Intersections: Breaking barriers and binaries

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Intersections: Breaking barriers and binaries

by Carly Chillmon on Thursday, October 15, 2015 - 12:17pm

intersections logoThe Clayman Institute begins its investigation on the intersections of the categories of gender, race and sexualities. Our thematic focus, “Intersections: Breaking barriers and binaries,” explores and challenges the artificial barriers between these categories. As part of our ongoing discussion of “Moving Beyond the Stalled Gender Revolution,” we dig deeper in order to further uncover why the revolution has stalled. Since the early 1990s, little or no progress has been made for gender equality across a number of indicators and measurements—from the gender wage gap to the percent of women in Congress. To figure out what has caused the stall, we are examining the complex questions that arise from a focus on intersections.

Why intersections?

Rooted in intersectionality theory, we set forth an agenda to better understand how various biological, social and cultural categories interact on multiple and simultaneous levels, contributing to systems or forms of oppression, discrimination and inequality. We aspire to discover new pathways beyond the black-and-white, binary world of seemingly fixed categories and reinvigorate the gender revolution. By looking at the ways in which identities and other social factors interplay, we hope to shed light on the multifaceted ways in which inequality operates and persists in our society. We concentrate our efforts on three main topics: sexual assault on campus, sports and inequality at work.

We seek to not only find workable solutions, but to also retool how we ask questions and identify problems in the first place.

Through a series of workshops, lectures and fellowships, the Clayman Institute will bring together an intellectually diverse group of scholars to engage in a conversation that critically examines systemic and social obstacles that serve as hindrances to equality. Furthermore, we seek not only to find workable solutions, but also to retool how we ask questions and identify problems in the first place.

Reframing the male standard

In the 1956 Broadway musical, "My Fair Lady," Professor Henry Higgins sings, “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?” Some would argue that this question is inherently flawed and indicative of men’s power and status in society in comparison to women’s. From popular culture to scholarly research, questions continue to be asked that frame women in relation to a male measurement. Consequently, the way in which we ask questions matters.

In this issue of "Gender News," we review research that challenges the male standard. First, we learn from professor of psychology Dale Miller that there are certain members of a given category who serve as prototypes. This system of assigning prototypes reflects values that we attribute to various members of the category. The prototype becomes the standard by which we evaluate the other members of the category. In his research, Miller found a strong association between explanation and status. He saw that people reinforce group power differences by explaining the least powerful group. Specifically, he discovered that in voting patterns, men’s voting was taken for granted and women’s voting patterns needed to be explained. In other words, men hold the standard that women are compared to.

For Miller, women’s status and power will remain low so long as they are subject to constant explanation.

For Miller, women’s status and power will remain low so long as they are subject to constant explanation. By realizing the importance of language, researchers are better equipped to confront the mechanisms of power and status, to combat the Henry Higgins’s of the world and refuse to indulge in questions that start with, “Why can’t women…?”

Innovating for gender solutions

Jodi Prochaska, professor of medicine, discusses how the current model of intervention to quit smoking is inadequate in addressing the needs of women. While research has shown that women have a harder time quitting smoking than do men, types of support to address this discrepancy have been lacking. Her new study attempts to bridge the gender gap while testing an innovative approach that provides behavioral support through social media.

Prochaska's study attempts to bridge the gender gap while testing an innovative approach that provides support through social media.

Prochaska, along with researchers from the University of California Irvine, worked to develop the Tweet2Quit program, which uses Twitter to establish a support group for men and women attempting to quit smoking. She found that being part of a Tweet2Quit group made a significant difference in women’s ability to quit smoking successfully. However, men were still more likely to quite smoking, leaving more research to be done to identify how to help women quit smoking—to break away from approaches that work mainly for men.

Overcoming obstacles and agents of change

The Clayman Institute offers an ongoing dialogue that investigates the complexity of experience. Beyond our broad research agenda, we aim to facilitate change in order to achieve gender equality. By recognizing obstacles and providing tools to overcome them, we hope to offer both men and women opportunities to move forward in the gender revolution.

Be on the lookout for more news and upcoming events from the Clayman Institute, your resource for "Gender News."