On November 16, 2015, Dr. Gloria González-López participated in an author-meets-critics panel discussion about her new book Family Secrets: Stories of Incest and Sexual Violence in Mexico. The event was hosted by the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies to commemorate the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, and Erin Burrows, the Prevention and Outreach Specialist for Voices Against Violence, moderated the panel. It was a lively and necessary discussion where three panelists – Dr. Angela Valenzuela and UT Sociology doctoral students, Erika Grajeda, and Juan Portillo – offered their “compassionate critiques” of Dr. González-López’s work.
The discussion began with Dr. González-López describing why she studied incest in Mexico. She wanted to do something to help her community in Ciudad Juárez, and so she asked people in the community what type of research was urgently needed. A great deal of research had been done on the femicides in Ciudad Juárez, but nothing had really been studied about incest within Mexican families. Heeding this advice and wanting to engage with a community that she cares about, Dr. González-López decided to conduct 60 interviews with women and men who live in four Mexican cities (Ciudad Juárez, Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey) and who had experienced incest. She also interviewed 35 professionals who work on this issue. After gathering these stories, Dr. González-López found it ethically and politically important to tell these stories as they were told to her and to not sanitize the stories. For this reason, she writes Family Secrets through the method of storytelling, where she presents the stories together in each chapter before offering any structural analysis. This method captures the complexities and gray areas of people’s lives, revealing how theories and concepts can never fully encompass the nuances of people’s lived experiences.
After Dr. González-López gave this brief overview, Dr. Valenzuela was the first to offer her comments on the monograph. She commended Dr. González-López for her emotionally engaged research and for her provocative concepts. She also expressed her fear of what this book might look like in the hands of someone like Donald Trump, who may use this book to pathologize Mexican people. However, Dr. Valenzuela believes that not telling these stories is a greater cost, and that Dr. González-López does an amazing job of analyzing the stories, giving the reader a way to contextualize and understand incest in Mexican society. Dr. Valenzuela also read what she thought was one of Dr. González-López’s provocative ideas: “Thus, the undercurrent or continuum that flows through a woman’s unique subjective experience and all women’s commonly shared experiences of sexual violence seems to suggest that consensual heterosexual sex and rape may have more in common than what one may want to accept” (pg. 110-111). Given this finding, Dr. Valenzuela raised the question of what is a healthy sexuality? And what are the solutions to ending incest?
Following Dr. Valenzuela, Erika Grajeda offered her thoughts on Dr. González-López’s book. Erika found the book to be brave, especially in Dr. González-López’s challenge to take on the family as an institution that reproduces incest and patriarchy. Erika also appreciated Dr. González-López’s analysis of internalized sexism, where women in the family may also be complicit in these incestuous arrangements and reproduce patriarchy as well. Erika raised some poignant questions that really made the preceding discussion engaging. She asked Dr. González-López: How is her conceptualization of consent and rape different than radical feminists? How do sexual scripts shape how women and men describe their sexual experiences, especially when discussing consent and coercion? And what is the difference between incest and abuse and what is the role of the state in perpetuating and/or solving these issues?
After Erika’s insightful comments and questions, Juan Portillo gave his reflections and comments on Family Secrets. Juan saw Dr. González-López’s two biggest contributions as her ethical methodology and her feminist standpoint, which combined gave a nuanced explanation of sexual violence. As life is more complicated than our concepts and theories, Juan pondered how do we make sense of sexual violence when the same logics that we use to try to end it are potentially the same logics that reproduce it. Given that we live in a society structured by inequality, Juan asked Dr. González-López if sex is ever completely consensual. He also wanted to know more about Dr. González-López’s choice of language – in her not wanting to use “survivor” or “perpetrator” and her writing about a gender non-conforming participant.
After these three wonderfully engaging compassionate critiques, Dr. González-López gave her brilliant responses to each of the three panelists. In response to Dr. Valenzuela, Dr. González-López pondered, what do we mean by healthy? Who defines healthy? Who is privileged enough to even have sex or be sexually healthy? As for solutions, Dr. González-López discussed that laws around sexual harassment in Mexico may expand to include relatives. She also talked about a research participant, whose mother believed her when she disclosed being raped by her father. This mother believing her daughter was a form of family justice and feminist practice that protected this woman from experiencing emotional damage. Other interesting topics that were discussed during Dr. González-López’s responses were that women are sophisticated, so seeing them as just victims does not capture their full lived realities. Also, life is messy and complicated and our abstract concepts will never fully get at the gray areas of our lives.
All in all, the panel discussion was thoughtful, provocative, and an important discussion. Family Secrets is a painful but necessary intervention into the field of sociology, sexualities, and sexual violence. In not sanitizing people’s stories, Dr. González-López pushes all of us to face the complex realities of people’s lives. Only in facing these messy nuances can we truly begin to find solutions to solving this social problem. It is with Dr. González-López’s compassion and ethical wisdom that makes Family Secrets a timely and important book that will re-shape the field of sociology for the better.
Brandon Andrew Robinson is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at UT-Austin. His dissertation is a qualitative exploration of the lives of LGBTQ homeless youth in Texas.
Phyllis Frye, the nation’s first transgender judge, now presides over a Houston municipal courts. Before that, she was a transgender activist, and as a lawyer, represented many people in the LGBT community. In the wake of voters’ rejection of Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, and as a 13-year-old Dallas ordinance protecting transgender rights came under fire, she writes:
In 1980 I was a law student at the University of Houston, doing an internship at the Harris County District Attorney’s office. Even though my office was on the tenth floor of the DA building, the only restroom the DA’s staff allowed me to use was on the second floor. Each time nature called, I had to get by a guard, since the second floor was secure, then walk past a long row of secretaries.
So I did not use it. The results were many “accidents” and, by the end of that semester’s internship, blood in my urine from a bladder infection.
As to the current hate campaign of Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, I remain puzzled why few pro-HERO commentators mentioned the then and now, still applicable, city restroom ordinance which reads as follows:
City of Houston Ordinance Sec. 28-20
Entering Restrooms of the Opposite Sex:
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex without the permission of the owner, tenant, manager, lessee or other person in charge of the premises in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance.
Clearly each offender depicted in the recent bathroom TV ads did “knowingly and intentionally enter any public restroom designated for the exclusive use of the sex opposite to such person’s sex” “in a manner calculated to cause a disturbance” and was in violation of the existing city ordinance.
In the early 1990s, the Houston police were arresting many transwomen for using the women’s restroom. I advised any who contacted me to “set it for a jury trial” and to testify to the jury that they were only entering to urinate in a locked stall and not to cause a disturbance. Each was found not guilty, and the police quit the arresting of transwomen for that offense.
