Archives for posts with tag: masculinity

Kara Newhouse has roamed the world and feels most at home among children’s books.

There aren’t many things I remember from “family and consumer sciences” classes in middle school. Topics like financial planning and family budgeting didn’t seem relevant to my life, and the dry manner in which such subjects were taught did nothing to entice me. One day in child development class has stuck in my memory, though. We were learning about teenage pregnancy. After watching a video about a teenage mom whose boyfriend left after the baby was born, our teacher began talking to us from the assumption that, in the majority of teen pregnancies, fathers don’t take responsibility. A classmate of mine spoke out in anger about the assumption — her brother was 18 and taking primary care of his 2-year-old daughter. Our teacher called the brother an exception to the rule, which only made my classmate angrier and disinvested in anything the teacher had to say on the topic.

Perhaps that family and consumer sciences teacher could use a little perspective from the world of young adult fiction. Specifically, from the book Boys Don’t Cry by Malorie Blackman. Published in 2010, this novel is written in the voice of Dante, a 17-year-old whose future plans are set dramatically off course by the revelation of fatherhood. Just months before he’s supposed to head to university, Dante’s ex-girlfriend, who left school a year prior, shows up at his door with a baby. She tells Dante that he’s the father and then she does a runner. (Blackman is a British author and hence the book is full of British lingo like “does a runner,” which sounds a bit nicer than “ditches her daughter in Dante’s living room.”)

A book written by a woman author from the perspective of a teenage boy, addressing an issue typically associated with teenage girls, Boys Don’t Cry is chock full of gender threads to discuss. The fact that Dante’s younger brother, Adam, is gay plays an important role in the plot as well. What the book really centers on is emotions and how the characters express, or don’t express their feelings. When Dante learns that he has a child, he goes through a convincing gamut of emotions, tied up with physical reactions ranging from horrible stomach knots to impulses to run far and fast. Mostly he feels scared and alone, not knowing how to care for an infant. When his father insists that Dante actually hold his daughter, he thinks,

Did he think I’d hold it in my arms and suddenly realize just how much I loved it? Well, I didn’t. I felt nothing. And that, more than anything else, scared the hell out of me the most.

But Dante isn’t actually alone. From the moment he finds out he is a grandfather, Dante’s dad, despite calling his son bloody stupid, kicks into high gear, guiding and demanding Dante in how to be a responsible single father. And he would know— since Dante’s mother died when Dante and Adam were small children.

Thus it happens that besides being about a teen dad, this novel focuses on an all-male, emotionally-stifled household into which a baby girl is dropped. It’s a fairly predictable trajectory, then, that by falling in love with and focusing on Emma, the boys and men of the house learn to share their feelings with each other and communicate about their relationships. A family that lost its mother misses out on the ability to be sensitive and expressive until a gal of another generation comes along! Prodding from a pushy aunt helps the process.

So I had to wonder, would this trajectory work if Dante’s baby were a boy? In the overall idea, perhaps, but it’s surprising for me to realize how, even at age one, I would imagine the character’s ways of relating to the other characters differ based on gender. Of course Dante and his family would love his child if it were male, but could a baby boy be written with the same sort of emotion-prompting charm with which Blackman endowed Emma? It’s possible, but it may make the story seem as if it were trying too hard.

Because the tricky thing about gendered behaviors is that — even though it’s eye-opening to understand them as the results of socialization and expectation — people really carry them out. While I don’t think it’s the only way boys and men can or do exist in the world, the stubbornly critical and secretly loving relationship between Dante and his father is a fair representation of the ways many men I know interact. Changing those relationships may take more than hanging out with babies and ladies, but it’s still fun to read about Dante and his family trying to figure it out.

Which makes me curious about what other books are out there offering stereotype-breaking models to young male readers. (Did I mention the title-worthy line that Dante says to his brother in one of the final chapters? “Boys don’t cry, but real men do.”) Maybe it’s not just my middle school FCS teacher who should read Boys Don’t Cry. What if, for instance YA fiction were used as curriculum material for learning about topics like teen pregnancy? Reading this novel certainly would’ve been more relatable to me than dull birth statistics, and perhaps less angering for my classmate. It would also have the potential to broaden teenage boys’ ideas about how to respond to their feelings and relate to others.

