A Boy Scout troop protests to keep their troop "morally straight." Photo: Associated Press / Richard Rodriguez
The Boy Scouts is an American value-based youth organization that focuses on the development of boys into productive and responsible citizens by empowering them to be leaders in their communities. According to the Boy Scouts official mission statement
, “[t]he mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.” Scout Law defines a Boy Scout as “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, [and] reverent,” universal characteristics which encourage all boys to become “responsible, participating citizen[s] and leaders”. However, the Scout Oath discerning the values that the boys must swear allegiance to includes the declaration that they will keep themselves “physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The exact meaning of “morally straight” has recently come under scrutiny and debate across the nation. For example, this news video features Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow on the Family Research Council, encouraging “the Boy Scouts to stand firm with the timeless principles they have always represented” and to specifically uphold “moral principles,” which means discouraging homosexuality:
In January, the Boy Scouts of America met to vote on their policy that excludes membership to gays, lesbians, and transgendered individuals, but postponed the vote due to the “complexity of the issue”. While individual troops may choose to overlook the enforcement of this policy, the Boy Scouts handbook explicitly states that “[w]hile the BSA [Boy Scouts of America] does not proactively inquire about the sexual orientation of employees, volunteers, or members, we do not grant membership to individuals who are open or avowed homosexuals or who engage in behavior that would become a distraction to the mission of the BSA
[emphasis added by author]” (BSA-discrimination.org
).This erroneously argues that LGBT people distract boys from becoming “responsible, participating citizens and leaders” in a way that blatantly suggests openly gay members are not capable of participating as full, equal members of society. Arguing that openly gay members would stop boys from making morally sound decisions subordinates the masculinity of gay men by claiming that their reasoning and morality is defective in comparison to heterosexual men’s masculinity. Presumably, the primary reason for this is their deviance in preferred sexual partners. This second clip of popular right-wing Christian leader Pat Robertson attempts to cast doubt about homosexual men’s masculinity as immoral and conflated with pedophilia, which reasserts that the most normal and accepted form of masculinity as one that is exclusively heterosexual:
Pat Robertson’s and Peter Sprigg’s claims exist as a part of public discourse on the issue even though the majority of the scientific community, including the American Psychological Association
, have soundly disproven these claims. In light of this, similar organizations, such as the Girl Scouts of America, have subsequently altered their policies
to be inclusive of LGBT members for a number of years.
One way of analyzing the continued defense of this policy by the Boy Scouts is through the lens of Raewyn Connell’s theory of hegemonic masculinity. Connell (2005
) describes hegemonic masculinity as “the pattern of practice (i.e., things done, not just a set of role expectations or an identity)” that establishes more than men’s dominance over women. Connell adds that hegemonic masculinity asserts other forms of masculinity as subordinate in relation to it and “embodie[s] the currently most honored way of being a man.” It “require[s] all other men to position themselves in relation to it.”
1.4 million people have signed a petition against the Boy Scout's discriminatory policy. Photo: Associated Press
Through this lens, the Boy Scouts’ ardent defense of an anti-LGBT policy can be seen as an attempt to reaffirm a rigid gender binary with the most popular version of a right, moral or correct masculinity. Not only does it establish that real men are strong and brave, but also heterosexual. It subjugates men who are attracted to other men, and portrays them as ”immoral”. Accordingly, part of the power of hegemonic masculinity in shaping gender norms rests in the subordination of alternative masculinities. Therefore, dislodging this type of masculinity from being seen as more moral and acceptable than other marginalized masculinities, such as queer masculinities, is a necessary step for these men to gain equality and power to voice their concerns about issues in their community. As long as gay men are prevented from participating fully in mainstream organizations, especially those concerned with morality and ethics, issues disproportionately affecting their community, such as the endemic of HIV/AIDS, cannot be fully addressed.
Elizabeth Dickson is a student at Ohio Wesleyan University, where she is double-majoring in Psychology and Sociology.
In this post, Samir Goswami considers the impact that the recently announced NCAA sanctions will have on changing a culture of sexual abuse on U.S. college campuses. Rooted in a tradition of public sociology, Samir’s post would serve as an excellent complement to this classroom assignment in that he broadens the scope of the current debate, drawing out key sociological connections that are missing in the dominant media coverage of this story.
| |In a somber press conference the NCAA
announced sanctions against Penn State to address the gross inaction on its part in tolerating the continued abuse of young boys perpetrated by former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. Sandusky has been convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including during his tenure as assistant coach at the University. In the official investigations that ensued, Penn State was found liable of a massive cover-up of the crimes, including by the late Penn State football coach Joe Patterno, Sandusky’s boss who could have acted to stop his assistant’s crimes and prevent other children from being victimized. "Football will never again be placed ahead of educating, nurturing and protecting young people…The sanctions needed to reflect our goals of providing cultural change," NCAA President Mark Emmert stated as he announced the penalties that include vacating 14 season’s worth of victories for its football team and the creation of a $60 million endowment by the University to fund programs that prevent child abuse. Ed Ray, chair of the NCAA Executive Committee added
, “The corrective and punitive measures the executive committee and Division 1 board of directors have authorized should serve as a stark wake-up call to every individual in college sports that our first responsibility as outlined in our constitution is to adhere to the fundamental values of respect, fairness, civility, honesty and responsibility.”
