#MasculinitySoFragile: Post-Election Edition

By David Michael Newstead.

In January, I spoke with the Twitter users that popularized #MasculinitySoFragile regarding their perspectives on gender in America. Skip ahead eleven months to the present and there’s still plenty to talk about after one of the most negative presidential campaigns in recent memory. For more insight, I checked back in with @anthoknees to discuss misogyny, gender, and where to go from here. Our conversation is below.

@DavidMNewstead: In your opinion, was 2016 a watershed year for misogyny?

@anthoknees: Within my 27 years of living? Definitely. Misogyny is not new, but just like Donald Trump’s election woke a lot of people up to the white supremacy that founded this country, Hillary Clinton’s loss woke up those paying attention to the sexism and misogyny that men benefit from. There has also been an increased call to U.S. college campus administrators to take responsibility for their Title IX failures, particularly around sexual assault. And locally, the Oakland and Richmond police departments are facing massive public scrutiny for sexual misconduct and rape with minors. Yet despite all of this, cisheteropatriarchy rules supreme and men still have the final say.

@DavidMNewstead: What’s behind that patriarchal dominance? And has your view of it changed over the course of the last year?

@anthoknees: While I think about masculinities, gender relations, and kyriarchy daily, I do not necessarily think pinpointing what’s behind the patriarchal dominance is something I can easily do. Based on what I’ve lived, read, observed, it seems to me that it is a learned behavior and a societal norm that has existed throughout time and go through various, often violent, cycles. Men are not born thinking that we are naturally better, stronger, or “destined” to dominate. In fact, men aren’t born, men are created. The same applies to every gender. While our genitals are a fact, our gender identity, gender expression, and even biological sexual identity are social constructions that really do hold us and everyone around us hostage. From gender reveal parties that begin before we’re even born to the sexual scripts we are taught throughout our lives what a man is expected to be, and how a man is supposed to dominate. It then becomes a legacy that we are more than willing to uphold.

So, to answer the second question, the last year has been the year I have really gotten serious about deconstructing my colonial notions of what gender is and what it can be. What I’m seeing now is that this patriarchal dominance, as you call it, is taught to us and we gladly uphold it because it benefits men more than it harms men–in almost all scenarios. Where it falls short is clearly the violence inflicted on our entire world in the name of patriarchy. It is not just women, trans folks, femmes, or even men. This notion that men must conquer people, land, and animals is at the root of capitalism and white supremacy. The overwhelming majority of white women who voted for Trump weren’t just voting for whiteness or supposed economic security. When a candidate can talk about grabbing women “by the pussy,” imitate a disabled reporter, insinuate that he’d like to sleep with his daughter, and still win so many popular votes and electoral votes? It’s a problem that is much bigger than individual acts of sexism or misogyny, and instead indicative of a much larger societal and structural problem. So again, this year was really about realizing that all of these systems are connected and while I cannot tell you why it started, it makes sense that it has continued.

@DavidMNewstead: Where does the struggle for gender equality go from here?

@anthoknees: It’s easy for me to be cynical, but where I do see hope is the next generation. For example, I see kids who know that they’re trans at a very young age and are finding protection and love from trans folks and queers my age and older. I see a lot more freedom sexually for young women. I see a lot more talk about folks who are intersex and feel like they don’t have to hide it anymore. And I see a whole generation that is realizing that a straight identity and a binary understanding of gender may not be the best way to go. I see us listening to the youth, particularly young women, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming folks of color. I see the current generation of folks who fit or don’t fit into these boxes listening to our elders. And then I see that our elders had folks to look up to, but a lot less and many who were a lot less visible than they are today. My fear is that with increased visibility comes violence and hate crimes. Anyone who is not cis, straight, male, and able-bodied is susceptible to be harmed in some way as we continue to fight. But in looking for some sort of gender equality, I see more attempts to work toward gender equity as the next step. That is at all levels, but particularly the decision-making positions in every aspect of our lives. Additionally, that equity must be guided and led with a truly intersectional framework. If we work toward gender equality or equity without a proper understanding of race, ethnicity, class, gender, nationalism, ability, and more? We’re doomed to repeat the past history of a white-woman only feminist politic, a western-only feminist politic, and overall exclusionary politics that have truly damaging consequences.

