What ‘Hot’ Guys Can Tell us About Masculinities and Social Norms

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

My second option for a title was: ‘How to teach masculinities by looking at pictures of handsome men.’ (Note: this photo was sent to me as a humor-gift from one of my students…I didn’t do it myself!)

Feminist Ryan Gosling, a website featuring photos of actor Ryan Gosling posed next to intelligent quips about feminist politics is a perfect tool to use in a lecture on gender- no really. Why has this website gone viral (it was even re-posted on the Duck last week)? We know from movies and interviews that Gosling is buff (he sports a mean six pack in Crazy Stupid Love) and tough (he recently broke up a fighton the street in NYC)- classic ‘manly’ stuff. Bim Adewumni at the Guardian goes further in her answer to the question ‘Why do Feminists love Gosling?’ claiming “It goes beyond looks. He was raised by a single mother to whom he’s close, and he waxes lyrical about his female co-stars and ex-girlfriends. Guys love him too- he kissed Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn on the Cannes red carpet…Basically, he’s perfect.” Putting him next to feminist engagement is so unexpected that viewers seem to find it titillating and super-sexy (or so I’ve heard). Discussions of these types of gender contrasts, as well as broader debates of who is considered a male icon (sexy, ‘hot’) at particular moments in time can actually be very useful when trying to talk about different forms of masculinity and the social expectations placed on men and women in class.

Every year when I give my first lecture on gender I struggle to find new ways to make it resonate with students. Most men in the class assume that gender is ‘not about them’ or that they can’t say anything in a gender lecture without getting lashed from me or the female students. The female students- on the other hand- appear equally isolated in lectures on gender: they seem to feel like they are supposed to have an opinion or respond a certain way about gender.

Each year I start this lecture with a brainstorming session- getting students to list the qualities associated with both masculinity and femininity. Then we have a chat about what characteristics are valued in different roles or different elements of society. I often put a box around the set of characteristics- to illustrate gender stereotypes and social expectations- and have them talk about how individual men or women that have characteristics that are outside their sex-specific box are often seen as different- or even problematic. For example, a guy who is otherwise quite ‘manly’ but spends too much time on his hair and clothing choices is meterosexual (students still think this categorization is hilarious). If this same guy was less ‘manly’ (too sensitive, too weak etc) people would probably assume he was gay- he would be too far outside his gender box. We think Ryan Gosling with feminist quotes is sexy because it is just slightly outside of the box- the contrast is interesting and exciting. He seems even more manly because he can pose next to quotations about Enloe or Mohanty but still flex his arms and seem pensive.

While working in and out of these boxes can be a boon for your hotness factor, the problem is that these boxes cause all kinds of problems for individuals who don’t fit in them. Take gay male military service members. Somehow people can’t quite get their heads around a physically dominating man serving his country in one of the most hyper-masculine institutions in the world. The public- and policy makers- have often assumed that gay servicemen must be somehow weaker and less able to bond with their platoons- that they are a threat to the military somehow. Surely they can’t embody hypermasculinity AND want to have sex with men? It is a real head trip for people with strict gender boxes.

So next time you see something like the Feminist Ryan Gosling, or semi-pornographic photos of women in bikinis with AK47s, websites like Hot Navy Chicks (for real) that feature female service members that are also apparently sexy- remember that the reason why these are sexy and exciting is that they challenge the gender stereotypes we have engraved in our minds. Unfortunately, while Feminist Ryan Gosling and other gender contrasts may have elements of ‘inside/outside’ the box, they don’t exactly do much to erase our gender boundaries. That said, I think its safe to say that these photos will keep my students awake and engaged through my first gender lecture of the year next year…we can slowly work on getting rid of the boxes.

New Zealand’s Oil Spill and the myth of its ‘100% Pure’ image

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

With the rugby world cup semi-final only a few days away, it would take something like abroken ship dumping tons of oil and chemicals onto the country’s beaches to get the country to talk anything besides the All Blacks… Wait… New Zealand is all about environmental protection, green energy, clean air (and funny guys like Jemaine Clement from Flight of the Concords) isn’t it? I mean, what is a ship with oil even doing near this environmental mecca?

