Tag Archives: gender

Book Review: Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis

20 Jul

book review

The question of intersex is one that challenges not only the medical community, but our entire society, encouraging us to see gender and sex (and even sexuality) as more complicated and nuanced than we might regularly imagine. The very existence of intersex bodies demands a decoupling of gender from bodies, and a dismantling of essentialist, binary views. Georgiann Davis’s new book, Contesting Intersex: The Dubious Diagnosis (2015, NYU Press), explores the role of language, medicine, and gender structures in shaping the experiences of intersex people (alternatively, people diagnosed with disorders—or differences—of sex development, DSD).

In particular, she studies the linguistic shift from ‘intersex’ (or hermaphrodite, and variations of these terms) to the new diagnosis common within medical circles, ‘DSD.’ Her key argument, amply demonstrated by interviews with members of the intersex community, doctors, activists, scholars, and parents, is that the language used to describe intersex bodies has important ramifications for the lived experiences of intersex people.

There are several important findings to support this argument. She shows historically that the medical community was primed to accept this terminological shift, at least in part to reassert their power over intersex bodies. John Money, a doctor famous for his claims that ‘nurture’ would always win over ‘nature’ in gender identity, sullied the medical community’s relationship to ‘intersex.’ Money lost credibility after encouraging parents of a male child to raise him as a girl after a botched circumcision left him mutilated. “She” eventually committed suicide, and the suicide was taken as evidence that his innate male gender could not be replaced by feminine gender socialization. This seemingly mismanaged case of sex-gender identity, along with increasing pressure on the medical community by feminist and intersex activists, meant that doctors’ authority over the diagnosis was publicly questioned. When the new diagnostic term ‘DSD’ was proposed, doctors jumped at the chance for a fresh start.

Allowing the medical community to determine the public understanding of ‘intersex’ or ‘DSD’ has important ramifications. For example, the medical community perpetuates biologized understandings of sex, gender, and the body. These understandings are used to justify medically unnecessary surgeries to “normalize” the genitalia (often at the expense of sexual sensation, and almost always at the expense of the patient’s sense of autonomy and self-determination). When coaching parents on how to raise their intersex child, doctors often encourage enforcing gendered expectations—discouraging girls from tomboy behaviors, and encouraging boys into more vigorous activities. In particularly upsetting passages, Davis exposes doctors’ sexual expectations of intersex women in particular, surgically shaping women’s bodies for penile-vaginal penetration.

Davis also documents that the language shapes intersex individuals’ experiences, beyond surgical intervention. Based on her interviews with intersex people, she finds that those who embrace the ‘DSD’ terminology have a more positive relationship with their doctors and parents—in Davis’s terms, they have better access to biological citizenship than those who use the more politicized term, ‘intersex’—but have a more troubled sense of self. She explains that this is likely due, at least in part, to the stigmatizing effect of seeing oneself as ‘disordered.’ In contrast, those who utilized ‘intersex’ had a more positive sense of self and a better relationship to their gender identity and sexuality, but often found themselves at odds with doctors. The terminology is a source of trouble within the intersex community as well, leading some activists to be at odds with one other over wording, something that concerns Davis because in-fighting may take away from more important battles.

Ultimately, this book is an important read for gender and sexuality scholars, as well as medical sociologists. Davis deftly challenges binary categories and the power of medical diagnoses. Her writing is engaging and, at times, personal—she shares her own experience as an intersex person, describing intimate conversations with her parents, problematic medical episodes, and her activist-academic desires. The book would also work well in advanced undergraduate classes or graduate seminars on gender, sexuality, and bodies, but I would highly recommend implementing it in classes aimed at non-sociology majors. For example, I’d love to see this on syllabi for medical sociology classes, which are frequented by pre-med students, who are an important but likely overlooked audience for this book. As teachers, we can also be activists, shaping the minds of our students who, in this case, will be the next generation of doctors encountering intersex bodies.

 

 

Amanda Kennedy is a contributor and founding editor of Masculinities 101.

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“About Gender” Journal Calls for Articles on Current State of Masculinities Studies

1 Jul

AG About Gender, International Journal of Gender Studies, has announced a call for articles for its eleventh issue entitled Masculinities:Trans/forming Men: Changes, Resiliences and Reconfigurations, edited by Krizia Nardini (Universitat Obierta de Catalunya) and Stefano Ciccone (Genoa University). This issue of AboutGender wants to inquire into the current state of affairs in masculinities research: its theoretical specificities (if any), its relations with different currents in gender studies and with different political/activist stands, especially considering the intersections of masculinity research, queer perspectives and LGBTQ studies.

AG About Gender, International Journal of Gender Studies is a peer-reviewed international journal which aims to represent a reference point for scholars, academics and non-academics engaged in research and reflection on gender, with an interdisciplinary view. AG intends to enhance the dialogue between interpretative approaches and different analytical perspectives. AG is published every six months in Italian and English and proposes either theoretical and empirical original articles, essays and papers.

Papers should be between 5000 and 8000 words (excluding bibliography). Please follow the instructions gathered in the Author Guidelines. Contributions should be accompanied by: a brief abstract (maximum length: 150 words); some keywords (from a minimum of 3 to a maximum of 5). Abstract and keywords should be in English. All texts will be transmitted in a format compatible with Windows (.doc or .rtf), following the instructions provided by the Peer Review Process. Please see the Journal’s Authors guidelines.

Contributions must be sent by 15th October 2016.

Read the full call here.

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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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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Disabled Bodies

12 Feb

Two days ago I read an interesting post at Crip Confessions. The post was titled “But Won’t You be Ashamed? or Cripping Pasties”. A little background is needed. The author is going to the 2016 AVN Expo and Awards in Las Vegas. Essentially she is attending the “Oscars of Porn”.  What struck me as thought provoking was the following paragraph:

Much talk of clothes and the like have provoked side conversations coming up, including one that included the title query. I have been very open about my plan to wear pasties and frolic. I explained this to an acquaintance, and one of their first questions to me was “Won’t you be ashamed?” They were baffled I would have the audacity to wear pasties generally, and especially among porn stars – who include those with medically sculpted bodies toward social beauty, rather than away like my medically enhanced body.

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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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“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!

Another Engaging Men Workshop, Another Abusive Experience

28 Oct

This article by Ashley Maier, published on her website puts forward an important critique about efforts to engage men and boys for gender equality: 

I presented at the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma on August 24, 2015, where I also attended many workshops. One was about engaging men, as several usually are these days. I’ve written quite a bit about efforts to engage men in preventing violence against women and girls. My writing about this is known to take the form of critique. As with my MPA capstone, it is a critique intended to improve such efforts, to improve our chances of attaining our goal – creating healthy, thriving communities where there is no place for violence against women and girls. What I’ve learned over the years (that include running a statewide engaging men project) is that there is no place for critique. I was reprimanded in my most recent place of employment for it. My coworkers were retaliated against for supporting my critiques. We can’t afford to make men mad, I was told. There, I learned quickly that women must keep their mouths shut when it comes to the behaviors of men in the “movement” to prevent violence against women and girls. It was no different at this conference session.

Please read the full article on Ashley Maier’s website.

Michael Kimmel, TED Talk: Why Gender Equality Is Good for Everyone. Men Included.

26 Oct

Professor of Sociology and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Men & Masculinities at Stony Brook University (and friend of the blog) Michael Kimmel recently delivered a TED Talk on why gender equality is good for everyone:

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