I Blame The Feminazis

For this:

As the article notes,

“In a reversal of traditional gender roles, young women now surpass young men in the importance they place on having a high-paying career or profession, according to survey findings from the Pew Research Center. Two-thirds (66%) of young women ages 18 to 34 rate career high on their list of life priorities, compared with 59% of young men. In 1997, 56% of young women and 58% of young men felt the same way.

The past 15 years have also seen an increase in the share of middle-aged and older women who say being successful in a high-paying career or profession is “one of the most important things” or “very important” in their lives. Today about the same share of women (42%) and men (43%) ages 35 to 64 say this. In 1997, more middle-aged and older men than women felt this way (41% vs. 26%).

But fear not, my family values friend!

“Though women are increasingly focused on college and career, the share who place marriage and parenthood high on the list of priorities is undiminished. For both men and women, being a good parent and having a successful marriage remain much more important than career success.”

Oh, thank FSM for that… well…

Not gender reversal here though:

“The share of women ages 18 to 34 who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives has risen nine percentage points since 1997, from 28% to 37%.

On the other hand, the share of young men ages 18 to 34 who say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things has dropped from 35% in 1997 to 29% now. Today a significantly smaller share of young men (29%) than young women (37%) list marriage as one of their highest priorities; this represents a change from 1997, when men and women were statistically equal on this measure.”

I’m sure we can blame that last one on feminists one way or another. It would go something like this: feminists have made marriage so unattractive to men (what with the demands for equality and sharing) that men are less interested in it. There, all done.

At the same time, there is this:

“The increased value placed on marriage and family does not necessarily reflect the broader societal trends in these areas. Young adults today are marrying at lower rates and later ages than ever before—only a third (33%) of 18- to 34-year-old women are now married, compared with nearly three quarters (73%) of women this age in 1960.9 The median age for first marriage is now 27 for women, up from 20 in 1960.10And the median age for first-time mothers is now 24, up from 22 in 1960. So while marriage and family still remain among women’s top priorities, many are delaying these milestones when compared with earlier generations.”

In other words, people are more realistic and pragmatic about these things and more likely to individualize these decisions in the context of their own circumstances with regards to education, job prospects, etc.

“Generally, the public is supportive of more active roles for women in the workplace. A September 2011 Pew Research poll found that 73% of Americans feel that the trend toward more women in the workforce has been a change for the better in our society.15 Furthermore, an October 2010 Pew Research poll found that a majority (62%) of the general public feels that a marriage where the husband and wife share the responsibilities of work and children is more satisfying than a more traditional marriage with a male breadwinner. However, the public remains conflicted about the impact these changes have had on young children. When asked whether the trend toward more mothers of young children working outside the home is a good thing or a bad thing for society, only 21% of Americans said it is a good thing. Some 37% said this is a bad thing for society, and roughly the same share (38%) said it hasn’t made a difference.”

Who The F!@# Cares? – Ordinary Sexism

Oh look, she has so many blazers that they cover the entire color palette…

Because, of course, there is nothing more important to cover when it comes to Angela Merkel. There is nothing new to the fact that women politicians, heads of state or public officials do stand out from their masculine counterparts with their dark business suits, like this:

But there is no doubt that this Merkel thing is another way of scrutinizing women’s bodies. After all, have we ever seen something equivalent done about a male politician? President or whatever?

I remember when France got its one and only prime minister, years back, we got treated of news report regarding the couture house where she bought her clothes. Again, nothing equivalent for men. When it comes to women, it allows for the speculation and evaluation regarding what women are showing or covering.

Either way. Who cares. It reduces powerful women to a shallow and superficial attribute.

The Patriarchy Continuum as Non-Stop War Against Women

And the war against women can take many forms. In the US and UK, it focuses on reproductive rights and access to safe contraception and abortion. But it can take many other forms, along the patriarchy continuum.

It can take the form of insults hurled at a Prime Minister (and she deals with it masterfully):

“Australian prime minister Julia Gillard “played her best hand with a brilliant attack on the Conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, accusing him of being sexist and a misogynist,” the Telegraph reports.”

See also here.

It can take the form of daily harassment, as in Russia:

“The activists of RosNakhal, a newly formed movement, say that it is difficult for women to escape the attention of predatory men in the Russian capital, and want the Russian parliament to act. The campaign was started by Yulia Kolyadina, a presenter on a fashion-based television channel, who says she was so irritated by being harassed by men as she went about her daily business in Moscow that she decided to make a film to highlight the problem. A friend followed her around the city with a hidden camera for two days and filmed various exchanges.

“I want to show everyone, and especially men, how your attempts to chat up women can turn into the worst kind of rudeness,” Ms Kolyadina says at the start of the video, which has received over a million views since it was posted a fortnight ago on YouTube.

What follows are a number of clips of men sidling up to her at cafés, bus stops, or simply on the street and making clumsy chat-up attempts. When she says she does not want to talk to them, some of them attempt to touch her, while others suggest going back to their place to “get to know each other”. One man does not even say hello, but has as his opening gambit: “Ooh, what a nice juicy arse you have!”

“It’s a real problem and we want men to realise that women should not be treated like objects, but with respect,” says Olga Boltneva, a 20-year-old journalism student who is one of the campaign’s organisers. “I often go to the park to read and men appear and just won’t leave you alone. When I heard about Yulia’s idea I knew straight away that I wanted to help out.”

After the video went viral, consultations have already begun in the Russian parliament over whether or not some kind of penalty could be introduced and many MPs are supportive.

“However strong Russian women are, it’s very unpleasant for them when their personal space is breached,” Maria Maksakova, an MP from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, told Izvestia newspaper. “We are going to look into all the aspects of this problem and develop a solution.” The main issue is how any kind of law against sexual harassment could be enforced, but Ms Boltneva points to Brussels, where a €250 (£200) fine for “sexual intimidation” has recently been introduced after a similar amateur video of everyday harassment was put online by a 25-year-old film student earlier this summer.

But many Russians have a different attitude towards the issue. In 2008, a woman attempting to bring charges against a lecherous boss had her case thrown out after the judge ruled that predatory sexual behaviour was a normal part of life. “If we had no sexual harassment we would have no children,” the judge ruled.””

Seriously.

It can be the extra shame heaped upon women victims of rape, adding insult to injury, first in Tunisia:

“Tunisian civil society is rallying in support of a young woman who was raped by police officers in what they say is part of a broader assault on women’s rights by religious conservatives.

There is widespread outrage after 27-year-old victim was summoned by the investigating judge on Wednesday to face chargers of “indecency” from the two men accused of raping her, in what many argue is an attempt by the authorities to intimidate her.

Leading human rights, feminist groups and other prominent members of civil society have formed a committee evening to co-ordinate a campaign in support of the woman, including the Tunisian Association of Democratic Women and the Tunisian League of Human Rights.

Faïza Skandrani, the head of the Equality and Parity organisation, told Al Jazeera that the case was an important one for two reasons: it marked the first time a woman allegedly raped by the police had taken the case to court, and it was the first time the authorities were trying to publicly shame a woman into dropping such charges.

“The investigating judge is turning her from the victim to the accused, to help the police officers get away with it,” she said. “I’ve heard about similar cases in Pakistan, but this is a first in Tunisia. Next they will be charging her with prostitution.”

And in Indonesia:

“Une école indonésienne a expulsé une adolescente de 14 ans, l’accusant d’avoir“terni l’image” de l’établissement après avoir été violée, a indiqué, mardi 9 octobre, une organisation de protection de l’enfance.