The NCAA should be commended for this awakening of responsibility, in the wake of unquestionable evidence of institutionally tolerated harm perpetrated by an acclaimed member of the university. It is now owning up to its responsibility to punish Penn State for knowingly tolerating sexual abuse while also attempting to promote “cultural changes” throughout the intercollegiate system that prioritize the safety of children and students above all else. The authority to do so comes from the governing by-laws of an athletic association that recognizes its paramount duty to ensure well-being. Cultural change, however, will not be easy.
Any measures to promote “cultural change” to prevent the future toleration of sexual abuse, however, will only succeed if on-campus sexual assault is addressed as well. The American Association of University Women
reports that, “During the course of their college careers, between 20 and 25 percent of women will be sexually assaulted or experience attempted sexual assault.” This pervasive violence perpetrated against female university students, primarily by their peers, is an epidemic and must also be honestly exposed and addressed.
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Any measures to promote “cultural change” to prevent the future toleration of sexual abuse, however, will only succeed if on-campus sexual assault is addressed as well.
A Center for Public Integrity survey
found a frighteningly low conviction rate for on-campus sexual assault and that university-based justice systems are woefully ill prepared to handle student sexual assault cases. Furthermore, according to research conducted by USA Today in 2003
, perpetrators who are college athletes are less likely to be held accountable, “of 168 sexual assault allegations against athletes in the past dozen years suggests sports figures fare better at trial than defendants from the general population.” The abuse experienced by up to one-fourth of all women who go to college is perpetrated and tolerated in silence.
In stark contrast to the unprecedented taking of institutional responsibility by the NCAA to prevent such crimes and cover ups from happening again on a college campus, many continue to be unapologetic vocal supporters of Joe Patterno, because the roots of a culture of rape run deep
If “culture” is faulted for allowing the sexual abuse of boys to continue, then that culture will only be changed if all forms of pervasive sexual abuse on campus are addressed. The Sandusky case painfully exposed the tremendous harm that bystander silence can perpetrate. The inclination towards taking responsibility by those who should and can impact change is a tremendous opportunity to implement, or try to implement, measures toward real cultural change that will root out all forms of abuse and assault perpetrated in a college setting. The NCAA and Penn State also have to address an overall culture of rape tolerated on college campuses and we all have to commit to not being silent bystanders, but vocal opponents of the continuation of harm.
to read another post by Samir Goswami featured on The Sociological Cinema
. For another post on Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State scandal, click here
. Samir GoswamiSamir Goswami is a DC-based writer from India. Samir spent the last fifteen years working towards policy reform for the issues of homelessness and housing, workforce development, human rights, violence against women and human trafficking, specifically working with survivors to have a direct say in their governance. His work has been recognized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, which honored him with the 2010 Impact Award. He is currently focusing on promoting authentic corporate social responsibility.
A stereotype is a an exaggerated or distorted generalization about an entire category of people that does not acknowledge individual variation. Stereotypes form the basis for prejudice and discrimination. They generally involve members of one group that deny access to opportunities and rewards that are available to that group. This is a fundamental concept in introductory sociology classes and is an important way to challenge students to address inequality and discrimination.
However, when discussing stereotypes in a classroom, students may be reluctant to discuss their own stereotypes. Videos can be a highly effective way to engage commonly held stereotypes without students feeling singled out. For example, consider the litany of stereotypes (both positive and negative) identified by George Clooney's character in Up in the Air:
In this clip
, Clooney rattles off several stereotypes of people in an airport (including Asians, people with infants, and the elderly). When his co-star (Anna Kendrick) replies "That's racist," Clooney responds with "I'm like my mother. I stereotype. It's faster." This short clip demonstrates stereotyping, which is used to simplify and control judgments about everyday situations. The media is filled with all kinds of stereotypes, such as distorted depictions of working class people
, racist cartoons
, mother's work
, and Muslims
. But what are the effects of stereotypes?
Using a famous quote known as the Thomas theorem
, we can begin to understand the potentially damaging effects of stereoptypes: "if [people] define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." In other words, when people accept stereotypes as true, then they are likely to act on these beliefs, and these subjective beliefs can lead to objective results. For example, think about some common stereotypes
When men (and women) adopt such stereotypical views of feminism, and misperceptions of gender inequality, then they are less likely to support laws and policies that promote gender equality. They are less likely to consider themselves as feminists and join the struggle. Accordingly, these distorted views of women and of feminists can reproduce the objective reality of gendered inequality. People define these situations as real, and the consequences are therefore real.
But how can we challenge students in overcoming stereotypes? One technique comes from our friend, Michael Miller. He commented on Black Folk Don't
, a website that analyzes stereotypes of black people. For example, consider this clip
about stereotypes of black people not tipping:
While the clip only offers anecdotal views, Michael suggested it might serve as "research stimulators" by challenging students to locate data or studies that would support or refute the stereotypical claims. By evaluating stereotypical claims through data, students not only come to refute stereotypes that reinforce social inequality; they can also develop essential research skills, critical thinking skills, and appreciation for data-driven research.
