Tag Archives: gender

    In Brief

    Tipping Woes

    Americans like to tip, offering extra cash to everyone from service station attendants to home health care aides. But for some workers, like restaurant wait staff, tips are essential because the job itself fails to pay a living wage.

    As scholar Saru Jayaraman reports in Behind the Kitchen Door (2013), despite strong job growth in the restaurant industry, poverty levels among waiters and waitresses remain higher than in most other occupations. Eighty percent of all food service workers do not earn enough to pay for the basics—rent, transportation, child care, and health care. And food stamp reliance among servers is almost double that of the workforce in general.

    Beginning in the 1960s, the restaurant industry successfully lobbied for a lower hourly wage for wait staff. Unchanged since 1991, the federal minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers is $2.13. As a result, the restaurant industry contains 7 out of the 10 lowest-paying occupations in the United States, according to Jayaraman.

    Women, who make up at least 72 percent of servers, and are more likely to work in casual dining establishments where earnings are lower, are disproportionately affected. But customers’ health is also affected. In a survey of more than 4,000 restaurant workers conducted by worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers, two-thirds of those surveyed reported preparing, cooking, and serving meals while sick because they could not afford to miss a day of work.

    Reducing workers’ reliance on tips, and offering tipped and non-tipped employees the same wage guarantees, would help to ameliorate poverty—and contribute to our collective public health.

    In Brief

    Hunger Games As Role Model

    Corey Fields

    Corey Fields

    The current popularity of the trilogy Hunger Games may offer teens a model of female leadership, according to sociologists. Katniss Everdeen, the central character in the books (and movie adaptation), is proficient with a bow and arrow. While her use of violence, weaponry, and stoicism may at times be shocking, self-reliant characters like Katniss can inspire young girls, according to sociologist Janice McCabe and her colleagues (Gender and Society, 2011). Katniss’s character displays strength in the face of adversity, whether facing starvation due to oppressive government policies—or threat of death. She’s self-reliant, and uses her wits and skills to solve her problems, rather than waiting for the men in her life to swoop in and take care of things.

    Female central characters are significant for young girls and women, McCabe and her co-authors argue, because they counteract the “widespread pattern of underrepresentation of females” in children’s literature. Such underrepresentation, according to McCabe, “may contribute to a sense of unimportance among girls and privilege among boys.” Perhaps characters like Katniss, who would rather take care of business herself than rely on boys, can change the way girls understand themselves—at least a little bit.

    In Brief

    Boys Will Stay Boys

    Sam Grinberg

    Sam Grinberg

    “Picture this: your 7-year-old daughter comes home from school in tears. You ask her what’s wrong and she says she’s afraid to go to the bathroom at school because a boy comes in while she’s there. You’re told that your daughter is telling the truth, but because the boy says he wants to be a girl, [the school’s] hands are tied.”

    The Pacific Justice Institute, a non-profit legal foundation, spread misleading information like this in order to challenge the California School Success and Opportunity Act, which became law in August 2013, and was designed to reduce discrimination against transgender students in California public schools.

    The opposition argues that boys will declare that they are girls for the sole purpose of gaining access to girls’ spaces, like locker rooms and bathrooms. The way this campaign framed “boys” as a threat to the sanctity of female spaces is not unique, however. In a 2013 Gender & Society article, sociologists Kristen Schilt and Laurel Westbrook argue that women’s spaces are at the center of a debate about transgender rights. This derives from the belief that women are inherently vulnerable and men are dangerous. These differences, which are seen as rooted in biology and therefore immutable, are used to keep transgender individuals out of women’s spaces.

    In this narrative, transgender girls are always and forever boys, and a boy who says he wants to be a girl is a dangerous “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who is simply seeking to get physically closer to helpless girls. This myth is just the latest way to paint transgender individuals as liars, females as weak, and ignore the real threats—which are to, not from, transgender girls.

    In Brief

    No Laughing Matter

    In her 2013 book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg encouraged women to scale the corporate ladder. Yet women still make only 77 cents for every dollar that men earn. Some researchers say sexist humor in the workplace is partly to blame.

    Derogatory jokes are pervasive and persistent—despite the fact that men and women are more likely to find them offensive in workplace settings, according to scholars Jared Gray and Thomas Ford’s 2013 article (Humor: International Journal of Humor Research). In addition to being offensive, these jokes restrict and devalue female upward mobility, according to researchers Thomas Ford, Julie Woodzicka, Shane Triplett, and Annie Kochersberger, by amplifying sexist attitudes and values that already circulate in workplaces (September 2013 Current Research in Social Psychology).

    Since the long-term effect of sexist jokes is no laughing matter, eliminating such water-cooler talk should be part of the struggle for workplace gender quality.

    About the Authors

    Lisa Wade is in the sociology department at Occidental College, Los Angeles, CA. She is a co-founder of Sociological Images.

    Brian Sweeney is in the sociology department at Long Island University, Post. His teaching and research focus on gender and sexuality among young adults.

    Amelia Seraphia Derr is in the social work department at Seattle University. Her work focuses on social support and barriers to health and social services for immigrants.

    Michael A. Messner is in sociology and gender studies at the University of Southern California. He is currently writing a book with Max Greenberg and Tal Peretz on men who work to prevent violence against women.

    Carol Burke is in the English department and a faculty associate in the anthropology department at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Camp All-American, Hanoi Jane, and the High-and-Tight: Gender, Folklore, and Changing Military Culture.


    Ruling Out Rape

    Sexual assault is epidemic in the United States.