L’écolière était retournée dans son établissement lundi et participait à une cérémonie de lever du drapeau quand, devant des centaines de ses camarades réunis pour l’occasion, un enseignant est venu lui annoncer qu’elle était“expulsée”, selon Arist Merdeka Sirait, président de la Commission de protection de l’enfance, une organisation non gouvernementale. Le professeur a indiqué à la fille qu’elle avait “terni l’image de l’école”, a-t-il précisé. “L’école a aggravé le traumatisme en l’humiliant en face de centaines de camarades. Cette fille a été la victime d’un réseau de trafic d’enfants. L’école aurait dû l’aider”, a-t-il ajouté.

Une plainte officielle a été déposée par la commission auprès du ministère de l’éducation afin de demander la révocation du permis de l’école privée, située dans la banlieue de Djakarta, a indiqué le président. L’adolescente était entrée en contact avec un “ami” par l’intermédiaire du site de socialisation Facebook. Elle s’était rendue à un rendez-vous qu’il avait fixé mais avait alors été enlevée par un groupe qui l’avait maintenue en détention pendant une semaine, période durant laquelle elle avait été violée à plusieurs reprises.”

Quick translation: an adolescent meets a guy on Facebook. They agree to meet. She gets kidnapped by a group of men who hold her hostage for a week and rape her repeatedly. Now, she has been expelled from school because it is bad for the school’s image to have a “tainted” student. And for the stigmatization to be complete, she was called out by school officials during a flag raising ceremony in front of the student body.

And last but not least, the Taliban are always reliable in their hatred of women:

“A girl of 14 who gained worldwide acclaim for speaking out against the Pakistani Taliban’s ban on education for girls was shot in the head on her way home from school yesterday,

Militant leaders said the attack on Malala Yousafzai was a warning to other “secular” youths. The teenager was sitting with other pupils in a bus ready to leave the grounds of their school when gunmen approached and asked which one was Malala. They opened fire, injuring her and two other girls in the vehicle.

The attack took place not in a wild tribal area but in the Swat Valley, a northern district where the Taliban was supposedly cleared out by the Pakistani army in 2009. Malala was airlifted from her school in the town of Mingora to hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar, for surgery. She was in a critical condition last night but doctors said the bullet had not entered her brain.

The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) – the main faction of the home-grown Taliban – claimed responsibility for the assassination attempt and warned that it would target Malala again if she survived. Earlier this year, the TTP said the teenager was on its hitlist because of her “secular” views. A spokesman for the Taliban said yesterday: “She was young but she was promoting Western culture.”

Malala had resisted the Taliban takeover of Swat with her diary – published in 2009 under a pseudonym by the BBC’s Urdu language service. In it, she told the outside world what was happening in her home district. Early that year, with the Taliban menace still present, she spoke out on television, always sticking carefully to her demand only for schooling.

In one television appearance in Swat, with Taliban sympathisers apparently in the audience, she said: “I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.””

I hope she makes it.

And this was just in the past few days in the war on women.

Book Review – Who You Claim

Robert Garot‘s Who You Claim – Performing Gang Identity in School and On The Streets is a great and highly readable account of the life of high school students living in a gang-dominated area (mostly, Bloods and Crips).

The book is based on a study the author conducted while volunteering to tutor students at risk (although a lot of them seemed to be past that point) at a high school of last resort for students who had been expelled from pretty much anywhere else. The study was conducted in waves as Garot came back and met with school administrators, teachers and students over a period of years. While tutoring, he conducted interviews with these people, especially students, asking them about identity and performance (not in those terms) at school and on the streets.

Garot also relied very heavily on a body of sociological literature in which I was up to my eyeballs while writing my doctoral dissertation: Goffman and the whole ethnomethodological / conversational analysis canon. Armed with this literature and his body of interviews, Garot proceeds to shatter and slay some myths about gangs and the relationship between youth and gang identity that are widespread in criminological / media / policy circles.

The result is a rather gripping book that is highly enjoyable to read, although the content might be depressing at times in terms of blocked opportunity and social closure on these youths. The chapter that Garot devotes early in the book on the kind of education the youths receive at the school is a serious indictment of the way the educational system treats at-risk students. It is pathetic and sad and goes a long way towards explaining why so many of them just drop out or disappear. It takes enormous effort for these kids to stick with it (way more effort than at a well-funded, suburban school).

Throughout the book, there is no doubt that Garot roots for these students and cares deeply about them and is highly critical of the institutional processes that generate so much alienation and of failed public policy.

So, what is the book all about? The book revolves around the concept of identity not as solid, reified and fixed defining feature of individuals but as a fluid resource that is produced and reproduced in flexible ways and mobilized by social actors (students, in this case) as they go about their business, try to get themselves an education or any other thing they need to do in their gang-dominated neighborhood. One can see why, then, Garot selected Goffman (presentation of self, interaction rituals, impression management) and the EM/CA corpus (“doing gang identity” as much as one “does gender”) for his study (all notations from Kindle edition).

“Through dress, mannerisms, and language, individuals make and dispute claims to identity based in socially recognized categories, and such claims and contestations become the bases for sustaining interaction.” (1).

Through and through, Garot’s study shows how skillful these students are at displaying and using an identity that is both stigmatized and criminalized by society and yet necessary to master if one is to survive in their area. One has to be able to display the proper signals when walking around the neighborhood, the very same signals that are not allowed in school. these signals indicate not simply “I’m in gang” v. “I’m not in a gang”. In reality, Garot shows that there are shades of grey between these two polar opposites. It is a study on the use of stigmatized, practical knowledge that shapes interactions and constitute what John Heritage used to call an architecture of intersubjectivity, despite all sorts of institutional obstacles.

For starters, the concept of “gang” itself is problematic (hence the problem of any social scientific research that uncritically accepts commonsense concepts, as Durkheim taught us long ago).

“Classification of gangs is a daunting task, and with inclusion of other youth collectivities, it is even more so. In addition to diversity and change, youth collectivities come in many forms, which sometimes merge and change in other ways: There are drug gangs, or ‘crews’; ‘wilding’ groups; milling crowds; smaller networks involved in delinquency; ‘tagger crews’; mods, rockers, and soccer hooligans; skinheads and bikers; prison gangs; seemingly ad infinitum.” (4)

More than that, gangs are always reduced to violent and illegal activities, even though, time and again, studies have shown that they provide social services that are otherwise unavailable in poor neighborhood. And, again, once a person is assumed to be a gang member, it is assumed that this person is 100%, 24/7 a gang member. It is based on such essentialist assumptions that police departments and other law enforcement agencies design anti-gang policies. This stance also ignores the fact that one of the major social sites of gang creation is the prison system.

“While gangs on the street may be situated and contingent, perhaps the most lasting and obdurate means by which the state creates gangs is through incarceration.

(…)

Especially remarkable is the lack of discussion of the role of prisons in shaping gangs in much of the gang literature, when one of the strongest findings of prison studies is that incarceration has effects that contradict its supposed purposes, ensuring that convicts will mature in criminal knowledge, contacts, and sophistication.51 Prisons are especially efficacious in ensuring the growth of gangs; depended upon as a source of social control, gangs have become firmly institutionalized there. Many gangs owe their fruition to the prison context,

(…)

Gangs not only maintain order inside prisons but are also integral for meeting prisoners’ needs once they leave. A great deal of recent scholarship has focused on how social institutions are both disinclined and ill prepared to accommodate returning convicts, who typically become concentrated in neighborhoods that already face myriad economic and social disadvantages.” (7)

So, rather than treat gang identity as a reified category that defines someone’s identity once and for all, Garot prefers to treat identity as performance:

“In ecologies where gangs are active, young people may modulate ways of talking, walking, dressing, writing graffiti, wearing makeup, and hiding or revealing tattoos, playing with markers of embodied identity to obscure, reveal, or provide contradictory signals on a continuum from gang related to non−gang related. Yet few studies of gangs appear hip to these nuances. When it comes to understanding gang membership, most of the gang literature is mired in notions from the 1950s that identity simply is, rather than is artfully created and contingent on circumstances and audience.” (13)

As Garot also puts it (and I wish I could make a poster of it): “dress is how we wear the social.” (45) So, an additional challenge that students have to address is how to dress when one is expected to display some gang insignia in order to navigate the neighborhood while the school requires a dress code.

