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Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

: Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac


Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Chapter 7

Complexity Within and Similarity Across:


Interpreting Black Mens Support
of Gender Justice, amidst Cultural
Representations that Suggest Otherwise
Catherine E. Harnois

Two years ago, I presented a conference paper that examined black Americans
beliefs about gender inequality. The paper included a series of graphs based on
two national surveys, and one of the main findings of the paper was that black
men appeared to embrace many of the central tenets of black feminism. In fact,
both of the surveys, one of which was conducted in 1992 and the other in 20045,
suggested that, as a group, black men recognize and are critical of gender inequality
at rates similar to black women. For example, when asked in the earlier survey,
whether they believed that gender discrimination is a problem, roughly 40 percent
of black men and 40 percent of black women somewhat agreed. The percentage
of black men who strongly agreed (an additional 22 percent) was actually higher
than the proportion of black women who strongly agreed (17 percent). Another
example: when asked in the more recent survey whether they believed that black
women should prioritize issues related to racial inequality, gender inequality, or if
both were equally important, more than four out of five black men responded that
both were equally important.
In total, I analyzed nine questions concerning gender inequality and found
that for eight of the nine, there was no statistically significant difference in the
responses of black men and black women. I argued that black mens responses
to these and other survey questions revealed that they were committed to gender
equality and feminist ideals more broadly. Refusing to privilege race over gender,
and instead supporting a both/and approach for social justice, black men seemed
to hold beliefs which were remarkably consistent with black feminist theorizing,
and very similar to those beliefs held by black women. 1
During the question and answer session that followed, an audience member
raised her hand and suggested an alternative interpretation: the data were
unreliable; the men were lyingor, at the very leastexaggerating. Whether it
was the degree to which black men supported feminist ideals, or the similarity
1See Harnois (2010) for a more complete description of these analyses.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

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Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

between the responses of black men and women, the results seemed incompatible
with the audience members worldview. And, rather than questioning her own
worldview, she rejected the data and suggested that others should do the same.
Social scientists often question the reliability of data, and it is a good thing
that we do. We know, for example, that survey research on attitudes and beliefs
is often shaped by social desirability. People often feel uncomfortable speaking
their true beliefs if they think that these beliefs are unpopular, and as a result,
respondents sometimes provide answers that they think will be less controversial.
Context matters too. People may hold one set of beliefs during a survey or interview,
and may push these beliefs to the side in a different context. For example, a man
might say during a survey that he strongly believes that sexism is a problem, but
then, when returning home from work, expect his wife, who has also just returned
from work, to have dinner already prepared. In addition, when it comes to beliefs
about sexism, and any number of other issues (e.g., politics, racism, classism,
religion, environmentalism), beliefs do not always translate to practices.
What surprised me about the audience members comment, and the nods
from others that followed, was not then, the possibility that survey data could be
biased or misleading. Rather, what struck me was that in a conference purportedly
devoted to understanding and challenging inequality, black men were once again
positioned as sexists and, in a sense, as untrustworthy. It happened in the blink of
an eye and despite, what seemed to me, a large body of evidence to the contrary.
As I talked about this incident with a colleague, we began to think about
why some of the audience members were so resistant to the idea of pro-feminist
black men. We wondered why, as a society, we do not seem able to get to a point
where we are willing to accept that black men can be feministthat they can be
responsible to and have an affinity for black feminist ideas.2 The stereotypical
images that pervade the contemporary media, where black men are portrayed
as hyper-masculine criminals and thugs, certainly play an important role.3 But,
it seemed to us, that these images were only part of the story. Intertwined with
those controlling images is a historical narrative which positioned racial equality
in opposition to gender equality, and within this narrative black men were often
represented as hyper-masculine and patriarchal. Absent from these representations,
both historical and contemporary, is the diversity of black masculinities at any
particular historical moment, and in particular the presence of black men who have
embraced gender equality and other feminist ideals.
In this essay, I hope to offer a different representation of black masculinities. I
review the existing survey research on gender-related beliefs among black men to
2Personal Communication with Rian Bowie.
3See for example, Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics (New York:

Routledge, 2004); bell hooks, We Real Cool: Black men and Masculinity (New York:
Routledge, 2003); R.D.G. Kelley Confessions of a Nice Negro or Why I Shaved My Head
in Speak My Name: Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream, (ed.) D. Belton.
(Boston: Beacon Press, 1995).