A second way to challenge stereotypes is through comedy. While some comedians reinforce stereotypes
, the good comedians have a great ability to disarm viewers by playing on their stereotypes. Consider this video from In Living Color
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This "Hey Mon" comedy skit
features the hardest working Jamaican family vs. the hardest working Korean family in their battle to outdo each other. The skit highlights and makes fun of the model minority stereotype often applied to West Indian Americans and Asian Americans. It also makes fun of the ways in which each group is stereotyped regarding speech and dress. Viewers may be encouraged to reflect on why the clip is funny and how it draws upon our stereotypes at the same time it challenges them.For other examples of comedians that attack stereotypes, consider examples of ageism in Betty White's show Off their Rockers, a
stand-up performance on Mexican Stereotypes
, and this Daily Show clip
about code speak and the new racism.
Finally, viewers may be encouraged to reflect on stereotypes by hearing from the stereotyped subjects themselves. For example, Sociological Images
shared a video that features 4 African men discussing stereotypes of them in Hollywood movies:
The young African men in this video (oddly, the video does not refer to their home countries but places them together as "African men") discuss how Hollywood movies depict them as evil men with machine guns delivering one-liners, etc. The men continue stating: "We are more than a stereotype. Let's change the perception." We then learn that the men are in college studying clinical medicine and human resource management, that their likes and interests are much like those of young men in the US and around the world. Thus, this media is used to counter more stereotypical portrayals of the men themselves.Paul Dean
I remember walking to class one morning as a 10-year-old boy, and for no particular reason, my gaze drifted to my right, just in time to catch a classmate exiting the girls restroom. It was a split second glance into the forbidden zone, and I was suddenly guilty. Did anyone see me? The girls restroom didn't look anything like the boys restroom, I thought. More pointedly, what was the nature and purpose of that large white box bolted to the side of the bathroom wall?
Whatever goodies that glorious white box dispensed, I decided that the facilities, and indeed the experience of using the girls restroom were irrefutably better than could be had in the boys. Some time later, I pieced together enough information to conclude that the box held a supply of tampons or menstrual pads, which had something to do with women and their periods. As to how often girls used these soft cotton marvels of technological innovation was a complete mystery, and I knew even less about how they used them.
That fleeting glance of the white box that day stirred my curiosity, but somehow I intuitively understood that to broach the topic of women’s menstruation was to risk embarrassment, so I never brought it up. I eventually learned the basic mechanics of an average menstrual cycle, but it wasn’t until after high school that I developed some very close relationships with women, and through our conversations, I was finally able to name this bizarre mystique surrounding the topic of menstruation.
I’ve always been a curious guy, so it’s fitting that I became a sociologist. I’ve been thinking about just how pervasive this fear of menstruation is in American society, and I’m wondering why it exists at all. One could look at Hollywood movies as a rough gauge of the ubiquity of the fear. The kinds of stories we transform into blockbuster movies, and even the jokes we tell in those movies, say a lot about our society. Take, for instance, the popular 2007 film, Superbad
, starring Jonah Hill as Seth. In one memorable scene, Seth finds himself dancing close to a woman at a party and accidentally winds up with her menstrual blood on his pant leg. A group of boys at the party spot the blood, deduce the source, and one by one, they buckle in laughter. Seth is humiliated by what is supposed to be an awkward adolescent moment, but he’s also gagging uncontrollably from his own disgust.
In contrast, consider the well known menstrual imagery that runs throughout the 1976 horror film Carrie
, which is based on a popular Stephen King novel of the same name. Those who have seen the film will likely remember that Carrie, who is a sheltered high school outcast, gets her first period while taking a shower after gym class. Her peers seize the moment as an opportunity to shame and ridicule her, and yet it is Carrie who lands in the principal's office
. While the principal awkwardly contemplates how to manage the situation, students point and laugh at Carrie as they walk past the office.
Menstrual blood, in its capacity to stir discomfort and uneasiness, is used as a vehicle for comedy in Superbad
, but in the Stephen King film, it serves a different purpose. In Carrie, King's depiction of Carrie's first period is used to layer in tension, and it is not until the concluding scene, when a spiteful classmate pours a brimming bucket of pseudo-menstrual blood over Carrie's head in front of the entire student body, that Carrie finally resolves the tension by using her telekinetic powers to bar all exits and set her tormenters ablaze.
These two films are from entirely different genres and are separated by over 30 years; yet they rely on the same cultural taboos and anxieties surrounding menstruation (as do many, many other
films I haven't mentioned). Both films have been commercially successful, suggesting they contain themes and characters that resonate with a broad swath of the American public. The menstrual scenes from Carrie
are as unsettling as the scene from Superbad
is hilarious because both films successfully
capitalized on the collective sense of shame surrounding menstruation.
Long before me, feminists have noted that the all-too-common fear of menstrual contamination and the shame of failing to manage the menstrual flow are deeply held ideas rooted in patriarchy. That some men involuntarily gag at the mere thought of menstrual blood is evidence that the natural human experience of menstruation has been successfully re-imagined in American society as a kind of pathology. But I think it is important to remember, that women bear the brunt of this ideology. After all, women’s bodies are pathologized, not men’s.