    Recent media reports, public outrage, and activism have been focused on the institutional settings in which these assaults occur. Colleges and universities, as well as the military and athletic programs, have come under increasing scrutiny as settings that not only fail to deter, but possibly foster rape.

    Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, Maryville, Steubenville, Florida State, and the University of Missouri, to name a few, are among the recent highly-profiled institutions in which student athletes allegedly committed rapes that were ignored or downplayed by school administrators. The victims in these cases were treated with hostility by the schools, police, and even their peers who considered the reports of rape to be exaggerated responses to a party culture where “everyone is just trying to have fun” and where “stuff happens.” Some of these victims have committed or attempted suicide.

    Social consciousness around putting the victims of rape on trial may be evolving, but are the environments that foster these assaults really changing? President Obama recently promised women who have been sexually assaulted in college: “I’ve got your back.” Should we be guardedly optimistic that this message from the top signals change, or do policy trends indicate attempts to protect institutions at the continued expense of victims? In this Viewpoints, five experts weigh in on the question of situational factors and institutional accountability around rape.

    Lisa Wade reviews what we know about who commits rape on college campuses and the conditions that support this behavioral profile. She asserts that campus officials need to understand the interplay of cultural, psychological and situational causes for rape in order to make viable policy decisions. Brian Sweeney highlights the connection between alcohol consumption and sexual assault. He argues that campus policies that address binge drinking are doomed to fail unless they take into account that, for many young people, drinking and casual sex are rewarding. Amelia Seraphia Derr focuses on federal policies for reporting campus rape. She notes that colleges and universities are beginning to take these regulations more seriously, but raises concerns that they may trend in the direction of a “culture of compliance,” where the fear of litigation that drives policy making could be counterproductive for prevention and support programs.

    Michael A. Messner turns the lens on rape culture among male college athletes and asks what can be done. He’s not convinced that current reform programs that target individual men and men’s sports teams will mitigate sexual violence. He suggests we need a deeper understanding of the link between sexual domination, and the ways we celebrate male athletes and their violent domination in sports. Writing about a different, though familiar context, Carol Burke examines recent rape scandals in the military. She chronicles the mounting evidence for a high-level official blind eye on sexual assault and the resulting outrage among congresswomen who are calling for accountability. Is change in the offing? Read on and see what these experts have to say.

    1. Understanding And Ending The Campus Sexual Assault Epidemic, by Lisa Wade
    2. Drinking And Sexual Assault [Kids Just Wanna Have Fun], by Brian Sweeney
    3. A Culture Of Compliance Vs. Prevention, by Amelia Seraphia Derr
    4. Can Locker Room Rape Culture Be Prevented?, by Michael A. Messner
    5. Failure To Serve And Protect, by Carol Burke

    Understanding And Ending The Campus Sexual Assault Epidemic

    by Lisa Wade

    College attendance is a risk factor for sexual assault. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, one in five women who attend college will be the victim of a completed or attempted sexual assault, compared to one in six women in the general population. Up to 90 percent of these women will know their attacker. Only about half will identify their experience as assault and fewer than 5 percent will report their experience to campus authorities or the police. Four percent of college men also report being sexually assaulted, overwhelmingly by other men.

    Scholars have been working to gain a better understanding of the prevalence of rape on campuses, why it’s infrequently reported to authorities, and what we can do about it. In a 2006 article, Elizabeth Armstrong and her collaborators point to cultural, psychological, and situational causes. In the effort to prevent sexual crimes, colleges and universities need to
    understand these interrelated causes and how they contribute to rates of sexual assault.

    What are the psychological factors? A small number of men may be more predisposed to assault their peers than others. In a 2002 study by David Lisak and Paul Miller, 6 percent of male college students admitted to behavior that matched the legal definitions of sexual assault or rape. Of those men, two-thirds were serial rapists, with an average of six assaults each. Serial rapists plan their assaults, carefully choose their victim, use alcohol as a rape drug, and employ force, but only as a back-up. Lisak and Miller find that these men are more likely than other men to engage in other forms of violence as well.

    What about context? Some men may be inclined to harm others, but whether they do so is related to their opportunities. The right context can offer these men an opening to do so. Peggy Sanday first recognized the role that context plays in facilitating sexual assault. Studying fraternity parties, she found that some are generative of risk and others are less so. Parties that feature loud music, few places to sit, dancing, drinking, and compulsory flirting are, she explains, “rape prone.” In these more dangerous places, rape culture camouflages the predatory behavior of serial rapists—like plying women with alcohol or pulling them into secluded areas—making it look normal and more difficult to interpret as criminal.

    And then there’s culture. Rape culture narratives—those that suggest that rape is simply a matter of miscommunication, that “date rape” isn’t “real rape,” that women frequently lie about being sexually assaulted for vengeance or out of shame— make it difficult for bystanders to justify intervening and for some victims to understand that their experience was a crime. Rape culture also gives rapists plausible excuses for their actions, making it difficult to hold them accountable, especially if members of the campus administration buy into these myths as well.

    Armstrong and her colleagues show that all three of these causal factors interact together and with campus policy. Strict penalties for drinking alcohol in residence halls, for example, especially when strongly enforced, can push party-oriented students off campus to less safe places. Rape-friendly contexts offer a target-rich haven for the small percentage of individual men who are motivated to use force and coercion to attain sex. Rape culture contributes to concealing the predatory nature of their behavior to victims, their peers and, all too often, their advocates.