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Complexity Within and Similarity Across

87

highlight both the diversity of black masculinities over the past several decades,
as well as the consistent presence of black men who support gender equality
during this time. While dominant representations of black men depict them as
hypermasculine, as dominating women and rejecting all things that might hint
at weakness or femininity, survey research offers a very different picture. When
analyzed with an eye toward similarity across and diversity within social groups,
survey data can help us to move beyond stereotypical notions of black men as
hypermasculine, patriarchal and misogynistic.
Background
In the social sciences, several decades of survey research has examined gender
ideologies, gender roles, and gender inequalities, and how these beliefs have
changed over time.4 Within this literature, one central question concerns the
intersection of race and gender. Specifically, how might racial and ethnic differences
shape beliefs about gender? And how might gender differences interact with racial
differences to construct individual ideologies and group standpoints?
One of the most important early studies in this area is Marjorie Hersheys
(1978) article Racial Differences in Sex-Role Identities and Sex Stereotyping.
In her study, Hershey used survey research to assess levels of masculinity and
femininity among black and white college students, and explored how these
characteristics related to gender inequality. Her study is important both because
of her theoretical framing of gender, as well as for what she uncovers about men
and masculinity. In terms of her framing, Hershey argues that masculinity and
femininity are not mutually exclusive. They do not occupy opposite ends of the
same continuum; it is possible for individuals to be simultaneously very feminine
and very masculine. In addition, Hershey puts forth a complicated understanding
of gender, drawing a distinction between how people do gender (i.e., their

4See for example Leonie Huddy, Francis K. Neely, and Marilyn R. LaFay. The
PollsTrends: Support for the Womens Movement. Public Opinion Quarterly 64
(2000): 30950; Pia Peltola, Melissa A. Milkie, and Stanley Presser. The Feminist
Mystique: Feminist Identity in Three Generations of Women. Gender & Society 18
(2004): 12244; Emily Kane Racial and Ethnic Variations in Gender-Related Attitudes
Annual Review of Sociology 26 (2000): 41939; Catherine E. Harnois Different Paths
to Different Feminisms?: Bridging Multiracial Feminist Theory with Quantitative
Sociological Gender Research. Gender & Society 19 (2005): 80928; Marjorie Hershey
Racial Differences in Sex-Role Identities and Sex Stereotyping: Evidence Against a
Common Assumption. Social Science Quarterly 58 (1978): 58396; H Edward Ransford,
and Jon Miller, Race, Sex, and Feminist Outlooks. American Sociological Review 48
(1983): 4659.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