It’s also important not to lose sight of the fact that this pervasive fear of menstruation also fuels a multi-billion dollar industry, which produces and markets hundreds of products designed to manage and even suppress menstruation (e.g., Lybrel and Seasonique
), and it is this relationship between menstrual shame and corporate profit that needs to be exposed and disentangled.
In an interview
about her recent book
, New Blood: Third Wave Feminism and the Politics of Menstruation
, sociologist Chris Bobel
nicely articulates the connection between menstrual anxiety and corporate profit: The prohibition against talking about menstruation—shh…that’s dirty; that’s gross; pretend it’s not going on; just clean it up—breeds a climate where corporations, like femcare companies and pharmaceutical companies, like the makers of Lybrel and Seasonique, can develop and market products of questionable safety. They can conveniently exploit women’s body shame and self-hatred. And we see this, by the way, when it comes to birthing, breastfeeding, birth control and health care in general. The medical industrial complex depends on our ignorance and discomfort with our bodies.
Bobel’s analysis helps make sense of why I felt so certain at the ripe old age of 10 that I couldn’t ask anyone about the tampon dispenser on the wall. By then, I had already internalized the patriarchal notion that women’s menstruation is a potential source of shame, or at least that my interest in it would be shameful. Nearly three decades later, when discussing the topic with my students in the introduction to sociology class I teach, I invariably get asked why—given all we know about the natural, reproductive purpose of the menstrual cycle—do we persist in attaching shame and embarrassment to this experience? In order to understand why, I think we need to critically examine the way patriarchy is entangled with capitalism. As Bobel also notes, it is profitable to peddle the patriarchal idea that women’s bodies are potentially dangerous well springs of shame. Femcare companies and the advertising firms they hire devote enormous resources toward replenishing this well of menstrual anxiety, thereby ensuring women continue to purchase a host of products all designed with the intent of managing their menstrual flow or even stopping it all together.
Unfortunately, quelling the persistence of these very problematic ideas about women and menstruation is a tall order. If my argument is that it is untenable for advertisers to effectively tell women they must use femcare products to avoid shame, then it is equally untenable for me—especially as a man—to tell women to do something else. Instead, I'll conclude with what feels to be an embarrassing compromise with a system I'd rather just discard. My hope is that both women and men can become critically-minded consumers of media and the representations it deploys about women and their bodies. The American public, and many other publics, currently confront a number of anxiety-inducing challenges, menstruation isn't one of them.Lester Andrist
YouTube officially launched in December 2005 as a simple way for people to easily share videos with each other. By July 2006, 100,000,000 videos were being viewed and 65,000 were being uploaded per day. On October 26, 2006, Google bought the company for $1.65 billion. Now the site reports over 2 billion videos are being viewed per day, and needless to say, it dramatically altered the way celebrities are created and information is transmitted via the internet.
Within the internet, various forms of media like pictures, videos, websites, and news stories are known to go viral. This is defined as "process which gives any information item (picture, video, text, or any other audio–visual–textual artifact) the maximum exposure, relative to the potential audience, over a short duration, distributed by many nodes" (Nahon et al. 2011: 1
). There are websites dedicated to highlighting viral content such as The Daily What
, and Cute Overload
(my personal favorite). Social networking platforms like Twitter and Facebook making sharing viral content easier than ever as well.
YouTube's Trend Manager Kevin Alloca says there are three reasons why videos go viral: 1. Tastemakers 2. Participation and 3. Unexpectedness. Tastemakers are those of significant importance who promote a video to a larger audience, be it through a Tweet, blog posting, or link on Facebook. In this video from the TED Talks series
, he shows how a simple Tweet from comedian and late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel made the infamous "Double Rainbow
" video a phenomenon. Participation involves users spreading the videos to others and usually at a very rapid rate. Unexpectedness refers to the nature of the video. For example, your friend might share with you the video "The Sneezing Baby Panda
". What at first looks like a mother panda chomping on some bamboo ultimately surprises the viewer by featuring a tiny baby panda sneezing and startling the mother -- it's the unexpectedness that makes you want to share the video. Keep in mind this video has been viewed over 135 million times since November of 2006.
While many viral and YouTube videos involves kittens, puppies, babies, and Justin Bieber, there are also a great deal showcasing social inequalities, thus offering opportunities for social commentary. A few popular ones are featured in the video above. With the opportunity to comment on said videos and share via Facebook, it is easy to create a dialogue and discuss the bigger issues at hand.
Serious videos of poignant Senate hearings, personal confessions, and documentary-type shorts showcase current and debatable issues and are easily accessible to a large audience over the internet and through mobile devices and tablets. A perfect example of such a video and the impact it can create is the It Gets Better Project
. After a string of suicides brought on by bullying of LGBTQ or perceived to be youth, syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller posted a simple and inspiring video
on YouTube on September 21, 2010. They shared their own experiences with middle and high school bullying, but also recalled how much better their lives got after they graduated. They talked about growing up, coming out, and experiencing life in much more positive and accepting places. Dan and Terry retold the story of how they met and created a family with the adoption of their son. They also talked about how their families, who were initially resistant to their coming out, came around to loving them just the way they are. Dan and Terry wanted to provide hope to LGBTQ kids and teenagers all over the world who were scared and suffering so that they would not resort to taking their own lives.
