Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

White Heterosexual Men on Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation: What Identity as a Progressive Means in 21st Century America
by Ortiz, Susan Y., Ph.D., The Ohio State University, 2012, 296; 10631335
Abstract (Summary)

Vast disparities continue to exist between men and women, blacks and whites, and heterosexual and sexual minorities despite a plethora of legal changes that work against discrimination, particularly concerning race and gender. In the Post Civil-Rights era new covert forms of discrimination have replaced the older overt forms which, when combined with the ideology of individualism, prevents the majority of dominant group members from recognizing and thus working to change the status quo. Scholars of social justice research often recommend “progressives” or “liberals” as likely candidates for building a collective identity with subordinate group members to push for change. These scholars, however, fail to specifically name individuals with the greatest access to power and influence – white heterosexual men. Using a qualitative research design, I interviewed forty white heterosexual men concerning their identity as a progressive. First I examined their attitudes toward subordinate group members across three areas of stratification – race, gender and sexual orientation; then I explored their knowledge of privilege; and finally I investigated what actions, if any, they are taking to reduce any of the social problems they recognize. My data reveal that these men hold a variety of attitudes and beliefs toward and about subordinate group members and the inequality they experience. Some use more mainstream colorblind, gender blind individualistic ideologies to discuss the reasons behind inequality. Others held a more in-depth knowledge of the ways institutions and structure play a role. Nearly all supported same-sex marriage rights and the reproductive rights of women, but in the domestic sphere they do little to change the unequal division of labor and continue to follow more traditional surname patrilineal decent patterns thus emphasizing the “twin ideologies” Ridgeway (2011) notes impact women specifically. Most have developed alternative “private” masculinities and often disavow the hegemonic ideal, including a rejection of sports, and tend to hang out with other progressive men who have done the same although not exclusively. Fewer than half held some knowledge about their own privilege. Knowledge of privilege seems to be closely related to taking some forms of passive “checkbook” activism or, at minimum, consciously trying to do no harm. Notably, neither knowledge of inequality nor privilege moves these men to action. I conclude that white heterosexual men have learned to reconceptualize the relationship they have to their dominant group status through identification as a “progressive.” This identity is complex, contextual, and situational and can be used to both support and reject mainstream individualistic views of race, gender, and sexual orientation while also allowing these individuals to develop a moral identity against such inequality. However, the ideology of individualism maintains its stranglehold on action and activism. Indeed, none had deep meaningful relationships with people of color, feminist women, and/or activists – relationships which seem to be necessary for dominant group members to move from passively supporting equality to actually pushing for change – although being a progressive does appear to open the possibility for such experiences in the future.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Sayer, Liana
Commitee: Lopez, Steven, Roscigno, Vincent
School: The Ohio State University
Department: Sociology
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Sociology
Keywords: Gender, Heterosexual, Identity, Men, Orientation, Progressive, Race, Sexual, White
Publication Number: 10631335
ISBN: 9780355015928
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