “sick” at worst for being the sort of boy who would be in possession of porn on his cell phone. The stigmatization and pathologization of porn continues below:

Anthony:

I remember em one of my friends he was looking it up. And I was like ‘aw stop that’s sort of perverted’ and like he said ‘aw it’s grand’ and I took his phone and … somehow or other I went in. I took the phone for the whole night like off him and I went in to settings and I eh deleted his eh browser so he couldn’t look it up coz I said ‘eventually one day your mam and your dad are going to take your phone  and look at the addresses.’ Like you’re able to enter addresses. Then all of a sudden they’re going to see like porn horn and all this crazy cack so …

The seeming ease with which porn can be accessed along with any desire to do so is obstructed by more than merely getting caught. Anthony has pathologized the downloading of  it on to a phone as “sort of perverted”, as well as describing the actual contents as, “crazy cack”. Through his construction of it as being only “sort of perverted” and not absolutely so, while his friend defines it as not at all perverted , “aw it’s grand”, we are witness to the pushes and pulls of ‘porn’ as produced by overlapping and competing discourses. This is a point of similarity with the existing literature in that it is normative to admit to familiarity with mobile-phone porn whilst simultaneously denying possession of it on one’s own phone (Bond, 2010).

In next month’s post I will present further the discourses that guided the aforementioned constructions of porn in the way that they did. Meanwhile, the main thing to note is that the boys were not free to discuss porn with the researcher because of a stigma attached to it making it shameful and pathological. I recommend that we stop to wonder how discourses on the ‘premature sexualization of childhood’ that are linked to the ‘sexualization of culture’  inadvertently exacerbate the stigma through the panic they stir and anxiety they rouse thus endangering the very children they aim to protect.

Until then,  have a great month!

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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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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A Community of Black Dads

15 Dec

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men: Life Cycles of Inequity. The current topic is Black fatherhood. Please view the related articles ‘The Untold Story of Black Fatherhood’ and ‘A New Image of Black Fatherhood’. Today’s re-blog is a video introduced by Kai Wright, produced by André Robert Lee and edited by Elizabeth Rao. It first appeared on Colorlines on November 19th 2014.

In the video above, our series’ filmmaker André Robert Lee speaks with a pastor in New Haven, Conn., whose life reveals one of the many things about black family that gets overlooked in the constant handwringing about a crisis of black fathers. For centuries, black families have had a tradition of communal parenting. This tradition stretches back to our West African roots and it was among the cultural tools we used to survive slavery in the Americas and the terrorism of 20th century segregation—both of which actively sought to destroy black family units. The tradition continues to buttress black families navigating today’s endemic poverty and the abuses of the criminal justice system. Father Mathis and the men for whom he has been a surrogate father share their stories with Colorlines, and we thank them.

A New Image of Black Fatherhood

8 Dec

All photos by Marcus Franklin.

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men. This months installments focus on Black fatherhood. Please read the first essay ‘The Untold Story of Black Fatherhood’ by Stacia L. Brown here. Today’s re-blog is a photo essay by Marcus Franklin who refocuses the distorting lens of mainstream media with intimate portraits of black dads and their kids. It first appeared on Colorlines.com on November 19 2014.

In June of 2013 I started photographing black men and their children and created The Fatherhood Project, the online home for photos that capture them in ordinary moments. A single dad helping his daughter with math homework during a break at work. A dad teaching his daughter how to walk as they wait to see a doctor. A father and son chilling on a stoop.

Why photograph black men and their children? What’s extraordinary about these subjects?

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The International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality. Call for Proposals

8 Sep

CALL FOR PROPOSALS

The International Conference on Masculinities:
Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality

On March 6-8, 2015, the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities (CSMM) will host the International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys for Gender Equality, in New York City.  The Conference is timed to immediately precede the meeting of the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations,

Twenty years after the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, the CSW will hold its annual two-week meeting, March 9-27, 2015, in New York. Thousands of participants from UN agencies, NGOs and national governments will discuss the progress made towards greater gender equality over the past two decades.

Those twenty years have also witnessed unprecedented efforts to engage men around gender equality.  The CSMM conference aims to bring together more than 500 activists, practitioners, and academic researchers from around the world who are working to engage men and boys in fulfilling the Platform for Action adopted by the CSW in Beijing.  It will review the success of programs to engage men and boys, share research-in-progress, discuss new and possible policy initiatives, and chart research needs for the future.

The Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities was established at Stony Brook University (SUNY) in 2013. The Center is dedicated to interdisciplinary research on boys, men, masculinities and gender.  Its mission is to bring together researchers with practitioners and activists to develop and enhance social reform projects focusing on boys and men.