I also remain puzzled why few mention the state criminal statues that made each offender depicted in the recent bathroom TV ads a criminal. The crimes of indecent exposure and public lewdness, and unlawful restraint (especially of a child) range in punishment from 180 days in county jail to two years in a state jail facility.
There is too much hate in the air over a person’s need to lawfully empty their bladders or bowels in a private and locked bathroom stall.
Thatcher Combs, a transgender graduate student in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, writes:
The bathroom issue might strike many as a trivial matter, but for many trans people, myself included, choosing which bathroom to use is not trivial at all. This decision usually comes down to whether we “pass.” Every day, those of us who meet or exceed society’s expectations about gendered appearance norms enter public bathrooms without notice. Would anyone bat an eye if Laverne Cox entered the women’s room or Chaz Bono used the men’s room? Of course not.
But for many of us, the choice of which bathroom to use can be a life-or-death decision. Those of us who cannot, or do not, fit into the categories of “male” or “female” are the ones who bear the brunt of the strange looks, outrage and violence. The perpetrators of these acts toward us are not the “perverts” declaimed by the opponents of LGBT rights. They are the people who refuse to accept gender variance and insist that everyone conform to rigid notions of how men and women ought to look and behave.
It is true that violence against women and girls is a real problem in our society. But instead of discriminating against trans people in a misguided effort to protect women, our collective efforts ought to focus instead on why our current social norms for gender, especially for masculinity, victimize women.
The fear of the man in women’s restrooms, misunderstanding of trans people, and the violence women experience in society are all linked. Gender and sex are still understood to be biologically based and naturally given. Thus we say “boys will be boys” and “girls are feminine,” yet these childhood tropes also morph into the right for men to be violent and for women to be ever vigilant about their bodies.
Unfortunately, the defeat of HERO may be a signal that any form of national equality legislation that includes trans people cannot be won by popular vote. More importantly, the “no” vote from Houston should act as a wake-up call for the LGBT movement.
In the past, gays and lesbians fought under the slogan of “Just like you,” emphasizing their conformity to society’s mainstream values and beliefs. If the LGBT movement is to work toward bettering trans lives, it might be time to change tactics and fight for loosening gender norms that restrict all people.
Fifth-year doctoral candidate Shantel G. Buggs takes on Modern Romance‘s lacking analysis of the role of race in “modern” dating:
Modern Romance assumes a consistency of dating experience across race that is problematic. Assuming that people of color have had the same experiences as, or with, white people with online dating is critically irresponsible and is contradicted by the research. White millenials in particular have proven time and time again they are not as progressive as they are assumed to be, including in who they choose to date (or exclude from dating).
Even best-selling author and OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder notes the continued role of racism in the chances of finding a partner online in his book Dataclysmand on the blog OKTrends. He reiterated this fact again during a Q&A at the 2015 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Chicago that I attended. When Helen Fisher of Match.com suggested that online dating had wiped out prejudice, he was quick to correct that misperception. Given the widely known and easily available data on race and online dating, the disappearing of race from Modern Romance’s analysis is all the more curious. This colorblind approach does little to help us understand contemporary intimacies that begin online and does even less to advance sociological understanding of modern romance.
South by Southwest (SXSW)—a music, film, journalism, and tech festival held annually in Austin—came under fire last week for a decision to cancel a scheduled 2016 panel called “Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games,” as well as one other panel related to the gaming community. SXSW cited threats and harassment targeting the panel as its reason for cancelling.
Since the cancellation announcement, criticism has poured in on Twitter. Major media outlets such as BuzzFeed and Vox Media have threatened to pull out of SXSW altogether. Critics have described the cancellation as “clueless” at best and “craven” at worst. Some accuse the festival of “providing the blueprint for harassers and hatemongers as to how they win.” Clearly feeling the heat, festival organizers stated on Friday that they had “made a mistake” and outlined a new plan for a “day-long summit” on online harassment.
Some heralded this new event as a victory for anti-harassment activists. Former Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, for example, praised SXSW’s handling of the situation in a Facebook post:
This week, Austin’s SXSW faced well-deserved criticism after a decision-making misstep to cancel panels on women in gaming and digital harassment. In the last day, SXSW leadership have actively sought to correct course. People will make errors in judgement and will face consequences. It is important that we applaud when organizations realize their mistakes, and actively seek remedies. To that end, I gladly accepted an invitation to participate in the newly announced day-long Online Harassment Summit at SXSW. See you Austin to talk about how we must respect all people, all genders, in both the real world and the digital world. Thank you SXSW and all those who will be a part of this great new day!
However, not everyone has been so satisfied with this fix. For one, critics have pointed out that the new summit on harassment will include speakers who are affiliated with online harassment movements. “Level Up” panelists Katherine Cross, Caroline Sinders, and Randi Lee Harper say this raises serious “security concerns” for the summit. When Sinders expressed these concerns to SXSW, organizers responded by stating their commitment to preserving a “big tent” that encompasses a diversity of opinions. “If everyone shared the same viewpoint,” wrote SXSW, “that would make for a pretty boring event.”
Sinders stresses that any “big tent” has less to do with specific topics covered and more to do with creating a safe space for conversation. She argues that SXSW could have provided enhanced security for the “Level Up” panelists, rather than simply cancel their event. Others add that framing the situation as comprised of two parties with equally valid “ideas and opinions” implies that the issue of online harassment is something that is up for debate. Instead, they say, harassers give up their claims to credibility and legitimacy the moment they harass.
Needless to say, emotions are running high. But a strong emotional response to issues of online harassment makes sense given recent debates in the tech industry. While neither panel description mentioned it explicitly, one extremely controversial subject has been consistently associated with the SXSW debacle, resurfacing almost immediately in headlines following the cancellations. That subject is GamerGate.
What is GamerGate?
In August 2014, an anonymous group of internet users began a coordinated and ongoing online harassment campaign against people—primarily women—who condemned sexism in the video game industry. This amorphous hate mob came to be associated with the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate. The movement targeted female video game developers, journalists, actresses, academic theorists, other professionals. The targets shared one thing in common: Feminism.
Online attacks have included rape threats, death threats, threats of mass shootings, and the creation of online flash games that allow players to beat up feminist critics. Many targets have also been doxed, meaning personal information like home addresses, phone numbers, employer information was found and publicly posted online. Doxing moved the harassment offline, forcing several targets to flee their homes when violent, detailed threats showed up online alongside their addresses.
Some self-identified members of GamerGate (called “GamerGaters” or “gators”) allege that the movement is not about harassment. They claim that harassers constitute a vocal minority. Instead, they define GamerGate as a movement about improving “ethical standards of video game journalism.” They accuse journalists of collusion with feminists and “social justice warriors,” saying these so-called conflicts of interest have contributed to a political correctness in game reviews.