88

Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

performances of masculinity and femininity) and their gender ideologies (i.e.,


their beliefs about gender).5
Hersheys findings underscore the importance of this distinction, as she finds
that Black men, on average, score somewhat higher than white men on their
performance of masculinity, but do not statistically differ from white men when
it comes to their gendered beliefs.6 Among the college students she studied, black
men and white men gave very similar answers regarding gender ideology. She
concluded that racial differences had been exaggerated in popular discourse, and
that disentangling gender beliefs and practices was important for understanding
masculinity. Particularly with respect to sex-role identities, she concluded, sex
is a much more powerful influence [than race] (594).
Following Hersheys work, sociologists Ransford and Miller (1983) used data
from 19741978, to explore similar questions about race and gender. Ransford
and Miller examined four questions about gender arrangements in the public
and private spheres, and found statistically significant differences in black and
white mens responses to each question.7 In contrast to Hersheys study which
de-emphasizes racial differences in gender-related beliefs, Ransford and Miller
highlight differences. They find that, compared to white men, black men are
more likely to believe that a womans place is in the home, and are more likely
to reject the idea of women working. In addition, they report that black men are
more likely to believe that women are emotionally unsuited for politics and are
less likely than white men to vote for a woman president (51). From this and
more complex statistical analyses, the authors conclude that black men are, as a
group, substantially more traditional in their gender ideologies than are white
men (1983, 58). They write, Apparently most black males do not object to
their wives working, but they do object to women taking on political positions in
the community (58).
Another more recent study by Blee and Tickamyer (1995), however, analyzed
longitudinal data from roughly the same time period and found very different
results. Blee and Tickamyers analysis of survey data from 1971, 1976, and 1981
suggested that African American men were arguably more progressive compared
5 The term doing gender comes from Candace West and Don Zimmerman. Doing
Gender Gender & Society 1 (1987): 12551.
6 Hershey asked respondents about seven highly gendered activities, and whether
they thought each activity was more appropriate for men, women, or both men and women.
These activities included playing football, taking care of children, cleaning house, repairing
highways, teaching nursery school, studying ballet, and racing cars (Hershey 1978): 587.
7 Ransford and Miller (1983) use four questions to assess gender-related attitudes:
Women should take care of running their homes and leave running the country up to men;
Do you approve or disapprove of a married woman earning money in business or industry
if she has a husband capable of supporting her?; If your party nominated a woman for
president, would you vote for her if she were qualified for the job?; and Tell me if you
agree or disagree with this statement: Most men are better suited emotionally for politics
than are most women.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Complexity Within and Similarity Across

89

to white men in their attitudes about gender. While data from the 1981 wave of
survey suggested that black men were more traditional with respect to New
Gender Roles, (involving gender arrangements in the public and private spheres),
Blee and Tickamyer found that black men were consistently more progressive in
their beliefs about working women than were white men.
The three aforementioned studies sought to understand black mens beliefs
about gender by comparing their beliefs to white men. More recent survey research
has sought to understand black mens gender ideologies by comparing their beliefs
with those of black women. Using surveys designed specifically to address the
beliefs, experiences, and concerns of black Americans, these studies paint a very
different picture of contemporary black masculinity. In particular, they reveal that
black men are strong supporters of black women and their fight for gender justice.
One early example of this type of research is Hunter and Sellers (1998)
analysis of the 19791980 National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA). Not
only did Hunter and Sellers find that black men and black women support gender
equality at very similar levels, their analysis of this data also suggested that black
men were strong supporters of feminist issues. They write, more than 80 percent
of both women and men endorsed political organizing for womens issues and
most women (89.6 percent) and men (86.8 percent) felt it was equally important
for African American women to organize around both race and gender (1998: 41).
Political Scientist Evelyn Simiens recent book, Black Feminist Voices in Politics
(2006) analyzed several national surveys to bring this research up to the present
day. Drawing from the 19841988 National Black Election Studies, the 19931994
National Black Politics Study (NBPS), as well as her own 20042005 National
Black Feminist Study (NBFS), Simien documented extensive support of feminist
issues among black men. Analyzing the 19931994 NBPS, she found that nearly 79
percent of black men agree that Black women should share equally in the political
leadership of the black community (2006: 146). Her analysis of the NBFS suggested
that 96 percent of black men supported this idea in 20042005 (2006: 145).
On the whole, existing survey research suggests that black men, as a group,
are relatively strong supporters of gender justice compared with other groups.
There are points of contention across research, however, and it is difficult to
determine whether the different conclusions stem from different measurement
tools, different survey designs, or changes in gender ideologies over time. In
the following analyses I add to this research by analyzing survey data collected
over the past three decades. My goal is to highlight the historical diversity and
complexity of black mens gender ideologies, as well as black masculinities.
Though the survey questions analyzed are admittedly blunt instruments, they
nonetheless reveal consistent support for gender equality among black men during
this time period. I argue that this historical survey data can help us to move past
problematic stereotypes of black men as patriarchal and hyper-masculine and help
us to recognize black mens support of gender justice.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