Within a matter of what seemed like days, the It Gets Better Project exploded and a movement began. More than 40,000 videos have been posted and viewed more than 40 million times
. Prominent celebrities such as Stephen Colbert
, television show casts
, everyday normal people, politicians
, and even President Obama
posted videos assuring kids that it does get better. Since the project's launch, it has developed into a fully-functioning non-profit and advocacy organization, joined forces with The Trevor Project
, published a book
, and created an MTV special.
However, not all socially-aware viral videos deal with topics in such a serious matter. The parody song "Chow Down (At Chick-Fil-A)
" features three drag queens singing about anti-gay sentiments behind the delicious fast-food chain Chick-fil-A. Sung to the tune of "Hold On" by Wilson Phillips, the drag queens lament on how "someday somebody’s gonna make you wanna gobble up a waffle fry" even though Chick-Fil-A says the gays "make the baby Jesus cry". Videos like these showcase social inequalities in a fun and catchy way (find more on the Chick-Fil-A video here
YouTube user and comedienne Francesca Ramsey's "Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls
" tackles race and cultural sensitivities in a light-hearted and funny way as well. The video is a response to the popular series "Shit Girls Say
." In an editorial
for the Huffington Post, Ramsey writes, "Over the years I've found that dealing with white people faux pas can be tricky. If I get upset, I could quickly be labeled the 'angry black girl.' But if I don't say anything or react too passively, I risk giving friends and acquaintances permission to continue crossing the line. So I decided to create my own parody." In a way, her video acts as a "cultural guide" and how-to on sensitively dealing with cultural differences.
While I do enjoy and admit to sharing these videos, it is hard to tell if they really do result in change. I still believe they are beneficial. The ability to comment on such videos through various websites like Facebook and YouTube also create an easy way for users to start a dialogue and discuss the video's content. Hopefully valiant efforts like these really are making a difference. Videos featured in the above clip: Kevin Allocca: Why videos go viral Shit White Girls Say...to Black Girls Kony 2012 It Gets Better: Dan and Terry Telling My Dad I'm Gay-LIVE Chow Down (At Chick-Fil-A) Other favorite videos of mine that I could not include in my own video: 5-year-old needs a job before getting married The Gay Rights Movement It Gets Better: BD Wong Joel Burns tells gay teens "it gets better" Republican Chokes Up At Gay Marriage Debate In Washington Sesame Street: Grover discusses What Is Marriage? Zach Wahls Speaks About Family References
1. YouTube 2. Fifteen Minutes of Fame: The Power of Blogs in the Lifecycle of Viral Political Information3. It Gets Better Project4. From Meme to Social Commentary
It seems a week rarely passes without a story or a video like this one circulating through the news cycle. As someone who has spent the better part of the last decade studying teenage boys, I have seen much of this bullying behavior first hand. This video, while dramatic, is not so different that the sorts of interactions I saw as I “hung out” with young men and talked to them about their definitions of masculinity.
Our children are bullying and being bullied. Thirty-two percent of young people from fifth to twelfth grade report having been bullied at least once in the past month.1
Nowhere perhaps has the discussion of bullying been more pronounced than in recent reports of the bullying of LGBTQ young people. GLSEN’s 2009 School Climate Survey indicates that eight in ten LGBTQ students (age 13-21) have been verbally harassed at school and four in ten had been physically harassed. Given these numbers, this attention is welcomed and needed.
However, the current popular discourse on bullying, with its focus on individual bullies, rather than a social order that gives rise to aggressive behaviors in groups of people, misses some key components of bullying. This general discussion (not to mention much of the academic research) about bullying often ignores an important component, specifically the role of masculinity. That is, much of the bullying behavior, especially homophobic bullying, between boys, functions to enforce contemporary definitions of masculinity as dominant, heterosexual, competent, and powerful. By ignoring the role masculinity plays in these aggressive, often homophobic, interactions, much of the discussion about bullying makes it seem as if a particular type of person bullies and a particular type of person is victim to it. While this is certainly an important approach when it comes to making life better for our youth, it is also true that this type of aggressive behavior is found in relationships between many boys, even in seemingly friendly interactions. To address all forms of bullying these popular discussions need to look seriously at the role of gender in these interactions and not assume that there is only a certain type of (pathological) person that bullies and a certain type of person who is bullied. The reality of our kids’ lives is much more complex.
Are LGBTQ kids bullied? Absolutely. GLSEN, the GSA network and the Human Rights Campaign (among others) have documented this extensively. But here is the problem. In framing so much of this bullying discourse about sexual identity, the fact that much of this bullying is directed at straight identified boys (from other straight identified boys) disappears. The Safe Schools Coalition documents that 80% of the recipients of homophobic harassment identify as straight. It is unlikely that the targets of the song in the above video identify as gay, and if they do, it is doubtful their tormentors are aware of this fact. So, what is this about? Masculinity.