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Countering Street Harassment

By David Michael Newstead.

This was originally posted on Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Learn More.

Brianne Nadeau is a member of the D.C. city council representing Ward 1, which includes Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and parts of Shaw among other neighborhoods. Over the past year, Councilmember Nadeau has spearheaded efforts to address widespread street harassment throughout the District and today she joins me to discuss her work and the issues affecting residents of the nation’s capital.

David Newstead: Last December, you pushed for a roundtable on street harassment in D.C. What motivated you to do that?

Brianne Nadeau: When I first moved to the District of Columbia, I started getting involved in groups that were working to address street harassment. It was not my first time living in a city, but it was definitely my first time experiencing street harassment with the frequency that I did. And so, I sought out a community for that.

When I came to the city council, I realized that I could bring a new focus to this issue and bring more attention to it. Working with CASS and working with other community organizations that care about violence against women, we got the roundtable scheduled.

The roundtable was a big victory, but it is really only the beginning.

David Newstead: Did any of the experiences people shared at the roundtable make an impression on you?

Brianne Nadeau: Yes. I was actually brought to tears several times during that discussion. I think partially because I could relate to the stories, but also the stories about how young the girls or the women had been when their harassment began really moved me. We had a mother and daughter come testify. And the daughter is in school in D.C. and she was talking about the way she’s been harassed as a young girl. A lot of the women told stories about being harassed as young as age twelve. And the reason that was so moving to me is that it really makes me think about the spaces that we’re creating in our community or not creating in our community. For a young person, I want to be able to protect you and keep you safe and also let you be who you are. And a lot of times when we’re being harassed in public – women – we shrink. We make ourselves smaller. We try to not be seen. And that’s the exact opposite of what we’ve been trying to teach women all these years. Which is, you should shine. You should exert yourself. You should be heard. So, it’s really a mixed message.

David Newstead: If you’re comfortable talking about it, what’s been your experience with street harassment?

Brianne Nadeau: I’ve had several incidents. I shared a couple of them in the hearing. One was a time when I was walking to work down U Street near where I live and I was professionally dressed. I was just passing by a corner that I would always go by on my commute. This was in the morning before work on a weekday. And a man was just harassing me and I said “You know, I don’t appreciate that.” And he said “Well if you don’t want to be harassed, why do you dress like that?!” Which was strange to me. I mean, it was rude and inappropriate, but also I was dressed in a suit. So, what does like that mean? Right? What is the definition?

I’ve had countless experiences where I’ve just been walking up and down 14th Street. I sometimes describe it as the gauntlet and I pretty much assume if I’m doing that route that I’m going to be harassed on one side of the block or the other.

But since the roundtable hearing, I had one other incident that I’ve been sharing quite a bit, because really it’s the intersection of my world. So, I was up on 16th Street in Ward 4 in a fairly residential area and I was there for an event. So, I was walking down to the school up there. And as I was walking down 16th Street, a municipal vehicle passed me and a municipal worker in uniform on duty started harassing me. I was wearing a red dress, so he started off with “Hey, lady in red!” And I shook my head at him as he passed by and they stopped at a light. So, there he was. I’m walking and he has full access to me, because he’s stopped and he just keeps harassing me. And I think I said, “You know I’m sure you don’t mean it, but this is not something that we all appreciate. It’s not appropriate. Please stop.”

I said “Please stop” several times and he kept at it. I can’t even remember now what he said, but it was something like “Enjoy it” or whatever. Totally demeaning, but I had to keep going to my event. As I was walking, I typed a message to the director of that agency explaining what had happened. The director immediately responded and acknowledged that it was not appropriate, that it was not acceptable, and that it was not what those staff are trained to do. Of course, they are trained not to do that. And that the director would address it.

But I was struck in that moment that A.) how unlucky for that worker that he harassed the person who introduced the bill, right? But also he’s probably done it to many, many people and the odds are that he eventually would have gotten to me. A bigger piece is, you know what if we just started with training every D.C. city employee? That would be thousands and thousands of people who had the training not only about what street harassment is and not to do it, but also how to be an active bystander. So, I’m thinking more and more about that now and perhaps making that part of our Human Resources program, because it’s a start! These are our people.