Garot perfectly illustrates the absurdity of dress codes as such:

“First, a wannabe (see chapter 5) could be fully decked out as a gangster and yet not be recognized as such (at least not by actual gang members) no matter how he dresses. In contrast, a reputable OG (original gangster) doesn’t need to dress in any specific way to please anybody—reputation makes an outward demonstration of allegiances superfluous. Second, the combination of items of clothing, along with accessories, is important for creating the overall gestalt of a “gang member.” A young person may well look like a gang member to an outsider, but if certain key aspects of the ensemble are missing, such as the combination of items of clothing, or of clothing along with a certain haircut or item of jewelry, he or she may well be overlooked by gang members. Third, these characteristic markers are fluid and changing, much too quickly for anyone to regulate. One way of “representing” works in this neighborhood but not the next; one style was vogue last week but not this week. Such changes may even entail ways of subverting changing dress codes, in a potentially infinite, perverse loop between the panoptic gaze of authority and the wily creativity of youth. Fourth, the most important aspect of appearing as a gang member has to do not with the clothes but with how the clothes are worn. How one embodies one’s clothes, by sagging them, or walking with a certain style, or cocking the head just a little bit, is impervious to legal regulation, easily escaping supervision, and is the fundamental way of marking gang membership, no matter what color, style, or brand one is wearing.” (45)

In addition, Garot shows that the enforcement of the dress code by the school was always more a matter of individual discipline and intimidation rather than consistent school policy. Dress codes are presented as matters of student safety when they are actually matters of adult authority. The entire chapter that Garot devotes to dress codes is fascinating.

Another fascinating chapter is devoted to how to answer the omnipresent question “Where you from” that people in this neighborhood have to be ready to answer at all times. It is a skill that might save one’s life or at least prevent a beating. This is a question that always comes from a gang member as a way of proving toughness. And, of course, it is an interaction ritual in which one must skillfully determine how to present one’s self. Students know that they might have to answer that question on their way to and from school. This question is a question about gang identity and affiliation.

This ritual always involves an instigator (the one asking the question or “banging on” or “hitting up” or “sweating”) from a respondent in a public place. Being hit up implies three assumptions:

  1. the instigator is a gang member;
  2. the instigator is willing to engage in violence;
  3. the instigator implies that the respondent will understand what is at stake.

To answer “nowhere” is to show weakness and assume an inferior status (“ranker”) and leaves the instigator in a superior position. To claim a gang, on the other hand, carries risk but so does ranking out when one does belong to a gang. Young people then (those most likely to be hit up) have to know where to go to avoid being hit up, know how to dress, know what to say and what kind of emotions to display (if any at all).

The question is also often asked as a form of harassment and intimidation, but also as a physical challenge where the instigator expects it will lead to a physical fight.

This means that living in such areas carries many risks that young people have been socialized to know how to face at a young age and that no one up the social ladder ever has to face. It is always amusing to hear commentators on TV blather on as to how people who have become successful are those who took risks. The real risk-takers are those teenagers who have to carefully think about their every move on the street (whether they are gang members or not) from the moment they leave the house in the morning (if they do) to go to school or to work as every step they take will carry real physical risks to their safety and lives. It is not comparable to the risk of losing money in the failed business venture. It is an absolute privilege to never be asked “where you from” in one’s life.

Garot also devotes some space to the idea of fluidity in gangs by showing that (1) there are a number of groups that are often defined as gangs where they are in reality forms of sporadic social groups (such as cliques, crews, cowbangers, or taggers), and (2) membership in a gang covers diverse realities. Garot goes into more details in the group life of tagging crews and the amount of ritualization that shapes the activities of the group and the behavior of individual members:

“Taggers pride themselves on “can control”: being able to achieve a smooth coat of paint with a minimum of drips. Taggers often have idiosyncratic and stylized ways of holding their cans. They may push the button with their middle finger, index finger, or thumb. They also must find a way to carry the can as they run between tagging sites so that the “little ball” inside will not bounce too much. One consultant found that the back of his pants under his waistband was the best place to manage this.

Taggers take solace in such skills in order to manage the considerable and obvious risks. Of course, tagging is illegal, and especially with the rise of “broken windows” policing, emphasizing the façade of public order over all else, taggers break numerous public ordinances, including trespassing, defacement of public property, and violation of curfew.10 While both fast and slow taggers take pride in the mere act of tagging, these are far from the only skills involved. Management skills are necessary to attract and organize members, maintain a group, and strategically plan “bombing runs.” Skills in shoplifting are important, as many taggers steal their materials. The possibilities for self-expression and action are potentially infinite, expanding far beyond the basic act of tagging.

Some might say that taggers are simply thrill seekers, but such an explanation is far from sufficient, since tagging involves many nuanced skills. One of the most exciting aspects of tagging involves imagining the expressive possibilities, but nothing compares to the thrill of running the streets under cover of darkness, dealing with whatever may come, whether enemies, angry property owners, or the police, and showing others the tag at a later date, a mnemonic for the good times that were had.

Leaders of crews will monitor walls to ensure that younger members are “putting in work.” If not, the leader may assign them a mission. If the younger member does not perform the mission adequately, he may be disciplined (punched) by the leader. The more work put in, the more prestige a tagger has in his crew. Work that is especially dangerous, such as tagging freeway signs or the outside of the girders of bridges over freeways (referred to as “heavens”), is especially valued.

A tagging crew must have enemies. Enemies are created through “beefs.” In exploring “beefs,” we begin to see the highly structured and ritualized nature of some inner-city conflict, as well as the indigenous ways to resolve it. A beef can be created in a number of ways. The most common way is for one crew to “cross out” another crew’s tags. Leaders will often explain, “We gotta go down [i.e., fight] with them because they crossed us out.” Another way is through disrespect or fights that may erupt between members of rival crews. Once two crews “have a beef,” members must fight their rivals on sight. This is why taggers may “hit up” strangers by demanding, “What you write.” If the stranger claims a rival crew, the two must “go at it,” usually only with fists.

(…)

After a beef has endured for a fair amount of time, leaders may decide to “squash the beef.” To do so, the crews must “battle.” Rival crews become quite excited about a battle, as it channels action into a highly structured ritual, combining the thrill and chance of a gamble with the rules and formality of a sport.” (98 – 9)

Garot also creates a typology of gang involvement, which is not an all or nothing affair.

  • Wannabee or hook: someone who claims a gang without having been formally accepted by it. Wannabees are those who are most likely to show off the most gang signals. To be called a wannabee is a pejorative designation.
  • “Kicking it” with a gang without being member: this allows to get all the social perks of being part of a gang without paying the price for it, especially participation in violence.
  • Still in a gang – no longer gangbanging: these are usually individuals who have acquired enough status to no longer have to prove themselves through dangerous activities.
  • “Kicking it” with a gang, still caught up in violence: those are individuals who may be close to aging out of a gang.
  • “Kicking it” but with difficulty managing it: especially individuals whose gang identity conflict with other identities they have (family, for instance); being member of one gang but having to live in an area dominated by another.
  • Banging to the fullest: that one is pretty much self-explanatory although even the youth at that end of the continuum are more nuanced and three-dimensional than most gang studies show. Rival gangs can come together for a common cause (some sort of charitable work).