This sort of bullying when coming from and directed at (mostly straight)boys, has as much to do with shoring up definitions of masculinity as they do with understandings of sexuality (though of course the two are deeply related). When I talked to teenage boys about these types of homophobic taunts, they often tell me such epithets are simultaneously the most serious of insults and have little to do with sexuality. As one boy told me, “To call someone gay or fag is like the lowest thing you can call someone. Because that’s like saying that you’re nothing.” Another claimed “Fag, seriously it has nothing to do with sexual preference at all. You could just be calling somebody an idiot, you know?” Another made it perfectly clear when he told me, “Being gay is just a lifestyle. It’s someone you choose to sleep with. You can still throw around a football and be gay.” In other words, a guy could be gay so long as he acts sufficiently masculine. According to the analysis set forth by many of the young men I talked to about homophobic epithets, the boys in the video are not being harassed because they are gay, but because the fans are trying to emasculate them (apparently because they support the wrong baseball team).
Boys tell me that even the most minor of infractions can trigger this type of homophobia. One boy told me that you could suffer this kind of harassment for doing “Anything…literally, anything. Like you were trying to turn a wrench the wrong way, ‘Dude, you’re such a fag.’ Even if a piece of meat drops out of your sandwich, ‘You fag!’” Boys are continually vulnerable to this sort of harassment should they reveal in any way a lack of competence, femininity, weakness, inappropriate emotions or, yes, same sex desire. It seems that boys are frequently trying to avoid these epithets by acting sufficiently masculine, part of which entails lobbing these epithets at other boys when their performance of masculinity lapses, even mildly and or for a moment.
While these videos show aggressive, indeed scary, forms of bullying, these messages about masculinity frequently also appear in more friendly interactions among boys and young men. Take this famous, and problematically funny, scene from the film 40 Year Old Virgin
(and another version of it from Knocked Up
), for example:
In it two friends tease each other by answering the question “know how I know you’re gay?” Clearly, neither thinks the other is actually gay. What they are doing here is reminding each other about what it means to be a man. A real man does not sew, cook, wear clean clothes, like certain types of music and certainly doesn’t sleep with other men. Much of the homophobic bullying that goes on among young men (and in this instance, adulthood!) happens between friends, in a seemingly joking way. Joking, however, does not make the messages about masculinity any less serious. Just like the baseball fans, these men are sending each other messages about appropriate masculinity through aggressive joking. This type of joking, where the goal is to humiliate or embarrass another, contains important messages about masculinity and because of the humor involved we don’t often recognize it as a possible form of bullying.
When we begin to think about bullying as something that goes on in boys’ friendships, not just between enemies, it calls into question the dominant framing of bullying as something that happens when one individual targets another individual. If we start to think about bullying as one of the ways boys assert masculinity and remind others to be appropriately masculine, than it is less an issue about one boy targeting another boy, than it is about the “friendly” bullying that happens between boys as they joke. Looking at bullying in this way suggests that it is not necessarily about some individual pathology (though of course it certainly can be), but also be about shoring up definitions of masculinity.
Given this reframing of bullying, we may want to rethink the way we use the word bully for a few reasons. When we call these interactions between boys bullying and ignore the messages about masculinity embedded in their serious and joking relationships, we might risk divorcing what they are doing from larger issues of inequality and sexualized power. In doing so, we run the risk of sending the message that this sort of behavior is the domain of youth, certainly not something in which adults engage. It allows adults to project blame for this sort of aggressive behavior on to kids, rather than acknowledging that their behavior reflects (and reinforces) society-wide problems of gendered and sexualized inequality. It allows us to tell them “it gets better,” as if the adult world is so rife with sexual and gender equality. It allows us to evade the blame for perpetuating problematic definitions of masculinity that these kids are merely acting out.
Mary Bowman, a 22-year-old spoken word poet and HIV/AIDS activist, responds to the pop cultural praise being directed toward Lil Wayne's new "How to Love" video.
Rapper Lil Wayne’s new music video “How to Love” has received a lot of attention these past few weeks. On August 23rd the video debuted as the “Jam of the Week” on MTV Jams, and Lil Wayne performed the song at the 2011 MTV Music Awards on August 28th. Much of the video’s recent attention comes from the fact that “How to Love” is very different from Wayne’s other works. For those of you unfamiliar with Lil Wayne’s repertoire, he is usually known for his slanderous lyrics disrespecting women (e.g., see here and here). The messages portrayed in “How to Love,” however, are largely being perceived as an important and welcome departure from Lil Wayne’s previous songs and music videos (e.g., see here and here).
Joining the voices of approval, on August 24th radio personality Big Tigger posted a comment on Twitter congratulating Lil Wayne (a.k.a. @lilTunechi) for tackling important issues, including HIV, in his music video “How to Love.”
@BigTiggerShow Big Tigger
#KUDOS out to @lilTunechi for tackling so many #RealLifeIssues including #HIV in his new video #HowToLove! Know ya status - Get TESTED!! RT
I agree that the video is a very emotionally charged description of situations some women find themselves in everyday. But I disagree with Big Tigger; I don’t believe that Lil Wayne “tackled” the issues at all. If anything, I believe he promoted the stigma that young women raised in a certain environment grow up to be nothing more than a stripper with children who eventually contract HIV by having unprotected sex for money.