David Newstead: Tied to that, you’ve recently been working on legislation to form a taskforce on street harassment. What do you hope to accomplish with that effort and where do you see it going?

Brianne Nadeau: CASS has done a great job of studying anecdotally what happens in D.C., but we would like some hard data on incidents of street harassment. So, we want more study and we also want educational resources. We’ve talked with the Office of Human Rights who would be managing this process if the bill passes. And they’re excited about it, because they feel like they can really contribute and do a real educational campaign around this issue. Because this isn’t about locking people up, right? That’s not what we seek to do. What we seek is to change behavior.

David Newstead: So, a lot of the groundwork is being laid?

Brianne Nadeau: We are laying it little by little. And you know no pride of ownership for me, really. We just want to get it done. So if my bill doesn’t pass, but we still get all these pieces done – I’m happy!

David Newstead: What are some of the barriers that you’ve encountered regarding your bill or just facing this wider effort?

Brianne Nadeau: Interestingly enough, there are two incidents that surprised me of people really being opposed to what I’m working on. I went on the radio to talk about the bill and the issue. Actually, the Director of the Commission on Arts and Humanities was also there, because they put money into arts grants around street harassment. Which is very exciting too! There’s a whole public art grant now.

David Newstead: Like murals? That’s cool.

Brianne Nadeau: Yeah! He’s a great person to talk to too. Very enthusiastic. So, the two of us were on the radio and a woman called in basically to be like “I don’t understand why you’re dealing with this issue. This isn’t a big issue.” And I always try to gently explain that it really is a big issue, because I think a lot of times women are conditioned to accept the behavior because they’ve had to. So, my goal is that we look at street harassment ten years from now the same way we look at workplace sexual harassment. I was just watching the HBO film that was made about the Anita Hill hearings and actually getting very worked up while watching it and thinking about all she went through at the time. But back then, you know your boss could proposition you, harass you, and it was just the sort of thing people would go to work and say “Well, that’s what happens to us, because we’re women,” like it was a fact of life. And now it’s completely unacceptable.

David Newstead: Like in Mad Men?

Brianne Nadeau: Exactly! But also, this was in the 1990s! In my lifetime, women were harassed in the workplace and it was totally acceptable. Or at least, it was accepted and now it’s not. And what did it take? It took some laws and it took a lot of education. I’d like to be able to do that with street harassment in this country, in particular in the District where I have a little bit more influence. But if we could do that and eradicate that from women’s lives, then we could start tackling other issues.

David Newstead: Just to broaden our discussion, there have been several incidents recently that CASS has been highlighting involving violence and harassment against the trans community and the LGBTQ community writ large. Can you speak to how these efforts would address the issues that they go through?

Brianne Nadeau: Well, the thing that we know about street harassment is that women of color and trans women are targets of it more than anyone else. And so, one of the goals in tackling this is to really address that as well. Because as a young white woman, my experience in the world is very different than a woman of color, than a trans woman. I want to insure that we are supporting those communities.

David Newstead: Just to ask about this, because I know Jessica Raven and other CASS people have been working on it a lot. Do you have any thoughts on their Safe Bar program and how does it factor into your work?

Brianne Nadeau: I love the Safe Bar program. Safe Bars is really exciting not only because of all the bar staff that are getting trained in the District, but how it’s really expanded beyond the District. You know, CASS says it in their name: the more we create safe spaces in our communities, the safer our women are going to be. And I think a lot of it is also just about reminding everybody in our community that it’s our responsibility to look out for each other and when we see harassment to say something about it, to diffuse the situation, and through all of that work ultimately be safer in our community.

David Newstead: You touched on this when you mentioned going on the radio, but you know there are a lot of issues affecting D.C. residents. Why do you think this is so important?

Brianne Nadeau: I think it’s important, because it touches the lives of so many women living in the District. There are very few women I’ve ever encountered that haven’t been harassed on the street. And when you start talking to women about this, they open up. I mean, the stories just pour out. So, it’s clear that it’s pervasive and it’s clear that it impacts people’s lives. In the most severe cases, it means women are afraid to take transit or they’re afraid to walk down the street and that’s deeply impacting their ability to have a career, to have a social life, and to just have a good quality of life.

