Men as mechanical failures

crank2Curious things, words.

Recently, a colleague sent me a link to an Upworthy piece about the Attorney General of Kentucky announcing he would not defend KY’s ban on same-sex marriage. The title of the article described the AG, Jack Conway, as becoming so emotional during his speech that he “breaks down.”

Aside from the content of the speech, I became interested in the way that contemporary American society labels men who show certain kinds of emotion. In particular, why do we use a term that most commonly is used to describe mechanical failure to describe men who display emotions through crying? Cars, vacuum cleaners, snowmachines, boilers, printers, and robots break down. Why do we use the mechanical failure term to describe men who simply get emotional? Additionally, in most of the examples I give below, the men pictured do not display that much emotionality. See the Dustin Hoffman video for a typical emotional moment. Sure, they get tears in their eyes. They take a long moment before they speak. They look down. They perhaps wipe a tear from their faces. But aside from Tyrese Gibson, men in the examples below do not, in any sense, “break down,” characterized by sobbing, gnashing of teeth, falling over to the ground. Gibson, who is visiting the crash site where his friend was killed, does display much more grief and sadness than the other videos. In fact, Gibson displays so much emotion the article labels him as “falling apart.” This is a term used to indicate an extreme degree of mechanical failure when the machine literally disintegrates.

As a sociologist, I claim that contemporary American society has caged us into gender boxes. When men allow their eyes to glisten even for a moment, they cross over a line drawn in the sands of gender. Men who cry, especially publicly, are thought to be acting like women or little girls, and thus they are labeled broken men. Contemporary American society expects and demands men to be emotionless robots. When they don’t meet this expectation, we accuse them of mechanical failure. Of breaking down, and falling apart. Alternately, depending on the reason for crying, men who “break down” may be socially lauded. The blog, “The Art of Manliness,” lists times when it is acceptable for men to cry. Some of the blog appears to be satirical, but there are also threads of social reality woven throughout. And as you will see in the videos below, otherwise manly men who cry for a fallen comrade, or for religious reasons, or for Mom, are lauded as cultural heroes when they “break down.”

Here are some videos of emotional men with titles that describe them as “breaking down”:

Jack Conway, Kentucky’s Attorney General:

Dustin Hoffman, on his epiphany about women:

Steve Harvey cries about his mother:

Tyrese Gibson cries when he visits the scene of death of his friend: (note that this article claims he was not just “breaking down”, but also “falling apart.”

This blog, “The Art of Manliness,” has an interesting analysis of masculine crying through the ages: Make sure you check out the comments, often the most interesting element of blogs.

Thanks to for the graphic.

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Flame Into Grace

Sarafina and Teresina Saracina, two sisters who died in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire
Sarafina and Teresina Saracino

My singer-songwriter friend, BeJae Fleming, says that many songwriters believe that instead of writing songs, they channel them. I definitely feel that way with this song, “Flame Into Grace.”

The song is about two sisters, Sarafina and Teresina Saracino, who were killed in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. They were recent Italian immigrants, who came from Italy to New York City along with their parents and brother. When the fire broke out at their workplace, they, along with 144 other mostly women workers, discovered that bosses had locked the doors. Many workers clambered onto the fire escape, but it soon twisted from the heat, dislodged from the building, and tumbled to the sidewalk below. All 24 women who were on the fire escape were killed. Dozens of women were then faced with only two grim possibilities: they could stay inside and die of smoke and flame, or they could leap from the windows to die on the sidewalk below. Sarafina and Teresina are two of the women who chose the second way of dying.

A horrifying photograph of the 1911 Triangle Fire

Police and other observers watched helplessly as workers plunged to their deaths.

In my song, I imagine Sarafina and Teresina as leaping not to their deaths, but as leaping into eternal life. Strong Catholics, the two sisters would have embraced the vision of angels carrying them to Heaven once they leaped out of the window. Sarafina was named for the Great Seraphim, powerful angels who are arranged in the celestial hierarchy closest to God. In the Christian Bible, the Great Seraphim are described as having six fiery wings and eyes that flamed.

Among the list of saints in Catholic theology, St. Seraphina is described as a poor Italian girl who died at the age of 15 after having received a vision. Sick and mostly paralyzed due to a succession of childhood diseases, Seraphina made clothes for people even poorer than she was. True to Catholic Italian naming traditions, it seems entirely logical to me that Sarafina Saracina–Teresina’s sister–was named to honor the saint and in awe of the Great Seraphim.

In their final moments, did Sarafina and her sister realize the terrible and tragic irony of Sarafina’s name? First, that she was named for a saint who died young. Second, that her saint made clothes for poor people, while Sarafina herself made clothes for middle class people and died doing it. But perhaps the most awful, horrifying irony is that she was named for angels whose very character was fire. Ultimately, however, this song is about faith and hope. The two sisters leapt not into the chasm of death, but into the arms of angels.