Due to the damage already done to cultural images of women, especially African American women, by rapper Lil Wayne, I don’t believe that the song “How To Love” is sincere. I actually like the song, and I will go as far to say that I enjoy Lil Wayne's music though I may not agree with everything he says. So this is not a blog piece bashing Lil Wayne, but I am expressing my disappointment that Big Tigger, a public figure who does a considerable amount of service in the community for HIV/AIDS, would go so far as to say that Lil Wayne "tackled" this issue.
I am a HIV positive female who is working to remove the stigma that this video reinforces. I have four serious problems with Big Tigger’s statement:
1. Big Tigger is a man. So is Lil Wayne. Men will never be able to tell a woman’s story, whether the story is negative or positive. They will never understand what it means to be a woman in today’s society, so I feel they have no right to impose their opinion on such a young and influential generation of hip hop listeners.
2. Lil Wayne talks about women negatively all the time and now all of a sudden he cares about their issues with self-esteem, drug use, and sexual behavior? For example, the woman portrayed in the "How to Love" video is a stripper. I have heard Lil Wayne talk degradingly about his own experiences with strippers. This video does not provide adequate evidence showing his sympathy, support, and concern for women in this particular profession, especially given that this song is featured on an album, Tha Carter IV, where he continues his blatant disrespect toward women.
3. One of Big Tigger’s causes that he fights for publicly is HIV/AIDS. He couldn’t possibly have thought that the video “tackled” the issue. To me that is a slap in the face to all the work that has been done to remove the stigma surrounding this epidemic. The video basically says that because the young lady’s mother made certain choices, she was forced to grow up with low self-esteem and become a stripper who has sex for money and happens to contract HIV. The video implies that if you live a certain lifestyle deemed to be socially deviant or “negative,” then there are dire consequences to your actions, namely, becoming HIV positive.
4. The video does nothing more than verbalize the acronym “HIV.” It doesn’t promote safe sex. It doesn’t say what you can do if you test positive for HIV. It doesn’t say that it is not the end of the world if you test positive for HIV.
It does, however, add insult to injury by having the woman run away from the issue. People need to know that the last thing they should do is run away from HIV/AIDS, whether they are positive or negative. It’s not the end of the world. There are individuals who are living normal lives with HIV. I am proud to be one of them, born with HIV and 22-years-old, yes I struggled with acceptance but I had help. In turn, I use my story and my life to help others affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS. I challenge Big Tigger and Lil Wayne to do the same. They may not be HIV positive, but they are individuals who have a bigger following than me; they can use their fame to advocate safe sex, the importance of getting tested, and promote the idea that if you are HIV positive, there is help and support.
At the end of the day, we can’t control the unfavorable things artists and radio personalities say and do in our communities. However, as fans, followers, and listeners, it is our responsibility to stand up for what we believe in and say, “Hey, I don’t agree with what you said or did.” We can’t just sit back and accept what they give us. We have to fight. If not, we make it okay for artists and other public figures to continue promoting negative images of our communities. I will continue to fight until the stigma is completely diminished and I hope that even after I am long gone the fight will continue.
ENDNOTE #1: Click on the links below to learn about some of the ways Mary Bowman fights the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.
Dandelions (performance poem)
I Know What HIV Looks (performance poem)
Support AIDS Walk DC
ENDNOTE #2: If you or people you love have been affected/infected by HIV/AIDS, visit these resources for more information:
Metro Teen AIDSAIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families
Food & Friends
Originally posted on Human Goods
Last week, anti-trafficking crusader Ashton Kutcher bungled an opportunity to show America how everyday sexual attitudes toward women encourage exploitation. It’s time for good men to buck up and speak out about what respect really means.
On August 24, actor Ashton Kutcher went on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote his new role in the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men. For those of us dedicated to the anti-human trafficking movement, this in itself was an interesting career choice for Kutcher. He’s replacing Charlie Sheen, who played the role of a hapless womanizer who often frequented strip clubs and paid women for sex. As in real life, on Two and a Half Men, Charlie Sheen was a John.
Over the past few years, Kutcher has explicitly pronounced himself a “real man," which he publicly defines as someone who does not pay for commercial sex because prostituted girls are victims of human trafficking. He doesn’t believe that girls should be bought and sold for male gratification.
In his interview with Letterman, however, Kutcher admitted to enjoying “the live thing” when asked whether he preferred “strippers or porn stars.” It is not controversial to state that strip clubs and pornography commodify the female body; in fact that is their commercial purpose. However, Kutcher’s professed preference for “the live thing” should raise some eyebrows.
Kutcher is a co-founder of the DNA Foundation, whose mission is “to raise awareness about child sex slavery, change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem
, and rehabilitate innocent victims.” For the past few years, Kutcher and his wife and co-founder of the foundation, actress Demi Moore, have been raising funds and awareness about human trafficking. Together they have made numerous appearances on TV and at forums, particularly denouncing child sex slavery—and men’s demand for it—as part of their stated efforts to “change the cultural stereotypes that facilitate this horrific problem.”
