Social Inclusion of Transgender Women

Raewyn Connell, preeminent sociologist on gender, is a transgender woman. She explains the personal consequences that transgender people face in having to constantly explain themselves to other people. She notes that sharing transitioning stories are important, but the everyday policing of this narrative is costly. Continue reading Social Inclusion of Transgender Women

Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Sociologists Candace West and Don Zimmerman popularised the theory of “doing gender.” This theory sees that gender identity is something we do – it is a performance and an achievement that people put a lot of work into, rather than some innate biological state of being. People do gender by the way they dress, the way they talk, the way they move their bodies, the types of leisure activities they engage in their spare time, through their division of labour at home, at work and in every other context. Doing gender takes work: you need to learn what’s expected of you as a “man” or as a “woman.”

Early knowledge on doing gender comes from childhood socialisation. Subsequent life experiences teach us, often through trial and error, what the norms and expectations are for masculinity and femininity in different social settings, such as at work.

West and Zimmerman argued that, since gender is something we learn to do, and doing gender leads to inequality, it is possible to undo gender inequality, by doing gender in alternative ways that do not punish femininities. The doing/undoing of gender has been an ongoing focus of gender studies, most recently focused on transgender people. I will discuss recent scholarship about how transgender people do gender at work, with a focus on the experiences of transgender women. Social scientists are preoccupied with the idea that transgender people are in a special position to “undo” gender. I want to explore why viewing transgender experiences in this way contributes to the Othering of transgender people, by amplifying their difference as a solution to gender inequality. Society can absolutely undo gender, but part of this means addressing the inequalities transgender people experience. This is something that mainstream feminism has yet to fully embrace.

Transgender Women's Experiences of Gender Inequality
Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality. Photo: Purple Sherbet, CC 2.0, via Flickr. Adapted by The Other Sociologist

Continue reading Transgender Women’s Experiences of Gender Inequality at Work

Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

Melbourne private school teacher and literary curmudgeon Christopher Bantick argues that Gen Y don’t understand “serious” Australian culture. Writing for The Age, Bantick believes that Gen Y’s engagement with popular culture over the classics will lead our nation to decline:

The vanity that is lauded as virtue pervades the culture to a corrosive extent. Young people have lost the capacity to actually know when something is art, and worthy. Instead, they hang on every word of their latest celeb mouthing inanities….

So who’s at fault? Schools need to do more about bringing a little elitism back into the awareness of culture. High culture: fine art, opera, serious drama and music that requires patience and understanding needs to be embedded into the curriculum.

In Australia, elitism is a dirty word. But maybe our jingoistic egalitarianism has gone too far with the sense of cultural equity. Who knows what a sonnet is, a partita, a motet, or who was Goethe or Christopher Marlowe? As for ballet, forget it. There are many other examples.

Bantick celebrates the fact that he teaches “classically demanding literature” at a private school, adding that his course is “elite, consciously so.” Continue reading Gen Y, Literary Elitism & “Serious Culture”

The Social Construction of Masculinity

Man of colour being measured by a Black male tailor across the chest

Let’s quickly dip into Raewyn Connell’s influential research on masculinities. While she’s been writing on masculinities since the 1980s, her seminal work on the hierarchy of masculinities shows that there are several competing models of masculinities at any given point in history. These models have changed over time and vary across cultures. As with all other studies on the sociology of gender.

Connell explores how societies are structured to replicate social inequalities among different genders, but also within genders.

In the case of “Western” societies, masculinity is primarily defined through ideals of dominance and physical power over women, men and children. Cultural institutions such as education, the media, the economy and politics uphold a singular and view of the way masculinity “should be.” We come across this constrained view of masculinity throughout our socialisation and it becomes accepted as “normal” and “natural” (“hegemonic masculinity”).

Movies are one example of this rigid dominant model of masculinity, by holding up white, heterosexual, able-bodied men who exert their authority using violence and sexual dominance. The epitome stereotype might be action heroes, such as James Bond, who is socially unattached, largely devoid of emotion, executes violence with impunity, and who acts as if sex is a competition. He does not behave as if other people are his equals who require respect and empathy. Another dominant model of masculinity is embodied by sports stars, whose physical progress makes them worthy of cultural and institutional esteem, while other occupations, such as teaching, are undervalued relative to the cultural esteem and economic rewards heaped upon athletes.

Competing models of masculinity, such as those found within the feminist and the environmental movements, challenge such ideals. They focus on human rights  and gender equality  among genders and amongst different groups in society. Connell makes it clear that her work is not a condemnation of men; but rather she explores and critiques the institutional processes that shape how societies talk, think and act out masculinities and gender relations. For example, Connell’s other empirical studies have focused on how the educational system rewards certain types of masculinities (amongst middle and upper class schools) while punishing other types of masculinities (such as in working class neighbourhoods). Connell is interested in expanding how we understand the impact of masculinities not just in the way men relate with women, but also how different masculinities reproduce inequalities among boys and men.