You can listen to my song and see some photographs from the time here:

You can find the lyrics and tabs to “Flame Into Grace” here:

You can find more about the Triangle Fire and the labor movement that it spawned by googling it and by following some of these links:

PBS program


East Harlem Preservation

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Sophie Sergie: Never Forget

sophie sergieIncidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault at University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) have to be viewed within our particular context. Alaska has the highest per capita rate of domestic violence in America. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault per capita in the nation. Fairbanks is ranked as the third most dangerous city for women in America. Our university has just spent what must be an exorbitant fee to defend sexual harassment as free speech. The university attempted to completely shut down the Women’s Center two years ago, and although community resistance stopped a complete shut-down, now the university is quietly planning again to downsize staff and space. Last week, a young woman sponsored a Consent is Sexy table at several venues on campus. She reports that when she set up the table at one of the residence halls, several men made rape jokes.

As upsetting as these incidents and facts are, another event at UAF provides a horrifying lens through which sexual harassment and other incidents of sexual violence at our university must be understood. In 1993, a young woman was raped and murdered at UAF, and her killer is still at large. Her name was Sophie Sergie. Her body was discovered in a shower in the same dorm where the men made rape jokes last week.

The crime is still unsolved. Read about Sophie’s murder case here:

Never forget Sophie Sergie. Never stop the work of dismantling patriarchy. Don’t turn your heads away from the horror, but instead, speak up and speak out.

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Minions of Patriarchy

Minions of Patriarchy

adapted from Suzy Exposito, aka Suzy X. See more of her rad fem cartoons, including the original version of the one above, here:

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Patriarchy Wins at UAF

Keep-Calm-and-Subvert-PatriarchyThe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), claimed victory today in the patriarchal war against women being waged at the local level at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Read the press release here:

I am intrigued by FIRE’s claim that they helped to bring about the victory. I had suspected for several weeks that they had become involved in the complaint and appeal process, and wonder how much influence they had over the university’s decision.

On the bright side, many people have expressed their outrage against the university’s decision to support sexism. Several women students have courageously stepped forward to discuss possible resistance strategies. They are the real freedom fighters.

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Misogynist haters

fightagainstrapecultureAfter the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Title IX coordinator released confidential documents related to my Title IX complaint to the student newspaper, “someone” leaked them to the local newspaper and two national news outlets. The result was a barrage of anonymous and non-anonymous blog comments, tweets, and emails. One of the emails was copied to my department. Nearly all of the comments were extremely negative, and are the usual stuff that misogynists say to discredit feminist activists: she’s ugly; she’s a lesbian; she’s fat; she can’t get a man; she’s a feminazi; she’s crazy; she smells bad; she’s not even female. These sexist pronouncements are emotionally powerful because they stab at the heart of what it means to be female in contemporary American society.

Amanda Hess writes that women bloggers are disproportionately targeted for online hate. Critical power conflict theorists, which is the sociological paradigm in which I find the most value, would analyze the haters who post sexist and heterosexist comments online as doing the dirty work of patriarchy. Similarly, poor and working class people do the dirty work of militarism and nationalism by fighting America’s wars.

Several courageous women who have been trolled online have posted the comments they received. As an antidote to the online hate, and as a way to contribute to the data about online misogyny, below are some of the choice comments that were posted about me in November and December, 2013. But first, an acknowledgement and a big thank you to the people behind the Fight Rape Culture blog who published the photograph above.

Blog comments:

“There sure isn’t any shortage of batshit liberal pukes. Look at this moonbat’s picture. If she didn’t stink like a tuna sandwich in the sun no one would ever figure out that she’s a woman.”

“She’s so ugly I wouldn’t rape her with a dead man’s penis.”

“She would never, even if she was the only woman on an island with thousands of men, have to worry about being raped.”

“if THAT is a picture of her, i think she “doth protest to much” as a reaction to her inner desire to partake in the sex she doesn’t stand a chance of ever getting.”

“What that femiNazi needs to do is go in search of a sense of humor. That is not sexual harassment; true sexual harassment is something she need never worry about, judging from her mouth and her photo.”

“Dear Feminists, Please get a Life . Perhaps get laid, get over yourselves we are tired of hearing from your twisted little selves”

“We have been giving these idiots “enough rope” for long enough…now the knot is growing ever tighter on their foolishness. Let these morons keep talking, fewer and fewer people are listening, and every stupid word that comes out of their mouths is rushing the end of any type of credibility they might have once had.”

“Feminism is full of hypocrites, left wing whack jobs, man-haters and transphobes. Not to mention how laughable it is that feminists will scream about ‘rape culture’ in the 1st world but almost totally ignore how much more rampant rape is in the 3rd world. And then there’s all the mental gymnastics the so called pro choicers will get into over abortion. Especially when it involves people getting them when they realize their baby is a girl.”

“First off…I want proof that thing is even human let alone female.”

“Most Feminists are angry because they can’t get laid ….seems a lot of them turn Lesbian”

“rape culture? I don’t think she needs to worry about a stiff penis being near her ever.”


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