And there is always the possibility of avoiding gang membership altogether even though these youths might still wear gang insignia.

When it comes to violence though, Goffman’s insights on face and face-saving behavior are very much operative. And when Garot’s consultants (as he called the students he interviewed) avoid violence, they often provide not only elaborate strategies for doing so (such as talking one’s way out of a fight) but also clear rationalizations that point to the fact that they did not do so out of cowardice:

  • the odds were too unequal;
  • potential negative consequences (being expelled from school or putting others in danger);
  • the reason for the fight (a game of basketball, for instance) wasn’t worth it;
  • the potential opponent was too weak (or a woman).

[This is very reminiscent of Tilly’s work, Why?.]

In addition, Garot also shows the enormous (and exhausting, I would add) amount of face-work and emotional management these youths have to do in their day-to-day interactions with school officials, instigators, gang members, etc.

“Aside from a few remarkable exceptions, criminologists have mostly overlooked the emotional dynamics of disputes. In the literature on emotion management, on the other hand, much of the richest data focuses on how workers intrapersonally manage disputes. Arlie Russell Hochschild developed the notion of emotion management to reveal how individuals attune themselves through “surface acting” and “deep acting” to the rules and ideologies of private and public life. Hochschild was especially concerned with the emotive dissonance and alienation wrought when emotional labor is compelled by an employer, and one must attune one’s feelings, like it or not, to the demands of the workplace. This chapter, on the other hand, focuses on how emotive dissonance may also result from the everyday phenomenon of emotion work, when young people must restrict their desire to retaliate because of structural constraints. Such emotion work involves considerable skills to manage a dangerous situation. Young people struggle to attune their actions and emotions to the demands of social structure by “lumping it,” or in local terms “sucking it up,” even as they express the fantastic desire to indulge in righteous retaliation.” (144)

Emphasis mine. 

Garot also shows that things are actually more complicated and nuanced than what Elijah Anderson depicted in The Code of The Street (that book actually takes quite a beating in Garot’s study):

“Despite dicta that one cannot back down from a conflict without losing respect, it is important that we consider seriously what members take as circumstances that mitigate the necessity of such measures. An “affront” or “insult” in itself is not sufficient to inspire retaliation. Rather, individuals take into account the effect of violence on their social ties before responding, and they learn to exercise skills at emotion management in order to remain in control.” (159)

In the end then, Garot argues for reclaiming gangs from criminology and treat these groups as they should:

“Studying gangs as a social movement constitutes an important step away from the discourse of gangs as pathology. Such a perspective, long overdue in the gang literature, recognizes structural, marginalizing conditions but shows that gang members are far from mere victims of circumstance.” (180)

And this involves adopting a soft version of identity (as opposed to the hard, reified, essentialist version) that treats it as a produced accomplishment contingent on a variety of contextual factors, and also as a resource that actors can tap into as the need arises, such as being hit up.

I cannot recommend this book enough. I should add that it is highly readable at undergraduate levels. One could even extract a couple of chapters for students to read and study. The amount of debunking it does will be an eye-opener to a lot of people. They should make it mandatory reading for criminologists and law enforcement members. Hopefully, this book can find its way to where it should be read.

Here is an interview with Robert Garot. Part 1:

And part 2:

Book Review – Planet Sport

I have to confess that I found Kath Woordward‘s Planet Sport to be a little mess of a book. As I have mentioned before, I am always on the lookout for short books that might make for some interesting readings in sociology for my freshmen / introduction to sociology class.

Naturally, sports is a topic that would definitely generate interest with my students. And this is a very short book (about 90 pages of text). So, my hopes were that I would be able to integrate this one as well, especially with a basic thesis such as this one (Kindle edition):

“This book demonstrates why sport matters and how, by arguing that we should take sport seriously and explore what is social about sport. Sport is not just another domain to which social theories can be applied, sport is also distinctive and generates new ways of thinking about social issues and debates. Sport is affected by the global economy and social, political and cultural processes, but also has effects on the wider social terrain of which it is part. Sport is much more than play.

Sport is particular in its combination of personal pleasures and pain, embodied practices, collective commitment and globalised politics and conflicts. Sporting events are also sites of resistance and protest as well as the reiteration of traditions and conformity. Sport is divisive and collaborative, conflictual and democratic; it combines people in very particular, positive and energising ways, but also recreates tensions, ambivalences, hostilities and conflicts. The role and status of sport in contemporary societies is thus crucial to an understanding of the nature of social and cultural change as part of the iterative practices of micro narratives and encounters as well as being part of global transformations.” (Loc. 92)

But I am afraid, this book will not make it into my list of freshmen readings. My number one and main issue is the writing. Good grief is it convoluted, heavy-handed and full of jargon. I mean, seriously:

“There is some confusion between philosophical and empirical categories of sex gender that could be clarified by exploring some of the specificities of lived experiences and the plasticity of flesh, by combining flesh and experience, perception of self with the perception of others and of situating enfleshed selves within the social world.” (Loc. 835-837).

And yes, I know what she is referring to but who wants to read something like this (the whole repeated reference to “sex gender” throughout the book annoyed me as well).

The second major issue I had was the organization of the book itself. It felt messy to me. I say “felt” because of the fact that Woodward is a famous and much respected sociologist, I perfectly consider the possibility that I missed the point entirely. I understand that when you write a short introduction to something, shortcuts have to be taken and not everything can be put in but I really do question the selection of materials and how they were addressed.

There is, for my taste and, I think, for an introductory book, way too much abstract theoretical stuff that will be incomprehensible to undergraduates. For instance, chapter 6, Everyday Routines – The Ordinary Affects of Sport is a perfect illustration of that, full of phenomenology and is more directed at the researcher in sociology of sports than a reader looking for an introduction to it. It is a very abrupt break from the rest of the book that makes you wonder what it is doing there, in the middle of it.

The issue is not the topic itself, of course, sport is at the center of so many social processes and structures that certainly justify introductory writing as Woodward herself suggests:

“Sport is a central part of contemporary life and widely enmeshed with and constitutive of social relations and social divisions; planet sport is made up of the intersection of very different power axes. For example, whilst in the wider cultural and social terrain of western neoliberal democracies categories of sex gender may be seen as more fluid, in sport the binary logic of sex persists, albeit largely called gender in the contemporary discourse of sport. The vast majority of sports are classified as women’s or men’s competitions, even though men’s are not always marked, as in the football ‘World Cup’; the female counterpart of which is the ‘Women’s World Cup’. The ways in which networks of hegemonic masculinity endure make sport a rich field for research into social and cultural continuities as well as change, especially as more women worldwide are joining in and enjoying the pleasures of sport as well as its rigorous regimes.” (Loc. 151)

All these topics are addressed in the book but in such a confusing and/or repetitive fashion that it makes following the thread of the book rather painful. There are some elements that are really interesting but either they are not pursued or they get a confusing and jargonian treatment. For instance, there are important sociological aspects: sports as disciplinary regimes under rationalized systems of training, sport as bodily projects within the framework of individualized technologies of the self, sports are displays and structuring of hegemonic masculinity. After all there is a whole continuum of sports from individuals working out at the gym to professional athletes training for the Olympics in professional settings and regimes.

