Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Transgender Rights & Power Dynamics

The issue is?

Policies and issues surrounding transgender rights have been on the rise in the last few months. Issues both on the state and federal level involving laws surrounding participation in sports and most recently enlisting in the military. On March 31st President Biden overturned Trump-era legislation that limited individuals to enlisting in the military under their “birth-gender.” Additionally, the policy banned anyone from enlisting in the military if they had undergone gender transition surgery. The last day of March was Trans Visibility Day and was a day of celebration for transgender individuals. The current policy also prohibits any type of discrimination based on gender identity. 

        What does power look like? 

Power is often associated with force and control, but as we break down the concept of power it’s clear that acquiring and holding onto power is much more nuanced. We can look at power in three different dimensions. The first and the second ways in which we look at power are more obvious, controlled by force and indicating clear winners and losers. The third dimension of power is less about physical or verbal force or control and has more to do with ideology and socialization. In more detail, the first dimension of power is what comes to mind when we hear the term power.  With the first view of power there are objective interests and the group wanting power is usually in open conflict with another, or multiple other groups. The conflict results in clear winners and losers. The winners have control over the losers and have the power to force the losing group to do what they want. 

The second view of power is more nuanced, but again still has clear winners and losers, as in the first view of power. The second view of power focuses on how the decisions being made or the issues being talked about allow the group or person in power to maintain control over others. Power is maintained by constraining the decisions that can be made. The group or person in power also has control over non-decision making. A non-decision is a decision that results in the suppression of an issue that challenges the value of the decision-maker, thus giving the power to decide what’s talked about and what is not talked about to the people in power. Power is maintained through controlling what the agenda is. The third view of power is the most nuanced and least straightforward to understand. The first two views of power had to do with a conflict of interests, however the third view of power has more to do with the interests themselves. The third view of power shapes to influence the ideology of other groups for the dominating group to maintain power. This third view means that the group in power avoids the conflict of interests completely, and do not have to deal with suppressing decisions they disagree with because they have control over what the issues are in the first place. The modeling of ideologies and interests usually results from different forms of socialization over time. These three views of power are reflected in many parts of our society and are particularly evident in different levels of government. 

        Transgender Power? 

Although the actual turnover of the policy that prohibits transgender men or women from enlisting the military is not directly related to the views of power, how the decision came to be is. President Joe Biden’s cabinet is composed of twenty three different members. The group is made up of a diverse group of leaders from a variety of different backgrounds, genders, races and ethnicities.  However, there is no place in agenda setting for transgender individuals, so they’re not even apart of the decision making process. Although the policy that was overturned caused celebration for the transgender community, there still exist difficult power dynamics that influenced how the decision was made. There is no one at the table who has life experience as a transgender individual, thus limiting the issues that are brought to the table to those with only cisgender perspectives. Control over agenda setting is reflective of the second view of power. 

However, it seems that issues surrounding transgender rights seem to stem more from the third view of power. Our society has been socialized to believe in the gender binary, there only exist two types of genders: women and men. Additionally, socialization has taught us that whatever biological sex organs we have at birth determine how our gender should be performed. If you are a female at birth you act like a woman, if you are a male at birth you should act like a man. These socialized concepts mean that females acting like women and males acting like men is the norm and the expected behavior of individuals. Media, advertising, marketing, product design, it is all geared towards gender binary and cisgender individuals. Creating a norm isolates those who decide to make choices that differ from the norm. This results in policies being made in an ideological context that assumes a norm, and in the case of policies surrounding gender that ideology is a gender binary and cisgender category. The third view of power is at play as socialization took a strong role in shaping an ideology that leaves out individuals and certain life experiences. Although challenging power dynamics are always at play, the democratic system attempts to combat them so that all voices will be heard and listened to, emphasis on attempts.


Thursday, April 1, 2021

Reviving the #MeToo Movement: Masculinity and Sexual Misconduct

As of March 30, 2021, more than 10,000 young people in Britain have contributed stories to a blog called “Everyone’s Invited” to share their experiences of inappropriate sexist comments and even instances of sexual assault. The host of the blog, Soma Sara, created the public forum in an effort to begin a conversation about the pervasive rape culture that she saw in her own social circles at a prestigious London boarding school. Scrolling through the myriad of stories and experiences of young adults that have been sexually assaulted or treated inappropriately due to their sex begs the question: Where did our societies go wrong?

In response to this question, Sara claimed that there is a type of behavior being normalized in our societies, “like groping at a Christmas party, or non-consensual sharing of intimate photos.” The normalization of this kind of behavior opens a gateway for more serious and even criminal acts such as sexual assault and rape. Indeed, those types of stories have made their way onto “Everyone’s Invited,” and London’s Metropolitan Police, deeply concerned by what they learned was happening, have encouraged victims to report the potential crimes.

A senior police officer in London’s Metropolitan Police Force put a name to the movement that is occurring in Britain. A #MeToo movement has begun sweeping through schools, reminiscent of the 2017 movement which gained great momentum after victims broke the silence of incidents where powerful politicians, celebrities, and corporate executives were accused of committing acts of sexual harassment, assault, and rape.