Commentators have widely questioned this “ethics” narrative, with many dismissing it as a conspiracy theory. They argue that GamerGate’s true motivation is to police the boundaries of gaming culture—to exclude women, people of color, queer people, and trans people and to silence their criticisms. Ultimately, they argue that data and the movement’s origins reveal that this concern for “objectivity” and “ethical journalism” masks an effort to keep gaming white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender.
If this is indeed the case—if the root motivation of the GamerGate movement is white supremacism, heterosexism, cissexism, and misogyny rather than journalistic ethics—an obvious question follows: Who are these men, and why do they hate the people they see as outsiders?
Gender, Boundary Policing, and the “Gamer” Identity
Jeopardy! champion and cultural critic Arthur Chu describes GamerGate as follows:
Who are GamerGate? It’s one part entitled white guys claiming ownership over a subculture they feel is being invaded by outsiders. It’s one part entitled people who aren’t white guys who have, for one reason or another, made peace with being part of a white-guy-dominated culture and now enthusiastically join in trashing people who try to change it, for various complicated reasons. […] And it’s of course one part brazen opportunists with no prior interest in gaming seizing a chance to draw clicks while striking a blow against the left in the culture wars.
Here, Chu makes two critical points: (1) that gaming culture has historically been dominated by white men[i] and (2) that the harassment is less a result of GamerGaters’ sheer hatred of women than it is a violent defense of what they see as an existential threat to the “gamer” identity.
A number of journalists and feminists have described GamerGate as an outgrowth of a broader culture war about sexism and media, in which GamerGaters take issue with increasing racial and gender diversity in video games and in gaming culture. They say GamerGaters fear that this “bias” (read: writers calling for more diverse representation of characters in games) will change the games they love, the culture they identify with, and the social cohesion they depend on for feelings of belonging.
Katherine Cross, a feminist gaming critic and sociology PhD student at City University of New York (CUNY), posits that “GamerGate styles itself as a perverse kind of social justice movement for all gamers, constructing ‘gamer’ as an oppressed class unto itself.” Cross goes on to write that GamerGaters “claim to speak for the forgotten and bullied nerd, the outcast and misunderstood hobbyist who just wants to play video games yet is scapegoated for various and sundry evils.” On its face, this script makes logical sense: Raewyn Connell (1995) might conceive of “geek” or “gamer” masculinities as marginalized when compared to hegemonic masculinity, the dominant form of masculinity in society.
However, as Cross goes on to point out, “What this tidy narrative has always deliberately ignored is that all of GamerGate’s targets have been nerds and gamers.” That is, the very group of people that GamerGate purports to protect—gamers—include the very same people it attacks: women gamers.
If male gamers consistently considered women gamers to be genuine, authentic members of gaming culture, Cross’s point would clearly illuminate the contradictory logic of this narrative. But often times, they don’t. A common accusation levied against feminist gamers to undermine their criticisms is that they are not “real,” authentic gamers. For example, entire Reddit message boards, YouTubevideos, and blog posts have been devoted to “outing” feminist gaming critic Anita Sarkeesian as an imposter. They aim to discredit her words by showing that she isn’t truly a gamer.
The popular trope of the fake geek girl offers another clear example of this. According to a CNN blog post by Joe Peacock, fake geek girls are “pretty girls pretending to be geeks for attention.” Peacock elaborates (emphases mine):
What I’m talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a “model.” I get sick of wannabes who couldn’t make it as car show eye candy slapping on a Batman shirt and strutting around comic book conventions instead. I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street. […] I hate poachers. Pure and simple.
This definition of the fake geek girl is twofold, involving (1) a heightened performance of femininity and (2) cultural incompetence. For Peacock, fake geek girls have highly feminine, sexualized expressions of gender—they wear little clothing and “strut” around at comic cons. They are also “wannabes” who pretend to know about gaming to gain the attention of men, but really have little more than a superficial knowledge of the culture. The conflation of these two attributes in the fake geek girl trope exemplifies larger gender dynamics at play in gaming culture: incompetence is considered feminine. Thus, women must constantly perform their gaming knowledge to cast off the “fake” label and prove their authenticity as gamers.
Masculinities scholar Michael Kimmel (2008) observes a similar process in college student cultures. In college culture, he argues, competence is also considered masculine, which traps college women in a double-bind: Expressing competence might afford women some legitimacy, but “to be taken seriously as a competent individual means minimizing, or even avoiding altogether, the trappings of femininity” (252).
In a response to a critique of his original piece, Peacock adds (emphases mine):
For the record: I feel the same way about men who poach women. My wife is a marathoner (and I’ve even run one myself, and OH MY GOD I’ll never do that again). She participates in lots of female-specific events, like Iron Girl and the Nike Women’s Marathon. There are men who attend the expos and conferences for these events specifically to hit on women. I feel the same way about them. They’re gross.
Here, Peacock aims to prove his point—that he is an equal-opportunity despiser of cultural “poaching,” which he seems to understand as a hostile intrusion into a gendered social field[ii] by someone whose gender doesn’t belong. But for his comparison of gaming culture to women’s marathons to hold water, gaming would have to be analogous to a men’s-only marathon. Such a comparison reveals a belief that gaming culture is a fundamentally male space, designed to exist specifically and exclusively for men.
When Harassment Silences Discussion of Harassment
“Level Up” panelist Caroline Sinders says enhanced security would have made her feel safe enough to participate, but SXSW did not give her the chance to request it. To be fair, there is some precedent for opting for cancellation over risk of harm. Sarkeesian once cancelled a speaking engagement at Utah State University in light of a mass shooting threat. She had requested that metal detectors be used at entrances for the safety of attendees, but police declined to prohibit concealed weapons per state law.
Even so, SXSW’s navigation of this situation is confusing. GamerGate was one of the most widely covered, controversial tech debates of the past year. Given the mainstream media’s coverage of GamerGate (let alone the Twitter discussions), one might wonder how SXSW’s organizers could possibly not have anticipated such a response. It seems unbelievable that the organizers of an event billed as an “incubator of cutting-edge technologies” would be so out of touch as to simply not have anticipated backlash to a panel on online harassment. It seems so unbelievable, in fact, that I don’t believe it.
Could providing additional security for the “Level Up” panel have been financially or logistically impossible? This seems unlikely. SXSW is staffed primarily by volunteers—not paid employees—and regularly features celebrities, some of whom almost certainly require beefed-up security. It seems reasonable to expect that enhanced security measures would be possible at SXSW, and so I wonder: why did the organizers cancel the panel without consulting a single panelist? Why was that decision made behind closed doors? And why is “online harassment” a justification to silence a discussion of that very subject? It could be that SXSW genuinely and naively miscalculated. But it could also be possible that the organizers knew exactly what they were doing—and they chose to reinforce the gendered boundaries of an industry to avoid rocking the boat.