90

Data and Methods


The data I analyze come from two national surveys: the US General Social Surveys
(GSS) and Simiens National Black Feminist Study (NBFS). The GSS, a source
commonly utilized in sociological research, asks a range of questions concerning
individuals attitudes, experiences and behaviors, as well as number of questions
concerning the respondents background (e.g., family income, parents educational
attainment, at what age the respondent had her or his first child). The survey has
been conducted on a biennial basis in the United States, beginning in 1972, and
is a valuable tool for tracking how gender ideologies within and across social
groups have changed over time. The data for each year represents an independent
sample of English-speaking, and in the 20062010 samples, English- or Spanishspeaking, persons 18 years of age or over, who are not living in institutions (e.g.,
prisons or mental health facilities).8 The NBFS is a national survey drawn from
census tracts where at least 30 percent of the households are African American.9
The sample consists of 500 adult respondents (278 women, 222 men), all of whom
identified as African American.10 In the analyses that follow I present the raw
(un-weighted) percentages of men surveyed who support issues related to gender
equality and gender justice. In each year of the GSS data, the sample size for black
men is significantly smaller than the sample size of white men, reflecting racial
differences in the composition of the overall population.
As many of the aforementioned studies have focused on beliefs about gender
arrangements in public and private life, I begin by exploring three questions
in the GSS related to this issue. I assess how black mens beliefs about gender
compare to the beliefs held by white men, and how this relationship has changed
over time. In my second set of analyses, I examine six questions from the NBFS
which together provide a more comprehensive representation of contemporary
black mens gender ideologies. As the NBFS asks questions only to respondents
who identify as African American or black, in these analyses I contextualize black
mens responses by comparing them to the responses of black women.
Findings
Figures 7.17.3 each examine one survey question from the General Social Survey
and show how black and white mens beliefs about gender have changed over the
8For more information about the GSS see http://publicdata.norc.org:41000/gssbeta/.
9The National Black Feminist Study uses a sample frame that was designed to be

identical to the targeted frame used in the 19931994 National Black Politics Study.
10Respondents were first asked to identify their racial status. Those who responded
biracial or other were then asked which racial group that they most identify with.
Respondents who answered African American to either of these questions were included
in the sample.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Complexity Within and Similarity Across

Figure 7.1

91

Percentage of black and white men who disagree that It is


better for a man to work and for a woman to stay home

Source: 19862010 General Social Surveys

past quarter century.11 The GSS asks respondents whether they strongly agree,
agree, disagree, or strongly disagree that It is much better for everyone involved
if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home
and family. The lines on the graph represent the percentage of black men and
white men who disagree (including both disagree and strongly disagree) with
this statement.
The general upward trend seen in Figure 7.1 suggests that mens attitudes about
working women have liberalized, and the most recent data suggests that about 60
percent of black and white men reject the superiority of the male-breadwinner,
female-homemaker model. Over the 24-year period studied, black and white mens
attitudes about work and family arrangements appear to be relatively similar.
The second question I analyzed asks respondents if they believe that children
are adversely affected by mothers participation in the work force. Figure 7.2
shows the percentage of black and white men who disagree with the idea that
preschool children are likely to suffer if their mothers work. As was the case with
Figure 7.1, we can see a slight upward trend over the past 25 years. Interestingly
in every survey year except one (2002), the percentage of black men who disagree
with the idea that working mothers adversely affect their childrens well-being is
higher that the corresponding percentage of white men.
11The General Social Survey asks many questions about race, ancestry and ethnicity.
In these analyses, I use the variable race (What race do you consider yourself?) to assess
racial status.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