A day prior to the publication of the article about Sara’s public forum, a score of Springville High students in Springville, UT staged a walkout to bring attention to the allegations against a teacher. Several students have complained that the teacher has made inappropriate comments and has had inappropriate contact with students. The problem is rampant; “It’s everywhere,” claimed the senior officer investigating the allegations in London.

Sexual Misconduct and Gender

A common trend seen in allegations of sexual assault across colleges and universities is that sexual misconduct is most often committed by males against females. In the United States, 90 percent of sexual violence against women is perpetrated by men. A survey of 33 of the largest universities in the US estimated that 1 in 4 undergraduate women have experienced sexual assault while they were students. This is not to say that sexual harassment, assault, and abuse has not occurred in boy-on-boy, girl-on-girl, and girl-on-boy situations, but the gender inequality in reported incidents represents a severe societal malady. Why are females often the target of such misconduct?

There is damning evidence that a culture of misogyny is to blame for the gender inequality in incidents of sexual misconduct. With most perpetrators of sexual misconduct being men and most victims being women, one must examine the effects that masculinity has on the allegations of sexual misconduct. Indeed, cries of “toxic masculinity” in our culture have encouraged classrooms and workplaces all over the United Stated to reevaluate what it means to be masculine. While values of strength and dominance are not toxic in and of themselves, they can become toxic when applied to a context where a man feels that it is normal to exercise that kind of strength and dominance over a woman.

The idea of masculinity, or the ideals of being a man, have taught men to see themselves as part of a group with a specific kind of culture. While there are many men who do not ever engage in sexual misconduct towards a female or anyone else, there are many others who commit heinous acts like sexual assault and rape because it is an aspect of the typical male expectation to be controlling and, often, violent. There exists a stigma in our societies and cultures that acting with care and gentleness toward women is seen as weakness in a male. Social pressure for men to conform to the ideals of masculinity like strength and dominance has consequently led to the expression of violence and aggression toward females who are often construed as the secondary sex.

Correcting Sexual Misconduct

The first step to correcting the sexual conduct rampant in our societies is by speaking out. The 2017 #MeToo movement and the exploding “Everyone’s Invited” blog have created a space where victims of sexual misconduct can share experiences and offer support. The existence of these spaces and the increasing movements are serving to eliminate hermeneutical injustice, or the lack of interpretation that socially powerless groups are faced with. In this case, the hermeneutically marginalized are female victims of sexual assault, and through these platforms, they are finding ways to understand and explain their own experiences with sexual assault by being able to share that same experience with others. The value in women being able to share the concept of sexual assault with other women can help to empower, educate, and comfort others who have undergone these traumatic experiences. By defining sexual assault and realizing that it is a much more common incident among young people today, we can—as a society—identify sexual misconduct when it occurs and seek to stop it from happening. This will ultimately come by supporting victims and trying to change the culture of masculinity that has normalized sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior.

2021 Israeli Election

On March 24, 2021 Israel held its fourth election in the past two years. The Israeli political system is a proportional representation. This means that individuals are not voted for, but parties. A party must receive a certain percentage of votes to receive representation.

The house of representatives in Israel is called the Knesset. This body is made up of 120 seats. A party receives a certain number of seats based on the percent of the vote they receive.

Prime Minster Netanyahu’s party is a right-wing party called the Likud. They received the most votes of any other party. Naftali Bennet used to be a part of the Likud but split off and formed his own party, the Yamina Party, opposing Netanyahu.

Bennet’s party is one of a few new parties that met the threshold. Thirteen parties met the threshold: the most since 2003.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been prime minister for the past fourteen years. The election appeared to be a referendum on Prime Minster Netanyahu. In the recent past, he has been accused of corruption and an investigation is ongoing. This made this election even more important to the people of Israel.

President Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition received 52 seats in the election. This means they fell short of the majority threshold of 61 seats in order to be the majority coalition. The opposition coalition received 57 seats, which also falls short of the majority threshold.

The election ended in a stalemate. This makes Prime Minister Netanyahu a caretaker prime minister. Essentially, he is a lame duck president unless he can form a coalition with some of the other parties in government.

There are two parties that are not committed to either coalition at this point in time. The Yamina party and the United Arab List. The Pro Netanyahu group has said that they will not work with the United Arab List.

The Yamina party split off from the Likud party but now has a big sway in if Netanyahu stays in power. Even if with their support, they would not reach the 61-seat threshold necessary to gain a majority.  

This election has specific ramifications for the Israeli government and the Israeli people. President Netanyahu has come under investigation for corruption charges. Had he been able to win a majority, he would have been able to stop the investigation.

Interestingly enough, the voter turnout was at 67.4%. This is a lower percent than most Israeli elections. This could be a sign that the people are getting tired of elections.

The opposition party wants badly to keep the investigation going. If the investigation found the corruption charges to be true, President Netanyahu would be forced to resign. This would bring major changes to the face of Israeli politics.

Both sides have been racing to make a majority coalition. Creating a majority coalition will be hard due to religious differences Religious Zionist party and the United Arab List. Specialists fear that the coalitions would be unstable and likely fall apart.

While President Netanyahu’s party did lose seven seats, the opposition did not gain enough seats to oust him. The next few days and weeks will be crucial in determining the future of Israeli politics.

Some have predicted that a fifth election might be necessary to determine a majority coalition. As for now, it appears that the people of Israel have not had enough of President Netanyahu.