    Currently, we’re in the midst of a transformation in how colleges and universities handle sexual assault. While our understanding is far from complete, we know more than ever about the interaction of situational, cultural, and psychological causes. If institutions of higher education want to, they have the tools to reduce rates of sexual assault. And, even if they do not make this a priority, they face increasing pressure to do so. A strong national movement now aims to hold institutions accountable for ignoring, hiding, and mishandling sex crimes. Thanks largely to Know Your IX, 30 colleges submitted complaints to the U.S. Office for Civil Rights in 2013, nearly double the number from the year before. We should expect even higher numbers in 2014. Praising these activists, President Barack Obama announced that he was making the end of men’s sexual violence against women a priority. The combination of “insider” and “outsider” politics, and a sympathetic media, is a promising recipe for change.

    Drinking And Sexual Assault [Kids Just Wanna Have Fun]

    by Brian Sweeney

    Getting wasted is fun, as is hooking up. In today’s campus hookup culture, alcohol and sex often go together, and both can be rewarding experiences for young adults. Party culture glamorizes heavy drinking, making it seem less dangerous and, too often, causing students to dismiss the negative effects—whether getting puked on at a football game or being sexually assaulted—as “just stuff that happens.” But sexual assault is a predictable result of party subcultures characterized by extreme drinking and sexual double standards. A majority of college rape victims are drunk when attacked, and rapists use alcohol as a weapon to incapacitate their victims. Men—and other women, for that matter—may see overly drunk women as fair game, giving up their right to feminine protection because they have failed to be respectable and ladylike. Given the connection between intoxication and sexual assault, many ask, “Why not just tell women not to get so drunk?” But a mindset that places responsibility on women ignores the widespread attitudes and practices that encourage men’s sexual predation and victimization of women in the first place.

    To be clear, drinking, by itself, does not lead to sexual assault. Drinking heavily makes women more vulnerable, but it is overwhelmingly men who take advantage and rape. It is also men who stand by and watch their male friends ply women with drinks, block women from leaving rooms, and sometimes gang-rape women too drunk to walk home. Equipping women with “watch your drink, stay with your friends” strategies ignores both the fun of partying with abandon and the larger structures of domination that lead men to feel entitled to (drunk) women’s bodies. Moreover, while rape-supportive beliefs are widespread, their influence over men’s behavior is dependent on rape-supportive social and organizational arrangements—campus party culture and alcohol policy included.

    Drinking subcultures have a long history on American college campuses, but since 1984 and the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, all 50 states have opted for billions in federal highway aid in exchange for passing Age-21 laws. As a result, many college campuses send mixed messages and endorse confused policies. Students are regularly fined and written up for drinking infractions but also educated about drinking responsibly. Students flock to so-called party schools and then spend most of their college years trying not to get caught—secretly “pre-gaming” with hard-alcohol in dorm rooms, hiding out in fraternity basements during party inspections, and nervously sweating as the bouncer checks for fake IDs. Alcohol becomes a coveted commodity, with many students seeking access to it and fortunate others wielding control of it.

    Problems related to drinking exist, in part, because we have constructed a firewall between students and the adults who run universities—a divide that surely undermines our mission of creating safe and rich learning environments. We are allowing young people, unsupervised, to initiate each other into adulthood, often through rituals built around drinking. The campus pub is long gone at most schools, a relic of a bygone in loco parentis era when many professors lived among students and mentored them academically and socially. We could perhaps learn valuable lessons from a time when drinking was less illicit and student social life more open and watched over. Bringing drinking “aboveground” would disrupt some of the party scenes that sociological research has shown to be productive of sexual danger for women, would remove some of the constraints college administrators face in crafting effective alcohol education and policy, and would embolden sexual assault victims to come forward, reducing their fears of being punished for drinking violations.

    Many schools are trying to get students to drink more responsibly. Since 2008, over 125 college and university presidents and chancellors have signed on to the Amethyst Initiative, which calls for “informed and dispassionate public debate” on Age-21 drinking laws. The supporters of the initiative, while not explicitly endorsing a lowering of the drinking age, believe Age-21 laws drive drinking underground, leading to dangerous binge drinking and reckless behavior among students. Five years after its inception, it is unclear if anything will come of the Amethyst Initiative. Federal and state government officials seem stubbornly unwilling to open discussion on Age-21 laws. And yet, because the initiative focuses on moderate and responsible drinking among students rather than abstinence, its ideas should have traction in correcting party cultures that, as they are currently organized, produce both fun and sexual danger. What is fairly certain is that sexual assault policies that ignore the collective, rewarding nature of drunken, erotically charged revelry will likely fail among many young adults.

    A Culture Of Compliance Vs. Prevention

    by Amelia Seraphia Derr

    The under-reporting of campus sexual assaults has become a social problem. Students around the country are waging protests and demanding accountability from university administrators who have been accused of making light of alarming rates of sexual violence on college campuses. In 2011 the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, in reaction to a Department of Justice report on the serious under-reporting of campus sexual assaults, and with the encouragement of Vice President Joe Biden, issued a Dear Colleagues Letter (DCL) on the topic of sexual violence. Specifically, the DCL emphasized and reiterated the legally mandated expectations for systems of reporting and adjudicating cases of sexual violence, for training staff, and for developing prevention and support programs.

    Legislated reporting of sexual assault is the fruit of efforts dating back to the 1972 issuance of Title IX of the Education Amendments, which included sexual violence along with a variety of other forms of gender discrimination. In 1986 the Clery Act clarified and expanded the reporting requirements that were part of Title IX by establishing clear expectations for support services for students who are victims of sexual violence, and for the types of sexual violence-related reports that colleges and universities must file annually.