There is also the globalized economics of sports and their embedding in global neoliberal logics and logics of commodification, as was amply demonstrated by the just-ended 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

At the same time, sports in embedded within a series of regulatory regimes at the local, national and global level that coexist alongside unregulated sport practices such as parkour:

Sports is also shot through with issues pertaining to gender (or “sex gender” as Woodward puts it), race and social construction of the able body. Of course, the able body, as opposed to the disabled one, are socially constructed categories that get challenged by technology as the case of Oscar Pistorious recently demonstrated as he competed in both the Olympic and the Paralympic Games (Gold in the former, Silver in the latter). The use of blades as effective leg substitute calls into question the clean cut binary of “able / disabled”.

Actually, this binary is not the only one being called into question. The case of Caster Semenyia, already discussed here, also calls into question the neat binary “men / women”, which has been central in the structuring of sports.

As for race,

“The classification of people into racial categories has played a key role in segregation in sport by means of criteria of visible corporeal difference too. Race and racialisation have been elements in the classificatory systems of sport and are constitutive of racialised categories in other social worlds. Racialisation has been a powerful element used to justify exclusion from particular sports historically by formal means and more recently still by biologically determinist essentialist discourses about racial types as well as through social and cultural forces.” (Loc. 262)

It is not hard to find examples of that, especially in the context of the apartheid system. [In addition, social class plays a part in there as well. After all, Pistorious himself enjoys the benefits of technology thanks to his privileged class status.] Moreover, when it comes to race,

“Black athleticism can be used to support theories of racialised difference and the suitability of black people, usually men, not only for particular sports, generally not those with the distinction of association with the upper classes, such as polo and golf, but also for athletic rather than intellectual activity.” (loc. 274)

One only has to remember the utterly stupid commentators arguing that Africans are fast as “natural selection” from slavery. At the same time, blacks have been long excluded from certain sports such as polo and golf. There is, of course, politics at the intersection of race and sports:

“Politics has dominated sport in places as diverse as Nazi Germany, the USA during the period of racial segregation and South Africa in the apartheid era when boycotts became the most powerful tool of resistance. Racism in sport has most strongly militated against competitions between people classified as belonging to particular racial or ethnic groups; fights between black and white boxers were banned in the US for a long period of time (Simmons, 1988). At some periods in sporting history the politics of inequality played out through institutionalised exclusions, at others through less formal mechanisms, such the impossibility of black players joining the clubs of the sports of the affluent, privileged white classes, such as golf clubs. Class and racialisation are widely imbricated in the politics of sport. Recognition of the processes of exclusion has been one step along the way to promoting diversity, albeit a very slow step in many sports.” (Loc. 294-300).

The global aspect of sports is quite obvious and I wish it had been treated better and in more specific. Woodward does note the multilayered aspect of global governance as well as sports loyalties. I wish there had been more on the neo-colonial flows of players from the periphery to the core, especially in soccer, for instance. There are also global flows of money, corporate sponsorship, etc.

At the same time, sports have benefited from the rationalized and bureaucratized (in the Weberian sense) of technologies of performance through pharmacology (hello, Lance Armstrong) as well as scientific training through a variety of professionals in various degrees of specialization (such as physical therapists or sport psychologists or even nutritionists). This leads to the creation of highly paid, scientifically trained athletes getting read for global events (such as the Olympics) where they will perform for (almost) the entire world through the global media (a nexus of corporatism and global communication technologies) in global spectacles.

The global nature of sports also points to the global inequalities in sports. The global flows are far from even in the world-system by class, race and gender. This relates to the fact that sport is big business. I wish more data had been included here:

“Some stakeholders have benefited and these developments have created new stakeholders, media networks, broadcast services, promoters, agents and notably a new class of sports stars, a relatively small number of whom earn massive fees not only for their performance on the field but also in the commercial synergies created by the sport media nexus and expansion of sites for the purveyance of popular cultural products. Such benefits have increasingly been concentrated for example on the celebrity stars, mega leagues and top clubs through sponsorship deals. Many have not benefited, notably the focus and site of the channelling of resource has been in men’s sport while women’s teams and clubs struggle to gain any sponsorship. Global inequalities mean that resources are distributed according to the rationality on irrationality of market forces, which again lead to particular emphasis on sports such as the men’s big team games.” (Loc. 720-726)

Woodward also provides some interesting developments on the deployment of technology and power in order to reduce uncertainty in sports:

“Sport is a field where records and measurement count. It matters that times and speeds are accurately measured in athletics, especially given the high rewards that are now involved. Other sports demand visualisation and filming techniques and heat-sensitive equipment as well as additional human resources; cameras at the wicket in cricket, at the touch line in rugby to adjudicate tries amidst an ever more voluble demand for more and more accuracy to judge outcomes, ensure fair play and redress the inadequacies of the human eye and the lack of all-round vision of the referee. Technologies are constantly developing more sensitive and precise means of ensuring accuracy to ever-higher standards of precision. These developments are inspired by the expanding technoscience that is the motor to much sporting innovation and the quest for certainty.” (Loc. 739-745).

And that is on top of the already-mentioned procedures designed to ensure that a woman is a woman or that a man is not doped up (note the distinction in testing in the context of hegemonic masculinity).

Similarly, if one has followed the preparations to the 2012 Olympics – and any other such global events – it is easy to see how much work went into the reduction of risk and uncertainty on multiple levels: guaranteeing that sponsors would recoup their money, the major emphasis on security and surveillance, crowd control, etc. As such, and this is not something mentioned in the book, the sport megaevent become thoroughly embedded in the surveillance society.

So those are the main aspects of the book that I wanted to highlight. As I said, the issue was not so much the content as the writing and organization. Not recommended for undergraduates. A shame, really, because the sociology of sport is such an interesting field.

I’d be curious to see what Dave Mayeda thinks. Sociology of sports is more his field than mine.

Girls Can’t Be As Good As Boys!

So, first, we had the whole Caster Semenya saga: a female athlete who is really good… so good indeed that it is suspicious. Is she really a woman? Let’s test. Ok, she is. But she is not feminine enough, so, let’s pump of her full of hormone to increase her femininity and lower her performance because she is getting way to close to men’s performance levels and that is just wrong.

And now, we have the Chinese Superwoman, as Le Monde calls her. We are talking about Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen who’s killing it at the Olympic Games in London. She’s good. Too good. Well, she’s obviously a woman so her men-level performances can only be explained by doping (Chinese, y’know).

“The world of swimming may have spent 36 hours in a ferocious debate over the means by which she could achieve such astonishing feats, but the 16-year-old had other things on her mind. As the electronic beep sounded to mark the start of the race, she leapt from the blocks, put her head down, and swam.

(…)

On Saturday, Ye had stunned a crowd that thought it had already seen the shock of the evening 40 minutes before, when the great Michael Phelps failed to win a medal in the men’s 400m individual medley.

In the women’s race of the same event, Ye swam a final freestyle leg of such jawdropping acceleration that she overhauled the race leader, finishing almost three metres ahead in a time which shattered the world record. On Monday, in qualifying for Tuesday night’s event, she had gone on to break the Olympic record for the longer distance.

It was awesome, astonishing, unbelievable. And it didn’t take too long for a leading US coach to say what many had been muttering.”

And the real issue is this:

“La Chinoise Ye Shiwen, 16 ans, médaillée d’or sur 400m 4 nages samedi, a battu le record du monde de cette éprouvante discipline (4 m 28′ s 43 centièmes), mais elle a surtout crawlé les cent derniers mètres de sa course presque aussi vite queRyan Lochte (58 s 68 contre 58 s 65), sacré la veille chez les garçons, au terme du deuxième 400m 4 nages le plus rapide de l’Histoire (4 m 05 s 18 centièmes).”