[Every Tuesday, Canonball revisits a Young Adult Fiction classic. Previously we featured Walk Two Moons, The Giver and The Westing Game. As always, email us if you’d like to contribute a piece.]

Annie Rebekah Gardner is a grad student and frequent Canonball contributor. She writes for us from Cairo, Egypt.

As a once-self-professed-woman-hater, I think there was a time in my life where I would have relished being One of the Guys, especially One of the Guys With a Doctorate, but those days are long-gone, and besides, the meme as told by the fine Ms. Molly Lambert is already several weeks old, so I needn’t elaborate on the whys and wherefores of the problematic nature of the Boys’ Club, or the mad sisterhood I have with my female colleagues. Instead, I’ll discuss the Boy’s Club that I’m presently trying to break: The Academy.

“Do you have any comments on Academia being a Boys’ Club?” I asked a colleague and good friend on G-Chat. “Perhaps you want to mansplain it to me, even?” Colleague/Good Friend kept it concise. “It’s true,” he responded. This particular Dude is emblematic of the type of academic social circle – or cozy little bubble, as the case may be – that I generally inhabit. In my particular graduate program, our demographic is composed of guilty white girls and men of color. The male students of other disciplines with whom I rub shoulders more or less share similar politics to mine. My thesis committee is composed entirely of women (in the fields of history, gender and women’s studies, and sociology, respectively), and the male professors I have had are committed feminists. (Also, there’s something about living in Egypt that makes one – male or female – a more radicalized feminist, but I digress!)

This next part should come as no surprise, then. I recently attended my first Big Academic Conference (by virtue of the fact that I have a really gracious advisor, and by no particular accomplishment on my own, I want to add) and discovered that, although women increasingly constitute the world of the Academy, it remains, for all intents and purposes, a Boys’ Club.

On my last afternoon, two well-accomplished conference attendees who are not in my field told me over beers that, when it comes to professorial positions, women are more likely to take on more work and more menial tasks (there was even a conference panel on it!), and all the more likely to get pigeon-holed into teaching or researching subject matter that doesn’t concern them. In the meantime, university departments with faculty composed almost solely of men are trying desperately to recruit women, and with difficulty: a) women are less likely to “progress” in their academic careers because of outside issues (families, for one) and b) Boys’ Clubs actually suck, no matter how much you loved The Little Rascals.

My primary field, Forced Migration and Refugee Studies, is a female dominated space, but one that more often than not is geared towards practitioners. As someone from the theory end of things, my interests lie more in the critical aspects of the field, and as such, I’ve gotten myself swept up in other, related critical fields – borderlands theory (which caters greatly to the gender studies lens), citizenship studies (again, easily accessible from a feminist standpoint), and security studies (Ding ding ding! Boyzone. Doybomb). It should come as no surprise, then, that a panel dealing with security studies – even a panel on the critical theory end of things – is going to be a male-dominated space.

“What did you think?” A colleague asked wryly after sitting in on my first critical security panel. “Well, it’s definitely a Boys’ Club,” I replied. I’ve never given thought to pursuing this line of critical theory seriously (like, say, in a dissertation), but after seeing a (presumably well-meaning) group of dudes listen to themselves wax poetic on the topic, I started to feel a little bit contrary. On one such panel, the discussant even noted that though the audience was split 50/50 sex-wise, the bulk of questions asked were by men. Is it a coincidence? Is it that these particular dudes liked hearing themselves speak? Is it that women are more afraid of being judged for asking a stupid question (I will readily admit as a fledgling academic that this is usually my fear, and always has been)?

Contrast, then, to the only feminist panel I attended (I’ll say that fortunately, there were many at the conference). Though it had the best attendance of any of the panels I went to, it was crammed into a tiny afterthought of a conference room, with about 15 chairs total. Attendees, myself included, had to sit on the floor. Of course it follows that it was the best panel I attended, and ironically enough, several of the panelists discussed the phenomenon of fratriarchy. As defined by the International Encyclopedia of Men and Masculinities, “fratriarchy” was coined by one John Remy and expresses “a rule of brotherhoods or fraternities…based on a fictitious kinship.” As a phenomenon, fratriarchy is a less decentralized element of patriarchy, occasionally expressed via social deviance (the public displays of faux homosexual acts in hazing rituals, for example).