92

Figure 7.2

Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

Percentage of black and white men who disagree that A


preschool child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works

Source: 19862010 General Social Surveys

The third question I analyze considers whether respondents agree or disagree


that Most men are better suited emotionally for politics than are most women.
The two lines in Figure 7.3 represent the percentages of men who disagree with
the statement, that is, the lines represent the percentages of black and white men
who support womens involvement in the political sphere. As with the case in
the previous two figures, the lines indicate a general upward trend in support for
womens participation in the public sphere, though black mens support for this
particular issue seems to have declined since 2002.
Analyzing these simple graphs collectively reveals several important findings
about the diversity and complexity of black (and white) masculinities. First, in
each of the graphs there is a general trend of liberalizing attitudes about gender.
As studies of the general population have found, support for gender equality has
increased over the past several decades, and this is true for both black men and for
white men.12

12 Catherine I. Bolzendahl and Daniel J. Myers. Feminist Attitudes and Support for
Gender Equality: Opinion Change in Women and Men, 19741998. Social Forces no. 83
(2004): 75990; Huddy, Neely, and LaFay. The PollsTrends: Support for the Womens
Movement; Jason Schnittker, Jeremy Freese, and Brian Powell. Who are Feminists and
What Do They Believe?: The Role of Generations. American Sociological Review 68
(2003): 60722.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Complexity Within and Similarity Across

Figure 7.3

93

Percentage of black and white men who disagree that Most


men are better suited emotionally for politics than are
most women

Source: 19822008 General Social Surveys

In addition to the liberalizing trend, what is also apparent in each of the


figures is that the lines representing black and white mens beliefs are relatively
close together, suggesting that there is a high degree of similarity in black and
white mens beliefs about gender arrangements. For example, Figure 7.1 shows
that in 2010, 57.5 percent of black men and 62.2 percent of white men surveyed
disagreed with the notion that it is better for a man to work and for a woman to
stay home. Figure 7.2 shows that, in the same year, 69.6 percent of black men
and 56.4 percent of white men surveyed disagreed with the idea that a preschool
child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works.
A third noteworthy pattern across the three figures is that the lines for black
men and white men cross each other at multiple points, particularly in Figures 7.1
and 7.3. This crisscrossing of the lines suggests that at some points in time black
men appear more traditional than white men, and at other point in time the reverse
is true.13 For example, in Figure 7.1 we see that in 1986, the percentage of white
men who disagree with the idea that it is better for a man to work and for a
woman to stay home is slightly higher than the corresponding percentage of black
13Some of the variation in the line for black men is likely a result of the small
sample of black respondents. In 2010, for example, 80 black men answered the question
Is it better for a man to work and for a woman to stay home? and in the same year 462
white men did.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

94

Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?

men. However, two years later the relationship reverses. Throughout the 24 years
represented on Figure 7.1 alone, the lines for black men and white men cross
each other a total of ten times. And while it is not possible from these graphs to
discern whether there are statistically significant differences between black mens
and white mens beliefs, overall the figures do convey a high degree of similarities
across racial differences.
Finally, the figures also reveal a high level of support for gender equality in
public and private gender arrangements. For virtually all data-time points, more
than half of black men surveyed provided responses that were supportive of gender
equality. Of course this is not to say that all black men express support for gender
equalityin 2010 slightly more than 40 percent of black men surveyed indicated
their preference for men to work and for women to stay homebut the majority
nonetheless rejected the superiority of traditional gender arrangements.
The three questions from the General Social Survey described above are
important because they allow us to see how the beliefs of black and white men
compare to each other and how these beliefs have changed over time. We see from
these analyses that black men and white men both tend to support gender equality,
and that over time this support has increased. These questions from the GSS data
are limited, however, because they tap only one aspect of gender ideologygender
arrangements in the public and private spheres. Moreover, the small number of
black respondents in any particular year makes it difficult to draw conclusions
about the larger population. In the next portion of my analysis, I explore black
mens beliefs about gender by analyzing data from Simiens 20042005 National
Black Feminist Study. Although the data from this survey is based on only one
point in time, it offers a more nuanced glimpse into the complexity of contemporary
black mens gender ideology and masculinities, and reaffirms black mens support
of gender justice.
Table 7.1 shows the percentages of black men who expressed support for six
questions pertaining to gender equality within the Black community. Because
the NBFS was administered only to respondents who described themselves as
African American or black, it is impossible to compare black mens responses to
those of white men. Instead, as a point of reference, I include the corresponding
percentages of black women who support these aspects of gender equality.
As was the case with my analysis of data from the General Social Surveys,
the NBFS suggests that black men as a group are strong supporters of gender
justice. Almost all of the black men surveyed (95.3 percent) indicated that they
strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that Black women should share equally in
political leadership and nearly three quarters rejected the notion that black men
were better suited for politics. More than four out of five black men surveyed
acknowledged that black women suffer from both racism and sexism, and nearly
two-thirds rejected the idea that men should have more power within black
families. Importantly, more than half of black men surveyed rejected the notion
that black feminist groups harm community when addressing racism and sexism
at the same time.