She swam almost as fast as the male winner in the same category. Something is wrong. Except not:




It is interesting that when women performance improve and get closer in line with male performance, then, that is an issue. The same thing happens with scholarly achievement. How many books have been (and continue to be) written about the relative greater success of girls in school and women in universities? All of them deploring the loss of gender supremacy for boys and men. And sometimes calling not so subtly for a restoration of such supremacy through intervention (all couched in terms of making school less ‘feminine environments’ and more attuned to alleged masculine needs).

The case of these women athletes getting closer to men performance levels generates the same kind of anxieties, if not direct intervention, as in the case of Caster Semenya.

David Brooks is an Idiot

And so, the overpaid pompous pseudo-sociologist tells us all that the perpetrators of mass killings are driven by psychological factors: mental illness, bruised pride or loss of job. Nothing sociological. Psychology explains it all (insert obligatory disclaimer that we can never really know for sure!).

So, here we go again. Just like Jack Douglas described years ago the mechanisms of the social construction of suicide, there are equally mechanisms of the social construction of mental illness. As I joked on Facebook, killings by blacks are ghetto warfare, killings by Latinos are related to drug cartels, but killings by whites are individual acts of mental illness (note how Brooks goes digging for a non-white case). And for those of us who have seen Tough Guise, we already know that when women kill, then it’s all feminism’s fault, unless the killers are obviously non-feminist women (Andrea Yates), in which case, they’re obviously crazy (rather than committing in Yates’s case religiously-based violence). Different social categories, different conceptualization and categorization of the same type of action.

Similarly, to declare an act to be the product of mental illness does not just absolve (somewhat) the perpetrator from full responsibility. It also shuts down the discussion by placing the act as outside the scope of rational explanation. The person was crazy. We may shake our heads and deplore the state of mental health care but since such an action, being crazy, is, by definition, unpredictable and unexplainable… nothing to see. Let’s all pray for the victims of this senseless (!!) act.

What is then never discussed is HOW we define and socially construct mental illness. The flip side of this is that mental illness is so perceived because it is fully embedded in the culture as deviation from it. As I said when I discussed the Gabby Gifford shooting, the perpetrator did not choose to run naked in the streets or do something similarly outside of the norms that would get him labeled as crazy. In both cases, the perpetrators tapped into cultural and social resources: the availability of weapons, the use of the Internet, the rational selection of equipment, the choice of target. And certainly, the Aurora shooter was rather well prepared, all geared up and picked a dark, closed place, and picked the ‘right’ moment in the movie to start shooting. And, of course, he picked just the right movie (because crazy people do keep track of the box office).

None of this is psychological.

And then, of course, there is the big elephant in the room that Brooks conveniently ignores:

“Many of the killers had an exaggerated sense of their own significance, which, they felt, was not properly recognized by the rest of the world. Many suffered a grievous blow to their self-esteem — a lost job, a divorce or a school failure — and decided to strike back in some showy way.”

And that, of course, is the gender thing. As is a major point in Tough Guise and is still true, in all these killings, the perpetrators are white males perceiving – and reacting to – the loss of privilege or dominant position and reclaiming it in a manly fashion. So, indeed, it may be a loss of control over one’s family with divorce or loss of custody (and in these cases, we see husbands / fathers killing their wives and children), the inability to get women (as the guy who shot women in an LA Gym after his implementation of pick-up artist techniques failed), loss of job (and therefore income and therefore ability to provide). And in the case of Breivik, the perceived loss of white supremacy to immigrants.

In all cases, the essential background is patriarchy. But somehow, this fact must never enter the discussion. Let’s just say these guys were crazy and move right along. The whole ” solving problems / satisfying fantasies through gun violence” cultural theme is gendered. This is the cultural background that these men tap into when they lash out.

And, of course, family / work / immigration are all social institutions and processes where we are embedded into a variety of social relations whose status determine our happiness / satisfaction / fulfillment (or the negative counterparts of these). Our emotions and feelings towards others (relative, co-workers, immigrants) are inherently social. It is in the “in-between” of these interactions between individuals that feelings are generated.

And, of course, Brooks makes the common mistake to assume that to look for sociological factors that have played a part in a killing means to excuse or justify the action. That is so profoundly stupid.

There is an intersection on my way to work where a lot of accidents happen. I can see why. It is a busy, yet poorly designed, intersection. To point out that the structure of this intersection may account for a generally higher level of accidents is not to exonerate the people who get into them. It simply means that the structure of this intersection (for which individual drivers are not responsible) makes accidents more likely than at other intersections when people cut it close at the light change (for which they are responsible). According to Brooks, people just happen to turn into bad drivers at this particular intersection. A proper sociologist would argue that it is the interaction between structural factors (the intersection) and certain drivers (careless ones) that explains the elevated accident rate.

So, crazy:

Legitimately aggrieved according to mainstream media commentators like Brooks, but not crazy:

Men Making Decisions About Women – A Visual

So, first, we had this:

And now, we have this (H/T: Isabelle Germain on Twitter):

The context for this last one is this:

“The IFAB agreed to unanimously approve – temporarily during a trial period – the wearing of headscarves. The design, colour and material permitted will be defined and confirmed following the IFAB Annual Business Meeting in Glasgow in October.”

As the article in Nouvelles / News notes, the issue was brought to FIFA by other men to keep women veiled on the pitch even though this goes against FIFA regulations that equipment should be free of political, religious or personal elements. For the women, it was a lose-lose situation: veil or censorship. As Isabelle Germain notes, so much for the universal values of sports and women’s rights. This introduces a form of inequality between female players and it puts Muslim players who wouldn’t otherwise wear the veil in a precarious position. It also implicitly endorses a sexist religious symbols that stigmatizes women’s bodies.

And on this subject, I disagree with Laurent Dubois (who is otherwise one of my favorites sports social scientists… y’all should subscribe to his blog) especially on the example he chose to illustrate the point that the hijab should be ok on the pitch. The situation of a player in Quebec or Canada is not the same that of Asian or Middle Eastern players who may face real threats on the issue of the veil. Dubois also criticizes the French Football Federation for jumping in after the FIFA decision and indicating that, in the name of secularism, veils would not be allowed in competitions held on French soil (which goes along with the whole veil policy in France, which, for the record, I supported).

Of course, I am divided on this. I want as many female football players as possible, from all over the world. Women in sport is good for women and girls, and it is good for society. And I understand very well that, for women in certain parts of the world, no veil means no game. And this is what happens at the convergence of multiple patriarchal institutions where, in the end, older men get to decide on what women can do with their bodies. The result will always be bad for women.

Also, please, can I be spared the “what if women choose to be veiled?” argument? That does not change the inherent meaning of the veil. Why do you think that Jordan Prince wants women veiled? To support their choice to be so? Not really. This decision is NOT about women’s choices (which is why I think Dubois’s example is not good here), it is about caving in by one patriarchal group to the demand of another patriarchal group and individual.

Gender Policing and Degradation Ceremonies

So we have heard before of virginity testing in parts of the Middle East as well as hymen restoration that happen for fear a woman or a girl, found to no longer be a virgin might be the victim of an honorable murder.

In the same vein of degradation ceremony, meet the anal exams in Lebanon, performed by police to detect homosexuals (homosexuality is illegal in Lebanon). The article is in French. The physical consists of men being forced naked, required to bend over for a physician to take a picture of their anus to determine whether homosexual intercourse has taken place. This physical means absolutely nothing and is proof of nothing and the participating physicians know it.