[ii] The concept of the gendered field comes from feminist interpretations of Pierre Bourdieu’s (1990) theories of social reproduction (see Laberge 1995, McCall 1992, McNay 1999). Bourdieu (1990) conceives of social life as a series of games, simultaneously played out in a social landscape divided into collective spaces he calls social fields. Each field has its own set of rules and a particular hierarchical dynamic, wherein social actors compete to occupy dominant positions. A gendered field, then, is a field that is socially marked as masculine or feminine, thus benefiting participants who behave in ways that conform to the gendered coding of the field.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1990. “Structure, Habitus, Practice.” Pp 52-66 in The Logic of Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Connell, R.W. 1995. Masculinities. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Kimmel, Michael. 2008. Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Laberge, Suzanne. 1995. “Toward an Integration of Gender Into Bourdieu’s Concept of Cultural Capital.” Sociology of Sport Journal 12: 132–146.
McCall, Leslie. 1992. “Does gender fit? Bourdieu, feminism, and conceptions of social order.” Theory and Society 21: 837–867.
McNay, Lois. 1999. “Gender, habitus and the field: Pierre Bourdieu and the limits of reflexivity.” Theory, Culture, and Society 16 (1): 95–117.
Katie Rogers is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology. Her research interests focus on the areas of gender, sexuality, and youth. You can follow her on Twitter at @katiearog.
Agents from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement train with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Arizona
Over at the London School of Economics blog, 5th-year doctoral student, Carmen Gutierrez, and former-UT professor David Kirk write on the relationship between immigration and likelihood of reporting violent crimes. Their research challenges the notion that increased immigration leads to increases in crime, instead suggesting that anti-immigration rhetoric may, in fact, be undermining public safety. Gutierrez and Kirk argue that restrictive immigration policies “create potential mistrust of legal authorities who have the power to exercise immigration enforcement, such as deportation. As a result, immigrants may avoid the police—even to report crime and victimization—due to their fears of arrest and expulsion.”
Our “On The Market” series is back, featuring 5th-year doctoral candidate and Urban Ethnography Lab fellow, Pamela Neumann:
Tell me about your research. What have you been working on?
Really broadly, I consider my research to be at the intersection of gender and political sociology. Empirically, my work looks at the dynamics of the state and social movements in Latin America, and theoretically it’s about issues related to gender and power. I started out doing research on women’s participation in development programs in Nicaragua and how that was affecting their lives. I was fortunate to publish that research a few years later.
Then, I worked on a project (as part of an NSF grant that Javier Auyero spearheaded) comparing perceptions of environmental risk in three different countries in Latin America. My piece of that was in Peru, in a small town called La Oroya. I was looking at why more people weren’t mobilizing against this 90-year old lead smelter that had caused so much contamination in the community. Many people work for the company, so that was one reason people weren’t mobilizing; but I was trying to figure out what some alternative explanations might be as well.
For my dissertation, I’m writing about violence against women, feminist activism, and state practice in Nicaragua. What happens when women try to place a legal claim against an abusive partner or someone else? What obstacles do they they face in the midst of that? I also look at local feminist mobilization around the issue of violence against women, and the dynamics of these interactions between women’s organizations and the state.
Where do you see your research going?
In the future, what I’m hoping to do is some more comparative work in Latin America, both related to violence against women and collective action. I’m particularly interested in places where extractive industry is increasing – in Peru, for example, where there are a lot of new open pit copper mines – and trying to explain when and how people mobilize in those settings against those kinds of projects and also, the gender dynamics in those communities.
Sounds like really complex and interesting work. So, how have you been preparing for this process of going on the market?
One of the first steps was to write a lot of drafts of things like research statements and teaching statements, trying to figure out how to articulate what my project is about beyond the case itself and what kinds of contributions I’m making to the subfields I’m in conversation with. I worked to figure out what those arguments are and then to synthesize them into a few key paragraphs. One thing I spent a lot of time thinking about was: what is the role of feminist activism on the issue of violence against women? Is it effective? In what ways? Is it not effective? And how does that compare or contrast with what women’s actual experiences are, because I feel like sometimes there’s a disconnect between feminist activism and the lived experiences of women. Activists have a particular point of view, priorities and strategies for what they think needs to happen, but for example, in my research I found that a lot of women didn’t necessarily want their partners to be incarcerated. You know, what does that say about feminist activism that’s all about getting laws changed or getting higher legal penalties for these crimes. I’m definitely not saying these crimes shouldn’t be penalized, but why is it that these are the main strategies being used? So, it’s a larger question about how activists try to promote social justice. Are legal strategies always the best?
So, I had to step back from the particularities of women’s situations in Nicaragua to ask a bigger question about the theoretical implications of what I’m doing. That’s one thing. The other big, theoretical issue I thought about as I was preparing my materials is about the state and how the state operates. A lot of how we talk about the state is high-level and kind of monolithic; I was thinking, what is my contribution to that debate, looking at low-level actors like police and prosecutors and the power and influence that they wield in these situations?
So, you spent a lot of time thinking about how to present yourself and your work. Situating where you’re engaging with these broad, sociological questions. When did you start working on materials?
I started writing drafts of my statements this summer, around June when I kind of knew – I had been advised – that I should start preparing. I was assisted by the fact that there were some July deadlines. This is something to be aware of if you’re going to go on the market, there could be deadlines as early as the middle of the summer. It’s good to start watching the ASA job bank, because some of the very early deadlines – July, late August, September 1 – were some of the main places that I wanted to apply. So, being ready by the beginning of the summer to send things out. Also, ASA falls at the end of August and well before that, there’s the ASA Employment Services that opens up– and those jobs start posting months before – so the sooner that you’re ready to send initial contact emails to those places with your updated CV, a brief description of your dissertation (a dissertation abstract) the better off you’re going to be.
How was it being on the market at ASA?
The key to being successful at the ASA-phase is to have already been thinking about this process well in advance and to have made contact with schools well before the Employment Services time period. The way it’s set up, you get 15 minutes with schools. Those schools look at your materials that you’ve already posted when you signed up for the service and they decided whether or not they’re going to contact you. The sooner you’re in the system, the sooner you can be on their radar, and the more likely it is that some of those schools are going to want to meet with you. I hadn’t received any advice early on one way or another about whether I should do that, so I didn’t sign up, unfortunately, until right when ASA started. Something else to be aware of is that you can’t see who the schools are who are signed up until you pay for the service. Many of these schools only send one or two people to ASA to do these interviews and there are potentially thousands of people submitting their materials. So, the sooner you’re on their radar, the sooner you can potentially get a slot.
You’re teaching a class this fall in addition to the doing all these applications and writing. How are you balancing all of your responsibilities?