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

Complexity Within and Similarity Across

Table 7.1

Black mens and black womens beliefs about gender equality

Black women should share equally in political


leadership.

Total Agreement

Black Men

Black Women

95.30%

97.70%

Black women have suffered from both sexism


and racism.

Total Agreement

Black Men

Black Women

82.20%

80.10%

Black men are better suited for politics.

Total
Disagreement

95

Black Men

Black Women

74.80%

85.90%

Black churches should allow more black women


to become clergy.

Total Agreement

Black Men

Black Women

79.10%

71.90%

In black families, black men should have more


power.

Total
Disagreement

Black Men

Black Women

63%

69.30%

Black feminist groups harm community when


address racism and sexism at same time.

Total
Disagreement

Black Men

Black Women

56.10%

64.90%

At the same time that these statistics reveal black mens support for gender
justice, they also reveal complexity and diversity within black mens beliefs
about gender. The complexity is revealed by comparing black mens answers to
each of the different questions. Almost all black men surveyed agreed that black
women should share equally in political leadership, but an individuals support
of this aspect of equality does not necessarily translate into support for increased
women in the clergy or support for black feminist groups. The diversity of black
mens ideologies is revealed by considering the percentages of who support
various aspects of gender equality with the percentages of those who do not. For
example, 63 percent of black men surveyed responded that they disagreed with the
notion that black men should have more power in families, but 37 percent of black
men surveyed agreed with this sentiment.
Discussion
In her meta-analysis of racial differences in gender-related attitudes, sociologist
Emily Kane (2000: 426) concludes that:
sensitization to inequality created by racial inequality and the legacy of more
egalitarian family forms lead both African-American women and African-

Spates, Kamesha, Dr; Slatton, Brittany C, Dr, Jul 28, 2014, Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine? : Gender, Race and Sexuality in the Identities of Contemporary Blac
Ashgate Publishing Ltd, Farnham, ISBN: 9781472425133

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Hyper Sexual, Hyper Masculine?


American men to greater criticism of gender inequality than tends to be evident
among whites in the United States.