Connell’s work has informed hundreds of empirical studies around the world, which have, in turn, critiqued and expanded upon Connell’s original premise. More contemporary researchers examine how ethnicity, race, culture and other intersecting social demographics can represent alternative hierarchies of masculinity. Connell’s work has made an important impact on educational and social policies, through educational programs aimed to create a space to help men better communicate their personal experiences; as well as improving educational and economic outcomes amongst working class men.

Connell argues that all too often we focus on the problems of men who are disadvantaged, but we need to do more ethnographies of men in power:

“Research on men and masculinities is not a separate field spun off from feminism. It is, rather, part of the feminist revolution in knowledge that has been opening up in the last generation. Indeed it can be seen as a strategic part of feminist research, the moment of ‘studying up’, the power structure research that we need to understand the gender order. Therefore, a key part of the enterprise is researching institutions in which masculinities are embedded and which have weight in the social order as a whole: the state, armed forces and security services, corporations, and international capital markets.” 

My post today was inspired by Tuki Clavero on Google Plus, who reshared a quote from Role Reboot:

To answer the question, “What is good about masculinity?” we need to remind ourselves that:

Masculinity doesn’t exist. At least not in the way we think it exists. There is no timeless definition of manhood. It varies from culture to culture, era to era. It’s simply how we define manhood and how we define the relations of power among men and between men and women.

That means that masculinity (like femininity) is a collective hallucination.

Raewyn Connell on Masculinities

Here’s my transcription to aid accessibility, featuring the University of Sydney interviewing Professor Raewyn Connell talking about her career researching the sociology of masculinities (watch below).

Gif of Raewyn Connell, with her name and following text overlaid: It's about what they actually do in the worldConnell: Well for me, masculinity is a pattern of practice. So it’s not an attitude; it’s not what’s in people’s heads; it’s not the state of their hormones; it’s what they actually do in the world and that’s something that has a relationship to your body, to your biology, but not a fixed relationship. So women can behave in a masculine way, though usually it’s men who do, and also there are different patterns of masculinity, so different groups of men will conduct themselves different ways and those patterns can also change over time. And that of course is what we hope to achieve in anti-violence work because some patterns of masculinity do include a willingness to use violence, an openness to using violence. Whereas other patterns of masculinity are, in comparison, peaceable. And part of the problem of reducing violence in the world is to shift from the first and second kind of masculinity. Continue reading Raewyn Connell on Masculinities

Beauty, Biology and Discrimination

Several recent articles recreate the ever-popular idea that beauty aesthetics are based on biological imperatives. The premise of this argument is false – beauty, sex, gender and the social consequences of their related biological processes are not pre-determined. This line of thinking lumps the complexity of human experience and sexual expression into a uniform category and it provides the false impression that nothing can be done to change human behaviour. Sociology can help unpackage how and why so-called “common sense” ideas about beauty become established as commonplace knowledge. Contrary to what mainstream culture may have us believe, beauty ideals can be challenged and transformed. Beauty-based discrimination is not natural nor is it unavoidable.

We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. - bell hooks
We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. – bell hooks

Continue reading Beauty, Biology and Discrimination

Erotic Capital and the Sociology of Beauty

Catherine Hakim’s latest book, “Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital” argues that women should use their sex appeal to get ahead in life. The book continues to generate press in the UK, USA and in my homeland of Oz, in The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald.  The latter alludes to the fact that Hakim’s work distorts French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital. The reality is that Hakim misappropriates the sociological ideas that would otherwise make the concept of erotic capital a useful way of thinking about sexuality. My review of Hakim’s work as well as another study on beauty will show that this type of research simply replicates taken-for-granted ideas about sex and gender. Sociology is useful only when it takes apart everyday ideas to help people better understand the social consequences of behaviour; in this case, sexuality, desire and what is considered ‘attractive’.

Bourdieu argued that economic and life outcomes depend upon intangible social processes, such as cultural knowledge (for example, the type of school someone attends) and social networks (the people we know who might help us to get ahead in life). Sexual capital and erotic capital are concepts that have been used to study the social, symbolic, economic and physical resources that affect the way in which sexual desire is constructed in different societies, and the social hierarchies that affect the sexual power and sexual enjoyment of different groups. This is not the way Hakim applies this concept.

Sexual properties are as inseparable from class properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity: a class is defined in an essential respect by the place and value it gives to the two sexes and to their socially constituted dispositions. -  Pierre Bourdieu
Sexual properties are as inseparable from class properties as the yellowness of lemons is inseparable from its acidity: a class is defined in an essential respect by the place and value it gives to the two sexes and to their socially constituted dispositions. – Pierre Bourdieu

Continue reading Erotic Capital and the Sociology of Beauty