For this conference, CSMM has partnered with the American Men’s Studies Association, and the MenEngage Network, to build opportunities for dialogue, critique and inspiration across three days of presentations, panels, workshops, and trainings. The twin goals of the conference are: (1) To infuse men’s activism in support of gender justice with the rigor and insights of the most up-to-date research;  (2) to increase cooperation and ties between academic researchers who address various gender issues, and feminist activists, practitioners, and advocates.

CSMM invites all those committed to engaging boys and men in these global efforts to promote gender equality to share their ideas, programs, projects, and research.

Some basic themes of the conference will include:
– boys’ healthy development and education;
– involved fatherhood;
– balancing work and family life;
– men’s friendships;
– promoting men’s health, reducing health risks and HIV, and supporting women’s reproductive health and rights;
– joining the global struggle against men’s violence against women, sexual assault, trafficking, and harmful traditional practices;
– engaging men in policies to promote gender equality in education, employment, social life, and the political arena.

Some specific issues might include:  transforming fatherhood;  working with boys and young men;  challenges of reaching men in post-conflict settings;  preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS;  men and aging, disability, impairment, and illness;  diverse masculinities;  multi-cultural coalition building;  challenging homophobia;  understanding and preventing gang-rapes and mass-murders by boys and men;  engaging religious authorities;  boys’ education;  challenging bullying, harassment, and domestic abuse;  working with abusive & violent men;  men and child-custody issues;  campus programs for preventing sexual violence;  men in prisons;  men and the military;  men and prostitution;  gender-linked alcohol and drug abuse;  men’s depression and suicide, and other topics.

Presentations can cover research, policy, interventions, and activist work. Presentation formats may include: 3 -5 person panels, short one-person talks (with Q-&-A), workshops, films, art, poster presentations, informal roundtable discussions, music, and performances. We will accept formal academic papers but at the conference we will ask that presenters not read papers but to be more informal and interactive, within the context of language possibilities. The premium at each session will be on discussion.

The working language will be English.  Sessions completely in Spanish, French, Arabic, and Chinese may be accepted but the conference unfortunately cannot provide the resources for translation.

Conference costs will be kept low to enable widespread participation, and some limited financial support may be available to those in need, especially from the Global South.

Proposals may be submitted online (http://www.jotform.us/AMSA/CSMM_2015) and any questions about the proposal process may be directed to csmmsb2015@gmail.com.

The deadline for proposal submission is October 31st, 2014.

Please visit the Conference Website.

Race, Disability and the School-to-Prison Pipeline

11 Aug

It should not need to take the death of yet another unarmed African American man at the hands of law enforcement to remind us that looking at the intersections of race and masculinity is crucially important. Here at Masculinities 101, we have talked about the challenges face by young men of color and the flaws with policies supposedly designed for them.

Photo by Julianne Hing/Colorlines

The great folks at Colorlines are currently running an extensive, brilliant and insightful series on Black Men: Life Cycles of Inequity. Today’s post addresses the issue of implicit biases in schools. By Julianne Hing, first published at Colorlines May 13 2014.

Enikia Ford-Morthel speaks of Amo (a pseudonym) with the fondness of an auntie talking about a beloved nephew. She recalls watching Amo at his fifth-grade graduation from Cox Academy in Oakland two years ago. The memory of him walking across the stage still fills her with emotion. “He looked so cute in his little white suit, with his jewelry on,” Ford-Morthel says of his graduation. “I just cried.”

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Lessons Learned at Genital Autonomy 2014

30 Jul GA14bannerV3r1e

GA14bannerV3r1eThis past weekend, I was able to attend the 13th International Symposium on Genital Autonomy and Children’s Rights. The conference, sponsored and organized by the Sexpo Foundation, Intact America, the National Organization of Circumcision Resource Centers, and Genital Autonomy International, hosted speakers from the US, Canada, Liberia, Australia, Israel, Germany, Belgium, England, and Denmark. A mix of academic and activist presentations, with films and experiential sessions, the symposium focused on the importance of children’s right to bodily integrity. Though most of the presenters focused on male circumcision (in both its religious/ritual and medical instantiations), a few also connected to issues of female circumcision and intersex genital surgeries. Though the viewpoints of individual presenters varied somewhat, the take home message of the conference was that genital surgeries on infants and children—regardless of cultural, religious, aesthetic and hygienic justifications—contravene the rights of children and are therefore in violation of international human rights principles.
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The International Conference on Masculinities: Engaging Men and Boys, for Gender Equality

29 Jun CSMM

CSMM

This call for papers has been updated and the updated version may be found here.

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