    This legislative action intensified in 2011 when Bob Casey (D-PA) learned of Title IX violation complaints against Swarthmore College, alleging under-reporting cases of sexual misconduct, and took action. He introduced the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (The SaVE Act), which became law with the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act in August 2013. This act closes a serious gap in the existing law by requiring clearer and more publicized policies, education on student’s rights, “bystander education” for the purpose of prevention, expanded reporting requirements, mandated prevention programs, and procedural rights for the accuser and accused.

    This federal-level attention has created a sense of urgency in higher education, prompting university administrators to revisit policies on sexual assault to ensure compliance. But does it actually help change an organizational environment that is highly conducive to assault?

    Institutionalizing accountability is essential; policies are a sustainable tool for addressing sexual violence on campuses. Evidence of the effectiveness of such policies can be seen in the fact that since the 2011 DCL there has been a steep increase in the number of Title IX and Clery Act complaints filed. According to the U.S. Department of Education, 62 Title IX complaints dealing with issues of sexual violence and harassment were filed between Oct. 1, 2012 and Sept. 30, 2013 alone.

    However, a heightened regulatory environment may create a culture of compliance where the fear of litigation—rather than expert knowledge on prevention—drives policy-making. Institutional priorities and resources are directed differently depending on whether a university focuses on compliance-based reporting policies or prevention and support programs (which also include reporting policies, but within a framework of victim advocacy rather than institutional protection). For example, the DCL states that “if a school knows or reasonably should know about a potential sexual assault it is required to take immediate action.” Ambiguity about what this means may prompt universities to adopt a mandated reporting policy for adult-aged students similar to those in place for minors or other vulnerable populations in order to avoid litigation.

    Duke University (along with University of Montana, Swarthmore, and several others) has instituted such a policy, naming almost all of its 34,000 employees as mandated reporters. When staff or faculty members realize that students are about to share a concern with them, they must inform the student that the information they share will be reported to the designated administrator, with or without the student’s permission. Duke University states that reports have increased since this policy was adopted. However, some victim’s advocates oppose the practice. They counter that campus policies that mandate reporting irrespective of the victim’s desire perpetuate a campus environment of silence and isolation and limit victims’ options for confiding in trusted sources. A student Resident Assistant (RA) at Swarthmore, where RAs are considered mandated reporters, was recently fired from her position because she refused to break confidentiality by identifying a victim. Critics warn that these policies could ultimately lead to decreased reporting from victims who feel there is no safe space for them to turn in confidence. This is especially likely to be the case at a campus with few or insufficient survivor support services.

    The real issue is how to move beyond a culture of compliance to a culture of prevention. In response to the requirements of the Campus SaVE Act, university policies should foreground survivor self-determination, provide strong perpetrator-prevention programs, offer robust victim support services, and promote increased dialogue about sexual violence with all members of the university community. These efforts will take us beyond the high visibility that reporting requirements have had, and into the areas of support and education required for true change.

    Can Locker Room Rape Culture Be Prevented?

    by Michael A. Messner

    Recipe for sexual assault: Assemble a group of young men. Promise them glory for violently dominating other groups of young men. Bond the group with aggressive joking about the sexual domination of women. Add public adulation that permeates the group with the scent of entitlement. Provide mentors who thrived as young men in this same system. Allow to simmer.

    What have we cooked up? Horrendous sexual assaults on unconscious girls by high school football players in Steubenville and Maryville as well as an ongoing parade of sexual assault accusations against college football players, most recently at Florida State, Vanderbilt, and the United States Naval Academy. Do we over-emphasize cases of football player sexual misconduct because of their high profile? Perhaps. But research by sociologist Todd Crosset since the 1990s has shown that men who play intercollegiate sports are more likely than non-athletes to commit sexual assault—especially those in high-status sports that valorize violence.

    Of course most football or ice hockey athletes don’t rape women. Recently, some male athletes have even formed organizations to stop violence against women.

    “Male Athletes Against Violence” has done peer education at the University of Maine for years. And since 1993, Northeastern University’s Mentors in Violence Prevention program has created a template for a national proliferation of sports-based programs that deploy a “bystander” approach to violence prevention. These programs attempt to disrupt the ways that high status male groups—like sports teams and fraternities—layer protective silence around members who perpetrate violence against women. A bystander approach teaches men to intervene to stop sexual assaults before they happen—for instance, stepping in when seeing one’s teammates dragging an inebriated woman to a back room. A good man, the bystander approach teaches, steps forward not only to keep a woman safe, but also to keep the team safe from public trouble.

    The years of silence surrounding Penn State University football coach Jerry Sandusky’s serial sexual assaults of children is one example of the absolute failure by high-profile university coaches and administrators to model the responsible bystander behavior they say their young athletes should engage in. This case showed that, rather than resulting simply from the actions of one bad man, sexual assault is embedded in the routine values and culture of silence in organizations.

    A number of years ago, I assisted psychologist Mark Stevens—a pioneer in working with athletes to prevent sexual violence—in an intervention with a college football program after members of the team were accused of sexually assaulting a woman at an off-campus party. Before the first of two workshops, I asked Stevens if he really thought that a few hours of talk could change the culture of sexual dominance that so commonly cements football team members’ loyalties while simultaneously putting women and vulnerable men at risk. Stevens answered no. “But,” he added, “if we can empower one or two guys who, down the road, might intervene in a situation to stop a sexual assault, then our work will have made the world safer for at least one woman.”

    I still worry that such interventions do less to prevent acts of violence than they do to contain the public relations nightmare that sexual assaults create for athletics departments. Confirming that fear, a man I recently interviewed told me that he had been hired by a big-time college sports program to institute a violence prevention program, only to find it “incredibly disappointing” when he learned his employers had hired him mostly to work with male athletes of color to keep them eligible to play sports. “I thought that they were genuinely ready to do something, you know, make some changes… I got kind of duped. I had this particular background [in violence prevention] so that was really enticing for them, and they had no intention of actually letting me do any of that work.”