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Moonlight

By David Michael Newstead.

Moonlight is a story told in three parts: childhood, adolescence, and manhood. It follows a boy through the painful realities of growing up in Miami in the 1980s. It’s a humanized portrait of drug use, race, and sexuality that builds in intensity as the film progresses. The violence and traumas are vivid, but the performances make Moonlight so compelling. Beautifully shot, it’s an achievement on every level. Impactful and significant.

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State of America’s Fathers 2016

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By David Michael Newstead.

There’s new research out today that shines a light on the wide-ranging issues affecting fatherhood in America. On one hand, the State of America’s Fathers 2016 discusses demographic changes and social progress, while also making specific policies recommendations to address the challenges that remain. Notably, the report underlines the need for paid family leave in the United States as both mothers and fathers struggle to balance the obligations of work and childcare. The need for criminal justice reform is also prominently featured as research shows the connection between astronomical incarnation rates and the negative impacts these have on America’s families, particularly people of color. To learn more about the State of America’s Fathers, check out the links below.

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How the Other Half Lives

By David Michael Newstead.

This was originally posted on Collective Action for Safe Spaces. Learn More.

About six years ago, it dawned on me that my female friends were dealing with a daily set of challenges in public that I just don’t face. And the stark contrast to my own life is surreal to me, because both experiences are considered the norm.

For instance, when I walk down the street I think about my day or random things I have to do. I might stare down at my shoes or look at the sky. I could be happy. I could be sad. But safety just doesn’t cross my mind, day or night. It just isn’t a concern.

Women, on the other hand, often seem to plot out specific streets to take at certain times with an exit strategy and countermeasures for unwanted attention or a worst case scenario. That is to say, our routines couldn’t be any more different.

Essentially, women have to live as if the entire city is overrun with zombies and typically men do not. That’s how I started to think about it anyway. And I don’t say that to be funny exactly, but to point out that if a person felt at-risk most of the time, that’s much worse than any horror movie.

In public, I get to have peace of mind. In fact, I have so much peace of mind when I move from place to place that I take it for granted: on public transit, on sidewalks, in bars, restaurants, side streets, the gym, in any store, at any hour. For women, even if many of them arrive safely, that very real concern for their well-being would hang over them in ways that are shocking when you really think about it. Recently, I heard a friend openly worry whether the scarf she was wearing could be used against her, which means she felt any mundane decision could endanger her safety.

And, in fact, research supports her concern. According to the 2014 study by Stop Street Harassment, a majority of women (65%) report having experienced sexual or gender-based harassment in public, along with 25% of men who mostly identified as LGBTQ.

The more I heard about things like this, the more I wondered what if anything I could do to help and how men in general could be an ally on this issue. Obviously, do no harm is a good place to start. But the solution needs to be about more than just not harassing women in public. Being an ally extends to your own personal conduct as well as being aware of what’s going on around you. Ideally, your support will never be necessary, but it could make a critical difference. Even if it’s just for their peace of mind.

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Of Beards and Men: Author Interview

By David Michael Newstead.

Christopher Oldstone-Moore is a history professor at Wright State University where he focuses on gender and masculinity. And today, we’re discussing his new book, Of Beards and Men: The Revealing History of Facial Hair. It’s a far reaching examination of the subject, covering things like evolution, biology, and ancient history. Notably, he delves into the beards of ancient Egypt, Israel, Greece, and Rome. The book also explores the facial hair issues of early Christianity and the Middle Ages as well as the larger political and religious significance of facial hair all the way to the present. Our conversation is below.

David Newstead: You’ve studied this material for some time now. Writing this book, what did you learn about facial hair and masculinity that you didn’t already know?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: That’s what is really fun about this subject. Very little was known about the history of facial hair by anybody. Some people knew parts of the story, but the whole thing has never been told. One of the surprises is the prevalence of shaving in the history of Western civilization. Many imagined it went back and forth in a fashion cycle over time, or that shaving was relatively recent, but that is not even close to true. Times when beards predominate were fairly rare. The common explanations of why beards come and go—like the invention of the safety razor– are also wrong. What I learned is that changes in ideas of masculinity are often represented by changes in facial hair.