That is a great question. I think teaching my own class this semester has been a challenge in that it requires a different kind of time management. As a TA, you’re not responsible for the lectures. I didn’t really have an idea of how long it would take to prepare a lecture until I actually had to do it. I learned early on that if I let myself, I could spend 8 hours preparing one lecture. After about two weeks of that, I realized that is not sustainable. So, I started to think: how I can make this process a little more efficient? At first, I spent a lot of time doing extra research but I realized I should focus on helping them learn what I actually assigned them to read. That’s what I can do right now. And I work on making the class interactive.
In terms of balancing, I dedicate Monday morning to prepping for my class and the afternoon, after I teach, to job applications. The days that I teach, that’s the pattern. Prep for class, teach, and job applications. At least two thirds of the day on Tuesday and Thursday, I try to devote to my dissertation, and at least one day of the weekend. So, it’s not ideal, but I guess it would help if I had a Tuesday-Thursday class. But, I’m very happy to be teaching; it’s been a great experience. I’ve learned a lot and it’s helped me write my teaching statement. This is the thing about preparing materials; it’s helpful to give concrete examples and the only way to get those examples is to have taught. I realize, now that I have been teaching for the last month, now I have really good stories that I can share not only in my materials, but in the event that I have the opportunity to interview somewhere. I definitely recommend if you have the opportunity to AI before going on the job market, to do it because it’s really helpful.
That’s great advice! What would be your biggest piece(s) of advice for those going on the market next year or the next few years?
I think I’ve said some of it already. It could be categorized into a few things, like writing your statements – research and teaching statements are only one to two pages long and it’s surprisingly difficult to write one to two really concise pages that are tightly woven and flow coherently. One piece of advice is don’t assume you’re going to be able to do that in your first draft. Even those of us who are good writers, who are practiced writers, it’s a different kind of thing to write. Give yourself a lot of time to do that. Don’t rush it.
Also, try to have some idea of what it is that you want, in terms of what you want to do when you’re done. Are you interested in primarily focusing on research? Are you interested in smaller, liberal arts colleges? Use what you know about yourself to inform how expansive or tailored your search is. I know some people think of their first year on the market as a “soft” search, where they’re really particular about where they apply and put “feelers” out. Other people say you should just apply widely and see what happens. I think it’s good practice and helpful to do a little bit of investigation about each school before you decide. Go to their website, look at who the faculty are, see what their research interests are and don’t think too much about “oh, it’s really cold there.” [laughs] You never know.
There are so many things you don’t have control over. In a way, it’s like what they say about publishing, you know you can’t take it personally. For example, now that I’ve been on the market for several months, I’ve already heard from a few places that I’m not on their list anymore. It’s important to remember that it isn’t necessarily because of my record, it could just be I’m not the kind of scholar they need right now. It’s the cliché thing – you’re not a good fit – but that could also be true. You have to try to not invest too much of your identity in the process.
One of the things I forgot to mention is one of the major parts of this whole process, the recommendation letters. If you’re going to apply to 30-60 schools, you’re probably going to want to use some sort of dossier service like Interfolio or Vitae. Investigate those and then, well before your deadlines, you want to make sure that you have identified three people who have already agreed to write for you, who know in advance where you’re applying, if you’re going to be periodically sending request emails. It’s important that they know to expect those emails; sometimes they go to junk mail. I didn’t have a clear idea of what professors would prefer in terms of the organization of the process until I was in it, so it’s good to find out how they want to handle that.
Also, definitely ask for examples of research and teaching statements and cover letters from people that you know or other people in the department. You can save yourself so much time, to at least see somebody’s final product. Not that your first draft has to be the same as whatever that person’s final draft was, but it’s helpful to see the organization, structure and the kinds of ways that people are framing their research to help you structure your own. That was really helpful to me.
How are you keeping all of this organized?
I’ve got a spreadsheet with all the school names and it had school name, deadline, the name of the position – because sometimes, it’s not just a sociology position, sometimes, it’s a joint – and then what they require from you, because not every school is the same. Some schools only want your cover letter and your CV, some want the CV and teaching statement, or just your research statement. Some want the letters of recommendation immediately. Some will contact your references later. So, have all that there. Once I’ve submitted I color-code it blue. I’ve been using Interfolio for the references, so I have a record of when the letters have been sent and to whom they’ve been sent. I save each individual cover letter for each school as a separate document and I have a couple different versions of my research statement and my teaching statement. I created a document that I thought would serve for the majority of schools and then I modify it for each application. I don’t have a separate folder for each school, but I know which versions of statements I send to each, the gender-specific versus just my standard statement.
Also, I didn’t think about this in the beginning, but don’t wait until the last minute to submit things. Anything can happen, you don’t know if the system is suddenly going to crash on you. So, you don’t’ want to be submitting your job applications at like 11:59pm the day before they’re due. Further, some schools start reviewing as the applications come in. So, if you can get your stuff in earlier, then it’s possible your application is going to get more attention. Also, if you’re submitting letters, you can’t submit at the last minute because your recommenders also need time to meet that deadline. So, you should really try to submit your applications a week before the deadline to give your recommenders time to upload the letters. Even if you’re using generic letters, Interfolio takes like a day.
When do you know that you’re ready to submit?
I sent multiple drafts to two professors to get feedback. With their feedback on the standard cover letter, the research statement and the teaching statement, basically I just tweak those documents on my own and don’t send the faculty any of those tweaked versions. They’ve approved the generic version, so whatever small things I might change for an individual school that isn’t something to bother the faculty with. In terms of knowing, I think it’s when the faculty that you’re working with say, “yeah, this is good.” I don’t think there’s really any other way to know. You start to realize what may be working as the process goes on. So, maybe in a few months I’ll know more, have more insight about that, to know what caught their attention. One thing I know is important is to have a clear puzzle in the letter. What is it you’re trying to explain? That’s not just a publication rule, that’s why should I care about your research, you know?
How are you practicing self-care?
I believe in self-care and so do my advisors. One way I like to practice self-care is through exercise. I like to go running, I go to the gym. Getting out all that physical energy, the stress that builds up. Also, I haven’t done this a lot but getting a massage periodically is also helpful. And of course, the occasional glass of wine. That hasn’t ever hurt anyone. Also, solidarity. Whoever is on the market with you, it’s helpful to talk to each other and share information. Yes, academia is a competitive place but we’re also each other’s future colleagues and our mutual success is important. I’m rooting for everyone in our department to get a job.
We’ve worked really hard for a long time and so it feels like it’s really high stakes. But at the end of the day, I’m still a person, and I have a life and that matters to me.