There are plenty of salient examples of fratriarchy. I mean, fraternities, the military. Duh. In the context of the Academy, long painted as the way nerdy side of the masculine, it’s not an outright formal fratriarchy – homosocial hazing rituals have been replaced by grilling panelists at conferences, for example – but I think that as another Boys’ Club, it serves as one more exemplar of a patriarchal world. Academia already has its long-standing issues tied with racism and elitism. Its continuing to be a Boys’ Club just further cements the fact that an Ivory Tower is still standing, no matter the claims otherwise.

As a co-opted capitalist entity, the present university system, in all its moneyed, Polo-clad glory, is already in crisis. The job market for people like me, who will emerge from my cloisters in four or five years and find myself paying off loans and battling for uninsured adjunct positions in Tea Party-ville (the irony that this will fall right around the time that I want to start birthing children is not lost on me, my friends), is abysmal. The dominant discourses of the Academy are still very much skewed in favor of its bachelor bros (I mean like the unmarried dude, not the degree. Ha, ha. Puns!!).

I wish I had a better answer for what those academics amongst us should be doing about this. As a less-cynical-than-I-am-now 21-year-old, I bopped around at college keggers speaking of knocking down the Ivory Tower and radically redistributing the bricks, and out of college immediately took a job at that most hated of Ivory Tower institutions (yeah, I won’t link it, I’m that embarrassed. I will, however, link one of my favorite Ivy League Internet feminists). I think one important step, and one that I’ve been very fortunate to have learned by my professors, both in undergrad and now, is to view the Academy as one more site of struggle and contestation. Like a streaker on the quad, inequalities run haywire, but we have the great challenge and privilege of living in the midst of uprisings (seriously, I never thought I would see a 1968 in my lifetime, and yet! Every day! From Tahrir to Trafalgar!). The world is a Boys’ Club. It’s time to change that.

Annie Rebekah Gardner lives and studies in Cairo, Egypt and is a frequent Canonball contributor.

During the Great Communications Blackout of 2011- I’m reluctant to call it that, because in these days, anything is possible, including more blockages, and in fact I have yet to send or receive text messages, save pro-regime propaganda- my dear friend Max Strasser was able to fill readers in a little bit about the large role that women have played in Egypt’s uprising, and indeed, many media and blogs have followed suit.

Having attended the demonstrations intermittently since the Day of Rage on January 25th, and knowing and following women activists on the ground who have devoted themselves to occupying Tahrir Square (Liberation Square, for those whose media seems to be allergic to pronouncing “Tahrir,” which, really, isn’t that hard to pronounce, BUT I DIGRESS), I will vouch for this fact (also the fact that Nawal el-Sadawi is 80 years old and still a bad-ass), and instead of elaborating on something that ought to be more or less well-known at this point (if I hear one more person bemoan a “lack of women,” I will personally break their fingers), I’d like to consider the role that masculinities have played in the uprising, and how a revolution, should it ever come to pass (as we all more or less know, any transitional government that is US-brokered is highly unlikely to radically shift the status quo of governance here), could hold a potential for re-imagining masculinity in a new order.

Sexual harassment

As we’ve noted on Canonball before, Egypt’s endemic levels of sexual harassment are not exactly unknown. On a popular listserv that caters to ex-pats in Cairo, warnings were sent out prior to the demonstration on January 25th: women are liable to be harassed in greater numbers in such settings, stay away. I’ve been to enough soccer rallies and gotten my ass grabbed enough times to know that this warning isn’t just hysterical posturing, but aside from a few rogue ass-grabbers (and only on the initial day of demonstrations, at that), the level of sexual harassment within spaces of demonstration has been a steady zero. Exit Tahrir square, and in a few blocks, you’ll be greeted by familiar cat-calls, but in Tahrir proper, politeness (and truthfully, not just politeness, but genuine friendliness) remains the modus operandi, to the point where many opposition figures have taken it on as a boasting point, as well they should.

Some sociological theory suggests that Egypt’s rash of sexual harassment stems from a high population of young, frustrated, unemployed ineligible bachelors (ineligible because of myriad social and financial obstacles to marriage). Now that a popular uprising is afoot, acts of frustration have been transferred to their rightful objects: a repressive regime, a stagnant economy.

“Come down, be a man!”