    While some schools have adopted sexual assault prevention programs for some of their men’s sports teams, we just don’t know how well they work. We need good research that points to how, or under what conditions prevention programs within institutions like football (or the military) can actually succeed in mitigating gender-based violence. To have such an impact, I believe these interventions will need to confront how sexism is routinely intertwined with male entitlement and celebratory violence. To be truly successful, I suspect, such a program would render the game itself to be no longer football as we know it.

    Failure To Serve And Protect

    by Carol Burke

    Military scandals in the past two years have brought new attention to old problems: sexual harassment, sexual assault, and the potential for bias in the handling of these crimes. The general who commanded the 82nd Airborne was charged with forcible sodomy, indecent acts, and violating orders, and was issued a reprimand and ordered to pay a $20,000 fine. The commanders in charge of Lackland Air Force Base apparently didn’t realize that, over a two-year period, 62 recruits were assaulted by 33 drill instructors. Even those tasked with preventing sexual assault were charged with the crimes they had pledged to thwart. A lieutenant colonel who headed the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response Prevention program at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was arrested and charged with stalking an ex-wife and sending her threatening emails in violation of a restraining order. A lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program was charged with the sexual battery of a stranger in a parking lot. His alleged victim, according to witnesses, took justice into her own hands and after pushing away the drunken officer, ran after him and punched him in the face. At trial, the officer was acquitted.

    Ultimately, the scandal that ignited the outrage of several congresswomen was Lieutenant General Craig Franklin’s decision to overturn Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkerson’s court-martial conviction for sexual assault. To Franklin, it seemed incongruous that a man “who adored his wife and his 9-year-old son,” a man who as a pilot had flown in the same unit as him, and a man who had been selected “for promotion to full colonel, a wing inspector general, a career officer” could be a sexual predator. So Franklin exercised the power granted him and other commanders under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) to reverse any verdict without explanation. Although this might have looked at the time like the decision of an out-of-touch commander from his lonely and lofty post, identifying more with the plight of the accused than of the victim, emails related to the case revealed that generals of even higher rank than Franklin’s supported his decision.

    According to the Defense Department’s own survey, 26,000 anonymous respondents claimed that they had been sexually assaulted in 2012, yet only 3,374 complaints were officially reported in that year. The incendiary mix of the skyrocketing rates of assault and the apparent indifference of some commanders to the plight of victims captured the attention of many women in Congress, and they demanded reform. These congresswomen, joined by some of their male colleagues, took aim at the heart of military culture, the sacrosanct military justice system, which can only be as impartial as the commander who oversees it. Senator Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) proposed a two-part judicial system akin to those of many of our NATO Allies, a system that would take the most serious crimes like murder and sexual assault out of the chain of command and ensure that decisions to investigate, prosecute, and convict could not be arbitrarily reversed by a commander. In a statement issued December 20, 2013, Gillibrand said, “Nowhere in America do we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted or not, except in the United States military.”

    Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) fashioned a more moderate compromise that left the investigation and adjudication of crimes of sexual assault in the hands of commanders but that lifted the five-year statute of limitations on courts-martial for sex-related crimes, criminalized retaliation by commanders (but not by peers), provided counsel for victims, and did away with the “good soldier defense.” The compromise carried the day, much to the chagrin of victims who regard the UCMJ as a system that often denies them justice.

    For several years now the Department of Defense has required mandatory training intended to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment, crafted public service announcements for broadcast on military TV stations, established hotlines for victims, and posted pleas in bathrooms on bases here and abroad for bystanders to step in when they see abuse taking place. Unfortunately, these costly efforts have failed to build trust in a military judicial system. Victims see these public campaigns as the military’s efforts to protect the institution and not them. As long as the investigation and adjudication of sexual assault cases remain within such a command-centric judicial system, the partiality of a single individual can easily trump justice.

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    About the Author

    Stacy Torres is in the sociology department at New York University. She studies aging and the life course, urban communities, and gender.


    Aging Women, Living Poorer

    This year 37 million retired workers received a 1.5 percent increase in their monthly Social Security checks—one of the lowest raises since cost-of-living adjustments began in 1975. While this modest boost is an improvement over recent years (when raises stalled due to negative or scant inflation), daily living expenses and rising out-of-pocket health care costs will quickly eat up the average $19 increase for seniors on fixed incomes.

    Due to the graying of the population, more people than ever rely on Social Security to meet basic needs. According to the most recent Census, people over age 65 comprise 13.7 percent of the total U.S. population today—more than during any previous year. But this number, which will increase with the aging of baby boomers, tells only part of the story. The majority of older Americans are women. Women live longer than men, and elderly women 65 years and older outnumber elderly men by three to two, making aging in late life a women’s issue. This means that any changes to existing policies that affect the old, like Social Security and Medicare, will primarily affect old women. Yet such gendered realities are often lost in media coverage and ongoing public discussions of Social Security reform.

    Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

    Photo by Chalmers Butterfield

    While overall poverty rates for the elderly have declined from 35 percent in 1959 to 8.7 percent in 2011, gender differences in late-life poverty persist. In 2011, the poverty rate for women over 65 reached 10.7 percent, compared to 6.2 percent for men. My analysis of poverty data from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (Annual and Economic Supplement, 2003-2011) reveals important gender differences in older women’s and men’s poverty rates across the following age groups: 60-64 years, 65-74 years, 75-84 years, and 85+ years. It suggests that women continue to face significant economic disadvantages in old age, and that the proportion of older women in poverty increases as women age.