Given that the country prides itself on its green and clean image, and given that there is an election in a month, you would think this would be a major story here. Yet, a week after a cargo ship loaded with oil and other toxic materials hit a reef off the cost of the North Island, most Kiwis are remain more fired up about the upcoming match between the All Blacks and the Australian Wallabies. No one seems to mind that the ship may break at any moment, or that it is dumping oil at a rate five times higher than originally projected. It took nearly a week before its major newspaper, the Dominion Post, featured the story on its cover (not a huge surprise considering that it recently featured a cover with two birds that collided mid-air and today is covering the story of a family that got lost in a corn maze in Massacusetts, of course). The gallons of oil dumping into the ocean and the apathetic media and public in New Zealand seems at odds with its lucrative 100% Pure tourism campaign.

Perhaps this is Peter Jackson’s fault with the Lord of the Rings, or perhaps its just because the country is do damn far from everywhere else that few people actual get to check the place out and see if the reality lives up to the hype/myth. Having lived here for almost two and a half years now I can say with confidence that there are three myths associated with New Zealand that are just fallacy.

1. New Zealand is not 100% Pure
2. Kiwis are just like Canadians and New Zealand is just like Canada
3. New Zealand is a feminist country, with progressive policies related to women.

The first myth is the most important for the moment. The myth here is that New Zealand is not only clean and pure- it is cleaner and more pure than most other places in the world.

By contrast to the stunning images of mountain ranges and untouched native bush and forest, an unfortunate reality is that New Zealand has increasingly relied on farming- especially diary farming- as a primary industry. This isn’t the kind of farming that involves a few dozen cattle crazing on pristine grass- it is a massive industrial, clear cutting, dirty industry.

Greenpeace New Zealand has directly attacked the 100% Pure campaign, focusing on the growing dairy industry in the country and its environmental impacts. 49% of emissions come from the agricultural sector- the growth of the sector has resulted in massive deforestation of native forest, the use of fertilizers and chemicals in the soil, and industries burn coal to process dairy milk powder for exportation- Fonterra (the largest dairy producer) alone burns 450,000 tonnes of coal per year. This combined with the gasses that the cattle themselves emit contributes to a massive environmental problem for a small country. Also, although NZ does use a great deal of wind power, there is evidence that wider environmental policies are relatively weak with WWF New Zealand recently criticizing the local Emissions Trading Scheme for making “further extensions of the loopholes in an already weakened and flawed scheme.”

As for the last two myths- I’ll leave those for now because as a Canadian living in Kiwi-land I’m not exactly objective. Sorry New Zealand. You are truly amazing- beautiful, slow, and isolated- but like many countries, your myths are preventing you from dealing with reality. When the rugby world cup hangover subsides the country will have to wake up and face a serious environmental disaster washing up on the North Shores.

Obama ‘how’s that hopey changey stuff working for ya?”

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

As the Occupy Wall Street New York movement enters its second week of activity and the movement spreads to LA, Boston, Chicago, Denver and other cities across the country, the silence on the part of the Obama administration becomes more and more noticeable (we can’t count Biden’s weird and incoherent references to the movement in an interviewyesterday). Few expected Obama to come out with any statement last week, when the media was still painting the movement largely as a band of hippies who don’t know enough to shower, let alone drive a political movement. Dan Gainor at Fox news pointed out that these individuals did not represent the 99%, that they may not even be real Americans, and they certainly didn’t have a movement with traction.

But its October 5th, and there are thousands (there aren’t any specific ideas of numbers yet) of protesters RIGHT NOW who have marched through the city to Zuccotti Park. Backed by one of the cities biggest unions, and joined by thousands of students participating in a national day of protest, one thing is not undeniable: this is a political movement speaking not only about corporate greed, but also about government failure.

Most of us know all this, what we don’t know is what Obama has to say about all of it. And for the first time since I heard her shrill voice spit out these words, I feel Palin’s taunt “how’s that hopey changey stuff workin for ya?’ somehow seems appropriate here (or at least its the first time I can think of the line and not want to hurt Palin). If Obama doesn’t have the political savvy to come out at least with a statement of understanding and support, surely his advisers must be telling him to do so?

Many of the chants resonating through the Occupy Wall Street movement seem to echo lines from Obama’s election campaign.

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
“Change doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington.”

Can you really run a campaign on change, hope, speaking to the average American and ending Wall street greed but then remain silent when thousands of Americans (likely many of whom voted for you) start a peaceful political movement asking for a voice and for change? In my mind Obama has already missed the boat in terms of his chance to connect with this movement. The initial silence went from tentative, to awkward, and now is just insulting. These are the issues that American’s want to talk about and the longer Obama remains silent, the more he looses his right to cast himself as the hopey changey presidential candidate in 2012.