The second annual University of Texas Graduate Conference in Public Law was held this past week at the UT School of Law, bringing graduate scholars to Austin from departments across the United States. Reflecting the growing prominence of public law in the broader discipline of political science, the conference intended to provide a forum for engagement with common questions in the field. Focused on topics such as Security and International Law, Human Rights, and Jurisprudence and Judicial Behavior, the two-day conference was sponsored by a variety of faculty, departments and centers across UT’s campus: the Department of Government, College of Liberal Arts, School of Law, Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice, Clements Center for National Security, and the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law.
This recent convergence highlighted the diversity of research in the field of public law. In particular, I was struck by the graduate students’ international and multidisciplinary approaches to their work. The multidisciplinary character of the field was further articulated by the keynote speaker, Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele (Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Princeton University), whose talk, “Constitutional Possibilities,” argued that in addition to studying constitutional doctrine and institutions, we should study the potentially constitutional ideas available in any particular time and place.
I think it is safe to say that many public law scholars have never considered ethnography as a methodological possibility. Questions pertaining to the areas of public law lend themselves more to a historical or comparative approach. However, Dr. Scheppele championed the use of ethnography in her own current research and, in doing so, emphasized the benefit of a nontraditional approach to the field at large.
As sociologists, I think it is important to embrace Dr. Kim Lane Scheppele’s message of not overlooking certain methods in our study of longstanding sociological inquiries. If we limit ourselves to a particular method or approach, we constrain our ability to conduct the best possible research.
As a graduate student, I often stress about whether I am more qualitative, quantitative, or even brave enough to be an experimentalist! The UT Graduate Public Law Conference was a solid reminder that my questions should guide my research, and that my time as a graduate student is best served developing an appreciation for multiple methodologies.
Andrew Krebs is a Ph.D student in the Department of Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin. His broad research interests include lay participation, juries, court systems, and prison operations. You can follow him on Twitter @A4Andrew.
Recent UT-Austin Sociology alumna Esther Sullivan and her research are featured in “The Other Affordable Housing Crisis” at The Atlantic, discussing the “affordable housing crisis” that impacts those who live in mobile home parks:
Trailer parks are the largest segment of non-subsidized affordable housing in the United States, but they are on the radar of few policymakers, says Esther Sullivan, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Denver. Their number grew tremendously during the 1980s as direct federal funding for public housing was slashed, effectively privatizing much of the country’s low-income housing. There are an estimated 8,462,461 mobile homes nationwide, according to recently released U.S. Census data.
The vast majority of mobile home parks are located not in far-flung rural areas but in more populous metros, says Sullivan, who spent two years living in and being evicted from closing mobile home parks as part of her research. They predominate in Sun Belt states like Texas, Florida, and California, but you can also find them near New York City, or Cleveland, or Seattle.
Trailer park residents typically own their homes but not the ground beneath them, meaning most of the benefits of homeownership can be destroyed at someone else’s whim. It’s precisely this divided ownership model that helps make mobile home living affordable, but it also leaves residents vulnerable to eviction.
Read more on this issue and Esther’s work in Harris County here!
Welcome to the new “On the Market” series, where UTAustinSOC will profile UT-Austin graduate students who are on the job market! This series will serve as a means of not only allowing the graduate community to learn more about the important work that our graduate students are producing; it will also be a place to share advice gleaned and lessons learned from the job search process.
Up first, Kate Averett, a 6th-year doctoral candidate and Urban Ethnography Lab Fellow:
Tell me about your research. What are you working on?
My research broadly is around gender and sexuality in childhood and the family. More specifically, I look at how the social structures of gender and sexuality shape and inform experiences of childhood and experiences of parenting. I’ve done research in the past that has looked at LGBT parents and how they socialize their kids with respect to gender, particularly how they navigate the fact that a lot of the gender norms in childhood are based around very heteronormative assumptions. I looked at how they think about their children’s futures as not necessarily heterosexual and how they raise their kids with respect to/in resistance to gender norms.
My dissertation is on the homeschooling movement in Texas. It’s a mixed methods project that is looking at discourses of gender and sexuality in the homeschooling movement. Homeschooling has traditionally been this very bifurcated movement where you have people on the ideological “extremes”: religious conservatives – who have very specific beliefs about what gender and sexuality should look like and are very critical of the secularization of schools and the liberal influence around gender and sexuality – and liberal progressives – who have more of an education reform perspective and are critical of the way that schools encourage conformity in children, including gender and sexual conformity, and view schools as places where children are taught to lose their “true” selves. So, they’re both really critical of the gender and sexual “regimes” of the schools but from really different directions.
So, I’m exploring what discourses are going on and what do these have to do with how these two opposing “camps” are coming to the same decision to homeschool their kids. I look at the values and beliefs of the families but also the structural forces that are shaping this decision, such as the larger neoliberal divestment from public services like public education as well as the type of work that the parents do or whether they have workplace flexibility. Parents I’ve interviewed tend to have had one of two situations: either the husbands of these heterosexual wives make enough to support the family on one income or one or both parents have some sort of flexible work arrangement that allows them to work part-time, work from home or work odd hours in order to accommodate being home with their kids. There’s a lot about the structure of the economy right now that is enabling certain parents to homeschool, but it raises all these questions about who doesn’t have the access to this practice when they are dissatisfied with public education due to working multiple jobs or not having workplace flexibility.
The other major structural factor I look at is the gendered construction of motherhood and how the ways parents on both sides of the political spectrum talk about homeschooling is informed by what it means to be a “good” mother. Even among self-proclaimed “feminist parents” the pressure for the mother to be doing everything she can to provide for her children is something they feel very strongly about and to varying degrees, do and do not feel able to resist.
For my future research, I see myself remaining in this area of looking at gender and sexuality in the family. I’m planning a project looking at families with a transgender parent or transgender child, including both in the study to think about how children are part of the gendering process of the family itself and how children play a role as active social agents in gendering their parents and making the gendered space of the family what it is.
Very cool. So, how did you prepare for this process of applying for jobs and sending out applications this fall?
I started preparing over the summer; as soon as job postings started going up on the ASA Job Bank (the earliest in May, but most in June or July and continuing into October) I was looking at them, even though there weren’t that many at first and most of them wouldn’t be jobs I’d be applying for in terms of not being in my area. I looked at what kinds of materials they are looking for, what kinds of materials do I need to have. One of the first things I did was make an appointment with my advisor and ask her what were the things I should be doing, at what point should I have drafts of various documents. Her advice was really helpful, in that the documents you produce for the job market are, for the most part, very short but they take a really long time to get them right. It’s easy to write a cover letter but it’s not easy to write a good cover letter; you have to allow time for multiples drafts, multiple rewrites.
I started working on the basics of my documents in July, so that by mid-August I had my basic cover letter, research statement, and teaching statement all set. This was helpful because then ASA happens and then, as soon as you get back, some of the deadlines are starting. I’ve found most of the deadlines are between mid-September and mid-October but there were some early-September ones, so you need to have stuff ready to go.