    In the United States, 65 is an important age benchmark tied to the distribution of Social Security benefits and eligibility for “full retirement.” But economic vulnerability varies for men and women in later life. Key transitions in old age, such as when one becomes eligible for full retirement benefits, may alleviate poverty; other changes, such as shifts in living arrangements and marital status, may increase an individual’s susceptibility to poverty.

    According to the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS), men have lower poverty rates than women across all 60+ age groups; they also experience less fluctuation in these rates as they age. The percentage of men living below the official poverty line was higher for men aged 60-64 than those aged 65-74 from 2002 to 2010 (the most recent year for which CPS data were available at the time of this writing). For example, in the chart below, in 2010, 9.3 percent of men aged 60-64 fell below the poverty line, compared with 6.5 percent of men aged 65-74. This pattern of lower poverty rates for older men (an average 2 percent lower across a nine-year period) suggests that the benefit of reaching full retirement age helps lift some older men out of the ranks of the desperately poor. Comparing the percentage of poor men aged 65-74 with those aged 75-84 revealed no significant differences. Among those over 65, men aged 85 and older had the highest poverty rates. But the percentage of “oldest old” men who were below the poverty line still remained lower than the poverty rate among men aged 60-64, suggesting that men have a more consistent and more substantial economic cushion as they age.

    Women’s economic prospects past age 65 are much less secure. Looking at differences in poverty rates for women across different age groups, we see that, among adults 60 and older, women had higher poverty rates than their male counterparts in every age group. Much like men, fewer women aged 65-74 were poor, compared to those aged 60-64, suggesting that are some immediate economic benefits for women who reach full retirement age. But the average difference in poverty rates between women in these two age groups was more modest than men’s differences (0.4 percent versus 2 percent) and did not decrease every year. Women faced steady increases in poverty rates as they aged.


    Poverty rates in 2010 for women aged 65-74 stood at 9.5 percent, rose to 11.2 percent for women aged 75-84, and increased again to 14.2 percent among women 85 and older. In contrast to men’s late life poverty, the average percentage of women below poverty in the 85+ age group was nearly 5 percent higher than the percentage of women in poverty for the 60-64 age group (in all years from 2002-2010).

    spotmatik | Shutterstock, Inc

    spotmatik | Shutterstock, Inc

    Why does poverty persist for women, and which women are hit hardest as they age? For many, a lifetime of unpaid, work-interrupting caregiving responsibilities is one cause. Divorce, labor market discrimination, and inequalities built into Social Security and employer pension programs are also frequent factors which leave women worse off as they enter old age. Women continue to face problems under the Social Security system due to gendered wage gaps and their more erratic work histories (exiting and reentering the labor force more frequently than men due to unpaid caregiving). These interruptions limit both take-home pay and lifetime Social Security benefits. Taking years “off” incurs a motherhood penalty, and a “zero year” is entered into a worker’s record for each year the worker did not perform paid labor. Though the Social Security Administration bases retirement benefits on the highest 35 years of earnings, older women average 11.5 years out of the work force, compared with men who average only a year away. That’s a lot of zeros averaged into women’s retirement benefits. When women who worked outside the home collect Social Security and pensions based on their earnings, their payouts tend to be substantially lower.

    Because women live longer, they also face the challenge of having more expensive health problems in the face of dwindling resources. Older women are more likely to live alone (36 percent of women over 65, versus 19 percent of men). This rate increases with age, and almost half of women age 75 and older live alone. Women who remain single and live alone suffer the most economically. Poverty among older women living alone increased to 18.4 percent in 2011, up from 17 percent the previous year, though it’s too early to tell whether this uptick represents an emerging trend. However, it’s little surprise that women’s poverty rates spike upon widowhood. Because they live longer, and tend to marry men older than themselves, they are nearly three times more likely than elderly men to be widowed. These women are more likely to remain single than widowed men, who have a higher likelihood of remarriage. Seventy-two percent of men 65 and older were married in 2012, compared to 45 percent of women over 65.

    What might the future of women’s aging look like? Baby boomers’ desire to “age in place” and live in their own homes independently for as long as possible, coupled with higher rates of divorce and lifelong singlehood, will further the trend of solo living among new generations of older women. While declining elder poverty has enabled greater rates of independent living, this independence depends on government programs like Social Security and support services such as senior centers, in-home meal delivery, and home health aides. Cuts to these and other programs threaten the ability of older people, particularly women who suffer higher poverty rates in old age, to thrive on their own.

    Eliminating the motherhood penalty built into the current Social Security system, and providing caregiver credits that reduce the number of zero years that are factored into benefit calculations, would go a long way towards safeguarding a more secure retirement for future generations of women. Sociologist Pamela Herd, writing in Social Forces in 2005, showed that implementing a minimum benefit, as opposed to the current model of earnings-based benefits, would go even further in helping reduce class inequality among different groups of women and protecting the poorest women, especially single parents. As we develop policies to help meet the needs of our aging population, we need strategies that will support all women.

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    About the Author

    Susan Sered is in the sociology department at Suffolk University. She is the author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility.


    Suffering In An Age Of Personal Responsibility

    Drawing on more than five years of research with women who inhabit a circuit of suffering made up of prison, homeless shelters, drug programs and the streets, sociologist Susan Sered argues that punishment and treatment often function as two sides of the same coin: a coin that construes women’s suffering in terms of their private traumas, personal flaws, and poor choices. This ideological script functions to blame the victim, obscure the structural causes of poverty and violence, and absolves governments from public responsibilities for the well-being of citizens.