This is pure degradation ceremony whose main purpose is to humiliate and dehumanize but also to extract confessions of homosexual activity. In many cases, the men are arrested based on what police officers determine to be effeminate behavior or just any subjective assessment about one’s sexual orientation. In other words, these men are arrested based on nothing except pure suspicion and then subjected to what the article and NGOs call the “physical of shame”, for shaming is its main purpose. The broader goal is to police sexual behavior and gender identity in conformity with cultural norms.

But policing gender through degradation also applies more generally, remember the case of Caster Semenya? Well, here is the version 2.0:

“There are female athletes who will be competing at the Olympic Games this summer after undergoing treatment to make them less masculine.

Still others are being secretly investigated for displaying overly manly characteristics, as sport’s highest medical officials attempt to quantify — and regulate — the hormonal difference between male and female athletes.

Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was so fast and muscular that many suspected she was a man, exploded onto the front pages three years ago. She was considered an outlier, a one-time anomaly.

But similar cases are emerging all over the world, and Semenya, who was banned from competition for 11 months while authorities investigated her sex, is back, vying for gold.

Semenya and other women like her face a complex question: Does a female athlete whose body naturally produces unusually high levels of male hormones, allowing them to put on more muscle mass and recover faster, have an “unfair” advantage?

In a move critics call “policing femininity,” recent rule changes by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the governing body of track and field, state that for a woman to compete, her testosterone must not exceed the male threshold.

If it does, she must have surgery or receive hormone therapy prescribed by an expert IAAF medical panel and submit to regular monitoring. So far, at least a handful of athletes — the figure is confidential — have been prescribed treatment, but their numbers could increase. Last month, the International Olympic Committee began the approval process to adopt similar rules for the Games.”

It is puzzling that the very same people who tend to adhere to gender essentialism (biology is everything) all of a sudden wish to “correct” biology when women and intersex people are involved (but not men). After all, wouldn’t it be unfair to have men with lower levels of testorerone compete with those with “normal” levels? Also note the arbitrariness of the rule. What level is the male threshold? The average? What average? Why is it at issue that a woman with higher level of testosterone be forced to undergo treatment to reduce her performance? And shouldn’t men levels be equalized before competition so as to have a level playing field?

 And guess who had to subject herself to this? Yes, Caster Semenya herself:

“Today, Semenya is cheering on her teammates at the South African open championships — for many, their last chance to qualify for the Olympics. There is no need for Semenya to race. She easily qualified weeks ago.

Instead, she stands in the stadium aisle, posing for the camera. In the background, Rihanna is on heavy rotation. “It happens all the time, all the time,” she says of the photo requests, laughing. “I’m used to it.”

She wears a tight turquoise polo over her fit, feminine body. Relaxed, poised and, it must be said, pretty, the young woman with an irresistible smile is almost unrecognizable from photographs taken during the height of the controversy.

“I know she gets treatment. What the treatment entails, I can’t give the details,” says Danie Cornelius, a track and field manager at the university.

“We all accept . . . and she accepts . . . within sports you have to perform within certain guidelines, or else it will be chaos,” says Cornelius.

“She feels it’s something she has to do.”

When asked about her treatment, Semenya demurred. “I can’t really say anything,” she said, looking at the ground.”

Funny how this came up only when a woman performed exceptionally. Exceptional performance from male athletes is never questioned in terms of gender or whether some male athlete had some extra testosterone and therefore some unearned, illegitimate advantage.

I am curious as to what chaos Danie Cornelius is referring to except to the challenge to the persistent phallocracy in the world of sports. And, exactly, how are women supposed to catch up (as they have been) in terms of performance if exceptional individual women are “corrected” to reduce their performance levels?

Gender Fluidity in a Rigid Patriarchal System

As most of you probably remember, the first feature film to come out of Afghanistan after the US removed the Taliban from power was Osama, the story of a young girl, disguised as a boy by her mother and grandmother so the family (composed entirely of women) will not starve as none of them are allowed to work outside the home by the Taliban. It is an excellent film about the consequences for women of the protracted war that killed many men and left women-led families with no rights under a strictly religious fundamentalist rule.

One of the central aspects of the film is the resocialization the girl has to go through to pass for a credible boy (Osama) and not be found out. This means she has to engage in a lot of body work and re-train her body to lose its feminine aspects (in activities such as walking, running, etc. All activities that we tend to not always consider gendered but are very much so). She also needs to learn basic boy-ness in play and games, knowing that the slightest mistake could have devastating consequences (and ultimately, that is exactly what happens).

That is the film. But this is also the reality still today in Afghanistan:

“For economic and social reasons, many Afghan parents want to have a son. This preference has led to some of them practising the long-standing tradition of Bacha Posh – disguising girls as boys.

When Azita Rafhat, a former member of the Afghan parliament, gets her daughters ready for school, she dresses one of the girls differently.

Three of her daughters are clothed in white garments and their heads covered with white scarves, but a fourth girl, Mehrnoush, is dressed in a suit and tie. When they get outside, Mehrnoush is no longer a girl but a boy named Mehran.

Azita Rafhat didn’t have a son, and to fill the gap and avoid people’s taunts for not having a son, she opted for this radical decision. It was very simple, thanks to a haircut and some boyish clothes.

There is even a name for this tradition in Afghanistan – Bacha Posh, or disguising girls as boys.

“When you have a good position in Afghanistan and are well off, people look at you differently. They say your life becomes complete only if you have a son,” she says.

There has always been a preference for having sons in Afghanistan, for various economic and social reasons.

(…)

Many girls disguised as boys can be found in Afghan markets. Some families disguise their daughters as boys so that they can easily work on the streets to feed their families.

Some of these girls who introduce themselves as boys sell things like water and chewing gum. They appear to be aged anywhere between about five and 12. None of them would talk to me about their lives as boys.

Girls brought up as boys do not stay like this all their lives. When they turn 17 or 18 they live life as a girl once again – but the change is not so simple.

Elaha lives in Mazar-e Sharif in northern Afghanistan. She lived as a boy for 20 years because her family didn’t have a son and reverted only two years ago when she had to go to university.

However, she does not feel fully female: she says her habits are not girlish and she does not want to get married.

(…)

In Afghanistan, stories like this have become more common. Almost everyone has relatives or neighbours who have tried this.

Fariba Majid, the head of the Women’s Rights Department in the northern province of Balkh, used to go by the boy’s name Wahid.

“I was the third daughter in my family and when I was born my parents decided to disguise me as a boy,” she says.

“I would work with my father at his shop and even go to Kabul to bring goods from there.”

She thinks that experience helped her gain confidence and helped her get where she is today.

It is not surprising that even Azita Rafhat, mother of Mehran, once used to live as a boy.

“Let me tell you a secret,” she says. “When I was a kid, I used to live as a boy and work with my father.

“I experienced both the world of men and of women and it helped me to be more ambitious in my career.””

And then, I also remembered the Dancing Boys of Afghanistan:

Watch The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

So riddle me this: a society where gender boundaries are strictly enforced, where girls may get poisoned if they go to school and are otherwise expected to conform to strict gender role and boundaries, but that same society allows for the crossing of these gender boundaries in both directions ( girls → boys, and boys → not exactly girls but highly feminized roles).

Here is my take: patriarchal systems generally establish strict gender boundaries. However, these same systems will allow these boundaries to fluctuate according to patriarchal needs. Also, these seemingly contradictory examples make perfect sense once one goes back to the meaning of “patriarchy” which is not male rule (that’s phallocracy), but fathers / elders rule. Therefore, it is the needs of fathers and elders (as heads of families / clans / tribes) that come first, both in terms of their status as providers for their charge, but also in terms of their needs (sexually speaking). Note that it is not dancing men, but dancing boys satisfying older men’s fantasies and sexual needs.