On January 26th, I marched with protesters on their way to the high court (until we got rerouted by tear gas and I pansied out). I have never seen Downtown’s streets so empty, and as we marched, demonstrators beckoned those watching from their balconies to join the movement, shouting, “Come down, be a man!” There’s something about these words that is potentially problematic, but I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that this beckoning, led for the most part by young women around my age, heralds a call for new forms of masculinity in the wake of the dying regime’s thuggish paternalism.

In a police state, the greatest act of bravery is risking bodily harm and detention by taking to the streets en masse. That young men, shabaab, have persistently maintained their energy in spite of looming threats, is testament to a rejection of an aging and obsolete hierarchy (this in spite of Omar Suleiman’s positing that Egyptians have always needed a ruler).

Thug Life
While positive, productive kinds of masculinity are being enacted by the youth, the strains of the regime’s old-school masculine tropes linger. I can’t speak to how expansive Mubarak’s security apparatus really is, but for as long as I can remember, Mukhabarat and Baltageyya– secret police and state security- have remained steadfast figures in the fabric of the Egyptian landscape (anecdote: one particular thug, sent to report on an expatriate church, was the butt of my dad’s jokes on more than one occasion. Also one time he tried to kiss my mom, but that’s another story for another time). As Yasmin has said, these figures embody a distinct masculinity that has traditionally been the status quo- the sa3ey dude embodied. Rather than represent a positive brand of man-hood (fatherliness, youthful energy), state security proffers a fearsome, threatening man.

On the second day of demonstrations, outside the journalist’s syndicate I watched as protesters faced off against a row of heavily armed riot police (all of whom are young conscripts performing their mandatory military service). A group off five or six amin al-dowl (state security) emerged from behind the riot cops, and the protesters, about 100 or 200- strong, booked it. Later that day, I watched them drag and beat an elderly journalist. On more than one occasion, I’ve come upon an empty square where they sit with rods and chains, ready for the call to go beat the shit out of protesters. During the aptly named Battle of Tahrir a few days ago, they were merciless, taking extra special care to target women in their beatings.

Mubarak’s thugs and the police go hand-in-hand, naturally. As noted above, the lowest ranking officers are young conscripts, and so while they do the dirty work, their superiors look on and tell them that they aren’t beating people hard enough. More than one source has observed that if circumstances were different, they’d be on the other side of the lines, and in fact most protesters are sympathetic to this. More than one photo has surfaced of protesters tending to injured conscripts, and in mourning the fallen, no less respect is paid to them. Like state security, the police embody a tired, hierarchical kind of manliness that soon may have no place in the order of things. In their absence, rather than entering a state of panic, many neighborhoods grouped together and established popular committees to protect their streets and direct traffic, something that the police have never been very good at, even on the best of days.

Respect Your Father
A curious addition to state security and the police is the seemingly neutral military, which was greeted with elation on Friday the 28th, or Friday of Rage. Released Wikileaks show that, though the military’s loyalties lie with the regime, there is a degree of division and in-fighting, which could very well prove positive. In my personal experience, the military has been much nicer and much more professional than the police, with minimal sexual harassment on the part of soldiers (take note that even the police in Egypt maintain notoriety for harassing women), but even so, represents the fragments of a regimented regime, which does nothing but reflect the paternalism of its high commanders. Newly appointed VP Omar Suleiman chided protesters in the streets, urging their parents to tell them to go home (never mind the fact that many of them actually are parents. This may be a youth-lead movement, but never doubt the multi-generational support it has garnered), asking them to respect their father, Baba Hosni.

Boy’s Don’t Cry (Men Do)
The regime is tiring. It has become a curmudgeonly figure of traditional patriarchy, while the opposition movement’s figureheads like Wael Ghonim cry openly for their people, calling for them to rally against the NDP’s hackneyed politics. Contrast Ghonim’s tearful interview (I dare you not to cry) with anti-protest and old-masculine Tamer Hosny, and you have everything you need to know: the old order of masculinity in Egypt is slowly but surely crumbling, and a new order- one that demands equality and rejects hierarchy- is emergent. While I can’t say for sure whether or not sexist norms, especially sexual harassment, will fade (per usual, I remain skeptical, due to the maddening Patriarchy), I think it fairly undeniable that a new masculine imagination is coming out at a grassroots level. If that isn’t revolutionary, then I don’t know what is.