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    About the Author

    Katie L. Acosta is in the sociology department at Georgia State University. She is the author of Amigas y Amantes: Sexually Nonconforming Latinas Negotiate Family.


    We Are Family

    Sociologist Katie L. Acosta explores the centrality of family in lesbian, bisexual and queer Latinas’ lives and the efforts they make to integrate their families of choice and origin into one supportive kin network.

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    About the Author

    Melissa M. Wilcox is in religion and gender studies at Whitman College. She is the author of Queer Women and Religious Individualism and Religion in Today’s World. She is currently writing a book on the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence.



    Among the many valuable lessons that feminists of the 1970s and 1980s taught us was to watch our mouths—not in the way our parents might have told us to do, but because language matters. Terms like “womyn” and “wimmin” have fallen mostly by the wayside, but contemporary cultures carry the legacy of that feminist wisdom in words like “firefighter” and “police officer,” and in social psychological research showing that words do, in fact, make a difference in how we think about social roles. It was in this environment, and in response to tensions within the nascent gay liberation movement, that what some call the “alphabet soup” of contemporary sexual and gender identity terms first got its start. The full story, though, goes back much further.

    The concepts of homosexuality and heterosexuality, as we know them today, were invented in the nineteenth century by practitioners of the new field of sexology. Influential sexologists such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Magnus Hirschfeld, and Albert Moll linked homosexuality to “sexual inversion,” suggesting that same-sex desire in the “true homosexual” resulted from a disjuncture between socially assigned gender and gender identity. This idea made its way into popular culture by the turn of the twentieth century. It would take another century, and a vibrant transgender rights movement, to begin to disentangle gender identity from sexual attraction in the popular imaginary.

    As the concepts of homosexuality and inversion traveled from the realms of academic discourse to the popular sphere, and especially as people with nonconforming gender identities and/or same-sex desires encountered these terms, alternatives began to spring up. Some sexologists suggested terms like “urning” or “uranian” for men, drawn from a term for the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Though the parallel term “urningin” was developed for women, women came to be called (and sometimes to call themselves) “Sapphic” after the ancient Greek poet. The term “lesbian,” which derived from the name of Sappho’s home on the island of Lesbos, also developed during this time, as did the new use of the already-existent term “gay” to refer to same-sex attracted people, especially men.

    While people with same-sex attractions and/or nonconforming gender identities sometimes used the term “homosexual” for themselves, they often sought alternative terms that bore fewer negative and clinical overtones. In the 1950s, U.S. activist Harry Hay suggested the word “homophile” in order to shift the terminological emphasis from sex In the 1960s, radical homosexuals began to use the term “gay.” to love, and the movements sparked or inspired by Hay in the 1950s and 1960s came to be known by this term. But when activist tactics shifted in a radical direction in these communities, one word came to the fore: gay.

    In the 1960s, radical homosexuals began to use the term “gay.”

    In the 1960s, radical homosexuals began to use the term “gay.”

    The radical activist organization that arose from the flames of New York’s Stonewall Riots in 1969 called itself the Gay Liberation Front, or GLF. At the time, although the term “bisexual” was known and used, and although some in the movement identified as transsexual and some would later come to identify as transgender, many in the movement were still more likely to call themselves “gay.” And so it seemed, for a brief moment and only to some, that there was one simple word by which to call same-sex-attracted and gender-nonconforming people.

    Who’s In The Name

    Within a few years of the GLF’s founding, it became clear to some of the women involved that “gay” might not really include them. Tired of facing sexism in the movement, and of being told that some of the issues they wanted to work on were “women’s issues” and not “gay issues,” women began to leave. Some, battling not only sexism in the GLF but also homophobia in the women’s movement, created their own space in lesbian feminism. These women made it clear that any movement or organization that truly intended to address the needs of same-sex attracted women as well as same-sex attracted men needed to include both in name as well as in intent. Thus, the 1980s in particular saw a growth in the use of the term “gay and lesbian,” or, to list the less socially empowered group first, “lesbian and gay.”

    Also critical at this time in the movement was the power of naming to include or exclude U.S. people of color, and people from cultures other than the dominant U.S. mainstream. While some people from non-dominant cultures were involved in the gay rights movement, lesbian movements, and lesbian feminism, and while some actively chose the terms “gay” or “lesbian” for themselves for a variety of reasons, others preferred different terms. One example is the Two-Spirit movement, which grew in the early 1990s out of earlier organizations such as Gay American Indians. Because they wanted to work simultaneously on fighting settler colonialism and its effects, on strengthening traditional Native identities and knowledge around sexuality and gender, and on challenging contemporary resistance to those traditional identities in Native communities, the members of these organizations did not want simply to be a part of broader gay and lesbian activism. While some did, and some continue to, use terms such as “gay” or “lesbian” to refer to themselves, many have also or alternatively chosen terms from their own traditions or the pan-Indian term, Two-Spirit.

    The move toward acknowledging lesbians’ choice of terminology, rather than subsuming everyone under the term “gay,” sparked further questions around inclusion. Bisexuals were the first to have their demands for inclusion answered in the affirmative, and over the course of the 1990s it became increasingly common to see or hear the term “gay, lesbian, and bisexual” as a description of a community or an organization. Some, unhappy with having to use three words and also dissatisfied with the new acronym (usually GLB), began to experiment with blended terms such as “lesbigay,” but before those terms could gain much of a foothold the names by which these communities were called changed again.