The other thing I did was contact the people I wanted to write letters for me in June, making sure I gave them plenty of lead time on that, even though as of June I didn’t know more than a handful of specific jobs, specific dates. I asked them, what information would you like from me, what can I do to make this easier? So, being in frequent contact with the letter writers has been really important in terms of checking in with what they need and keeping them informed of new deadlines or new openings that I am applying for.
How often is “frequent”?
It depends on what your letter writer needs. Some want updates whenever you add a new position to the list; others want weekly updates on what’s coming up this week. Every letter writer is going to be different in terms of what they want from you so I think it’s a good idea to just ask.
So, how are you balancing all the things on your plate right now, since the semester is back in session?
I’m TA-ing this semester for Research Methods. It’s a course I’ve TA’d for before with different professors, so I’m pretty familiar with the subject matter. There’s a lag in the semester before any grading needs to happen on my part, so, even though the majority of my applications aren’t due until mid-to-late-September and early-to-mid-October, I’m trying to get all my applications done and out within the first few weeks of the semester. I know that once I start having to grade papers, it will be harder to balance all of that. For now, I’m trying to spend a couple days a week really focused on applications and getting them out. I have a calendar of what I want to get out each week. Also, I have a couple of days a week that I dedicate to working on my dissertation.
Any sage advice?
My biggest piece of advice would be to be super organized, even if you’re not normally a super organized person. Force yourself to be. I have several different spreadsheets having to do with the jobs I’m applying for, when their deadlines are, what’s required for each application since the portfolio looks different for each one. I have a separate spreadsheet for my letter writers that includes the position – what it is, is it targeted for a gender person, is it a joint appointment, that kind of thing – and what the deadline is, and how the letter is to be submitted. Some you submit through Interfolio or on the school’s website, others you send emails to specific people, and others delay letters until you’ve made it to a certain round in the selection process. I have another spreadsheet that tracks what’s been uploaded and submitted. I color-code to mark my progress of when I finish an application. So much is in the little details, so it’s helpful to mark your progress and know that you’re getting somewhere.
How are you practicing self-care?
The way I’ve been practicing self-care in general the last few years is being really good about my sleep. That’s one area that I just don’t sacrifice because I know that’s what my body needs. I’ve also been working on eating healthier, staying hydrated, stretching, doing yoga. I try to keep my body moving and pay attention to it because if you get sick or your back goes out, it’s really hard to get work done. Make sure you’re taking care of the basics so you can do everything else. People don’t think of scholarly work as being embodied work but it is. It’s tough on our bodies to be writing all the time, to be sitting, to be reading – the postures we hold ourselves in are hard on the body. You have to keep your body conditioned the way that anyone would for a job that requires physical labor.
Also, having a community of other people who are on the job market is really critical. There are a bunch of us in the department who are on the market right now and we bounce ideas off each other, we ask each other questions, we get advice, we talk strategy. There is a temptation to be competitive and not share advice; but I, and my colleagues, know that when one of us looks good, all of UT-Austin Sociology looks good. When we’re all strong on the market that makes us all look good. It’s a very solitary experience so it’s good that we’re all cheering for each other. The little bits of encouragement are really helpful and help with demystifying the process. #solidarityisforgradstudents
“My Strength Is Not For Hurting,” read a poster that professor Christine Williams showed during the inaugural MasculinUT: Healthy Masculinities Project event on September 3, 2015. Williams was critical of the poster because of how it positioned men as subjects who can make a choice to be violent or not, while women were portrayed as silent objects to be protected. The poster is an example of recent efforts to involve men in the movement to end violence against women, contained in Michael Messner’s new book, Some Men: Feminist Allies and the Movement to End Violence Against Women. The book, which came out earlier this year, was at the center of an “author-meets-critics” panel conversation between Messner, UT sociology professors Christine Williams and Ben Carrington, and undergraduate Student Government Chief of Staff Taral Patel.
The conversation around this poster was reflective of the tone of the event, which did not focus purely on the successes or failures of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, but on the contradictions and lessons that can be learned about masculinity, race, and the institutionalization of the movement to end violence against women. The “Strength is Not for Hurting” campaign represents, to varying degrees, the state of men’s involvement (or attempts to involve men) in the movement: a depoliticized (read: distanced from feminism), sanitized (read: not messing with a gender hierarchy or questioning masculinity), professionalized and institutionalized effort that targets individual men, but is not critical of masculinity or patriarchy and the way they shape institutions and their logics. It stands in stark contrast with MasculinUT, which is a project headed by Voices Against Violence of the Counseling and Mental Health Center. MasculinUT aims to transform taken-for-granted understandings of masculinity on campus, and promote healthy models of masculinity with the ultimate goal of preventing interpersonal, relationship, and sexual violence on campus. The conversation over the poster and the history of men’s involvement in ending violence against women went in many directions that problematized taken for granted ideas about gender, race, and violence. Though not all questions were answered, the fact that we can have a complex conversation says a lot about the direction that anti-violence work can positively go in.
Messner’s co-authored book analyzes men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women from the 1970s to the present, separating the men into different cohorts. As Patel summarized during the event, Messner explains that in the 1970s some men listened to and collaborated with women who were leaders in the feminist movement, creating coalitions with them to redefine masculinity and fight for gender equality by reaching out to young men. Messner calls these men the “movement cohort.” Patel noted that a key difference between men in the 1970s and young men today was the use of political labels to identify themselves in the 70s, compared to almost a phobia of labels nowadays. The “bridge cohort” is what Messner terms the men who worked in anti-violence programs and institutions with anti-violence policies during 1980s and 1990s; Patel found this part of the book relevant to him as a student in an institution that has to follow laws and policies to prevent violence against women. Patel saw the institutionalization of anti-violence programs (in universities and the military, for example) as the success of feminism, and observed that coalition building means that allies must listen to movement leaders. He also highlighted how the book respects and centers the work of women, without which men who do anti-violence work could not operate.
The final group that Messner’s book discusses is the “professional cohort.” This cohort of men is the most diverse racially and economically; this is partly the result of anti-violence programs targeting communities of color and needing to recruit young men of color that their target audience can relate to. It is also a cohort distant from political discourses, as they do not identify with feminism for the most part, and work under a public health and social work umbrella to justify their involvement in anti-violence programs. In this vein, Patel’s questions focused on what students can do now to build on the opportunities afforded to them by feminist work and continue building coalitions that recognize how gender violence is not independent from racial violence and class violence, among other types of violence experienced by students.