Though there is substantial variation in black mens attitudes about gender, and
individual misogynistic black men certainly exist (as do individual misogynistic
men of all racial- and ethnic-groups), the data that I have analyzed here suggests
that black men have been, and continue to be, strong supporters of gender equality.
Figures 7.17.3 reveal that, over the past two decades, more than 50 percent of black
men surveyed support equality in gender arrangements. Table 7.1 shows that the vast
majority of black men surveyed in the NBFS are supportive of womens leadership in
politics, churches, and family life. In all of the analyses, we see substantial similarity
in black mens attitudes when compared to white men and black women.
These findings are consistent with much of previous survey research, and fly in
the face of dominant cultural representations of black masculinity, both historical
and contemporary. As Hill Collins (2004), hooks (2003), Kelley (1995), and other
scholars have documented, and as this volume makes clear, cultural representations
of black men often portray them as being hyper-masculine and hyper-sexual. As
a society, we are bombarded with controlling images of black men which often
appear to be natural, normal and inevitable parts of everyday life. As Hill Collins
(2000: 285) explains, these images play a central role in shaping consciousness
via the manipulation of ideas, images, symbols, and ideologies and they work
within an overarching matrix of domination. Residential, occupational, and
educational segregation; racially- and class-based social networks and marriage
patterns; and racially-biased legal, political and judicial systems all work together
with other social institutions to give these controlling images more power.
At the same time, the controlling images themselves work to justify continued
racial segregation and inequality. They emphasize a kind of deviant black masculinity
that is defined against a normative, middle-class, heterosexual white masculinity.14
And while alternative representations of black men and black masculinities
certainly do exist (see for example, Neal 2006; Kelley 1995; White 2008), they lack
the power to shape our individual and collective consciousness to the same extent,
because they are in opposition to, rather than supported by, an overarching matrix
of domination. Moreover, when more positive images of black men do make
their way into the popular imagination, they are often portrayed as exceptional or
uniquea foil that ultimately serves to justify the continued degradation of black
men more generally (Hill Collins 2004).
Scholar Mark Anthony Neal (2005) makes this point well in his book, New
Black Man. Neal begins this book by describing what he perceives to be a crisis
in black masculinitya crisis not only in the scapegoated, so-called hiphop generation, but in the legions of well-adjusted, middle-classed, educated,
heterosexual black men, whose continued investment in a powerful American14Hill Collins Black Sexual Politics. See also C.J. Pascoe, Dude, Youre a Fag
(Berkley: University of California Press, 2007).

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style patriarchy (often remixed as Black Nationalism and Afro-centrism) and its
offspring homophobia, sexism, and misogyny, represents a significant threat to the
stability and sustenance of black families, communities and relationships (2005: 3).
He urges his readers to move past simplistic, either/or, stereotypical notions of
black masculinity and to embrace the fuzzy edges of a black masculinity that in
reality is still under construction (29). He sees value in creating new tropes of
black masculinity that challenge the most negative stereotypes associated with
black masculinity, but more importantly, to counter stringently sanitized images
of black masculinity, largely created by blacks themselves in response to racist
depictions of black men (xxxxi).
Neal and Hill Collins both seek to challenge problematic controlling images
of black mento develop a public consciousness of black masculinities as both
diverse and complex. Survey research can play an important role in this process. On
the one hand, historical survey research suggests that black men, as a group, have
been supporters of gender justice for some time. Even in Ransford and Millers
(1983) study, which emphasizes racial differences, more than half of black men
surveyed indicated their support for gender equality in three of the four measures of
gender ideology. More than 30 years before the presidential campaigns of Hillary
Clinton and Barack Obama, three quarters of the black men surveyed indicated
that they would support a qualified woman presidential candidatea finding that
is clearly at odds with the authors conclusion that most black males object to
women taking on political positions in the community.
On the other hand, survey research also reveals tremendous diversityeven
disagreementamong black men in their beliefs about gender. While the majority
of black men surveyed express support for gender justice, a substantial minority
did not. In addition, the level of support for gender justice varies depending
upon the specifics of the question. While more than nine out of ten surveyed in
the NBFS indicated their support for women in politics, nearly four out of ten
indicated that men should have more power within black families. Taken together,
the analyses presented here reveal that for black men gender ideology is complex,
multidimensional, dynamic and contextual.
The controlling images of black men have been so effective that, even when
confronted with evidence to the contrary, people often find reason to dismiss,
minimize, or negate the existence of black men who embrace feminist ideals. But
survey research nonetheless represents one important tool for understanding black
masculinity. It can help to reveal the complexity of masculinitydisentangling
various components of gender ideology and gender performanceand it can help
to demonstrate how masculinity has changed over time. When interpreted with
an eye towards similarity across social groups and complexity within, survey
research can help to counter both the negative controlling images as well as the
stringently sanitized portrayals of contemporary black masculinity. In short, it
can help to reveal what Neal (2005: 29) describes as the fuzzy edges of a black
masculinity that in reality is still under construction.

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