    Fairytales Film Fest | www.fairytalesfilmfest.com

    Fairytales Film Fest | www.fairytalesfilmfest.com

    Distinguishing Gender Identity From Sexual Identity

    Gender-nonconforming people, particularly those attracted to the same biological sex, had been a part of these movements from their earliest days, in part because of the fusion of sexual and gender identity in nineteenth and early twentieth-century concepts of homosexuality. When research on sex reassignment procedures began to take hold in Europe between the World Wars, a separate transsexual identity began to emerge. Because of the limited number of people who could access such procedures, however, and because of the rise of World War II and the subsequent cultural conformity in countries such as the United States, this identity sparked important local activism but did not yet result in a unified national or international movement. That movement began to coalesce by the end of the 1980s, under the term “transgender.” As the word has come to be used, “transgender” (some also use “trans,” or, more recently, “trans*”) encompasses a wide variety of identities and lived experiences, including those who choose (and have the resources) to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically, those who do not (or cannot) alter their bodies but whose everyday gender expression diverges from their socially-assigned gender, and those whose nonconforming gender presentation is more occasional than regular.

    Because a number of people who came to claim transgender identities in the decades after the Stonewall Riots had at one time identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (and some continued to do so in addition to identifying as transgender), and because those outside of either trans-gender or LGB communities continue to assume an intrinsic connection between gender identities and sexual identities, transgender activists and lesbian, gay, and bisexual activists have found themselves in the same communities time and again. Sometimes the shared community results in alliance; more frequently, for transgender people, it has resulted in betrayal. The move to include transgender people in the increasingly-long acronym for these communities, then, held multiple meanings. On the one hand it was a gesture of inclusion, and an acknowledgement that transgender people are a part of these communities. On the other hand, to some transgender people the nominal inclusion seemed to be too little and too late. All too often, as happened frequently for bisexuals as well, an organization would add “the T” (or “the B”) to its name without actually shifting its policies, goals, vision, or practices to be more proactively inclusive.

    Queering Or Reifying Identity?

    Similar challenges arose with the term “queer.” Reclaimed from its derogatory past in the late 1980s by the activist group Queer Nation, the term was almost simultaneously but separately introduced into academia to prod what was then called “gay and lesbian studies” into greater inclusivity and a more radical analysis. “Queer” began its new life as a term connoting radical activism around sexual and gender identity; it also began as a term used mostly in white communities. By the early 2000s, though, “queer” had become less radical and more fashionably edgy, appropriate even for the title of a hit television show (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy). Yet, it also became the term of choice for a number of organizations founded by people of color, and the term “queer of color” began to appear commonly in the descriptions and names of organizations.

    At the same time, it began to seem to some people that “queer” might be the answer to the growing difficulty of naming their community in fewer than ten syllables. By the early 2000s, acronyms often included not only gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender, but—among others—transsexual, Two-Spirit, asexual, ally, queer, questioning, and intersex (people born with ambiguous or mixed genitalia). Intersex activists, like transgender activists, disagreed about whether they were or wanted to be a part of this community, since their goals and priorities were different from those of the movement as a whole. The acronym had multiplied beyond expectation, yet even with all of this specificity not only were people still feeling left out, but some people were included who really did not want to be.

    Interestingly, for those who chose it to name their identity, the strength of the term “queer” actually lay in its lack of specificity. Resistant to being “boxed in” yet also not willing to identify solely as heterosexual and/or as cisgender (that is, normatively gendered), some people chose “queer” because it expressed the fluidity they saw in their own sexual and gendered selves. The term “genderqueer,” for instance, came in the 2000s to indicate a gender identity that refused allegiance to either femininity or masculinity, expressing itself instead through nonconforming gender performances that resisted and confounded social assumptions about gender and anatomy. Likewise, some who claimed “queer” as a sexual identity refused the binary between “straight” and “gay,” and resisted the ways in which “bisexual” reinforced that binary. “Queer,” then, came for some to indicate sexual and gender identities that refused to conform with established gender or sexual identities in heterosexual, gay, lesbian, and cisgender cultures.

    In the end, though, for a number of reasons “queer” failed to achieve full acceptance as the term of choice for all communities of gender-nonconforming and same-sex attracted people—this, despite its near-ubiquity among the members of Generation X and the Millennial generation. The most common term used today to describe same-sex attracted and gender non-conforming people is “LGBT” or “LGBTQ.” Where possible, though, many avoid the naming issue entirely now, preferring instead to refer simply to “sexual and gender identities.”

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    In Brief

    Fashioning Flawlessness

    Amanda Lanzone

    Amanda Lanzone

    During New York’s Fashion Week last September, patients of plastic surgeon Ramtin Kassir sashayed down the runway to model the latest in “surgical designs,” including rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and liposuction. The show ended with two beauty pageant winners, a mother-daughter pair, who strutted down the runway showcasing Kassir’s handiwork.

    The show was staged to coincide with the fashionista gathering in order to make a point: the fashion industry expects “absolute flawlessness,” in the words of feminist media activist Jean Kilbourne. While we generally believe that these beauty standards derive from nature, models and beauty queens increasingly use plastic surgery and digital enhancements to achieve unattainable ideals in terms of body type, facial features, skin complexion and eternal youth.

    A model’s value depends on her ability to achieve and maintain flawless beauty. Sociologists Joanne Entwistle and Elizabeth Wissinger, writing in The Sociological Review in 2005, argue that since models’ sense of identity and self-worth are closely linked to their value in the industry, those who deviate from any of these rigid standards are devalued both professionally and personally.

    But in a beauty commercial parody that recently went viral, blogger Jesse Rosten said it best: the only way to look like a “real” cover girl is to use Photoshop.