After reflecting on Patel’s comments and Messner’s responses, I see that MasculinUT is a mixture of both “new” and “not so new” ideas. Mesnner shared that in the 1970s, men had a vested interest in changing the definition of “manhood” to humanize men and fight against unquestioned gender assumptions (which society ascribes to boys and men) such as men’s aggressiveness, lack of emotions, and violent tendencies. Like Messner’s early experiences in the feminist movement, one of the goals of MasculinUT is to promote healthy models of masculinities that would afford young men on our campus a better quality of life by improving relationships, reducing violence (against women and among men), and improving men’s mental and physical health by encouraging the exploration of different emotions and interpersonal skills often thought of as feminine.
However, as Christine Williams pointed out during the panel, recent efforts by some men’s groups who stand against violence often reify the gender hierarchy by positioning men as subjects who have to be responsible for their male power, and women as objects to be protected. After showing the posters mentioned at the beginning of this post, she congratulated Messner on how the book operates with a framework that does not glorify or put down men’s efforts, but rather works to understand contradictions and tensions that arise out of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women. One of her most critical questions had to do with how much emphasis Messner puts on education programs to reduce violence, and whether or not education is a true site of transformation for masculinity. To this, Messner responded that education by itself is not an answer, and indeed it is wrought with problematic messages that rest on a gender binary and hierarchy. However, he pointed out that the book contains examples of men using educational and promotional materials as tools to start a conversation that is relevant to men’s lives. Moreover, he emphasized that the book also explores what it takes for men to get interested in the movement to end violence against women, and how much effort they have to put in to make it their career. By emphasizing this, he is not trying to glorify the men (who often are praised just for showing up to anti-violence programs), yet also not dismiss the complicated, contradictory, and often difficult work they engage in.
Professor Ben Carrington also highlighted parts of the book that discussed how anti-violence PR work is limited when the movement to end violence against women is institutionalized. Carrington reflected on how, as universities, non-profits, health organizations, and other institutions develop anti-violence policies and work to reduce gender violence, they often ignore how to transform powerful entities (such as athletics departments) and become complicit in the perpetuation of violence. Moreover, Carrington mentioned that the problem is individualized, as it is not seen as a cultural or structural problem, but a problem of individual men. Often, the men who represent violence in the eyes of the institution tend to be men of color, who become scapegoats that ultimately allow for assumptions of masculinity within the institutions to resist transformation. Carrington ended with a question about the limits of Messner’s definition of the “field” of men’s involvement in the movement to end violence against women, particularly how limiting the genealogy of anti-violence work from the 1970s to today leaves out important contributions of women of color that span hundreds of years of work against the violence of European colonists, slave-owners, and other powerful entities. If these were to be included, asked Dr. Carrington, is a white, liberal, feminist framework still relevant?
There is a lot at stake when writing about men’s involvement in a movement primarily seen as headed by white women, because under patriarchy men’s contributions can be glorified and their privilege overlooked, silencing women’s needs and contributions. Moreover, in a society that privileges whiteness, it is easy to ignore women of color’s involvement and intellectual contributions in anti-violence work, and ignore power dynamics that result in men of color and working class men being labeled as the most violent in an effort to resist an overall transformation of patriarchy that affords elite men privilege. While the book does address some of these issues, Messner shared that after having conversations with many feminist academics and activists, he now sees loose ends left in his book. If given a chance, he would include more historical information about important anti-violence work, particularly work done by women of color. He explained that his original genealogy arose from a conversation with his co-authors while reminiscing about their involvement in the feminist movement and in violence prevention work. Thus, the genealogy represents their own social location. This reminds me of how Dorothy Smith1 and Patricia Hill Collins2 write about how the tools we learn as sociologists to conduct research are rooted in masculinist, Eurocentric logics. It is easy to forget or trivialize women’s intellectual contributions and work when the very tools of our field are already infused with logics that center (often white and middle-class) men’s experiences and standpoint, even when working with a feminist framework in a field constructed by feminists.
I am not accusing the authors of the book or pointing fingers particularly at them, but rather reflecting on what it takes to produce feminist work that includes sophisticated thoughts about men and masculinity in a feminist scholarly effort, from the point of view of men. As Smith and Collins argue, one way to account for the limitations of both our social location and masculinist, Eurocentric sociological methods and theory, is to trust and respect feminist work that arises from the experiences of women of all walks of life. This is something that, as a feminist scholar, Messner is doing since the release of the book. He has addressed questions such as Carrington’s by recognizing the limitations of his book and incorporating the tools and ideas of feminists of color to enrich the work without taking credit for those ideas. He wrote the blog post titled “Intersectionality Without Women of Color?” to engage in reflexivity sparked by listening to feminists of color. He starts his post by writing:
A book should never be treated as a statement of some final Truth. Instead, a book is best put to use as moment of condensed insight that focuses and clarifies ongoing conversations. Still, when you are the author of a book, and engaging in such public conversations, you sometimes learn things in the give-and-take that you wish you had known while writing.
This is where I see the success of this event and hopefully, of the new MasculinUT initiative on the UT campus: engaging in dialogue that results in meaningful transformations of our understandings of gender and violence, and the multiple intersections with race, class, and more. I foresee a lot of difficult conversations happening as Voices Against Violence moves forward with this project on the UT campus. When talking about the power inherent in relationships shaped by gender, race, and class (among other identities), and more importantly, about transforming those relationships to prevent violence, I don’t see an easy way to prevent disagreement or prevent MasculinUT from engaging in problematic discussions. What I do see is that it can be possible to have a dialogue where MasculinUT and the student body can learn from each other and together develop a fluid platform to address issues of violence, gender, race, class, and more. What this event taught me (in connection to feminist epistemology and methodology), is that this type of work requires an interrogation of logics and practices that exist through, and outside of, ourselves. We cannot rely on our experiences and our points of view alone to understand how violence works and how to prevent it. We need to trust, listen to, and respect what people with vastly different experiences have to say, whether this is in the form of theories developed by feminist scholars, or the solutions that activists of different backgrounds have come up with when engaging in anti-violence work. Being reflexive of our standpoint as we do research, having compassion for the people who engage in education programs that target men, questioning the rationalization for targeting men of color, and being critical of taken-for-granted notions of masculinity will only enrich the work that we do, and Messner’s responses (during the panel and in the blog linked above) are one way of transforming our narratives and our tools as sociologists. In line with his book, I do not want to glorify Messner for his work; however, I do want to celebrate the lessons to be learned in the contradictions and tensions that his work contends with, and the way that he listens to, honors, and works with other stakeholders in the movement to end violence.
1. Smith, Dorothy. (1987). The Every Day World As Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Northeastern University Press.
2. Collins, Patricia Hill. (2000). Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Routledge.
Juan Portillo is a Graduate Assistant for Voices Against Violence, working on the MasculinUT project. He is also a 4th year PhD student in the Department of Sociology at UT Austin.