So even though gender boundaries are strict and strictly enforced, these will be bent as needed to satisfy dominant individuals (elders and fathers), as well as maintain and reproduce patriarchal structure. The consequences of imposing fluid gender norms and roles to dominated individuals (women and girls, of course, but also, boys) are irrelevant. In this sense, fluidity of gender identity is not a source of freedom as feminists have promoted it in Western countries, but another source of gender domination and power because one has no choice in one’s gender role, as assigned by patriarchs.

LOL Your Pathetic Attempt

Wow, progress (not)!

Don’t get your hopes up, ladies, it is still the same patriarchal institution:

“The new section will promote a keener understanding of the “under-appreciated treasure” of women in the church, according to editor Giovanni Maria Vian.

The launch coincides with the worst scandal to hit the Vatican in years as leaked letters addressed to the pope expose a world of jealous, spiteful prelates and petty rivalries.

Vian said Pope Benedict backed the supplement, which he said would hire non-Catholic contributors.

Lucetta Scaraffia, a writer at the paper who created the supplement, said: “It provides information on the female condition, without ignoring hot topics like procreation, access to culture and women’s rights.”

The pullout will compete with L’Osservatore Romano’s stories explaining the Vatican’s approach to women, from its views on abortion to condemnation of female ordination.

In 2010 the Vatican upgraded the crime of ordaining women to the priesthood, rendering it one of the most serious crimes against church law alongside paedophilia.

Under Benedict’s papacy, the views of the Holy See on abortion have not changed. In 2007 a senior cardinal demanded that Catholics stop donating to Amnesty International after it advocated abortion rights for African women gang-raped by soldiers.”

Right. But it’s going to be an all-color supplement. Catholic women deserve no less… the rest of women’s rights… not so much.

Hey, here is an idea: how about a L’Osservatore Romano per i Bambini (for the kids). I’m sure knowing more about the “children’s condition” will do wonders to mend fences about that nasty child abuse scandal.

And on that subject, check out the creepy picture that accompanies the article:

The Visual Du Jour – Objective Commentators

Everyone and their brothers have blogged / tweeted / facebooked about this (via Miss Representation):

This is, of course, part of a whole pattern of ignoring privilege and treating dominant category as the neutral default along with the institutional paucity of women in discourse-shaping organizations, such as the media and think tanks. There is the assumption individuals belonging to minority categories (women, racial and ethnic minorities but the same could be said about class) can be reduced to that identity when they express opinions on issues relevant to their category. On the other hand, whites and men are never subjected to these reductionist judgments. Their position is one assumed to be objective. Therefore, tv programmers and producers see no irony in booking a lot of men on shows to discuss women’s issues.

And then, of course, when it comes to the “serious” issues (gender issues, for instance, as often dismissed as cultural as if there were not serious socioeconomic and political implications things like reproductive rights and structural inequalities), then, naturally, panels will be full of upper-class white men opining as if they occupied a panoptical position that entitled them to a 360 degree view that no other people can have because other non-privileged categories of people have gender / class / race blinders.

Cranky on International Women’s Day

So, the Kony 2012 campaign is trending like nothing else. The campaign has been roundly and thoroughly and rightfully critiqued in various places, so, I have nothing to add to yet another example of “white people save Africans from their own savagery” film and campaign with a touch of cyber-utopianism so dumb I initially thought the beginning of the 30 minute video was an ad.

Thanks for hijacking International Women’s Day, guys, whether through your filling up our Facebook and Twitter timelines or because a lot of people had to take time out to explain why your campaign is questionable.

And I am not the only one who is cranky on International Women’s Day, so is Marie Duru-Bellat, about all the little forms of androcentrism as micro-power and how these penetrate into women’s conscience at all times.

On a more macro side of things, let’s not forget this:

“The ‘feminisation of poverty’ is now an undeniable reality. Worldwide  , women are more likely to be poor, employed in precarious, low-paid labour, and less likely to have access to land, credit and education. Not only do they suffer disproportionately from the effects of poverty itself and the human rights denials that accrue  from it, but also from the increasingly heavy-handed way in which poverty is governed across the world.  Being female and poor subjects you to unique forms of stigma and control, as well as forcing you to bear the brunt of supposedly gender-neutral policies.

The gender-specific and demeaning measures of control and containment that are applied to women overwhelmingly focus on their bodies and reproductive capacity. In many countries  in the world, including most of Latin America, Africa and the Middle East abortion remains illegal except in very proscribed circumstances. Prohibition does not deter women from seeking abortions, but forces them submit to more unsafe abortions, putting their health, fertility or even life at risk. Planned Parenthood estimate  that 19 million women and girls worldwide resort to unsafe abortions every year; 70,000 of them will die as a result, more than 96% of them from the world’s poorest countries (in many of which abortion is illegal).  For example, in Argentina, each year  , between 460,000 and 600,000 women have an illegal abortion; abortion complications are the main cause  of maternal death, with an estimated  400 deaths each year.  Clearly, it is poor women, without any hope of access to a private doctor or international travel who are most exposed  to these risks.  Thus such policies, targeted to control female reproductive capacity (as if men were not involved), promote a selective penalisation of the poorest women.

(…)

To be female and poor in itself attracts a unique stigma. The 1980s saw the remarkable rise of the ‘welfare queen’  as popular bogey (wo)man of choice in the USA. This was fuelled by Reagan  ’s ideological crusade against an ‘excessive’ ‘soft’ welfare system and driven by racist and sexist  stereotypes of ‘lazy’ African-American women, often single mothers.  Indeed, the single mother is a recurring motif in the rhetoric surrounding welfare and benefits across the Western world.  The idea that single women ‘churn out’ babies in order to generate more income or obtain free housing is commonplace in the UK  and was a core part of the vivid American ‘welfare queen’ stereotype. Attacks on the integrity of single mothers are common; they are portrayed as less capable parents – despite evidence  to the contrary – and are improbably blamed for a host of social ills, including, predictably, the riots  that took place in the UK in the summer of 2011. The prevalent stigma borne by poor females in many societies is viscerally illustrated by British newspaper columnist James Delingpole who described several of the “great scourges” of contemporary Britain: “aggressive all-female gangs of embittered, hormonal, drunken teenagers; gym-slip mums who choose to get pregnant as a career option; pasty-faced, lard-gutted slappers who’ll drop their knickers in the blink of an eye” (The Times newspaper, April 13, 2006 ). Disturbingly, the stigma of female poverty and single motherhood has become embedded in public policy  in many different countries: women are all too often the ‘accidental’ victims of supposedly gender neutral measures, such as budget cuts and welfare reform.”

And then, there is Turkish sociologist Pinar Selek, living in exile in France, wrongfully accused of terrorism, three times acquitted by Turkish courts, verdicts that always get appealed by the prosecutor who want life imprisonment for her (even though the supposed terrorist attack of which she is accused was shown to have been an accident). This is political, of course: her work focuses on the underdogs: homeless people, street children, LGBTs, Kurdish minorities and antimilitarism. The police wanted her to give them her sources and she refused, even after torture. So, she has already spent two and half years in prison. Sociology is a combat sport indeed.

And one more reason to be cranky, this should be trending, not Kony 2012. I just watched it on HBO and it is short but very powerful.

This should be going viral.

I hope this one goes to DVD quickly so I can put my hands on a copy to show my students.