Kutcher often tweets about the issue to his million plus followers and was a driving force behind the foundation’s “Real Men Don’t Buy Girls” PSA campaign, an effort to discourage men from buying sex. “The ‘Real Men Don’t Buy Girls Campaign’,” the Huffington Post
noted, “contains a message he [Kutcher] hopes people are willing to pass around; one that specifically addresses the male psyche, while also being entertaining and informative. ‘Once someone goes on record saying they are or aren’t going to do something, they tend to be a bit more accountable,’ says Kutcher. ‘We wanted to make something akin to a pledge: ‘real men don’t buy girls, and I am a real man.'’’
Although opinions about the efficacy of this campaign vary, Kutcher’s involvement in anti-trafficking efforts has been welcome, celebrated, and seemingly authentic. Before embarking on his advocacy, Kutcher took the time to learn: He read the research, talked to women and girls who had been trafficked, and consulted with NGO and government experts. He has spoken eloquently and knowledgeably about the issue in most of his public appearances. In short, Kutcher used his fame and charm to educate and model positive male behavior that redefines masculinity as respecting women—not commodifying them.
He has positioned himself as the anti-Charlie Sheen.
On his show, David Letterman predictably asked Kutcher a “gotcha question”: “Do you prefer strippers or porn stars?”
After a pause and a chuckle, Kutcher responded, “I have a foundation that fights human trafficking, and neither of those qualify as human trafficking. You know the live thing is nice, there’s nothing wrong with a live show.”
Not all prostitution or other commercial sexual services like stripping, aka “the live thing,” are connected to sex trafficking. However, Kutcher’s foundation recognizes a link in stating, “Men, women and children are enslaved for many purposes including sex, pornography, forced labor and indentured servitude.” The DNA Foundation’s website links to various studies and research reports that document significant connections between human trafficking and “the live thing.” Law enforcement officials throughout the country are increasingly recognizing this connection as they listen to survivors who tell us that, yes—they were indeed trafficked against their will to gratify men in strip clubs, massage parlors, and escort agencies. As a result of this evidence, state governments are clamoring to create public policies that ensure potential victims, wherever they are exploited, have a real opportunity to identify themselves as such.
I am not a famous person. The paparazzi do not follow me. I have never been in a situation where millions watch me as I respond to a “gotcha” question. However, as a longtime advocate for exploited women and girls, I have spoken to many survivors who were trafficked through strip clubs and used in pornography, and I frequently speak about their exploitation at public events. I have often had to defend my own definition of masculinity, one that is not predicated upon the Hobson’s choice of “strippers or porn stars.”
We tolerate, in public discourse, a willful ignorance of the role that men who pay for sexual experiences play in fueling the human trafficking industry. We fear that any condemnation will be labeled anti-sex. It’s difficult to go against this grain and take a principled but unpopular stance—one that contradicts an accepted norm that purposefully makes invisible the real harm done to real people for profit.
But difficulty is not an excuse. I don’t have the public pressures that Kutcher’s fame stimulates and I also don’t have the same opportunities. Kutcher has taken this fame and molded it for the positive, and I respect him for that. He carved out a well-informed role for himself in a movement dedicated to ending slavery. Although there are many who may not agree with his tactics, most appreciate him as someone who has tried to inform—and inspire—men who are unaware of the venues through which women get trafficked. Kutcher went beyond just talking about the how and the where, but challenged conventional definitions of masculinity itself. That is the tremendous value Kutcher brings to this movement.
And that is why I really wish that when the momentous opportunity presented itself, Kutcher would have stood up as the “real man” he professes to be. I wish that he would have challenged David Letterman for asking a question that trivializes the experiences of many trafficking survivors, whose stories have moved Kutcher to action. I wish he would have explained to Letterman that patronizing strip clubs supports an industry that perpetuates the consumption of women’s bodies and regularly profits from the trafficking of young girls—which goes against his definition of what a “real man” is.
Strip clubs monetize engrained male attitudes toward women by offering men access to them for a fee. Kutcher could have implicated these attitudes, instead of supporting them, by explaining the close connection between men’s desire for (and language about) paid access to viewing and touching women’s bodies, and the millions of women and girls for sale worldwide.
However, Kutcher’s response to Letterman’s impossible question betrayed a troubling ignorance that is not founded in a man who actually has
taken the time to listen and learn. No one expects him to have it all figured out, but it’s not unreasonable to expect a modicum of courage to express a higher sense of awareness and sensibility, or at least an honest admission of confusion.
Sexuality is complex and confusing. We are all attracted to and stimulated by other physical bodies for various and often inexplicable reasons. Those of us who profess to be defenders of human rights, and gain considerable attention and favor for it, have to hold ourselves to a high standard of introspection and public accountability. Kutcher didn’t just lower that bar for himself. He broke it. Along with it, I suspect that he also broke the trust and admiration of many in the anti-trafficking movement.
Sexual attraction may be challenging and situational. Respect for women should not be.Samir GoswamiSamir Goswami is a DC-based writer from India and wrote this article for Human Goods. Samir spent the last fifteen years working towards policy reform for the issues of homelessness and housing, workforce development, human rights, violence against women and sex trafficking, specifically working with survivors to have a direct say in their governance. His work has been recognized by Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Chicago Foundation for Women, which honored him with the 2010 Impact Award. He is currently on a quest for authentic advocacy.