David Newstead: You mentioned the lack of research related to facial hair, what challenges did that present? And how did you overcome them?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: This was a huge challenge. For one thing, granting bodies do not generally recognize this as a worthy historical topic. The National Endowment for the Humanities turned me down flat. So money was hard to come by. Second, much of what I did was original research, which means I had to find, study and analyze material that few, if anyone, had looked at before. In many cases I had to have these items translated from the original Latin, German, Russian, and so forth. My main way to overcome these obstacles was time and tenacity. It took me more than a decade to research this topic. It must be said that the joy of finding new things that no one ever knew about helped keep me going.

David Newstead: When and how did you develop an interest in this subject?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: About 14 years ago, when I was looking for new material on social history for my classes at Wright State, I looked into the matter of shaving and facial hair styles, and found to my surprise that no historian had studied the subject. This seemed like too important a subject to be passed up!

David Newstead: During your research for the book, did you find yourself especially identifying with any of the historical figures you discuss? Peter the Great? King David? Abraham Lincoln? Clark Gable?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: Abraham Lincoln is a very likable figure. His humbleness comes out even in the story of his beard. He was not vain about his looks, but did follow the advice a little girl to grow his beard to look better. I also felt some sympathy with those in the past who wrote about beards, like the Renaissance scholar Marco Olmo or the 18th-century writer Jacques Dulaure, who were in a sense earlier versions of myself. On the other hand, many of the figures I discuss are really terrible people, like Peter the Great and Stalin.

David Newstead: As I was reading, I was particularly interested in your research on Alexander the Great and Tsar Peter the Great, both of which are famous for being anti-beard and this got me thinking. What would you say are some of the negative effects of anti-facial hair policies throughout history?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: On this point, I would add the US court decisions of the 1970s and 80s (like Supreme Court’s Kelley v. Johnson) that support employers’ power to require shaving. Peter the Great, Supreme Court, etc. are imposing conformity and limiting personal freedom. This is deliberate, because this sort of body conformity is important for those attempting to maintain social order or control. This does not exclude the possibility of beards being enforced for the same reason. I also talk about the Taliban and ISIS, which enforce beards on all male subjects as a sign of piety and loyalty, and also the military requirement of European armies during the 19th century that all soldiers wear mustaches. It does seem, however, that shaving is the more popular choice when the goal is regularity and conformity.

David Newstead: If you could have a beard during any time in history, what historical era would you pick and why?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: The early seventeenth century Van Dyke beard is pretty cool. I think I could pull that off with my thin face. The massive, braided Assyrian beards of the 9th and 8th centuries BCE are perhaps the most awesome, but I don’t think I could manage it.

David Newstead: What’s the future of facial hair? And, for that matter, masculinity?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: That is the great unknown. It seems to me that we are not witnessing the full triumph of beards in our time. We do not have a masculine consensus on this. And this indecision may be a real sign of our times. There is no consensus on masculine style or on masculinity in general, and I am not sure we are getting one soon. I see websites were different guys or groups are promoting their ideas, but they cover the waterfront. This is likely to be the subject of my next book; what guidance has been offered to help men be men in the past, and now in the present? It seems to have become an increasingly complex and difficult matter. Our choices about facial hair have become correspondingly diverse.

David Newstead: Why do you think it’s become more complex and difficult nowadays?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: I can’t say for sure, but we live in times when gender norms are undergoing many changes, not just one or two. Masculinity is a far more complex thing when gay, trans and fluid sexualities are newly accepted as normal. Not just sexuality, but also family, social and political structures. Feminism and social change mean that the link between masculinity and family and political leadership is weakening. Men and women alike seem less committed to older social or family roles. On it goes. There are many more ways to be a man today, and much less agreement about what the norms should be.

David Newstead: Any final thoughts?

Christopher Oldstone-Moore: My main hope for this book is that people enjoy seeing history in a new way, and that it will inspire people to look at our world with fresh eyes, seeing masculinity as a dimension of our human experience over time.

Read Of Beards and Men

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